CAN: "We need simpler, smarter cannabis law and regulation"

Adult-use cannabis became a legal industry in Canada in 2018. The regulatory framework that was adopted was cobbled together quickly with no consultation on the actual regulatory text. The result is regulation that is far from optimal, according to Shane Morris' article in the Financial Post. Aware that the process was being rushed, Parliament wisely required the government to review the Cannabis Act within three years.

The review is now finally starting, albeit late, after much effort by the government to limit its scope. To head the review, Health Canada selected Morris Rosenberg, who, in a 34-year career in the federal government, was deputy minister in three different ministries.

In its approach to cannabis regulation, the federal government went far beyond the precautionary principle and adopted a full-on nanny-state approach. Though cannabis is safer than alcohol or tobacco, it currently operates under much tighter regulatory restrictions. Canada was the first G20 country to legalize adult-use cannabis — though Germany has since indicated it intends to follow — so caution was to be expected. A more reasonable risk-based approach to regulation can likely come about only in politically careful incremental steps. The question is just how much will change that is too slow cost the industry and the taxpayer in lost jobs, stunted growth, and missed opportunities as the young sector struggles with red tape.

If Health Canada truly wants a smart regulatory approach to cannabis, it needs to ensure the Rosenberg panel has a complete understanding of just how extensive this red tape is. The learning curve will be steep, as cannabis production and sale are exceptionally complex. There are both federal and local production licenses, strict security requirements, intrusive labeling rules, required product notifications before launch, stringent testing requirements, as well as legally prescribed monthly inventory tracking. The regulation of cannabis is a lot like the regulation of pharma, which is very tightly controlled.

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