Calgary marijuana community says government killing buzz around legalization

Cannabis advocates in Calgary say the initial high around legalization is wearing off as quickly as the government releases more details of how it will happen and new laws involved.

Users and advocates say stiff penalties announced this week continue to demonize marijuana

Pro-cannabis groups and businesses in Calgary have a long list of concerns as more details are released around legalization. (Robert Short/CBC)

Cannabis advocates in Calgary say the initial high around legalization is wearing off.

The Liberals released more details about their plan on Thursday along with federal legislation, including two new bills: one to regulate the recreational use, sale and growing of marijuana, and another that strengthens measures to stop impaired driving.

Pro-marijuana groups in Calgary are worried about tough sanctions for breaking the new rules. They also say small businesses are getting shut out and the current regulatory model for medicinal cannabis doesn't do enough to protect consumers.

President of the Calgary Cannabis Club John Ferrier says he supports legalization but has concerns. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"I'm happy it's moving forward but at the same time there are a lot of really harsh penalties," said president of the Calgary Cannabis Club, John Ferrier.

The new legislation includes up to 14 years in prison for the illegal distribution or sale, as well as up to 14 years in prison for giving or selling marijuana to minors.

"Fourteen years for anything marijuana related is a really, really stiff penalty. It should be closer to alcohol. This just brings out the stigma around marijuana and we need to drop that stigma," said Ferrier.

Ferrier says his club agrees with the Liberal government's goal of reducing access of cannabis to children and preventing impaired driving, but the sentences announced are unreasonable and there are still questions around how impaired driving enforcement will work.

Sebastian Campbell says allowing people to possess 30 grams of marijuana once legalization kicks in is one of the positives announced by the Liberal government. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

"Two weeks ago I would have said I was really excited, but today I'm not really excited," said one of the club's members Sebastian Campbell.

Campbell says the government's 30 gram limit for possession is a good start but there are still lots of negatives and unknowns.

"On listening to some of the legislation I'm not so optimistic any more," said another one of the cannabis club's members, Gordon Hayes.

Hayes had also hoped legalization would see small businesses and mom-and-pop marijuana operations thrive, but he says the focus seems to be on a monopoly for big, licensed producers who already struggle to meet the demand from registered users.

Business owners have concerns about everything from how marijuana will be sold to marketing and promoting marijuana products once weed is legal. (Hemp Roots)

Marijuana-related stores and head shops in Calgary also don't like what they're hearing on legalization so far.

"Overall we've been disappointed," said Angelina Douvis, owner of Hemp Roots. "Regulations still treat cannabis like it's a criminal substance. It's absurd."

Douvis adds that limiting the marketing and promotion of marijuana, including plain packaging with no product information or branding, is the exact opposite of how alcohol is treated and will leave purchasers ill-informed.

The owner of another Calgary businesses, the 420 clinic, says the new legislation could have a negative impact on medical users of cannabis, with licensed producers chasing the higher THC recreational market and ignoring medical-based CBD marijuana strains.

"For us it would be very disappointing for Canadians to forget about the medical side of things," says clinic owner Jeff Mooij.

Jeff Mooij owns the 4/20 Clinic in Inglewood. He says he hopes medical users can still access their meds once recreational use is legalized. (CBC)

"We have children and people that really require the CBD strains and it's difficult now to get it, let alone when marijuana becomes recreational."

Mooij says it's an historic moment for Canada but there's still a lot of unanswered questions for users, businesses and governments at the provincial level.

The provinces are responsible for deciding how weed will be distributed and whether the legal minimum age of 18 set by the federal legislation should be higher.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley said she wants to consult with Albertans on the issues and that a year might not be long enough.

The federal government insists it's still aiming to clear parliamentary and procedural hurdles to make pot legal by July 1, 2018.

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