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Cannabis Review Panel Releases Report

The Expert Panel conducting the review of the Cannabis Act has released a new report summarizing what they heard during their public consultations between December 2022 and June 2023.

Legislative Review of the Cannabis Act

In September 2022, the Government of Canada announced that it had launched a legislative review of the country’s Cannabis Act. The Expert Panel was established with a mandate to provide independent, expert advice to government on progress made towards achieving the Cannabis Act’s objectives and on the identification of areas to improve the functioning of the framework.

But, when the panel was announced in November 2022, as the cannabis industry feared, it was comprised of medical professionals and lawyers rather than businesspeople.

Expert Panel Engagement

The Expert Panel engaged with almost 500 stakeholders in nearly 90 meetings across Canada as part of its first phase of work.

“We want to thank everyone who generously gave us their time and energy in sharing their perspectives and answering our questions,” says Morris Rosenberg, Chair of the Expert Panel. “We have heard a wide variety of perspectives throughout the consultations. A very rich and broad scientific literature was shared with us, as well as diverse lived and living experiences. We hope that we have captured the breadth and nuances of perspectives.”

Key Findings

The new report, titled Legislative Review of the Cannabis Act: What We Heard Report, summarizes their findings in regard to the impact of cannabis legalization and the Cannabis Act on multiple areas.

Public Health
Public health stakeholders are supportive of the precautionary approach, including the 10 mg THC limit for edible cannabis products and restrictions on promotion of these products.

There were also some suggestions by these stakeholders that further restrictions should be considered, such as stricter age limits on who can possess, distribute, and buy cannabis, setting minimum pricing retailers can charge, and restrictions on selling flavoured products.

Conversely, industry said elements of the precautionary approach impede their ability to compete with the illicit market.

Young Persons
Many people expressed concern that the rates of cannabis use among youth in Canada remain high compared to other jurisdictions. Stakeholders spoke about the increase in emergency department visits for young people who had consumed cannabis and the need for more research on diverse populations of youth.

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis
The panel heard frustration about the limited engagement between First Nations and the federal government during the development of the Cannabis Act. There were also concerns around issues of jurisdictional authority and the impact of legalization on these communities’ public health and safety.

Home Cultivation of Cannabis for Non-Medical Purposes
Most stakeholders supported the current approach of allowing adults to grow up to four plants at home, but the issue was not widely discussed.

Some municipalities said they wanted to see a limit to the number of plants people can grow at home with a medical authorization. Some people said they wanted more education on how to grow safely at home, especially indoors.

Economic, Social and Environmental
Industry expressed concern that companies in the legal market are struggling to realize profits and maintain financial viability, noting the burden of taxes, mark-ups, fees, and regulatory compliance costs.

Industry members also discussed the excess supply of cannabis and the challenges of competing with an entrenched illicit market. They raised issues such as: the need to increase public possession and THC quantity limits for cannabis; restrictive rules on promotion, packaging, and labelling; and the presence of different federal, provincial, and territorial frameworks with which licence holders must comply.

Industry suggested there are risks of both a consolidated market dominated by a few large players with significant market power and of micro licence holders turning back to the illicit market.

The Expert Panel is planning to bring together a group of independent economic advisors to provide advice on the economic impacts of the framework in the fall.

Displacing the Illicit Market
There were mixed views on the legal industry’s progress in displacing the illicit market, with some claiming the legal industry is competitive with the illicit market and others arguing that structural barriers exist that make it difficult for the legal industry to compete and therefore may allow the illicit market to persist.

Price is an important factor for consumers when considering whether to buy from the illicit or legal market. People noted that access to cannabis is not evenly distributed across the country and consumers in rural or remote regions still have limited options.

Industry and others argued there is still consumer demand for products that are not available in the legal market (for example, higher-potency edible cannabis products, or lower-priced CBD products in a variety of formats). Conversely, public health stakeholders expressed some concerns with the types of products available in the legal market, notably high-potency extracts and flavoured edibles.

What’s Next

The next phase of the Expert Panel’s work includes the development of its final report for the Minister of Health and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, which will continue to be informed by engagement activities throughout the fall. This report will provide advice and recommendations on areas of the legislative framework or its implementation that could be improved or reformed.

The final report is to be tabled in both Houses of Parliament by March 2024.

Tags: Canadian Cannabis (109), Cannabis Act (40), Cannabis Act review (6), Cannabis Industry (183), Government of Canada (5), Health Canada (64), legislative review (2), Mark Rosenberg (1)