07/05/2016 12:21 EDT | Updated 07/06/2016 03:59 EDT

We Must Remember The Mandate When Legalizing Marijuana

We have heard a lot about legalization, and right now everyone is talking about the regulations that will go along with that legalization, but it would be prudent to remember the mandate of the government: Legalize, Regulate, and Restrict Access to minor of cannabis products.

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Filed of inside marijuana plants with leaves and bud on top

We found out last week that Anne McLellan will be leading the new federal task force on marijuana legalization. Ms. McLellan is perfectly suited for this role as a former Minister of Health, Justice and Public Safety, she may be the only person to have held all three of those portfolios.

A few misconceptions have come out of this announcement, including this bizarre article in Now Magazine saying that storefronts have been ruled out. That is not at all the case in fact. Page 21 of the discussion paper clearly states:

"However, the system may need to be pragmatic to respond to the demand

for venues to consume marijuana outside the home in order to avoid proliferation of

consumption in all public spaces. Consideration could be given to identifying--and

strictly limiting and controlling--allowable sites for use by adults. This could serve to

minimize normalization of marijuana and protect against the exposure of non-users to

second-hand smoke and vapours."

Canadians will now have until August 29th to make submissions to this task force and a report is expected sometime in November.

If I could provide Ms. McLellan and the task force a single piece of advice, it would be to remember the mandate, and the reasons why this government chose to move towards legalization in the first place. The mandate of the government is to Legalize, Regulate and Restrict Access to minors of cannabis products.

We have heard a lot about legalization, and right now everyone is talking about the regulations that will go along with that legalization, but very few people are discussing the third part of the mandate, "restricting access".

We know that the government will be moving towards a Pharmacy model for the distribution of medicinal marijuana in the coming months according to lawyers John Conroy and Rosy Mondin. Presumably, this will include both Pharmacy chains like Shoppers, Rexall & Jean Coutu, but also allow existing dispensaries to compete by working with licensed pharmacists.

Not everyone will like that approach, but it will provide municipalities and enforcement agencies with a certain level of comfort, having a regulated professional like a pharmacist ensuring compliance with MMAR & MMPR regulations. This new approach should go a long way towards "restricting access", but that only deals with medicinal marijuana. Recreational, adult use marijuana will be more difficult to regulate to ensure a focus on restricting access.

What would ensure that children and teens don't have access to recreational cannabis, how would we eliminate the potential of access or at least reduce it to a minimum? That is hard to say exactly. The only certainty is that shutting down the industry that supplied MMAR patients for the past 15 years is NOT the right approach. Allowing smaller producers, craft cannabis and the existing cannabis culture to play a role in the future of marijuana will ensure there is no supply or economic incentive for a black market to operate.

Today, and for the past 80+ years, people face the possibility of criminal charges for possession & distribution of cannabis products. Why would anyone risk those consequences? Surely our current laws should provide incentive for restricting access, but they don't. Tightly regulating legal cannabis will do little to accomplish this.

By letting adult consumers decide the winners and losers in the cannabis industry, instead of the law makers, we can accomplish what Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government imagined when setting the mandate for legalization. Legalization is coming, the regulations will be set soon and likely evolve over time. It's important to start on the right path by remembering how to restrict access in the adult use recreational market.

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