Views

Marijuana in Canada Cannabis and convenience?

“We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.”

That is the opening line of the “marijuana policy” of the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2015 election platform.

What are the chances of legalized, regulated, and restricted marijuana in Canada in the near future?

Pretty good.

Justin Trudeau, leader of the party, was sworn in as Canada’s 23rd Prime Minister on November 4 after a sweeping majority win in the federal election.

What are the chances the industry with the best record for IDing for age-restricted products will get the right to sell it?

We’ll see.

Let’s take a look at what we know at present.

What will the law look like?

Pundits predict Canada’s new marijuana policy, if passed as a Bill, will mirror Colorado’s Amendment 64 in the United States. Under that law, adults 21 or older in the state can legally possess 28 grams of marijuana or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the primary intoxicant, or psychoactive compound, in marijuana.

Adults do not need to be residents of the state, but non-residents are restricted to purchasing no more than 7 grams in a single transaction to prevent stockpiling for export.

There is no registration system involved. Government-issued ID is all that is needed for proof of age.

Retail store hours allowed are 8 am to midnight, with evening hours further restricted in some cities.

Consumption is not permitted openly and publicly, rather in the same way consumption of alcohol in Canada is not permitted on the street or in parks. Further, though, there are no bars, or Amsterdam-style “coffee shops” for cannabis use. A few private cannabis clubs are said to be operating and have not been shut down. They are being watched carefully before more are permitted.

Driving laws allow no more than five nanograms per millilitre of blood, and make it illegal to transport an unsealed container of marijuana in the passenger area of a vehicle.

Carried in c-stores?

Still looking at Colorado, news in late 2015 was of a chain of medical marijuana dispensaries opening in two gas/convenience stores in the city of Colorado Springs.

That chain, Native Roots, was already running a dozen medical and recreational marijuana outlets in the state, and the two new c-stores, named Gas & Grass, make it, in the company’s words, “one specific stop”. Gasoline and marijuana purchases, however, would be on separate receipts, as the gas station and medical marijuana dispensary are two businesses sharing a location. The two also share a loyalty discount program.

Is this good news for those who want the product in Canadian c-stores?

Possibly. We have a number of things going for us. We are fantastic at IDing for age-restricted products, and the current campaigns to get beer and wine into our stores are raising awareness of that fact. That Gas & Grass in Colorado is even possible is heartening.

There is a dark cloud in that the Prime Minister is quoted as saying, “…at this point I don’t think that corner stores necessarily are rigorous enough in checking ID to make me comfortable with that as an option, but we are looking at ways to do it right.”

The CCSA was quick to set the record straight, and the CBC ran its rebuttal, although under the unfortunate headline, “Justin Trudeau doesn’t want pot sold at corner stores”. The article was clear that the association has not advocated for the legalization of marijuana or the right to sell it, and noted its disappointment in Mr. Trudeau’s questioning of its members’ ability to sell age-restricted products. The article ended with the CCSA’s stance:

“We are a partner to government and the gatekeepers that keep age-restricted products out of the hands of youth. This is a responsibility we take very seriously.”

Thus “doing it right” could be putting an industry with a commitment to ensuring responsible retailing to work as a stakeholder in the proposed initiative.

Age-restriction

We Expect ID is a flagship program of the CCSA, educating retailers and staff on how to properly manage and sell age-restricted products. C-store owners and clerks already handle tobacco, fireworks, lottery and, in certain locations in the country, alcohol. It takes a score of 100% on the final test to become a We Expect ID-certified retailer. C-stores are very good at IDing for age-restricted products, and are working hard at getting better all the time.

Complexity

It is not as if c-stores are not used to complexity when it comes to product handling. A variety of SKUs keep managers on their toes. The retailers and distributors of the convenience industry provide efficiency in sales and distribution, and vast experience when it comes to paperwork and accountability.

Tax collection

The stores and distributors of the convenience industry are already in place as tax collectors for our government. Gasoline, tobacco, lottery, and alcohol (where permitted)—all are excise taxed, and collection and remittance is all up to the sellers. And then there is GST, PST, HST, RST…  Another tax is hardly daunting.

Benefits versus societal costs

Is this good for Canada?

Here is what the Liberal Party has to say:

We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.

Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.

Arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs.

To ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of criminals, we will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.

We will remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code, and create new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework.

We will create a federal/provincial/territorial task force, and with input from experts in public health, substance abuse, and law enforcement, will design a new system of strict marijuana sales and distribution, with appropriate federal and provincial excise taxes applied.[LD1]

Advocates for keeping marijuana illegal say the tax revenue gained will be nothing compared to the societal costs. They cite the federal excise taxes on alcohol that are swallowed up by alcohol-related healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity costs. They cite the federal excise taxes on tobacco that cannot cover tobacco-related healthcare, lost productivity, and contraband-fueled organized crime costs. They say no one presently is jailed only for possessing small amounts of marijuana. They say organized crime will still exist, focusing on the other serious crimes it commits.

The CCSA has not yet taken a position on this matter, but it is something it will be watching closely and discussing with members in the future.

What do you think? Will eradicating the estimated $500 million it costs Canada annually to enforce prohibition be saved or merely shifted to cover a new crop of problems? Will the benefits of something new to retail legally and to tax outweigh the societal costs of greater accessibility?

Do you want it in your store?
[LD1]Francis:This section should be put in a box or italicized or otherwise set out – it is straight from the Liberal policy, so needs to be a little different from the rest of the text.