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Swift Review of Cannabis Act Required

The Government of Canada recently made its long-overdue announcement concerning the launch of a legislative review of the Canadian Cannabis Act. Established as a way by which to ensure the safety of Canadians, it’s also meant to provide regulation and oversight of the country’s fledgling cannabis industry in order to support and facilitate its growth and success.

It’s an announcement that merchants and producers have been requesting for some time. And, although it’s arriving late, George Smitherman, CEO and President of the Cannabis Council of Canada (C3), believes that it should provide government with the impetus it needs to expediate the process of review.

“We sadly can’t make up for the lost time,” he laments. “However, it’s created a greater sense of urgency to not just review, but to implement some changes as well. Our view about the timing of the announcement is that we can’t get the year back. So, we’re indicating strongly to the government that they need to have a mindset that allows them to implement the required changes sooner rather than later, because this process could take a long time if it runs its course in each phase. It could be years before we see action. And, for our industry – that’s not urgent enough.”

Massive Contributor

Smitherman emphasizes the fact that the cannabis sector in the country is one that’s robust, contributing $43.5 billion to GDP, $25.2 billion in labour income, 151,414 jobs, $15.1 billion in tax revenues, and $2.9 billion in sales and excise tax revenues to the country between 2018 and 2021. And, although Smitherman recognizes the fact that there would be some growing pains involved in early legislation around the Act, he’s pleased that the government is widening its view to include more issues that need to be addressed.

“The Cannabis Act was developed as a first-time out-of-the-gate set of regulations,” he notes. “There wasn’t a model to replicate or reference. As a result, we always knew there was going to be the need for review and reforms. But we’re glad to see that the government heeded our concern that the originally proposed scope of the review was very narrow. They’ve since projected a broader view, which we’re pleased with. But, again, we need to see some commitment to act swiftly on some matters because time really is of the essence now.”

  • With respect to the matters of greatest significance, Smitherman and C3 have outlined a host of them that they hope government will address and remedy. They include:
  • Addressing the financial viability of Licence holders by fixing the excise tax, provincial distributor mark-ups and fees
  • Levelling the playing field with the illicit market
  • Allowing Licence holders to communicate with consumers, including about the effects of cannabis
  • Eliminating costly “red tape” and unnecessary “Nanny State” regulations
  • Strengthening of patient access to medical cannabis

Significant Opportunities

Smitherman’s sentiments are, for the most part, echoed by Jaclynn Pehota, Executive Director at the Retail Cannabis Council of British Columbia (RCCBC), who suggests that the review, if executed properly, presents significant opportunities for the industry to be heard.

“The delay of a year may imply that government is looking at factors that they may not have been considering prior to legalization,” she says. “So, the opportunity that’s being given to provide feedback, and their commitment to listen to the public and industry stakeholders is critically important. And we’re encouraging everyone within the industry, from retailers to producers to consumers, to participate in the process. The government needs to hear about the things that aren’t working and the things that need to be fixed in order to help create a more sustainable sector that consistently achieves profitability.”

Delegates of the RCCBC have asked government to consider a set of recommendations in order to help guide and inform the effective and holistic review of the Cannabis Act. They include the following:

  • The scope of the review should include all elements of the Act and its regulations
  • An all-party Committee of the House of Commons should lead the review
  • BC craft farmers, processors, and independent retailers should be included in this review, the proposed strategy table, and the drafting of revisions to the Act
  • The Minister of Health should initiate a series of immediate micro-class license changes, including:
    o   Doubling of the unreasonably low micro-production and micro-processing caps
    o   Pre-clearance of security checks instead of waiting until the end of the process
    o   Increasing purchase and possession limits from 30 grams
    o   Allowing organic and craft labelling on cannabis products

Work To Be Done

The National Cannabis Working Group (NCWG) – a collection of industry players that develops, reports on, and advocates policy matters that will improve the growth and competitiveness of the Canadian cannabis industry – also applauds the government’s broadened scope of review. However, as Nathan Mison, Chair of the NCWG, points out, there’s work to be done in order to create a vibrant industry that can supplant that of the illicit market.

“As the first major economy to develop a national legal framework for adult use cannabis, the industry understands that it will take a few years of trial and error to settle on balanced and reasonable rules, regulations, and processes,” he says. “That is why we began consulting the industry in 2020 – to prepare for this statutory review and help the government make necessary improvements to the Cannabis Act. The NCWG appreciates the scope of the review and looks forward to working with all stakeholders to provide innovative solutions that help the sector grow while displacing the illicit market and protecting public health and safety.”

Ensuring Future Growth

Smitherman agrees, stating that he and his team at C3 are excited to have the chance to make sure the voices of the cannabis industry in Canada are heard on these critical issues. And, he adds, it represents the most important opportunity to date for everyone who participates within the industry to positively influence its future growth and success.

“Our industry has to pick up its game with respect to the relationships that we build with elected officials at all levels, starting with members of parliament,” he says. “It’s one of the biggest responsibilities of the sector. And we’ve now got the perfect platform to make them aware of the issues and where some of the impediments are to the industry’s prosperity and its trajectory going forward.”

Image courtesy of Maria Azzurra Mugnai, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Tags: Cannabis Council of Canada (21), Cannabis Industry (138), cannabis legislation (5), George Smitherman (19), Health Canada (47), Jaclynn Pehota (16), Nathan Mison (11), National Cannabis Working Group (6), Retail Cannabis Council BC (2)