Medical marijuana is legal in Canada with a doctor’s prescription, but once the recreational form is allowed later this year, the game changes.
It is a new industry drawing a lot of attention, said Jenna Hall of Health Canada’s cannabis legislation and regulation branch.
“We have been living in a prohibition based regime for 100 years but at the same time Canada has one of the highest cannabis consumption rates in the world and that is especially true of youth,” she said at Cannabis Con held in Calgary recently.
One in five people from the ages of 15 to 19 claim to have used it in the last year and among those in the 20 to 25 age group, one in three have consumed it in some form.
The government knows the illegal market is widespread with no quality control or safety and often profits end up in the hands of organized crime.
With the passage of the Cannabis Act Bill C45, the government believes it is setting up a system of permission and consequences, she said.
Each of the provinces and municipalities can set their own rules on minimum age restrictions and sales.
Licensing, cultivation and production will be regulated. The law allows for the cultivation and manufacturing. Small businesses can get involved as micro producers.
Security clearances are required and penalties could be applied for violations.
Products must be well packaged and labelled and kept away from children. Medical marijuana will still be allowed.
The Senate has committed to vote on it by June 7 and it could go before the House of Commons by the end of June but Hall did not have a firm date for official legalization. A transition period of eight to 12 weeks after royal assent is likely. This gives the provinces time to finalize their rules, train law enforcement on the implications of the new legislation, educate the public and get the product ready for sale.
Kim Capstick, executive director of engagement and outreach for the Alberta Cannabis Secretariat, said the public is clearly interested. An online survey seeking public comment resulted in 70,000 responses.
“It is the largest single response the government has ever had to any online it has ever done. Obviously, it is of great interest to people,” he said.
In Alberta, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will handle the product and distribute it to retail outlets open from 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. The minimum age is 18.
It cannot be smoked or vaped in places where tobacco is prohibited or in areas frequented by young people. There will be no cafes or lounges at this time.
“At some time in the near future a wider range of cannabis products will be legal for consumption like the edible products and we may at that time revisit the idea around cafes and lounges to be part of the system in Alberta,” he said.
AGLC has predicted about 250 retail licences will be issued the first year.
The AGLC will also handle online sales for the time being.
“We think there is room for both channels, there is a lot of variance in Alberta, particularly in rural or remote locations where they are not going to be able to sustain a retail location,” Capstick said.
More than 30 licensed producers have expressed interest in supplying Alberta but they may not be local growers.
“Quite frankly, from day one we are not going to be able to meet all of Alberta’s needs. We are going to have to look outside for how much volume we will need,” Capstick said.
As of May 2017, there were 38 licensed producers across the country and today there are 90 with more applying.
Municipalities govern rules like retail hours, as well as minimum distance separation and zoning bylaws. The City of Calgary requires a setback of 150 metres from school and emergency shelters and 150 metres between the stores.
Cannabis and retail stores cannot be adjacent to one another.
City council reviews final regulations April 5, said Matt Zabloski, a business strategist for the City of Calgary.
Land use planning is a major concern for rural Alberta, said Al Kemmere, president of the Rural Municipalities Association. He resides in Mountainview County.
“My county was one of the very first municipalities to have a production facility and our land use planning was not prepared for that so we managed to get ours quasi lined up. Now that we have full legalization, we have to make sure land use planning in every municipality is in place,” he said.
Local municipalities may have to shoulder additional costs like law enforcement that includes dealing with impairment on job sites and impaired drivers.
Governments at all three levels must hire inspectors to ensure businesses are following the rules and check quality, he said.
“We as municipalities should not have to carry the brunt of the cost and it is something we really have limited say about,” he said.
Retail sales are more likely to be in towns and cities but massive production facilities are likely to be located in rural areas.
Some proposals are huge and one municipality is expecting a facility of about 300,000 sq. feet. These require roads and utilities and he believes that local taxpayers should not have to bear the entire cost of additional infrastructure.
“It caught a lot of us unaware and unprepared and I think that is why the implementation date is moving,” he said.
“It feels like we are scrambling and what municipalities like to do is plan for things. Right now, it feels like we are scrambling to make sure we do it right.”