Task force recommendations on marijuana legalization said to leave decisions on dispensaries to the provinces

Legislation based partly on independent report expected to be tabled in spring of 2017

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      Justin Trudeau’s task force to legalize marijuana has completed its report on the issue and said it will be released to the public sometime before Christmas.

      While Vancouver dispensary operators anxiously wait to learn if they’ll be allowed to remain in business once a new legal framework takes effect, the National Post has published an article that claims to reveal some of what is contained in the document.

      “The key recommendation of the panel charged with outlining the framework for Canada’s legal marijuana regime is that the system should be geared toward getting rid of the $7-billion-a-year black market,” columnist  John Ivison wrote. “Sources familiar with the report, which is expected to be made public Dec. 21, say all the other recommendations flow from that guiding principle.”

      That means the price of a gram of marijuana should start at $10 or less, the report is said to recommend.

      Many other questions of how recreational marijuana should be distributed and regulated will be left up to the provinces to answer, according to the Post’s article, which is based on anonymous sources.

      That includes setting age restrictions on purchases and rules around where and when one can buy cannabis.

      “In provinces like B.C., which already has a large number of pot shops, the expectation is that the provincial government will require dispensaries to buy marijuana from a licensed producer,” the Post’s story reads.

      If the Ottawa does say that specialized storefronts like those in Vancouver will not contravene new federal rules for the sale of marijuana, all eyes in Vancouver’s cannabis industry will turn to Premier Christy Clark and the B.C. Liberals. Up until now, the province has tried its best to avoid taking any sort of position on recreational marijuana, although in January, B.C. health minister Terry Lake did say he personally would prefer it if marijuana sales were integrated into liquor stores.

      The Post report notes that other provinces such as Ontario may favour a model where marijuana sales are integrated into liquor stores or pharmacies. Those options will also be available to the B.C. government, though the situation here is complicated by the large number of storefronts that have already operated in Vancouver and other cities for several years now and, in a few cases, even decades.

      There is also legitimacy to the industry here since the City of Vancouver began regulating marijuana dispensaries earlier this year, charging licensing fees, levying fines for noncompliance, and setting rules for how they should conduct their business despite the sale of cannabis remaining illegal under federal law.

      The task force’s report is also said to include some discussion of expanding the federal government’s existing mail-order system for medical marijuana to extend to purchases of recreational pot.

      Legislation based in part on the independent body’s report is expected to be tabled in the spring of 2017.

      The task force consists of nine individuals who were tasked with setting guiding principles for the country’s path to marijuana legalization. From B.C., the group includes: 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.

      It is chaired by Anne McLellan, a former Alberta MP who was instrumental in seeing marijuana activist Marc Emery extradited to the United States. Dr. Mark Ware serves 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 task force’s report is a nonbinding document that only consists of recommendations. Health Minister Jane Philpott has said legislation that takes those recommendations into account will be tabled in the legislature in the spring of 2017. 

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