Task Force on Marijuana Legalization & Regulation (TFMLR)
Toronto TFMLR meeting August 30, 2016
On August 30th I attended the meeting of the cannabis legalization task force in Toronto.
There were ~24 people around the table, including municipal enforcement officials, senior scientists from CAMH, mental health researchers, secretariat members and advocates for access to medicinal cannabis.
I was the only representative from a legacy organization — and one of the few to make a formal submission to the Task Force.
The Task Force members told us they had visited Colorado and Washington State and learned much from their deliberations there — mostly in terms of “don’t do this” kinds of lessons.
Anne McClennan approached me before the session began to tell me that she had read NORML’s submission — the night before the meeting — and “found very little to disagree with.” She did find the Summative Comments on the Task Force paper a little harsh, but agreed with me that the Task Force paper had more than whiff of reefer madness about it (“think about the children").
The actual meeting consisted of a slow walk through the major considerations in their Discussion Paper with the intention of hearing from various stakeholders on all aspects of concerns surfaced by the Task Force.
I made the point — generally accepted by everyone around the table — that the federal government simply COULD NOT legislate on all aspects of cannabis once legalization was in force because many of the fine-grain details would devolve to provincial and even municipal jurisdiction.
I have to report that I think NORML got a fair and respectful hearing* (curious to learn of John Conroy’s experience). Dan Werb and myself agreed on almost everything — as I expected — and I was glad to have the input of a research scientist from the University of Toronto who was able to explain in appropriate detail how different routes of administration affect the cannabis user differentially.
*On more than one occasion Anne McClennan would make an observation in words that could have come directly from NORML’s submission.
Not all of the Task Force members were present, and of those that were present, not all spoke up. But of those that were I made a point of asking — in private, during the lunch break — “what have you learned in this process?”
McClennan admitted that the biggest challenge would be unlearning the many popular misconceptions that have long surrounded the cannabis issue (probably reflective of her own learning).
The former deputy head of the RCMP admitted that he no longer anticipated an explosion of use and impaired driving after legalization.
The Director General of the Secretariat told me that he was impressed with the diversity of views across Canada — at the variability of considerations around access in remote places like Northern Canada.
To sum up, a good day. I thought the Task Force was very respectful of NORML’s views. I thought they were receptive and willing to learn.
Vancouver TFMLR meeting September 1, 2016
I appeared before the Task Force on Legalization and Regulation today, September 1 in Vancouver. I found it to be a very pleasant experience with numerous great participants who brought a lot to the table and the Task Force members were very receptive and shared with us some of the huge cultural differences that exist in relation to this issue in the north, compared to the south and in the West, compared to at least some parts of the East. Not everyone has had the experience that we have had particularly in British Columbia now for many years and it is a challenge to bring something in that takes into account such differing perspectives.
Eric Costin was present, executive director of this government initiative and some of you will recall, he was in charge of the medical program for while at Health Canada and gave evidence in Allard.
Bill Blair, MP and Parliamentary Sec. to the Minister of Justice, who is the conduit between this Task Force was also present, and based on my prior experience with him he continues to be very reasonable on this issue and I think because of his police experience more knowledgeable of the situation on the ground.
The Chair of the Task Force Anne McClellan was also very open and frequently commented on the significance of what they were hearing and learning.
Dr. Mark Ware, the Vice Chair was also present, and was very receptive to the information they were receiving and particularly in relation to the medical marihuana issue and the new ACMPR and potential problems between the injunction patients and transitioning to the new regulations. I think they clearly understood that there will have to be a separate medical and recreational stream particularly depending upon what the legal model looks like though probably no matter what because of the distinct issues.
Prof. Susan Boyd of the Task Force was also present, and she was a witness for the Plaintiffs in Allard, and clearly supportive.
George Chow, a member of the Vancouver Board of Variance, but not sitting as long as he is on the Task Force also appeared to be very supportive and made some good contributions.
Perry Kendall, our chief BC Medical Officer in Task Force member was also very interested and then made very good contributions.
There were 5 staff or support persons to the Task Force, including Diane LaBelle, legal counsel to the Ministry of Health with whom I expect to have good positive future discussions.
There were 13 of us, including a number who are well known to the cannabis community and very supportive and I thought everybody made great contributions that were very well received.
Clearly the impaired driving issue and trying to construct a fair model engendered significant discussion and clearly will be a big issue for the politicians. Apparently there are some coroner statistics that allegedly determine cannabis to be the cause in certain fatal accidents and I will be doing some further investigation into them, specifically in keeping them posted on the information and developments I continually get from the U.S. on this issue.
The minimum age limit was part of a significant discussion and I think and hope that at the end of the day, they accepted that what's important is what they decide to do to those under the minimum age that they set and that they should not use the criminal law. If they are going to continue to use the criminal law, for those "outside the scheme" they are simply going to have major problems and prejudice many young people. I think they are genuinely interested in alternatives to the use of the criminal law and there was discussion about adults selling alcohol to minors, tobacco issues and to try and come up with something sensible and not use the criminal law.
All in all a very good and informative day I think for all present, focusing on genuine learning and grappling with specific issues. At the end of the day it must be remembered that they have received over 30,000 submissions and are now doing the traveling consultations and have to report by November on simply how they think legalization (not decriminalization) should be done through Bill Blair to the 3 Ministers – Justice, Health and Public Safety.
That is where the politics will enter into the situation and given the continuing fears and hysterics from some quarters and the fickleness of politicians we are not likely to see what we think is "the right way to do it" and I think we can anticipate several years of restrictions that hopefully will fall away over time.
I started out being quite critical of the Discussion Paper in its use of the terms "addictive" and criticisms of home growing accusing the authors of not being up to date and being in fact misleading and that they obviously hadn't read Allard before they wrote the paper. Remember the Task Force did not commission that paper and it was simply presented to them as the background discussion piece. Yesterday was opiate overdose day in BC involving true addicts cut off by their doctors who go to the streets and die and how the use of the criminal law in that area is responsible for the entire situation.
There is a lot of work to be done to educate the public and some members of the Task Force on the differences between cannabis consumption and alcohol consumption, impaired driving, and workplace issues.
I think the Task Force members are genuinely listening and learning and trying to come up with realistic recommendations based on hearing all sorts of perspectives across the country that some of us have never been exposed to.
I came away feeling very good about the day, but my skepticism remains about what the government will do.
Hope this helps some of you who are about to appear.
Vancouver TFMLR meeting September 2, 2016
Busy day but I wanted to give a short recap of last Friday's Legalization Task Force meeting. The process is that the TF will make recommendations to Bill Blair who is acting as point person for three Ministers (Justice, Health and Public Safety). Mr. Blair will deliver the recommendations with his own comments and the government will do what it does.
The meeting covered five topic areas (set out in the discussion paper available to the public and which formed the basis for some 30,000 or more submissions already received by the TF). I believe that the TF is committed to doing its best to recommend a path forward that works for all Canadians. I also believe that there will be lots of things people don't agree with and lots of room for improvement. I also believe, as does the TF, that whatever legalization looks like on day one will not be the end of the matter and that changes over time are almost inevitable.
My key points were that any system has to be inclusive, can't be so hard to participate in that ordinary Canadians are frozen out, that a cannabis related criminal record should not be any barrier to participation, that legacy producers and distributors need to be included, that nobody under an age limit should ever have criminal charges arising from cannabis, that possession and plant limits are illogical and should not exist, that home production is a necessity and that there must be a separate medical system at least for home production (if there is a plant limit on rec production), access to all cannabis products (if some are not allowed in rec) and cost-reimbursement. Obviously there is and was a lot more but those are the highlights.
The group in the room was largely in agreement with much of this and with each other. People were there from public health, from medical professions, from First Nations, from research and from activism. Many familiar faces and some new ones. The TF noted that the BC meetings were very good and that they learned a lot throughout this process. They also made clear that different parts of the country look at this issue very differently from each other. Finally, in response to diatribes from Pam McColl (who left at lunch without explanation) they made clear that this was about how to legalize not whether to legalize.
I think that production in the new regime will be federally controlled but that distribution will be provincially regulated. This means that provincial politicians need to be courted, educated and lobbied for the distribution system or systems that will be created. It also means that the current ACMPR producers are very likely to be allowed to participate in the new regime (unsurprisingly and of course they should be permitted like everyone else). In response to a specific question about obstacles in the current regime I said that the security clearance process needs fixing, that the security requirements are nonsense and a huge and unnecessary financial burden, that the timing of processing applications needs to dramatically improve and that the government should set basic quality control standards (eg, labelling requirements and levels of unwanted inputs) but should not micromanage how producers meet those standards.
There was a lot more and I may have some time to get into details in specific areas but the above is a general recap.
Apologies in advance for not being able to answer specific questions.