Ottawa takes cover off regulation plan for recreational cannabis

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OTTAWA — The federal government has revealed part of its strategy for regulating recreational cannabis when it becomes legal in July, proposing to allow "micro-cultivation" while modifying the existing federal licensing scheme for medical marijuana producers to let them sell into the future market.

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This article was published 21/11/2017 (1768 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal government has revealed part of its strategy for regulating recreational cannabis when it becomes legal in July, proposing to allow “micro-cultivation” while modifying the existing federal licensing scheme for medical marijuana producers to let them sell into the future market.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor released a 75-page consultation document Tuesday afternoon, kicking off a 60-day period for officials, groups and citizens to respond to the plan.

“We want a system that will better protect the health of Canadians, and that will enable a diverse, competitive and legal industry comprising both large and small players,” the minister told reporters.

Justin Tang / The Canadian Press files Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017.

The plan would give the health minister the power to grant security clearances to prospective cannabis-industry players and exclude people with connections to organized crime, corruption or drug trafficking. The proposed regulations could, however, leave the door open to clearing certain black-market participants deemed “non-violent” and “lower-risk.”

New licensing categories would be created for different kinds of businesses, including four for cultivation and two for processing, along with licences for testing, import/export and research.

Although regulating sales of recreational cannabis will be the purview of individual provinces and territories after legalization, the proposed regulations would let the health minister issue sales licences if “a province or territory has not established a retail environment with appropriate safeguards to enable the purchase of legal, regulated cannabis by July 2018.”

In its bid to undercut the black market, the document says Ottawa seeks “both large and small players in regions across the country” to cultivate and sell cannabis products. The proposed “micro-cultivation” licences would “enable the participation of small-scale growers in the legal cannabis industry.”

In a technical briefing, a government of Canada official said cannabis cultivators of all sizes would have to have their product processed for sale by a company with a processing licence before it could be sold to consumers. Companies will be able to hold multiple licences of different types, so some companies would be able to process their own crop.

“It’s recognizing that, over time, we’re seeing an industry that becomes less vertically integrated and more horizontal, if you will,” the official said.

On Parliament Hill, Liberal MP Bill Blair stressed cannabis distribution will fall under provincial regulation, and the provinces can place further restrictions on things such as the minimum age for purchasing cannabis and personal possession limits. The postal service is largely exempted from those regulations, as it follows federal rules.

Under the federal government’s proposed Cannabis Act, the minimum age for purchase and consumption will be 18 and an adult will be able to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana on their person.

“The provinces will be able to obtain from any licensed producer, for distribution within their jurisdiction,” Blair said.

Building off the current federal regulations for licensed medical cannabis producers, the proposed regulations call for mixed security measures based on the size of the company involved. Smaller-scale operations would need a locked door, but wouldn’t require alarms.

The proposed regulations would diminish some existing security measures for large licensed producers, doing away with certain strict storage requirements, reducing the length of time for which surveillance video must be kept on file, eliminating the need for CCTV in cannabis-growing areas and easing the requirement for security-cleared individuals to supervise employees in any room where cannabis is present.

Ottawa is asking the public whether such permits should be available for people with “histories of non-violent, lower-risk criminal activity,” such as small-scale growers. That could be a boon to existing black-market participants in the industry, many of whom have expressed a desire to join the legal, federally licensed regime.

Petitpas Taylor acknowledged more than 500,000 Canadians carry a criminal record for comparatively minor offences related to marijuana.

“We’re just asking the question, you know: should these people with a small amount of personal possession — should they be excluded from the market, or should we consider them? We haven’t made a decision on that.”

During the technical briefing, a government official said the call for feedback was “acknowledging that there are a number of individuals in Canada right now who will be interested in becoming part of the regulated market, yet who have a past experience with cannabis.”

A national “cannabis tracking system” would be established to follow it from production to point of sale, including how much is grown, sold and destroyed. The proposed regulations note, however, the minister of health “could not require the reporting of any personal information about consumers who purchase cannabis at the retail level.”

Winnipeg MP Doug Eyolfson, a Liberal who sits on the health committee, said Tuesday’s proposed packaging rules are “stringent enough,” but he hopes they will go further.

The federal proposal aims to restrict the colours and images used to label cannabis products — but it doesn’t go as far as ongoing plans for cigarettes. Health Canada is pushing for plain packaging for tobacco products, with no colours and the only image being graphic health warnings. (The industry has claimed that will drive up demand for contraband cigarettes.)

“I could see them bring a bit of a balance in this… if we have people with business opportunities who feel their business is unduly restricted,” said Eyolfson, a former physician who is sponsoring a Senate bill aimed at banning junk food advertising that targets children. “The main thing we’re doing is making sure it’s not appealing to children at all.”

The regulations do propose a variety of information to be included on cannabis product labels, including a description of the product, lot numbers, packaging and expiry dates, storage recommendations, and a breakdown of THC and CBD — two important chemical compounds found in cannabis.

A warning reading “Keep out of the reach of children” was also proposed.

Single-dose products meant for inhalation, such as ready-to-smoke joints commonly called “pre-rolls,” would not be able to contain more than one gram of dried cannabis. Cannabis products meant for ingestion, including oils, would be limited to 10 milligrams of THC per dose, in line with the approach taken by legal U.S. jurisdictions such as Colorado.

Regulations for mass-produced edible cannabis products will be developed later, “with a view to enabling the quality-controlled production and supply of these products after July 2018.”

The proposal notes provinces and municipalities can “tailor certain rules in their own jurisdiction,” such as a higher minimum age or more restrictive limits on growing or possessing marijuana.

Some Manitoba communities are considering restricting pot, and some have called to outright ban the sale or use of the product, though it would still be available through an online, mail-order system or by travelling to other jurisdictions.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

solomon.israel@freepress.mb.ca

Federal cannabis regulation proposal

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Updated on Tuesday, November 21, 2017 5:28 PM CST: Writethrough

Updated on Wednesday, November 22, 2017 11:21 AM CST: Corrects number of Canadians with records.

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