Ever since he was elected last fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been reluctant to talk about the recreational and economic potential of a legal cannabis industry, preferring instead to focus on reducing crime and restricting access to young people.

But Trudeau was pulled into that debate once again yesterday at an economic conference in Toronto, after Tokyo Smoke owner and conference speaker Alan Gertner said that Canada "could be to cannabis what France is to wine," based on the already high quality strains being produced by the country's licensed producers.

Alan Gertner (photo by Josh Lyon)

Gertner said the LPs are already a vital part of a growing, diverse new industry that also includes retail businesses like Tokyo Smoke, located in downtown Toronto. Legalization will allow them to maximize the potential of a ready consumer market, he said.

Taking part in the same conference, Trudeau was asked for his response to Gertner's claim about the growth potential of the country's cannabis industry. Trudeau first showed good humour, getting a laugh from the room by saying he disagreed with Gertner because of the "[high] calibre of Canadian wines now, from the Okanagan, from Niagara."

Then Trudeau launched into his regular spiel about protecting kids and fighting crime.

"Our approach on legalizing marijuana is not about creating a boutique industry or bringing in tax revenues," he said. It's based on "two simple principles," he said: keeping it out of the hands of kids and shutting down organized crime that benefits from the illegal marijuana trade.

Trudeau fights crime, entrepreneurs build a new industry

You could take Trudeau's comments as a rebuke of Gertner's vision of cannabis as a robust, new economic and cultural driver. But notice that Trudeau says "our approach" - meaning his government. He doesn't say the private sector can't have a different approach, or agenda for legalization.

In fact, he closes his remarks by saying this: "I have no doubt that Canadians and entrepreneurs will be tremendously innovative in finding ways to create positive economic benefits from legalization...but our focus is on protecting kids and protecting our streets."

So the industry could have a bright future, as long as the new rules and restrictions don't prevent the development and growth of that market from taking place.

Civilized recently profiled Gertner in a piece called, 'Why Alan Gertner Left A Great Job At Google To Start Tokyo Smoke In Toronto.'

banner image: Flickr / Jacob McCallum

h/t The Huffington Post, The Globe and Mail.