November 2016 NORML Canada Newsletter
The Task Force's Report and the Task Force's Friends
On November 30, 2016 the task force provided their report on legalization to the government. A copy will not be released to the public until December 21. No one is supposed to have a copy, except, of course, the people who secretly got a copy. It seems the contents of the report may have been leaked to special friends of the task force in mid-November.
Through the leaks we have learned that the task force’s guiding principle is, apparently, shutting down the black market. The task force sees keeping prices low as a way to facilitate that ($8-10 a gram). Supposedly, Health Canada’s medical cannabis mail order system will be the initial format, but distribution will be eventually left up to the provinces. This means Ontario could have LCBO cannabis while BC gets dispensaries. ‘Sources’ say that all producers will have to be licensed by Health Canada, but they also say there may be some small home-growing allowed. That is not clear. We are told the task force travelled to Colorado and Washington and determined that the Canadian approach must be much more restrictive.
Low prices are a good way to undermine the black market. However, it appears the distribution system, depending on where you live, is going to be problematic. Nobody wants to purchase cannabis by mail. The mail order system combined with the heavy-handed approach to dispensaries in much of Canada guarantees more legal confusion, protest, and a vibrant grey market. That being said, until we see the actual report, most of this remains uncertain.
What is certain is that the apparent leak of this report highlights the intimate relationship between the Liberal Party and the licensed producers. On November 16 there was a suspicious spike in trading on publicly traded licensed producer stocks. That day the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada halted trading on six licensed producer stocks. Canopy Growth stock shot up and had their trading halted five times in one day. Conservative MP Alex Nuttall has raised concerns with the government about the leaks. Mr. Nuttall noted that Canopy Growth was founded by a former Liberal chief finance officer. Conservative MP Blaine Calkins raised similar ethical concerns about the cozy relationship between Liberals and the licensed producers. This problem is exacerbated by Anne McLellan’s conflict of interest. The task force is headed by Anne McLellan, but she works for Bennett Jones LLP, a law firm that promotes themselves as the “go-to advisers” for licensed producers. Mr. Nuttall has asked Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to investigate the matter. Mr. Nuttall and Mr. Calkins want transparency. Will our Justice Minister act?
Cannabis Legalization Initiatives Win Big On Election Day in the United States
Cannabis was a big winner on the night of a controversial and bitterly divisive presidential election. Voters in California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts voted to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, while in Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota, voters elected to provide access to cannabis for medical purposes.
Proposition 64 in California will allow residents to grow up to six plants at home and gives municipalities the authority to allow or ban outdoor grows and cannabis retail stores. Adults in California age 21 years or older will be allowed to possess, purchase, consume, and share up to one ounce of cannabis and eight grams of cannabis concentrates. Proposition 64 will also impose a 15% excise tax on all cannabis sales and direct tax revenues to a newly established ‘California Marijuana Tax Fund.’ The measure is also set to favour small scale producers and to legalize industrial hemp production in that state.
The ‘Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative,’ also known as Question 2, will allow adults in Nevada aged 21 or older to possess, consume, and cultivate up to six plants for recreational purposes. The initiative is set to create a new 15% excise tax, with revenues from the taxes being spent on enforcing the measure and towards education. The measure will also authorize and regulate cannabis retail stores, cultivation facilities, manufacturing facilities, testing facilities, and distributors.
The ‘Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative,’ also known as Question 4, will allow adults aged 21 years and older to be able to use, possess, and grow up to six plants. The measure specifies that adults could possess under ten ounces of cannabis inside their homes and under one ounce in public. The initiative in Massachusetts creates a regulatory structure called the ‘Cannabis Control Commission’ and this regulatory body will oversee cannabis legalization and issue licenses to businesses seeking to sell cannabis products.
The ‘Maine Marijuana Legalization Initiative,’ also known as Question 1, was narrowly approved by voters in a 50.17% to 49.83% decision. Given the narrow margin by which Question 1 passed, opponents of the measure requested an official recount of the results which could take a month to complete. A similar ballot initiative in Arizona aiming to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes did not pass with the ‘No’ vote obtaining a victory of 51.9% to 48.0%.
An amendment in Florida to expand the current medical cannabis framework was approved with a resounding 71.3% in support. Amendment 2 in Florida calls for legalizing medical cannabis for individuals with specific debilitating conditions as determined by a licensed state physician. The amendment was also designed to require the Department of Health to register and regulate cannabis production and distribution centers.
Ballot initiatives are state-level referendums that allow residents to vote directly on policy issues and this has been the mechanism by which voters have recently been able to publicly voice their opinions on the issue of cannabis. While these are all state initiatives, it will be intriguing to ascertain whether a new Trump Federal Administration will continue a ‘hands-off’ approach or if instead it will choose to enforce federal laws in place.
Federal Government to place Limits on Medical Cannabis Coverage for Veterans
The Canadian federal government is seeking to reduce the amount of medical cannabis it reimburses veterans for to a maximum of three grams per day, down from the original ten grams per day. The new policy also includes a maximum limit of $8.50 per gram but will include the equivalent value in fresh dried cannabis and cannabis oil.
The federal government claims that it is reducing this daily limit in order to scale back the costs of the program which have reached $75 million so far this year.
The new limits are set to take effect on May 21, 2017, for veterans whose cannabis prescriptions are already covered. New patients will start at the lower daily limit immediately. Veterans authorized by a specialist to receive more than three grams a day can seek exemptions.
“The policy change is estimated to affect about two-thirds of the more than 3,000 veterans currently being reimbursed for medical cannabis,” according to Michel Doiron, assistant deputy minister of service delivery at Veterans Affairs Canada.
The changes to the policy in the Veteran’s Affairs department are said to have been in consultation with veterans, licensed cannabis producers, and medical experts. Veterans Affairs claims that the physicians it consulted recommended one or two grams a day was a reasonable amount for the vast majority of patients.
Data from Health Canada indicates that the average Canadian cannabis patient is authorized 2.6 grams per day.
April is the Cruelest Month: Trudeau Urges Police to Crack Down on Cannabis Dispensaries
The Prime Minister the Canadian cannabis community worked hard and campaigned hard to elect made a statement on Friday. Mr. Trudeau, speaking to the Toronto Star’s editorial board, urged police to enforce the laws against cannabis. Whether cannabis legalization is looming or not, Trudeau stated that “people are right now breaking the law” and he wants police to “enforce the law” and lay criminal charges. For all the sick Canadians who need regular, respectful, dignified, and reasonable access to their medicine, Mr. Trudeau appears to be coming for you. Never before has our community needed to be more unified. Never before have we needed to band together against the looming threat of criminal punishment for something that will be legal in less than six months. The Liberal Government plans to break the back of the existing cannabis industry in Canada, and then replace it with businesses owned by their cronies. The real victims are the patients, the workers, and the mom and pop businesses which have fought to supply cannabis to the needy when the government’s programs failed patients time and time again.
Our founder and president, John Conroy QC, has argued that pending legalization any punishment for cannabis offences is both cruel and unusual. In ancient Rome, when one ruler was to replace another, this was called in law a period of Interregnum or ‘between Kings.’ Truly, our community is trapped betwixt Kings, with grey skies and grey markets awaiting us for the foreseeable future, and regardless of what reigns come this April, we can expect the month to be cruel.
If you support patients and reasonable access, you should write to your local city councilor, MP, and MPP. Talk to them about why the dispensary crackdown does more harm than good. Talk to them about the effect it will have the next time our community is given the chance to vote (provided we aren’t all in jail). Please join NORML Canada: www.norml.ca and if you need some advice about what to say to your local politicians, let us know. We’ve got some choice words for them.