It is midnight on October 17th in Newfoundland, an island off the east coast of the North American mainland, broadsheets and tabloids alike on this side of the pond scramble to document proceedings with a predictable fanfare of snaking queues, huge bongs and ecstatic faces. Hidden beneath the trivial coverage lies an array of questions regarding how such a huge, provincial nation would be able to implement these changes overnight and how regulatory frameworks would differ between territories.
Canada, being the first G7 nation to legalise and regulate cannabis, will be watched by the rest of the world with baited breath to see how the experiment pans out socially, economically and culturally. With the change coming just two-weeks before the UK legalises medicinal cannabis, Volteface sums up the key issues and arguments surrounding the controversial topic. We have spoken to a number of experts from a variety of disciplines in North America and the UK to gather a range of views.
1) Nick Pateras, Lift & Co
First up, we asked Nick Pateras from Lift & Co why it was essential for Canada to fully legalise as opposed to decriminalise. He stated that ‘If a state is to move out of prohibition, it is important it JUMPS out of prohibition. Decriminalisation is a half measure, which solves justice problems, but not the access problem for youth… Moreover legislation places further control and guardrails for protection in quality of product’. It is worth noting that according to a WHO study, Canada has the second highest cannabis usage rate per capita in the world, behind only France. Therefore, it is argued that decriminalisation would only exacerbate this issue, as usage becomes normalised without regulating and restricting access to cannabis for those in adolescence.
2) Dr Will Lawn, University College London Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit
Dr Will Lawn of University College London Clinical Psychopharmacology Unit believes that Canada’s form of regulation, and openness to new studies will offer researchers better access to a higher calibre of data that can inform policy and scientific consensus regarding the potential negative impact on young people smoking high-strength cannabis. Dr Lawn is ‘examining the relationships between cannabis use and deleterious outcomes in adolescents and adults.’ Their hypothesis states that ‘cannabis use during adolescence is more harmful than cannabis use during adulthood.’ He goes on to state that the research is hindered due to current evidence having ‘serious limitations’, meaning that ‘one cannot say conclusively that adolescence is definitely a ‘vulnerable period’ for cannabis use, yet.’
3) Dr Beau Kilmer, RAND Corporation
Dr Beau Kilmer of RAND Corporation says that Canada will be particularly interesting due to the dichotomous nature of their framework of legislation. Dr Kilmer states ‘on one hand, Canada is being cautious with its government wholesale approach (and government retailers in some provinces/territories). On the other hand, allowing profit-maximising companies to produce cannabis means you are creating an industry that will generate most of its revenue by supplying and creating heavy users. While evaluations of legalisation will need to focus on how the change affects the use of cannabis and other substances as well as their consequences, comprehensive analyses must also consider non-health-related outcomes.’
4) Professor Keith Humphreys, Stanford University
Professor Keith Humphreys of Stanford University sees the Canadian model as a blueprint for other nations if a domino effect occurs off the back of today’s proceedings. ‘Canada will deservedly be the model to which nations that legalise cannabis look. The government and the people have exceeded the USA in their awareness that thoughtful, tight, regulation increases the chances that legalisation will be a success for public health and public safety.’
5) Deepak Anand, Vice-President of Cannabis Compliance Inc
Deepak Anand agrees that Canada has improved on the legal US-state model by blending taxation and profit with a greater awareness of health implications. In his words ‘Other countries are looking to Canada as a model to emulate on the medical and soon the non-medical side of cannabis legalisation. Not only because we are only the second country in the world to do so at a federal level but because we have approached this from a public safety lens first and foremost and it is sound public policy.’
5) Professor Neil Boyd, Criminologist, Simon Fraser University
Professor Neil Boyd, a criminologist from Simon Fraser University agrees with Dr Lawn that more empirically salient research will result from Canada’s regulated market. Viewing from a lens of public-health conscious liberty, Prof Boyd believes ‘There will be so much to learn from Canada’s regulation of cannabis. More research into benefits and harms, less use of the scarce resources of criminal law enforcement, and the possibility of substitution effects for alcohol, the opiates and other more toxic drugs. My hope is that Canada will ultimately produce a thoughtfully regulated cannabis market, driven by a mandate of public health, and mindful of this important expansion of human freedom.’
6) James Burns, CEO Alcanna (Quoted in BNN Bloomberg)
A fundamental argument of cannabis legislation is that a regulated model would remove economic power from organised criminal gangs. The thought-process is one based on assumed common sense – why would anyone buy from an illegal dealer when they can go to a legal shop? With some corners of the Canadian press reporting yesterday evening of cut-price ‘flash-sales’ as dealers flurry to clear their stock before it becomes a legal product, and therefore worthless. It is worth noting there is another, possibly more credible line of thought. Quoted in BNN Bloomberg, James Burns, CEO of dispensary chain-store Alcanna, lends an insight into why this might happen, ‘we can’t compete against the black market on price’ explaining this logic as one ‘wouldn’t anticipate a people who have been using it comfortably outside the law for a long time instantly switching over to waiting in line a legal store’. In essence, it would be reasonable to suspect that the black market in the short term will race-to-the-bottom economically to keep their once booming business’ alive. This means the eradication of the illicit market may take months, and success can only be measured after a period of time has elapsed.
7) Derek Riedle, Publisher of Civilized Life
Derek Riedle, publisher of cannabis culture news site Civilized Life wraps up the Canadian cannabis’ users elation eloquently, insisting that “October 17th will be a day that goes down in history as one of the greatest policy shifts of our generation.
It will be a day that fundamentally changes the face of cannabis culture in Canada.
Our knowledge of cannabis is light years ahead of where it was even ten years ago. The simple act of labelling cannabis products has become a game changer for the industry. Canadians who are worried about dosages can read labels and figure out what strain is for them.
Legalisation isn’t about converting Canada into a nation of stoner stereotypes. It’s about letting people decide their own personal use, or to abstain altogether if they prefer.”
Canada has now become the first G7 to fully embrace the cannabis reform plunge having tolerated the grey market for quite some time. True, a number of US states have beaten them to it, but from a regulatory standpoint the Canadian model will chime more deeply with British policy pragmatism than the US libertarian, heavily branded and business friendly approach synonymous with Denver et al. MPs, public health experts, economists and policy wonks should be paying close attention to proceedings across the pond.
Ant Lehane is Communications Officer of Volteface. Tweets: @antlehane