You might want to buy yourself some gardening equipment this Christmas because it will soon be legal for Canadians to grow cannabis at home - if the federal government adopts rules suggested by their cannabis task force, that is. Today, Anne McLellan - the former cabinet minister who is chairing the task force - submitted a report outlining her team's recommendations to the government.
The recommendations were based on months of consultation with leaders in Canada's provinces and territories, stakeholders in jurisdictions that have legalized recreational marijuana (especially Colorado, Washington state and Uruguay), members of Canada's legal as well as gray market cannabis industries and thousands of citizens through an online questionnaire.
The paper includes over 80 recommendations that stress taking a public health approach to creating a legal market for recreational marijuana. Here are some highlights from the report that will shape the legalization bill that the government plans to introduce next spring.
The Legal Age
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to legalize recreational marijuana for one main reason: to impose regulations and restrictions that would keep cannabis away from kids. So setting the right legal age is essential to the success of his policy.
Some healthcare professionals recommend setting the legal age at 21 or even 25 because cannabis could pose a risk to the developing brain. But others argue that making the age of majority too high would create a black market for people 19 and 20. And that same black market could sell to younger teens as well.
The task force recommends setting the minimum age at 18 and letting provinces raise it to 19 in some provinces so that the legal age for marijuana and alcohol are the same. And it was a difficult decision given that the wellbeing of young Canadians is at stake.
"I think that where we've arrived is a fairly sensible point at which to draw a line that Canadians adults can make decisions," Dr. Mark Ware -- a member of the task force - said during the press conference.
"The critical point is that they are educated and informed about the decision that they're making....What matters is how we teach parents, children [and] the public about what the potential risks and harms of cannabis use are."
Home Growing and Personal Possession
The task force recommends putting a 30 gram (just over one ounce) cap on the amount of cannabis flower that a person can carry on themselves in public, which is about the same as the limit in states like Colorado, Oregon and California. They also recommend preventing retailers from selling more than 30 grams of recreational marijuana to one person at a time. And they want the government to put comparable limits on other forms of cannabis - concentrates like hash, oils, edibles - as well.
In terms of where you can smoke, the task force suggests making cannabis consumers follow the same rules as tobacco smokers when it comes to having a puff in public.
And they encourage the government to allow Canadians to grow cannabis at home - with a four-plant limit per residence. Which is comparable to the rules in Colorado and other legal states. But they also want a 100-centimeter limit on the height of plants, which isn't something we've seen before. So don't be surprised if you see a lot of bylaw officers carrying meter sticks around once legalization is in effect.
One of the hot-button issues in legal states is whether or not cannabis social clubs (think marijuana bars) should be allowed to operate. They're not permitted in states like Washington and Oregon, but the city of Denver, California, Maine and other states that have legalized recently are experimenting with permitting onsite consumption at certain businesses.
Canada's task force recommends letting provinces and territories decide whether or not to permit cannabis lounges and tasting rooms in their jurisdictions. So whether or not you'll go to an Amsterdam-esque cannabis cafe will depend on where you live.
Production and Distribution
Right now, it is illegal to grow cannabis outdoors in Canada. But the task force wants to change that in light of the environmental impact that indoor cultivation can have.
Allowing people to grow outdoors would also encourage smaller producers to compete with larger corporations, which is something that the task force encourages so that big corporations don't take over Canada's cannabis industry.
"We heard from a great many parties that they wanted a diversity of producers and we agree with that," McLellan said during the press conference. "Diversity is an important value in relation to the producers. There will be means by which the government going forward - through implementation and market intervention - to ensure a degree of diversity [in the market]."
McLellan added that provinces and territories want to decide the specifics of where and how cannabis will be sold in their jurisdictions. And the task force agreed - after adding a few stipulations. Notably, the task force opposes letting retailers "co-locate" alcohol, tobacco and cannabis. That means liquor stores or privately owned stores selling cigarettes won't be allowed to sell cannabis as well.
The task force also recommends setting limits on the density and location of storefronts so that clusters or pot shops don't form in cities, and cannabis stores are kept away from schools, community centers and public parks.
The team also recommends offering a mail-order system similar to the one that medical marijuana patients in Canada use to order their medicine.
Taxes and Prices
The task force spent a lot of time discussing the price and tax rate for cannabis, but they didn't come up with magic numbers that would make legalization in Canada a success. Instead, they recommend that the government adopt rates that are low enough to undermine the black market while not so low that droves of people start using cannabis for a cheap high.
They also recommend adopting a tax scheme based on THC content to discourage people from buying high-potency products.
As for what cannabis taxes will be spent on, the task force didn't get into specifics. But during the press conference, McLellan stressed that the government should invest money in educating the public about cannabis, researching its health effects and enforcing regulations.
The trickiest issue in the recommendations was keeping roads safe. Right now, there is no surefire test to determine if a driver has consumed too much cannabis, so the task force suggests using public education as a stopgap until they are able to screen high drivers. Basically, they want the government to inform the public that the safest way to drive is to avoid cannabis entirely before getting behind the wheel.
"The science is not quite there," McLellan said. "But the science is very quickly catching up. And that's what the DDC [DNA Diagnostics Center] has been asked to consider right now. And it will obviously be instructive to all of us to see what they conclude."
And the task force recommends that Canada assist that research by investing in it as well as the development of tools for cannabis screening. But in the short term, they are calling for the government to invest in law enforcement so that police have the resources to get impaired drivers off the road.