A woman walks past the Cannabis Culture Headquarters in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010. (Jae C. Hong, Associated Press file)

Canada marijuana task force releases sweeping report on national legalization

Among task force's 80 proposals for marijuana legalization are setting the minimum purchase age at 18 and furthering research for public health, safety and potential medical purposes

Now is the time for Canada to move from prohibition and become the largest developed country to establish a well-regulated legal marijuana industry, members of the country’s marijuana task force said Tuesday.

Canada’s marijuana legalization task force has outlined 80 recommendations for the country’s potential legal cannabis regime, including a minimum purchase age of 18; penalties against trafficking and impaired driving; regulations for packaging and pesticides; mail-order delivery and cannabis clubs; decriminalization efforts for minor offenses; and further robust research on the plant for public health, safety and potential medical purposes.

Canada is “well-positioned” to implement a framework for marijuana legalization that would establish a regulated, public health- and research-focused system to displace the entrenched illicit market, heads of the task force said during a news conference Tuesday.

“The prohibitory regime that has existed is not working, and it is not meeting the basic principles of public health and safety that has to be at the core of this kind of public policy,” said Anne McLellan, the former deputy prime minister who serves as chair of the task force.

Canada’s government is expected to develop marijuana legislation in 2017. Financial analysts estimate that Canada’s legal marijuana market could total $4.5 billion by 2021.

The task force’s 106-page report is the result of five months of research and consultations that included 30,000 responses to an online questionnaire, meetings with provincial and territorial governments, interviews with experts across a variety of fields and industries, conversations with medical patients and international visits to Uruguay and U.S. states with adult-use marijuana laws such as Colorado and Washington.

The key takeaways from those interviews with legal marijuana markets included establishing baseline rules while also building flexibility into the framework, said Dr. Mark Ware, chairman of the International Association for Cannabinoid Medicine and the task force’s vice chair.

Ware noted that some of the more difficult issues to wrangle were age restrictions and regulations for impaired driving.

Ottawa Public Health officials previously recommended that the minimum age be set at 25 years old, citing potential detrimental effects on brain development, while industry members and advocates suggested the minimum age align with legal drinking ages of 18 or 19, respective of province.

In the report, the task force acknowledged those and other concerns, but ultimately landed on 18:

“There was a general recognition that a minimum age for cannabis use would have value as a “societal market,” establishing cannabis use as an activity for adults only, at an age at which responsible and individual decision-making is expected and respected.

“We heard from many participants that setting the minimum age too high risked preserving the illicit market, particularly since the highest rates of use are in the 18 to 24 age range. A minimum age that was too high also raised concerns of further criminalization of youth, depending on the approach to enforcement.”

The task force’s recommendations did not include a per se limit for marijuana impairment, deferring to ongoing work and research by the Drugs and Driving Committee, an arm of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science. The DDC is expected to submit a report to the government in the near future, McLellan said.

“Generally, we believe it is appropriate to proceed with caution,” McLellan said.

That includes addressing concerns of potential harm in the intermingling of cannabis, alcohol and tobacco. The report highlighted ways to minimize that co-use — via avenues such as barring cannabis-infused alcohol and restricting cannabis sales in locations that sell alcohol and tobacco. Taking those steps, the task force said, also could serve as a “health protection aim” of cannabis policy.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government commissioned the report, and the plan has fueled a surge in Canada’s marijuana stocks in anticipation of billions of dollars of legitimate revenue.

Maintaining Canada’s current mail-order medical cannabis delivery system and giving access to recreational consumers will ensure equality across the country and have zero impact on communities, said Cam Battley, executive vice president at British Columbia’s Aurora Cannabis. The move would be a big step in chipping away at the country’s illegal market and is something that can be done very rapidly, he added.

“We recognized that there will be much discussion around the implications of our recommendations,” McLellan said in the report. “However, like scraping ice from the car windows on a cold winter morning, we believe that we can now see enough to move forward.”

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.


Legalizing Canada

Below is a quick look at some of the task force recommendations:

Guidelines for personal use

•  Minimum age of purchase of 18 (provinces and territories have right to harmonize with drinking age laws).

•  Limit of 30 grams for personal possession of non-medical dried cannabis, and equivalent possession and sales limits for non-dried forms.

•  Limit of four plants per residence and maximum height limit of 3 feet, 3 inches.

Regulating the industry

•  Advertising restrictions similar to that of tobacco.

•  Products that don’t appeal to children; limit resemblance to candy, familiar food items, or bright colors or cartoon characters.

•  Childproof packaging.

•  Universal THC symbol for edibles.

•  No mixed products — such as cannabis-infused alcohol, tobacco, nicotine or caffeine.

•  Price and tax scheme to encourage consumption of less-potent cannabis.

Establishing safe and responsible supply chain

•  Regulate production at federal level and use licensing and production controls to ensure a diverse and competitive market.

•  Seed-to-sale tracking system.

•  No shared location of alcohol or tobacco with cannabis sales.

•  In addition to dedicated cannabis storefronts, allow mail-order access for consumers.

•  Local control ordinances.

Enforcing public safety and protection

•  Economic analysis for taxes and product pricing to balance health protection and reduction of illicit market.

•  Revenue used as source for administration, education, research, enforcement, prevention and treatment.

•  Collaboration with provinces, territories and employers to develop workforce impairment policies.

•  Prevention strategies to address underlying risk factors of problematic cannabis use such as mental illness or social marginalization.

•  Enforceable penalties to limit criminal prosecution for less-serious offenses.

•  Criminal offenses for illicit production, trafficking, possession for purpose of trafficking and trafficking to youths.

•  Focus of law enforcement focus on illicit activities for commercial gain, not “social sharing.”

•  Expansion of ban on public smoking of tobacco to include smoking of cannabis and vaping.

•  Limit for motorist impairment.

•  Technology research for screening devices.

•  Dedicated places to consume cannabis.

Medical marijuana

•  Separate medical access framework.

•  Research on use of cannabis and cannabinoids for medical purposes.

•  Reasonable affordability and availability in the marketplace.

Implementation

•  Program evaluation every five years.

•  Lessons shared with international community.

•  Progress reports to Canadians.

•  Coordination with governments and stakeholders.