The official report from Canada's cannabis task force won't be released for a couple of weeks anyway. But some leaked details from the report give us a sense of what the group's recommendations will look like. According to John Ivison of The National Post - who has been in contact with sources familiar with the report - the recommendations are focused primarily on eliminating Canada's black market for marijuana.
To eliminate the black market, the task force recommends making the legal age for marijuana the same as the age of majority for purchasing liquor - 18 or 19 years old, depending on the province. It's a controversial move since some health organizations - including the College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC) - suggest restricting access to adults 25 or older because cannabis could pose a threat to a developing brain in younger consumers.
But advocates like Dr. Zach Walsh - a cannabis researcher at the University of British Columbia - argue that a higher age of majority could pose a greater threat to kids. "If 18-year-olds are left out, that's creating a black market that would also be accessible to 15-years-olds," Walsh told Civilized.
And it seems the task force agrees that undercutting illicit sales is the best way to keep kids safe.
The leaked report also recommends setting the price for marijuana below what Canadians pay on the street - $8-10 per gram. Cheaper cannabis could undercut illicit sales substantially. And making cannabis affordable has been part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's plan ever since he pledged to legalize marijuana.
"The fact is that if you tax it too much, as you saw with cigarettes, you end up driving things toward a black market, which will not keep Canadians safe - particularly young Canadians," Trudeau said in December 2015. "Yes, there is potential for a bit of revenue on that, but we're certainly not looking for a windfall."
Retail and distribution
After those details, Ivison's overview gets a bit hazy - especially about distribution. "To ensure consumers receive a Health Canada-approved product, the report is expected to recommend the existing mail-order distribution network be maintained," he wrote. That means recreational consumers would have to get cannabis the same way as medical marijuana patients - through a mail-order system connecting consumers with licensed producers (LPs).
Forcing consumers to get their cannabis solely through the mail seems untenable in the long run. Why wait however many days it takes for a shipment to arrive when you can buy a gram on the street in an hour for only a couple bucks more?
But that system might just be a stopgap as provinces and territories figure out a longterm solution for distribution. Ivison notes that the timetable for legalization could put jurisdiction in a scramble to open retailers in time. The bill to legalize cannabis is expected to be introduced by spring 2017, and recreational sales could begin in 2018.
So expanding the mail-order system could buy some time as provinces and territories work out their distribution systems.
And at least one licensed producer recommends using the mail-order system as a stopgap.
"We are a very, very large country," Denis Arsenault - CEO of OrganiGram - told Civilized last winter. "If you put the mail-order system in place on day one [of recreational sales], you have product distribution in every corner of the country."
And he thinks that there will be demand for a mail-order system even if retailers open.
"Even though it will be legal in a year, it's still a product that will have a stigma attached to it for many years," Arsenault added. "If you leave the mail-order system, it allows the consumer to remain anonymous while trying something that might be legal but still has a social stigma. Your local pastor won't want to be seen at the marijuana counter of the local liquor store."
Meanwhile, Ivison's article doesn't say the report addresses Canada's gray market dispensaries - illegal storefronts selling marijuana in cities across the country. The omission doesn't necessarily mean that the government will try to close these illicit stores, but it's something owners, employees and customers expect to see addressed in it.
The Full Recommendations
The full recommendations are expected to be released in mid- to late-December. The task force handed in their report on November 30, but it has to be translated into both official languages before being officially released. So Canada's cannabis industry could get an early Christmas present if the proposed regulations are favorable.
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