Politics

Pot legalization bill provides many answers, but leaves some key issues in limbo

Public awareness campaign on drug-impaired driving 'clearly inadequate,' CAA says

Peter Zimonjic - CBC News

April 14, 2017

Edible cannabis products, like these gummy candies, will only be made legal when federal regulations for the production and sale of edible products can be 'developed and brought into force.' (Laval Police)

While Thursday's pot legalization bill answered a great many questions on what the Liberals want a legal recreational marijuana market to look like, some key details still need to be worked out.

Between yesterday's introduction of the bill to legalize cannabis, and the 15 months it will take to pass it into law, some areas of the bill are likely to be modified at committee, while other areas will need to be fleshed out more fully — both in Ottawa and in the provinces and territories.

ADVERTISEMENT

Some of those issues include defining what the future will be for edible cannabis products, what the price of cannabis will be, how marijuana will be taxed and how advertising and packaging restrictions will look at the time of royal assent. We'll also wait to see what a national awareness campaign will look like and how well it will be funded.

The bill does not deal with edible products such as chocolate bars and chewable gummy sweets laced with cannabis, but does say that those products will be "made available at a later date."

That will only happen, according to the government, when federal regulations for the production and sale of edible products can be "developed and brought into force."

It is unclear what the timetable will be, but not everyone who consumes cannabis does so by smoking it, so the federal government is likely to come under pressure to move on that file in the near future.

Sales and distribution

The federal government has set out some broad strokes for how marijuana will be sold. Licensed vendors can't sell to people under the age of 18 at a minimum, but provinces can set a higher age.

The federal government will license producers, but how pot is distributed, and how much it will cost, will fall to the provinces and territories.

Interestingly, if a province refuses to implement a system to license the distribution and sale of cannabis, the federal government reserves the right to step in and do it.

Thursday's bill sets out that the provinces will have to decide where pot can be sold and consumed, who can sell and distribute it, for how much, and what the legal age for consumption will be. That could mean very different things in different parts of the country.

At Issue | Liberals table pot legislation  14:18

Public awareness campaign

The federal government has earmarked $9.6 million over five years for a "comprehensive public education and awareness campaign," but what will that look like and is that enough money?

The Canadian Automobile Association says that level of funding "is clearly inadequate, given the misconceptions about marijuana's effect on driving."

The CAA said that a quarter of Canadians aged 18 to 34 believe a driver is either better at operating a vehicle, or the same, when they are high on marijuana compared with being completely sober.

"We know from our experience with alcohol that public education significantly reduces the amount of impaired driving. It is urgent we get police properly trained, and messaging on myths and penalties to people," the CAA said in a statement.

So what that publicly funded awareness campaign will look like, or how it could be expanded, could change in the coming months.

Taxation and revenue sharing

So far there has been little indication how cannabis will be taxed and how that tax revenue will be shared.

The federal government appears to be working on proposals for that, saying Thursday it will share more details on what the tax system will look like "in the months ahead."

Will the GST be applied to pot? Will provincial sales tax also be applied? Will there be some new sort of cannabis tax introduced that shares revenue with the provinces, or will the federal government impose its own tax and tell the provinces to do the same?

This is an issue that will likely need to be worked out before full legalization if the provinces are going to have the funding they need to hold up regulation and enforcement on the ground.

Marketing and promotion

The federal government has laid out some detailed rules on the marketing and promotion of cannabis.

There are restrictions on branding. There can also be no use of testimonials or endorsements, people or characters, real or fictional, to promote the drug.

No facility that is used for sports or cultural events can be branded by a company that produces, sells, or distributes cannabis or any products or services related to the drug.

That has some producers concerned they will not be able to tell consumers why buying their legal pot is better than turning to the black market.

"Professional companies must be allowed to explain to consumers why our products are superior to those offered by their illegal competitors," said Brendan Kennedy, president of Tilray, a Nanaimo, B.C.-based medical marijuana company that services the Canadian market.

The U.S. question

There is also the question of how the U.S. will react to sharing a virtually unprotected border with a country that has legalized the recreational consumption of marijuana.

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson told CBC that it does not expect Canada and the U.S.'s long-standing co-operation on drug trafficking to change as a result of legalization.

"Legalization of marijuana in Canada will not have any impact on marijuana's legality in the United States," the spokesperson said. "Thus, it is important that Canadians are aware of possible actions they may face upon attempted entrance into the United States if they possess or have residue of marijuana."