Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation to consult and provide advice on the design of a new legislative and regulatory framework for legal access to cannabis.
The Honourable A. Anne McLellan, P.C., O.C., A.O.E. Chair of the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat Address locator 0602E Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9
Last week, the Task Force released its report, which includes the following key recommendations:
· Sales of cannabis should be restricted to those 18 and older, with a personal possession limit of 30 grams. Provinces and territories should, however, have the flexibility to set their own age restrictions to harmonize with their drinking ages.
· Many of the same advertising restrictions that currently apply to alcohol and tobacco sales should be applied to cannabis, to discourage use by young people.
· Criminal penalties should be retained for illicit production and for those trafficking the drug to youth and international market. Additionally, existing laws that prohibit possession should be enforced until legislation is in place.
· Cannabis should be sold in storefront locations, but not co-located with alcohol and tobacco products.
· There should be limits on the density of cannabis storefront operations, and regulations to keep them away from schools, community centres, and public parks.
· Tax revenues generated from the sale of cannabis should be directed toward public education campaigns and further research on the health risks associated with consumption.
· The federal government should help develop a body of research on the effects of cannabis-impaired driving.
· The current medical marijuana regime, set up after successive court challenges, be maintained for the time being.
· Personal cultivation should be maintained, with a limit on four plants per home, and a height restriction of 100 cm to reduce fire risks.
· The final report of the Task Force on cannabis legalization and regulation.
· News release issued by the Task Force upon release of its final report.
Minimum age for legal purchase: Health protection—particularly for children and youth—demands that marijuana purchase and possession be subject to age restrictions. The science indicates that risks from marijuana usage are elevated until the brain fully matures (i.e., when someone reaches about age 25). For context, age limits for alcohol and tobacco purchases in Canada vary across provinces and territories—either 18 or 19 years of age. In Colorado and Washington, the state governments have chosen to align the minimum age for purchasing marijuana with the minimum age for purchasing alcohol, 21 years.
· Advertising and marketing restrictions to minimize the profile and attractiveness of products: Since marketing, advertising and promotion of marijuana would only serve to “normalize” it in society and encourage and increase usage, it has been proposed that these should be strictly limited so as to dampen widespread use and reduce associated harms. This is particularly the case for promotional materials that would otherwise be targeted to impressionable youth. As in the case of tobacco, there may be limitations to possible restrictions on marketing, advertising and promotion of marijuana; however within those limits these restrictions should be as tight as possible. Moreover, other limitations could include products being sold in plain packaging with appropriate health warning messages.
· Taxation and pricing: When used appropriately, effective taxation and price controls can discourage the use of marijuana and provide the government with revenues to offset related costs (such as substance abuse services, law enforcement, and regulatory oversight). As such, the design of any regulatory framework should allow accommodation for an appropriate taxation regime in which there is sufficient flexibility in controlling the final price to the consumer. However, the use of taxation and pricing measures to discourage consumption must be properly balanced against the need to minimize the attractiveness of the black market and dissuade illegal production and trafficking.
· Limits of allowable THC potency in marijuana: THC is the main psychoactive component of marijuana. Current research shows average THC levels of between 12- 15 per cent. In contrast, marijuana from the 1980s had average THC levels of 3 per cent. In addition, various higher potency marijuana products such as “shatter” are available with THC concentrations reaching levels as high as 80-90 per cent. As outlined in section 1, higher concentration products have added risks and unknown long term impacts, and those risks are exacerbated for young people, including children. Given the significant health risks, maximum THC limits could be set and high-potency products strictly prohibited.
· Restrictions on marijuana products: Marijuana can be consumed in many ways, including a wide range of products like foods, candies, salves or creams. Some people may choose these methods of consumption, rather than choosing to smoke dried marijuana. However, certain products present increased risks, notably when considering the increased potency of some of these derivative products and the increased harms associated with their use. They also represent an increased risk of accidental or unintentional ingestion, particularly by children. This view is supported by the experience in Colorado, where the availability of edible products led to a rise in the number of accidental or unintentional overdoses (non-fatal). As a result, the state government amended their regulatory framework to enact limits on dosing and potency. It is understood that individuals may choose to create marijuana products, such as baked goods, for personal consumption. However, consideration should be given to how edibles are treated in the new regime in light of the significant health risks, particularly to children and to youth, including whether and how to limit the potency of marijuana and types of products sold.
· Limitations on quantities for personal possession: Most jurisdictions have set limits on the quantities of marijuana that an individual may possess, which has the obvious advantages of helping to dampen demand and to minimize opportunities for resale of legally purchased marijuana on the illicit market (particularly to children and youth).
· Limitation on where marijuana can be sold: The availability of marijuana via retail distribution is also an important issue when considering means to minimize harms of use. This issue is further explored in Section 3 (Designing an Appropriate Distribution System).
Designing an Appropriate Production System:
· Production Model: Experience with both home cultivation and government-controlled production in the context of relatively small numbers of medical users suggests neither approach would be in the public interest in the context of the larger numbers of users expected in a legalized market. Therefore, some form of private sector production with appropriate government licensing and oversight could allow for safe and secure production of legal marijuana with adequate choice (both price and strain) for consumers.
· Good production practices: In general, ingestible products must meet certain quality standards. In the medical marijuana regime, Health Canada has established product content and production controls that have proven effective in minimizing risks to clients. Similarly, safeguards could be put in place to ensure that marijuana is produced and stored in sanitary and secure conditions. There could be strict security requirements to minimize the possibility of diversion. Controls could be placed on pesticides that can be used, and on microbial and chemical contaminants. Marijuana could also be subject to analytical testing so that those consuming can be reliably advised of its contents, particularly amounts of THC and CBD.
· Product packaging and labelling: The way in which products are packaged and labelled offers an opportunity to minimize the harms of marijuana, particularly for children and youth. Measures to consider implementing include: child-proof packaging to prevent accidental ingestion by children; and, labels on packages to contain both important information about the product (e.g., THC and CBD content) as well as appropriate health warning messages.
Enforcement tools for marijuana-impaired driving: There is a need and opportunity for Canada to research, develop, test, train and promote technologies and related guidelines and protocols that can equip law enforcement to deal with possible increased rates of impaired driving, particularly for roadside testing of impairment. This should be complemented by public education campaigns that emphasize risks associated with drug-impaired driving and that advocate preventive measures, as is the case for drinking and driving.
· Restriction of consumption to the home or a limited number of well-regulated publicly-accessible sites: Consumption of marijuana could be restricted to private residences. However, the system may need to be pragmatic to respond to the demand for venues to consume marijuana outside the home in order to avoid proliferation of consumption in all public spaces. Consideration could be given to identifying—and strictly limiting and controlling—allowable sites for use by adults. This could serve to minimize normalization of marijuana and protect against the exposure of non-users to second-hand smoke and vapours. In addition, consideration will need to be given to the use of marijuana in workplaces. For example, a zero tolerance policy could be applied for those who operate heavy machinery or conveyances.