Proposed cannabis legislation: Plenty of work in store for Quebec

On April 13, the federal government tabled the highly-anticipated and historic bill to legalize cannabis. Given the legislative process and inter-government negotiations in the offing, it’s hardly surprising that the bill leaves so much to be determined, such as permissible concentrations, the federal excise tax percentage, prices, and what information can and must be provided to consumers.

The provinces have quite a few decisions to make between now and July 1, 2018, the date legal pot goes on sale. Where should the Quebec government, a newcomer to the politics of pot, focus its energies? In addition to the aspects that fall fully under its jurisdiction, like distribution, several important issues merit further reflection and dialogue with the parties involved.

Developing a processing industry

Edibles (brownies, gummies, and teas) represent 50% of the Colorado market for both medical and recreational users. Now largely excluded from the bill, if added in the future, these products could potentially turn Quebec into a processing hub, making up for the slow start of its production industry. Beyond brownies, processing harbours significant potential for innovation not only in the agri-food sector but also in biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Standardized doses and effects and the fast absorption of ingested cannabis will constitute decisive developments for this emerging industry.

Local production

To develop processing expertise and retain a maximum of recreational cannabis sales revenue, Quebec should work with producers who are already established in the province, in addition to encouraging new players. Fully 22% of pot consumers nationwide call Quebec home. Why ask other provinces to produce our cannabis?

Consider the various possibilities in terms of recreational production licenses

If it’s logical for Health Canada to oversee production licensing for medical marijuana, several different bodies might legitimately supervise recreational cannabis production. Currently, that authority resides with the Ministry of Justice in Ottawa. However, as the Union des producteurs agricoles recently pointed out that, cannabis is a crop. Provincial governments might thus govern production licenses much as they do for tobacco, another regulated crop. Would provinces benefit from pushing the legislative process in this direction?

The government and stakeholders must raise these questions during the upcoming public and legislative debate this year. There remains a great deal to be clarified in both the federal bill and Quebec’s future framework law, but many opportunities to sway the outcome also exist. And while the national cannabis legalization policy has the potential to make Canada a world leader in the industry, the ability of the different jurisdictions to work together in negotiations will play a critical role in the success of the project.