Cannabis in Canada Pt 3

Cannabis in Canada: A Primer. Part Three.

Part Three: The Cannabis Task Force - Summary of Feedback and Recommendations

On June 30, 2016, the Government of Canada announced the creation of a nine-member Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. The mandate of the task force was to consult and provide advice to the Government of Canada on the design of a legislative and regulatory framework for legal access to cannabis. The task force published its final report five months later, on November 30th, 2016. This is a short summary of their key recommendations.

In the first chapter of the report, the task force described the Canadian and global context around the legalization of cannabis. The task force outlined the public policy objectives set by the government through legalization of cannabis – including to protect youth; to keep profits out of the hands of criminals; to reduce burdens on police and the justice system associated with simple possession of cannabis offences; to protect public health and safety; to prevent Canadians from entering the system; to focus on a public health approach; to enable data collection; and to establish and enforce a strict system for production and distribution.

In the second chapter, on minimizing harms of use, the task force made recommendations relating to promotion, advertising and marketing restrictions. Industry representatives had made the case for allowing branding of products, suggesting brand differentiation would help consumers distinguish sources of cannabis, however the task force recommended plain packaging, limited promotion in areas accessible only to adults, and restrictions to the advertising and promotion of cannabis and related merchandise.

The task force made a number of recommendations related to edibles, many of which were around prohibiting products deemed appealing to children and focusing on how products are packaged. There was also a recommendation to create a flexible legislative framework that could adapt to new evidence on product types. Recommendations were also made on potency, tax and price, prevention and treatment, workplace safety, and public education. It is worth noting that after consulting with states that have decriminalized and legalized cannabis, the task force recommended implementing an evidence-informed public education campaign, targeted at the general population but with an emphasis on youth, parents and vulnerable populations as soon as possible. To date, these efforts have been minimal, although in recent weeks this has been changing.

The third chapter of the report is about “establishing a safe and responsible supply chain”. The task force recommended responsibility for the regulation of production lie with the federal government, among other recommendations, while distribution of cannabis be regulated by provinces and territories. Regarding the retail of cannabis, it was recommended that wherever possible, there should not be co-location of alcohol or tobacco and cannabis sales. The task force also recommended limits on density and location of storefronts and access via a direct-to-consumer mail-order system. The task force concludes the chapter with recommendations for personal cultivation, including a limit of four plants per residence with a maximum height of 100cm per plant, reasonable security measures to prevent theft and youth access, and oversight and approval by local authorities.

The fourth chapter, on enforcing public safety and protection includes recommendations about penalties that should be in place, limits on personal possession (a recommended 30 grams), and places of use. On impaired driving, the task force describes uncertainty as to the appropriate course of action, as there is a lack of scientific evidence on reliably assessing impairment at the roadside, and the recommendation is made to invest in research on the matter.

Regarding medical cannabis use, dealt with in chapter 5, the task force recommends maintaining a separate medical access framework to support patients and to monitor and evaluate patients’ reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes and medical access framework in five years. Finally, in chapter 6, on implementation, the task force identifies that research will be critical to regulating the cannabis regime in two ways, first surveillance, to monitor the progress and efficacy of the regulatory measures, and second, research, to provide a better understanding of the benefits and harms of cannabis. The task force concludes the chapter with recommendations regarding communication with Canadians about the regulated system and with the international community about lessons learned.

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Photo credit: Daniel Hjalmarsson from Unsplash.

- By Heather Webster