Ottawa's task force to legalize marijuana leaves out dispensary advocates

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      The federal government has named nine individuals who will guide the country’s process to legalize recreational marijuana.

      Names familiar to Vancouver include Dr. Perry Kendall, who is B.C.’s senior public health official; Susan Boyd, a professor at the University of Victoria who played a role in shaping B.C. polices on harm reduction; and George Chow, a former Vancouver city councillor who was once a vocal opponent of Vancouver’s first supervised-injection site.

      The panel will be chaired by Anne McLellan, a former Alberta MP who was instrumental in seeing marijuana activist Marc Emery extradited to the United States where he subsequently spent more than four years in prison for selling seeds.

      Dr. Mark Ware will serve as task force vice chair. He’s the executive director of the Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids, a nonprofit research group that focuses on marijuana’s therapeutic applications, and an associate professor of family medicine at McGill University.

      The remaining task force members are Marlene Jesso, a police officer who has focused on the enforcement of drug laws; Rafik Souccar, a former RCMP officer who similarly concentrated on drug enforcement and organized crime; Barbara von Tigerstrom, a lawyer with experience in the regulation of pharmaceuticals as well as alcohol and tobacco; and Catherine Zahn, president and CEO of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

      Noticeably absent from the list of names is anyone from B.C.’s dispensary industry. For example, Dieter MacPherson, president of the Canadian Association of Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries, and Jamie Shaw, who previously held that position.

      The task force also lacks representation from activists who have pushed for legalization over the course of the last three decades. Jodie Emery, owner of Cannabis Culture and perhaps the country’s best-known advocate for marijuana reform, made a formal request for a seat that went unanswered. Dana Larsen, who led an unsuccessful attempt to see B.C. decriminalize marijuana via a referendum, was also skipped over. Two B.C. lawyers who have represented clients in some of the country’s highest-profile cases concerning marijuana, Kirk Tousaw and John Conroy, were also left off the panel.

      Representatives with ties to federally licensed producers of medical marijuana were also left out. For example, Mike Harcourt, who served as B.C. premier from 1991 to 1996 and who now advises True Leaf Medicine Inc., and Kash Heed, a former B.C. MLA and one-time commanding officer of the Vancouver police drug squad who has since gone to work as a consultant for legal grow operations. There's also nobody on the task force from Canada's pharmaceutical industry or from the beer and liquor lobby.

      Speaking at a press conference in Ottawa this morning (June 30), Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould emphasized that until legislation that legalizes marijuana is passed into law, Canada’s current regulatory regime that criminalizes marijuana remains in effect.

      “It will rebalance legal treatment of marijuana to keep pace with the changes in our society while protecting public health and safety,” said the MP for Vancouver Granville. “It is important for Canadians to remember, however, that while this process unfolds, the current criminal laws on marijuana remain in force. Production and possession of marijuana are illegal unless it has been authorized for medical purposes. The Government of Canada supports efforts by federal, provincial, and municipal law enforcement to enforce these laws.”

      Wilson-Raybould said that the task force’s membership was selected in consultation with the country’s minister of health and minister of public safety, with her parliamentary secretary and former Toronto chief of police Bill Blair, and representatives from the provinces and territories.

      “This is the first step in the process that will result in the new legislation,” she said. “Our legislation will be informed by the views of Canadians, our provincial and territorial partners, experts in public health, and law enforcement.”

      Today the government also published a discussion paper about marijuana legalization and regulation. Members of the public can provide input via an online form beginning today and until August 29, 2016.

      The task force is scheduled to present its final report in November 2016. Legislation is expected to be tabled in the spring of 2017.

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