OTTAWA — As Justin Trudeau prepares to tackle the politics of legalizing pot as part of his Liberal government's legislative agenda, industry experts say he will have access to a world-class marijuana framework set up under the Conservative government.
Chuck Rifici, co-founder of Canada's first publicly traded marijuana manufacturer, says a renowned production and distribution system has already been established under the medicinal umbrella.
Rifici — also a volunteer chief financial officer for the Liberal party's national board of directors — credits Stephen Harper for the country's expansive marijuana infrastructure.
"I'm sure it's not something he would like to have on his resume but I think only a Conservative government could have created MMPR (Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations)," he said. "I think if another government had been in power the Conservative base would have been up in arms ...
"Obviously the courts have forced them along the way, but they've put in a very robust ... system."
In 2013, the Conservative government announced Health Canada would no longer produce pot for patients — a decision that sparked the creation of commercial industry for medical marijuana.
Trudeau's Liberals have promised to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana.
"Canada's current system of marijuana prohibition does not work," the Liberal election platform said.
"We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework."
The first step in the path to legalization will be to establish a provincial, territorial and federal task force to hear from public health, substance abuse and public safety experts.
Donald MacPherson, the director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, said Canada is well-positioned to tackle this issue.
There has been a vigorous discussion underway in the academic and public health community for the last decade because many believed legalization was inevitable, he added.
MacPherson says he would like to see the Liberal government to move forward on this undertaking early in its four year term — though "that doesn't mean rushing it."
He also says it is important to fund research to monitor and evaluate the regulatory system once it is up and running.
"I think that's essential," he said. "This is new territory with an old substance so it is not going to be earth shattering ...
Brian Vicente, a Colorado-based lawyer heavily involved in the U.S. campaign to bring cannabis into a regulated market system, has been watching Canadian developments closely.
"I think it is a landmark change for Canada and I think they're on the cutting edge of what will be essentially an international movement," he said.
The Canadian task force is expected to mirror what was done in Colorado.
Those discussions were fascinating, Vicente said.
"We really made sure that they were diverse and all stakeholders were at the table including industry folks, including law enforcement, including elected officials, community members.
"It was really the first time in history that we had someone who had grown marijuana sitting in the same room as a sheriff or a law enforcement agent and law enforcement was not trying to arrest them."
Recreational marijuana is now legal in five American jurisdictions: Colorado, Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Washington, D.C.