While the federal Liberal government plans to allow cannabis legalization in a month, there is still going to be a labyrinth of regulations that medicinal users in particular will have to navigate.
That was the feedback from concerned local advocates during a discussion on the pending legislation from Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski and his federal NDP colleague Murray Rankin, the shadow critic for the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
A small cross-section of health professionals, cannabis retailers and medicinal users made up the bulk of those who attended the presentation led by Rankin, a lawyer elected out of a riding in Victoria.
Rankin outlined the process surrounding the pending legalization deadline on Oct. 17, which actually involves two bills — one bill containing the specific details of legalization, while another complementary bill amends the Canadian Criminal Code that identifies police authority for drug screening and outlines modified drug and alcohol impaired driving consequences.
In a glaring omission, the legalization legislation — Bill 45 — does not address the regulatory structure for medical cannabis.
However, there is an existing regulatory structure with the officially titled ‘Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations’ that was passed in 2016. It is the most current legislation on the subject since a federal medical marijuana framework was first established in 2001.
Both the medical marijuana laws and the Cannabis Act legalization legislation will operate hand-in-hand for one year after Oct. 17 — the day cannabis is legalized — however, it is unclear how medical marijuana users will impacted further in the future, given the differences between the two pieces of legislation.
There are aspects of the medical marijuana framework that are not present in the Cannabis Act. For example, there’s nothing in the Cannabis Act that legalizes the use of medical marijuana through edibles.
“You can see the concern that people who are in the business now running dispensaries have for their clients in terms of this gap that’s potentially going to be there and I’m trying to fix that and it’s certainly a message that Murray and I are going to take back to Ottawa,” said Stetski.
From the federal level, there are also trickle-down considerations to provincial and municipal governments.
Issues include a distribution system, a retail system, rules about advertising and promotion, licensing for commercial use and more, said Rankin.
“Like any brand-new regulatory regime in a complicated country like Canada, all three levels of government are going to be involved,” said Rankin. “Some don’t want anything to do with this…others are embracing it at the municipal level.
“At the provincial level, every single province has had to find its own rules, because the Government of Canada has said after Oct. 17, this product is no longer going to be illegal if consumed in small quantities.”
In British Columbia, provincial legislation announced in April outlined distribution and licensing policies, as well as a compliance and enforcement regime for retailers.
Amendments to the impaired driving laws and the expansion of police powers are also causing concern, according to Rankin.
As with alcohol impaired-driving laws and a 0.8 Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) as a threshold for roadside testing, there remains ambiguity over reliable saliva-based roadside testing for cannabis use. Additionally, if a blood test is ordered by a police officer, it could flag Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) that has already been in the bloodstream for days, or even weeks.
Given that marijuana consumption has been illegal in Canada for nearly 100 years, there are also concerns about fairness for people who have criminal records due to marijuana use.
It’s not uncommon to hear about someone who smoked marijuana when they were a young teenager, got caught and carry that consequence for the rest of their lives.
Now that marijuana use is about to become legal, it’s unfair that those convictions and criminal records remain, said Rankin, who is planning on introducing a private members bill to address the issue.
“It troubles me greatly that some wealthy Canadians can get off and others have records that scar them for life,” Rankin said. “That’s why we have to get rid of those records so what is perfectly legal on Oct. 18th and is illegal today and you’re paying a price for it in your life — we need to fix that.”