Canada’s Corporate Cannabis Takeover Continues As Pharmacies Look Poised To Distribute

The future of legalized Cannabis in Canada is bleak if the Liberals continue the Harper regime’s push to corporatize Cannabis. Based on the vague rhetoric promised by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal party platform, that is exactly what we should expect.

The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) is preparing for further corporatization by “reviewing its existing policies to ensure its policy position regarding pharmacist dispensing of medical marijuana reflects patient safety in this evolving area”.

The CPhA has no business distributing Cannabis. If Cannabis is removed from the Controlled Drugs & Substances Act (CDSA), there is no legal justification to restricting distribution to pharmacies. Cannabis is a benign plant with many uses, which gardeners and farmers should be allowed to grow and sell at farmer’s markets freely. Of course, it seems unlikely that Cannabis will be removed from the CDSA, the Liberal version of legalization sounds a lot like prohibition with increased penalties for unlicensed distribution.

Cannabis is medicine, it can be very expensive medicine, so calls for insurance coverage are understandable… but Cannabis is only expensive because of prohibition. Cannabis can be grown for less than $1/gram, but invested MMPR interests want to keep the cost high to cash in on the corporate welfare windfall of health insurance covering medical marijuana.

If Trudeau and the Liberals are serious about “real change” and evidence-based policy then they need to regulate Cannabis based on the potential harm caused by the plant. Cannabis is safer than coffee and energy drinks. Teens have died consuming energy drinks, but they are sold in convenience stores without age restrictions. Nobody has ever died from consuming Cannabis.

Dana Larsen details 7 key things needed before we can consider Cannabis prohibition to be truly over. (here is a brief summary:)

#7. Don’t increase penalties

In some of their campaign literature, the Liberals were promising to create “new, stronger laws, to punish more severely” people who sell cannabis to minors, or to anyone operating outside of their undefined new system.

Considering we already have Harper’s strict mandatory minimums for cannabis offences, we do not need to be punishing anyone “more severely” for anything related to cannabis.

#6. Allow personal growing

Any model of legalization must include the right to grow some cannabis for personal use. People with a doctor’s recommendation for cannabis should be allowed to grow whatever quantity they need for medical purposes. The Conservatives tried to shut down the current home-garden program for patients, but were stopped by a court injunction. That injunction needs to remain, and be expanded to make it easier for patients to grow their own when needed.

If home cultivation is not allowed, then cannabis is not truly legalized in Canada. Canadians must have at least as much right to grow their own cannabis as they do to brew their own beer and wine.

#5. Allow dispensaries

The Liberals need to recognize the important role that community-based dispensaries are playing, and to incorporate them into any legal access system.

Any system of legalization that tries to shut down the existing network of cannabis dispensaries will face strong opposition from Canada’s cannabis community.

#4. License more producers

Whatever the details of the system, it is important that there is equal access to the cannabis market, and that anyone who meets the quality standards can legally grow and sell cannabis.

Ultimately, the federal government should get out of licensing large-scale production and leave that to the provinces. But whoever the regulating and licensing authority is, the system needs to be fair and equal. Any attempt to limit production to a few major companies or create some kind of monopoly or cartel will be met with resistance, and will ultimately fail.

#3. Ditch the medical program

Cannabis is a wonderful medicine with a wide range of therapeutic benefits, but we don’t need a specialized medical cannabis system in Canada. Cannabis extracts should be available as non-prescription drugs for all Canadians to access.

When cannabis or a cannabis extracts is prescribed by a doctor then it should be exempt from GST, like other prescription drugs. But we don’t need the current complex system of restricted access for medical patients once all Canadians have access to legal cannabis.

Doctors should become more knowledgable about cannabis medicines, and legalization should mean that all sorts of new cannabis extracts are readily available for research and medicine. But since cannabis is generally safer than products like aspirin, most cannabis medicines should be sold over the counter, without a need for a prescription.

#2. Amnesty for past convictions

Legalization of cannabis must also include an amnesty for past cannabis convictions, so that those criminal records are erased from the system.

#1. Don’t overtax it

Legal cannabis needs to be cheaper and better than what is currently available, or else no-one is going to buy it. The only way to extinguish the black market is to substantially reduce the price of cannabis.

Any plan for legalization must not include extremely high or punitive taxes, as the result will be a thriving black market and no real change to the status quo.

If Trudeau’s Liberals stick to these 7 principles then legalization will be a success.

But if they try to legalize cannabis in the form of a highly taxed product grown only by big corporations, while banning home gardens and increasing penalties for underground dealers, then legalization will not succeed, and we will still have to keep fighting for a better system.

Jonathan Page is the co-founder of Anandia Labs and an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia. He co-led the Canadian team that reported the first sequence of the cannabis genome and his work has helped elucidate the biochemical pathway leading to the major cannabinoids. Mr Page wrote an article at Lift, here is a very brief summary of a few of his points:

Like Liberal governments before him, Justin Trudeau practiced Big Tent politics to obtain a majority. Similarly, legalization has to offer a Big Tent so that the disparate parts of the existing industry – Licensed Producers (LPs), dispensaries and MMAR growers – are included. Health Canada and the 25+ LPs can be justifiably proud they have created a system to grow and distribute pharmaceutical-grade cannabis. But the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) are viewed as a failure by many for their inability to create a system that both serves patients and creates a viable industry. The Allard injunction, the proliferation of Vancouver dispensaries, the logjam of LP applicants and the slow patient growth for LPs are indicators of systemic problems.
It is possible to safely grow cannabis at many scales from small outdoor gardens to massive indoor factories.The 2013 Liberal Party draft marijuana policy paper (PDF) suggested that production encompass “very small farms to medium size and large-scale operations”. Jamie Shaw of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries (CAMCD) wrote a blog post proposing that the cannabis production could resemble Canada’s brewing industry where industrial behemoths like Molson Coors co-exist with craft breweries.

It is difficult to contemplate a system that allows purchase of cannabis but not personal growing. I favour six plants (in flowering stage) with a cap on total plants in a household. The judge’s decision on the Allard case, which revolves around the right of patients to grow their own medical cannabis, now has added importance as legalization is contemplated.

In my opinion cannabis sits somewhere between a controlled substance and an NHP in the regulatory landscape but I don’t think it is productive to treat cannabis as either. Nor is it useful for it to be lumped with alcohol or tobacco. It is simply and uniquely cannabis. Amending laws created for prohibition is not likely to work as they were created to demonize cannabis. Let’s give cannabis its own laws and regulations that allow it to exist simultaneously as a medicine and a social (recreational) drug. Is the solution a pragmatic federal Cannabis Act or even a Psychoactive Substances Act for a new, post-prohibition era?

Written by Alternative Free Press
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