MONTREAL – There is an overwhelming national consensus that legal marijuana must be priced, taxed and made available competitively with the black market, the man tasked with leading the drug’s legalization in Canada said Monday.
All the provinces agree more needs to be done to better protect children and to take away revenues from organized criminals, MP Bill Blair said in an interview Monday.
Canada plans on legalizing marijuana by July 2018 by allowing adults to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in public, and to grow up to four plants per household.
Distribution and sale of the drug is up to the provinces, however, and there are still questions about how much they will tax marijuana or restrict its availability on their territory.
Blair has been on a national tour speaking with municipal and provincial politicians and other stakeholders regarding the fast-approaching legalization deadline.
The details are still unclear as to how provinces such as Quebec will legislate the distribution, price and access of legal pot and public consultations are ongoing across the province.
“I would never presume to speak for Quebec or any other province in this regard,” Blair said. “But in all the conversations I’ve been involved with — including Quebec — there is an overwhelming consensus that we need to do a better job protecting our communities and our kids.
“That we don’t want to leave this business with organized crime, and in order to defeat organized crime on this thing, we have to be able to be competitive with price and quality and access.”
Blair said while there will savings to the provinces by reducing the number of marijuana-related arrests and cases moving through the criminal court system, an investment up-front will still be required.
“We’re going to have to invest in infrastructure and administration and those who are responsible for keeping communities safe will need legislation, technology, the tools, resources and training — and that will require investment,” he said.
Adam Greenblatt with Ontario-based medical marijuana company, Canopy Growth, said an important issue in the debate is product branding.
Bill C-45, the legislation to legalize marijuana that is making its way through the Parliamentary process, prohibits marketing the drug in a way “that could be appealing to young persons or encourage its consumption.”
“It’s important for us to differentiate our products from one another, but also from the illicit market,” Greenblatt said. “Brands help solidify consumer confidence.”
Blair said there is room in the legislation to allow “for some level of branding” — but within reasonable limits.
If provinces aren’t ready with their legal framework by July 2018, the federal government plans on making weed available to any Canadians by the federally regulated mail service through licensed producers, which is currently how many medical marijuana patients receive their product.
Greenblatt, Quebec brand manager for Canopy Growth, said allowing direct online sales to anyone in Quebec “is a touchy issue” in the province.
He said the province’s health authorities have raised concerns about mail-order marijuana once it becomes legal.
Greenblatt, whose company sells marijuana online and delivers it to patients through the mail, said “it’s all the more important to allow us to continue doing this because there is already a black market mail-order business.”