Marijuana in Montreal: Advocate sees bright future for legalized pot

CBC's Daybreak spoke to Adam Greenblatt, executive director of Santé Cannabis -Quebec’s first medical marijuana clinic - about the future of marijuana in Quebec.

Selling marijuana at SAQ not 'best place to sell cannabis,' says Santé Cannabis co-founder

Adam Greenblatt, co-founder of the medical marijuana clinic Santé Cannabis, says some of the tax revenue from marijuana could go toward awareness campaigns. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)

Montreal is abuzz with the federal Liberal government's electoral promise to legalize marijuana.

So CBC Montreal's Daybreak is rolling out a week-long series it's calling Montreal 420, which will take a look at the challenges and opportunities facing the city if the federal government legalizes marijuana for recreational use.

To launch the series, Daybreak spoke to Adam Greenblatt, co-founder and executive director of Santé Cannabis, Quebec's first medical marijuana clinic, and asked him what he thought about the future of marijuana in Quebec.

Here are key excerpts of that interview with Greenblatt:

What the marijuana industry looks like now:
A customer checks the aroma of a jar of medicinal marijuana at Canna Care, a medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

The medical marijuana industry was privatized by the Harper government a few years ago. There are now more than 20 companies that have been licensed by Health Canada to grow and sell cannabis for medical purposes.

It's an example of a strictly over-regulated system.

Licensed producers are not allowed to run storefronts, and they're very limited in terms of the types of products that they can sell. It is a world-class system in terms of how the federal government regulates [cannabis], but there's still some intrinsic flaws.

On selling marijuana at the SAQ:
The union representing workers at Quebec liquor stores says it has ordered a study into the possibility of selling marijuana through SAQ outlets. (Radio-Canada)

I think it's the path of least resistance for provincial governments [which] are just starting to wrap their heads around it.

But ultimately, I don't feel that liquor stores are the best place to sell cannabis, and I don't think that we need to enact a state monopoly on marijuana sales in order to restrict access to youth.

I think that there's already a very diverse and well established private sector for medical cannabis, and non-medical cannabis as well, that could be brought into whatever framework comes out.

What legalized marijuana will look like:
Marijuana dispensaries like this one are proliferating in Vancouver, B.C. (CBC)

[It will look] very much like it looks in places like Colorado, Oregon and even Vancouver. I think you'll see government-regulated but privately owned marijuana retail outlets. You're going to need coffee shops and social clubs where people can go and use marijuana together, like how we go to bars and enjoy alcohol together.

You're also going to need provisions that draw the line between growing for yourself and growing for a commercial purpose with the intent to sell, so there will be a licensing system set up for producers and retailers.

The effect of legalization on the black market:
A bag of marijuana sits next to a money jar at BotanaCare in Northglenn, Colo. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

That depends how it's done.

If the legalization that's enacted is too restrictive and over-regulated, it will do nothing to curb the proliferation of organized crime and their capacity to profit from the cannabis trade.

We need to be able to strike the right balance in the regulation that incentivizes current cannabis consumers to come over to the legal market, and that means it can't be over-taxed, it can't be over-regulated, there can't be arbitrary restrictions on the types of products available, and these are all risks that we'll be hashing out (pun intended) over the years to come.

On increasing legal penalties:
A 2013 UNICEF report found 28 per cent of Canadian youth aged 11, 13 and 15 had reported using cannabis in the preceding year - the highest among countries surveyed. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

In terms of supplying to minors, yes, we would have to craft some new laws like we have for alcohol and tobacco — it's not legal to sell to minors.

But in terms of impaired driving, there's no need to reinvent the wheel. Whether you're impaired by alcohol or cannabis, or fatigue or prescription pain medication — we've got very strong laws against that already.

How his clinic would change:
Santé Cannabis is in Montreal's Gay Village neighbourhood. (Kate McKenna/CBC)

Our clinic is still very much focused on research and data collection, so we don't expect much will change.

Cannabis is also an emergent medical treatment for a lot of different conditions, and we need to know a lot more about it. For this last century of prohibition, that kind of research has been difficult to do.

There's still a need for medical marijuana, and under a legalized framework, the difference should be that people with a prescription should get cost coverage for that marijuana, and they should not be paying whatever excise or sin tax is applied to the recreational consumer.

On the downsides to public health:
Studies have shown there are a wide range of risks associated with pot-smoking - from increased risk of heart disease and stroke to higher incidence of gum disease. (Kevin Frayer/Canadian Press)

The dependence rate is pretty low for cannabis — it's about nine per cent if you take the data at face value.

Overdosing is also quite rare with cannabis. It's impossible to have a fatal overdose, but if you eat a brownie it can be very strong, especially to inexperienced users.

This entire process of legalizing cannabis will have to be paralleled with a sensible health awareness campaign that raises awareness about what you can and can't do within these new marijuana laws.

Canada on the edge of something big:
The federal Liberals campaigned on a promise to 'legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana.' (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Canada is already a leader in the marijuana sector worldwide. Other countries look to our medical program as an example, and I believe the same will happen with non-medical marijuana.

The future is bright for Canada and legal cannabis.

Follow the conversation every day this week on Daybreak. Tune in to CBC Montreal on the radio or listen live here.

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