Medical marijuana users unsure what Trudeau has planned for them

Canada's major marijuana producers are bracing for big changes with a pro-pot parliament waiting in the wings. During his campaign, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau said legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would be a top priority.

Legal pot industry poised to cash in, but medical users want more control

Christopher Enns is the owner of Farm Assist Cannabis Resource Centre in Halifax. (Blair Sanderson)

Canada's major marijuana producers are bracing for big changes, with a pro-pot parliament waiting in the wings.

During his campaign, prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau said legalizing the recreational use of marijuana would be a top priority.

But Christopher Enns, who runs a Halifax medical marijuana shop, isn't sure the anticipated new laws will change much for him.

He's licensed as a designated grower, but technically only allowed to supply one or two people. His shop has been raided by police twice.

And while he said he hopes his customers will eventually feel less stigmatized under the new Liberal government, as a small supplier, he's also feeling a little left out.

That's because the Conservative government brought in rules which forced new medical users to buy their pot from only a handful of certified industrial growers, and only through the mail.

Enns said the old way of selling in person was better for the buyer.

"You didn't have to purchase it without seeing it, without smelling it," he said. "You could look at it and make a decision as to whether this is a medicine that's going to work for you." 

A huge opportunity for investors, analyst says

Currently, the biggest marijuana producer in Canada is called Canopy Growth Corp., which is eager to expand once recreational use becomes legal.

Its CEO, Bruce Linton, said the medical marijuana supply side is now well established and relatively consolidated. But there are still many questions around how users will get their hands on it.

"The debate is going to be about the distribution," he said. "Should it arrive through the mail, should it be presented in something like the Ontario Beer Store? That's going to be the debate, and which provinces and in which order. But I think the actual ability to produce, control, make sure there are no criminal elements involved, we have that in Canada."

Investors seem to be confident too. On election day, Canopy's stock spiked. It's since leveled off, but analysts like Aaron Salz — a marijuana expert for Dundee Capital Markets — say recreational marijuana users represent a huge opportunity for those positioned to take advantage.

A marijuana plant on display during a 2004 rally on Parliament Hill in support of the legalization of pot. Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau has promised legalization of recreational marijuana use, but no timeline as yet. (Jim Young/Reuters)
"The interest from my side of the business, which is from the investment banking side, was when these companies went public," Salz said. 

"It took a system that was fragmented with 30 [to] 40,000 people, many of which were growing their own plants and supplying medical marijuana for themselves, into a program with 10 to 15 large companies supplying the medicinal market."

That corporatization of marijuana is not sitting well everyone, especially medical users who say their options are too limited.

"This legalized recreational market that's being proposed that will necessarily be heavily taxed," said Enns. "We're talking about a medicine. In no form is any other product in Canada taxed when it's a medicine."   

Enns also wants the next government to repeal the laws that prohibit the growing of marijuana by individuals for their own medical needs.

Salz isn't sure Trudeau will go that far, but he does believe the market will open up to smaller commercial producers, who may act almost like "micro-brewers" in the pot industry.

As for those who might be worried about how this will all play out, Salz says that will ultimately be up to the provinces, and they may allow individual municipalities to decide questions like how many stores should open, and where they'll be allowed to locate.

So far, Canada's next prime minister hasn't laid out a timeline as to when recreational use might be legal in Canada.


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