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FEDERAL MINISTERS AT THE INDIGENOUS CANNABIS CONFERENCE
LICENSING, WATER, HEALTH AND PARDONS
By WT staff
The 2nd National Indigenous Cannabis and Hemp Conference took place from February 19 to 21, at the Shaw Centre in Ottawa, following in the footsteps of the inaugural conference held on Nov.18-21 on the Tsuut'ina Nation. The underlining theme of these conferences is that although the passage of Bill C-45 legalizing recreational cannabis creates tremendous economic opportunity for the country, it also created unprecedented social and political concerns for Indigenous communities.
At the Ottawa conference, while there were dissenting voices deploring the absence of native-specific provisions in the Cannabis Act, the atmosphere was congenial with most speakers stressing the need for education, friendship and networking between native communities.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Minister of Border Security & Crime Reduction, Bill Blair took to the podium, on the last day of the conference. While both Minsters underlined the government's efforts to engage in 'open, honest and ongoing dialogue' with Indigenous communities, Minister Taylor focused her address on Health Canada's continuing support for the research undertaken by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) to better understand the effects of cannabis on the body and its specific uses for different diseases or illnesses.
"CIHR has funded research on the role of cannabinoids in anxiety, epilepsy, nicotine addiction and nausea, bone disease, pain, Huntington disease, gut disorder and many others," she said.
For his part Minister Blair, stressed that the government had recognized at the very outset how important it is for Indigenous communities to participate in the cannabis industry, adding that
he knew how rigorous the regulatory requirements are. But that is was "important for us to regulate this industry properly and to protect the health and safety of our citizens".
He then detailed the various measures Health Canada had put in place to "provide support and service specifically tailored to the needs of indigenous communities", and the headway that had already been achieved.
"Health Canada has received forty-eight applications from applicants who self-identified as indigenous affiliated. Seventeen of those applications have been received since the Cannabis Act came into effect on October 17th of last year", he said.
Both Ministers' remarks were rather predictable and did not address the elephant (s) in the room.
On the one hand, the legalization of cannabis has created a new cash crop on the block that supersedes all others. In fact, opportunities of this breadth don't knock every day. While there are no specifics stats in Canada, it is expected that revenue from cannabis crops will exceed all others in the US including wheat, soybeans, corn and vegetables. Cannabis is also a highly water-intensive crop.
In view of this, WaterToday sent a question to Minister Taylor asking what measures if any the Department intends put in place to manage this situation so as not to threaten food security and water resources. Health Canada's answer is below:
"The cultivation of cannabis has increased substantially over the last number of years; however, Health Canada is not aware of any projections that suggest it would surpass all other crops in Canada. The Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that total market demand for cannabis in Canada could be between 378,000 kg and 1 million kg per year. Using generally accepted estimates of production per metre at an indoor facility, this amount of cannabis could potentially be produced by around 500,000 square metres of cultivation space, which is close to the amount of space currently licensed for production. While 500,000 square metres of cultivation space is sizable, it is much smaller than other indoor greenhouse crops such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, let alone any agricultural crop that is grown outdoors. In terms of water conservation, the cannabis industry is encouraged to explore sustainable water conservation practices.
The oversight of the cannabis supply chain is a shared responsibility across federal and provincial and territorial governments, municipalities, industry and other stakeholders. Before submitting an application to Health Canada, applicants for licences to cultivate cannabis must provide written notice to local authorities in the area of the proposed site. Once licensed, all licensed cultivators and processors are expected to obey all relevant federal, provincial and municipal laws and by-laws, including municipal by-laws governing zoning, location, odour and noise. Provinces and territories and municipalities can implement any limitations on zoning, location or other controls that they feel are appropriate in their jurisdictions."
On the other hand, while the legalization of pot was largely intended to thwart the existing black market, it also created a void with regards to those who already had a criminal record for possession.
In his remarks, Minister Blair deplored that the illegal market had led to "criminalizing our children, criminalizing our fellow citizens for the possession and use of the substance", adding that, "the impact of that criminalization impacted disproportionately people in poor communities, racialized communities and Indigenous communities".
Barely a week after the Indigenous Cannabis Conference, on February 27, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale tweeted, "Later today, I will give notice to introduce a bill to provide no-cost, expedited pardons for simple possession of cannabis."
This long-awaited plan to provide pardons for criminal possession of a drug now deemed legal in Canada is unlikely to satisfy critics, who argue that anything short of full expungement is an unfair remedy, as those traveling out of the country could be barred from entering other countries such as the United States.
WaterToday sent an email to Public Safety asking why the government had not considered enacting legislation to expunge cannabis possession records, as it did concerning homosexual acts. This is the reply we received from Public Safety Minister spokesperson, Scott Bardsley:
"Last fall we announced our intention to provide free, immediate access to pardons for simple possession of cannabis for those who have completed their sentence. Our government kept our promise to Canadians to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis. Our public health approach has enabled Canadians to now make responsible, informed decisions about cannabis use, while keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth and profits out of the hands of criminals. While further work is ongoing, our country has come a long way in a short time.
A pardon is a faster process than expungement. Expungement is intended for cases that would be contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as was the case for laws that discriminated against LGBTQ2+ Canadians because of their sexual orientation. Historical laws prohibiting possession of cannabis were consistent with the Charter of Rights.
There is no question that certain communities have been disproportionately affected by the way cannabis laws have been applied, and we are addressing that by providing free, immediate access to pardons.
Indeed, almost every law is bound to impact certain groups of people in disproportionate ways. So you have to look at the nature of the offence. Since pardons set aside records rather than destroying them, individuals who receive a pardon may be able to produce documentation in cases where they need to prove that they have obtained a pardon. That is especially important for travel. If the United States has a record of your expunged conviction and denies you entry, there will be no records to retrieve while seeking a waiver to enter the U.S."
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