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FEDERAL GOVERNMENT PRESENTS THE CANNABIS ACT, CONCERNS PERSIST
By Cori Marshall
The Canadian government stated that marijuana prohibition "does not work, [and] it has allowed criminals and organized crime to profit while failing to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth." On April 14, the Liberal government introduced Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, which will legalize marijuana for recreational use across the country. The proposed legislation is aimed at taking the industry out of the hands of criminals and keeping the product away from minors.
Canadians gained legal access to marijuana for medical purposes in 1999 using exemptions under Section 56 of the Controlled Drug and Substances Act (CDSA). The Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), the first legal framework to obtain the drug came into force in 2001 on the heels of the 2000 R. v. Parker decision in the Ontario Court of Appeals. It was found that prohibiting Parker, who controlled his epilepsy with marijuana, from obtaining it violated his Section 7 Charter Rights.
The system that was designed to ensure that those who had a medical need had access to a safe supply, is not without its shortcomings.
As we have seen, there have been issues with pesticide use in the cultivation of legal medical marijuana by Licensed Producers (LP). These issues seem to be largely due to a lack of consultation with individuals that have been active cultivators for decades.
On the question of pesticides, we spoke with the Departments of Agriculture of two States that have legalized marijuana, and it appears that depth of knowledge is no more advanced in the U.S.than it is in Canada.
Marijuana became legal in the State of Colorado on December 14, 2012. This was a result of the population voting in favour of Amendment 64 to of the Colorado State Constitution.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture (CDA) has approved and unapproved pesticides, as does Canada, and the criteria for approval in the state is set out in the Pesticide Applicators' Act Rules. According to the CDA, the act ensures that the "label expressly allows use on crops or plants intended for human consumption." Further that the "active ingredients of the pesticide product are allowed for use on tobacco by the Environmental Protection Agency."
The CDA approves these compounds for very specific reasons, to "address a variety of insect, disease, and pest problems."
The CDA added that the labelling process is "derived through EPA Risk Assessments",which is a condition for approval in the state. The CDA underlined the fact that "no risk assessments have been conducted specifically for pesticide use on marijuana." What this means is that the effects are largely unknown.
Recreational marijuana became legal in the state of Nevada on January 1 of this year, and the legal marijuana environment has only existed for a short time. The state, however, has compiled a list of approved chemical pesticides in Colorado.
Charles Moses, Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDA) Scientist said that the list "was created using the criteria established by the Nevada Legislature." Moses added that in this area the NDA adjusts the lists "as needed based on industry feedback," and a collaboration between the NDA "and other states' expertise."
Moses pointed to "a lack of research at the federal, [contributing to], limited resources and expertise" to be able to speak more in depth on the subject.
Substate governments in the two countries are operating in an environment that lacks input from the federal level. Moses' statement mirrors some of the reaction to Bill C-45 at the provincial level in Canada. At least in Québec, concern over the proposed legislation surrounds the lack of consultation with the federal government and the legislative burden it places on the province.
Both the governing Parti Liberal du Québec (PLQ) and Official Opposition Parti Québécois (PLQ) are in agreement with the reasoning behind the bill but differ on the approach to developing a provincial framework.
Official Opposition Leader Jean-Francois Lisée proposed that the government organize an itinerant parliamentary commission that "would hear from experts, from the entirety of the sectors that will be affected by the legalization of cannabis."
The position is not without its logic, as Lisée underlined the provinces would have to deal with "the consequences, oversee the distribution and youth consumption, will probably have agricultors who will want to produce, will have police officers to train, and will have to discern if individuals are driving with impaired faculties."
On the whole, the PLQ's position is similar. Premier Phillippe Couillard's response began by stating the new reality "we are now in an environment where the legalization [of marijuana] will be a fait accompli." Couillard added that "the easy part is presenting [the] bill," but agrees that the difficult phase will be the "framework." Couillard finds it "regrettable that the provinces and territories were not consulted moving forward in in a profound dialogue on the consequences in the provincial jurisdictions.
But whereas the PQ would like to see the commission and the consultations precede the eventual legislation, the PLQ believes the framework should work its way through the normal channels which begins with the presentation of a bill in the National Assembly. Couillard's reasoning is that "the federal government has fixed [when this measure will come into force], and the July 1, 2018, deadline is rapidly approaching."
Bill C-45 gives the provinces a finite window to address everything, that is not in the jurisdiction if the federal government, which appears to be the bulk of the legislative responsibility. The provinces must come up with the legal framework to "authorize and oversee the distribution and sale of cannabis, subject to minimum federal conditions," and it must be done "no later than July 2018."
Granted this bill was drafted on the recommendations of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, but there are some major issues that need to be addressed. The fact that Bill C-45 appears to be paradoxical at certain points is one.
For instance, the bill allows individuals to be in possession of up to 30 grams of marijuana, it also allows for citizens to cultivate up to four plants. According to Robert Bergman, author of the Marijuana Grow Bible, "under the right conditions a grower can get a yield of between five and sixteen ounces per plant indoors, and over seventeen ounces per plant outdoors." By having one plant a person could be in violation of the regulations for personal possession.
The shortcomings related to the cultivation of legal medical marijuana may be present in the formulation of the Cannabis Act. It appears as though the bill is missing expert input from actual cultivators, who could have pointed out that having four plants would put an individual above the maximum allowable quantity.
There is still no information on the price or taxes that will be applied to the product. Legislators must keep in mind the reasoning behind the legislation. Governments have to guard against charging and taxing to a point where consumers turn back to the black market and organized crime to supply their marijuana.
It is still early, and Canada has only begun down the path of legal marijuana. No doubt the Cannabis Act will change and it will take shape through the provincial frameworks that will be enacted. Canada is poised to be the first G7 country to legalize marijuana, for this to be a successful undertaking over the next fourteen months, all of the stakeholders need to be heard and the right opinions sought out.
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