High hopes: Legalized pot is on the way

As marijuana producers gear up to sell to the masses, the feds have some hurdles to clear


 
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Walking into the lobby of Tweed Marijuana Inc. in Smiths Falls, Ont., is like entering a sleek but bare-bones start-up, all polished concrete floors and white walls: visitors are greeted by a vintage-looking cabinet displaying jars of the company’s wares on shelves above faded hardcover books, as well as a trendy wall of old candy ads—homage to the building’s previous life as a Hershey factory. Men in sneakers with well-groomed beards wander in and out. But this isn’t some hipster PR firm—Tweed is at the vanguard of Canada’s medical marijuana industry, readying itself for the multi-billion-dollar market for legal marijuana expected to take root under the newly elected Liberal government.

But first things first. Moving from illicit to licit requires regulations that allow enough of a legal market to dry out the black one—ideally, while bringing in much-needed tax revenue—and a blend of stiff penalties for rule-breakers and funding for education and addiction treatment.


Go inside Tweed Marijuana Inc.:


The Liberals named Scarborough Southwest MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair to lead the way. As parliamentary secretary to the justice minister, he’s charged with coordinating with Health Canada, Public Safety and each of the provinces. Blair won’t be pinned down to a specific deadline, pointing out he’s new to Parliament and its processes. But he allows he’s encouraged by recent opposition support for regulation as the best way to protect communities. “I’m also hoping that this will be an effort that all of us can get behind and work together on to make sure we do it right,” he said in an interview with Maclean’s. “We want to do it right.”

The pending green rush has producers eager to help him with that task. Tweed recently turned to a high-powered lobbying firm to make the case for a simple expansion of the existing medical marijuana model. That would mean allowing already licensed producers to sell online and send the product by mail—rather than in liquor stores, as some premiers propose. Tweed argues that using the medical marijuana model is the most straightforward way to ensure product quality and consistency, as well as being speedy to implement. “There’s a lot of things to work out,” said Tweed president Mark Zekulin, who estimates it could take years for each province to set up its own distribution model. Were Canada to use the existing system, “I think you could see that within a year,” he said.

Meanwhile, the illegal dispensary system—private pot retailers who sell a product that isn’t inspected for potency or purity—continues to thrive. Vancouver, which has about 100 dispensaries, has moved to license and regulate them rather than have no rules at all. Even interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, who has previously suggested the Liberals wanted to make it easier for kids to buy marijuana, now says the government needs to move to regulate dispensaries.

Director of Quality Assurance Thomas Shipley prunes dry marijuana buds before they are processed for shipping at Tweed Marijuana Inc  in Smith's Falls, Ontario, April 22, 2014. By unlocking the once-obscure medical marijuana market, Canada has created a fast-growing, profitable and federally regulated industry with a distinct appeal to the more daring global investor. About a dozen producers of the drug will find themselves in the spotlight this year as they consider going public or prepare to so through share sales or reverse takeovers to capitalize on recent regulatory changes, investment bankers said. Tweed Marijuana Inc, which converted an old chocolate factory into a marijuana farm, led the pack by becoming the first publicly held Canadian company in the sector. Picture taken April 22, 2014.   (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Director of quality assurance Thomas Shipley prunes dry marijuana buds before they are processed for shipping at Tweed Marijuana Inc in Smith’s Falls, Ontario, on April 22, 2014. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

Currently, the only way to buy marijuana legally is to have a doctor’s authorization (Health Canada doesn’t use the term prescription because pot doesn’t go through its drug review process) and order through one of 27 licensed producers—including Tweed. Those producers require a licence to grow, as well as a licence to sell, for which they undergo regular inspections by Health Canada.

Conforming to Health Canada rules can be overwhelmingly expensive, requiring high security like biometrics to limit access to plants and heavy-duty vaults to store the product, as well as extensive protocols to track plants from seed to shipping. Start-up costs can range from $5 million to $10 million. No wonder that, of 1,284 production applications received by Health Canada as of last March, almost 75 per cent were rejected or withdrawn. The vast majority were deemed incomplete.

The result of a successful application, however, is a sight to behold. Built in a cavernous warehouse, Tweed’s facility features spotless rooms filled with rows of bright green plants, labelled and tagged for tracking. The company keeps 12 flowering rooms and has space to expand by an additional 18. Each flowering room has 500 plants bathed in the kind of bright yellow light that bursts from the door like some kind of heavenly glow. The scent of marijuana, surprisingly, is no stronger than if you were to catch a whiff of someone puffing on a joint as they walked past. That could be due to the ventilation system chugging away overhead, making yelling the easiest way to communicate.

Related: The Apple store of medical marijuana?

Given what Blair calls the “onerous” regulations imposed on licensed producers, legal producers sometimes portray the dispensaries in comparison as irresponsible sellers dealing in pesticide or mould-tainted weed. But many dispensaries have fought for regulations, including the B.C. Compassion Club Society, says spokeswoman Jamie Shaw, who is also president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries. Shaw says some dispensaries have their marijuana tested, but it’s hard to prove, as the labs do it off the books and won’t provide paperwork.

A bag of marijuana is held up at a medical marijuana dispensary in Vancouver on Friday May 1, 2015. The City of Vancouver has become the first in Canada to regulate illegal marijuana dispensaries, despite strong warnings from the federal government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

A bag of marijuana is held up at a medical marijuana dispensary in Vancouver on Friday May 1, 2015. The City of Vancouver has become the first in Canada to regulate illegal marijuana dispensaries, despite strong warnings from the federal government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The Liberals say regulation would let them test for additives, as well as require labels telling consumers how strong the marijuana is. It would also allow advertising and packaging rules, similar to restricting marketing for tobacco. Andrew Freedman, director of marijuana coordination in Colorado, where pot was legalized two years ago, says he is watching to see how his state’s licensees start marketing their products. “Roughly 20 per cent of the [marijuana] users use 80 per cent of the product, so when licensees a few years down the road get sophisticated enough to really advertise and commercialize their brand, we are going to have to worry about what commercialization does to potentially drastically increase the number of users,” he told Maclean’s.

Freedman says there are a few things he wishes Colorado had done differently, including starting its public education campaigns sooner to avoid the lag between easier access to pot and increased public awareness of the potential harm. The state is also likely to reduce the initial tax rate of 10 per cent for recreational weed (15 per cent on wholesale purchases), which is on track to put US$100 million in its coffers this year. Too high a tax drives up the price and can mean users would rather go to an illegal dealer than a legitimate seller. Too low a tax could mean there’s profit to be made in selling it illegally outside the state. “We have to find this very sweet spot [where] the price is just at the right place where people don’t want to ship it out in pounds, but not so high as to allow the black market to thrive,” Freedman said, calling it a guessing game. “It’s a complicated enough issue that I would leave myself breathing room to come back and change things down the road.”

For his part, Blair is looking closely at a report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, noting pot is harmful to teens and people with mental illness, as well as to heavy users. CAMH recommends banning pot marketing, advertising and event sponsorship, as well as maintaining a government monopoly on sales. The former police chief hopes to have more to say publicly in the next few weeks about the initial steps toward legalization.

If the 2015 election was at least in part about whether to legalize marijuana, with the Conservatives staunchly opposed and the Liberals resolutely in favour, the next debate will focus on how best to make that happen. It’s clear from Tweed’s forest of marijuana plants and high-tech facility just how much has been invested beyond the halls of power. The stakes are high—in more ways than one.


 

High hopes: Legalized pot is on the way

  1. Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

    Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny, crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

    The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

    If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more death and destruction than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

    Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more destruction, violence, and death than all other drugs, COMBINED?

    Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

    • The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

      Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

      The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

      Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

      Even The President of the United States has used marijuana. Has it hurt his chances at succeeding in life? If he had gotten caught by the police during his college years, he may have very well still been in prison today! Beyond that, he would then be fortunate to even be able to find a minimum wage job that would consider hiring him with a permanent criminal record. Let’s end this hypocrisy now!

      The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

      Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

      Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

      • In the prohibitionist’s world, anybody who consumes the slightest amount of marijuana responsibly in the privacy of their own homes are “stoners” and “dopers” that need to be incarcerated in order to to protect society.

        In their world, any marijuana use equates to marijuana abuse, and it is their God given duty to worry about “saving us all” from the “evils” of marijuana use.

        Who are they to tell us we can’t choose marijuana, the safer choice instead of alcohol for relaxation, after a long, hard day, in the privacy of our own homes?

        People who consume marijuana are smart, honest, hard working, educated, and successful people too, who “follow the law” also.(except for their marijuana consumption under it’s current prohibition of course) .

        Not the stereotypical live at home losers prohibitionists make them out to be. They are doctors, lawyers, professors, movie stars, and politicians too.

        Several Presidents of The United States themselves, along with Justin Trudeau, Bill Gates, and Carl Sagan have all confessed to their marijuana use. As have a long and extensive list of successful people throughout history at one point or other in their lives.

        Although that doesn’t mean a dam thing to people who will make comments like “dopers” and “stoners” about anybody who uses the slightest amount of Marijuana although it is way safer than alcohol.

        To these people any use equals abuse, and that is really ignorant and full of hypocrisy. While our society promotes, advertises, and even glorifies alcohol consumption like it’s an All American pastime.

        There is nothing worse about relaxing with a little marijuana after a long hard day than having a drink or two of alcohol.

        So come off those high horses of yours. Who are you to dictate to the rest of society that we can’t enjoy Marijuana, the safer choice over alcohol, in the privacy of our own homes?

        We’ve worked real hard our whole lives to provide for our loved ones. We don’t appreciate prohibitionists trying to impose their will and morals upon us all.

        Has a marijuana consumer ever forced you to use it? Probably not. So nobody has the right to force anybody not to either.

        Don’t try to impose your morality and “clean living” upon everybody else with Draconian Marijuana Laws, and we won’t think you’re such prohibitionist hypocrites.

        Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

        • Check out second hand smoke data and think about children in homes were adults use marijuana. Think about intoxication and the risk of accidents that include children and think about driving stoned – making bad decisions. One third of the fatalities in the BC forest industry the BC coroner attributed to marijuana use – none for alcohol. We are tracking the number of deaths of children due to marijuana use and we are also aware that 28% of the deaths by second hand smoke are those of children. This is not a benign substance and the responsibility of protecting children from risks such as these are shared by all of us.

        • Check out second hand smoke data and think about children in homes were adults use marijuana. Think about intoxication and the risk of accidents that include children and think about driving stoned – making bad decisions. One third of the fatalities in the BC forest industry the BC coroner attributed to marijuana use – none for alcohol. We are tracking the number of deaths of children due to marijuana use and we are also aware that 28% of the deaths by second hand smoke are those of children. This is not a benign substance and the responsibility of protecting children from risks such as these are shared by all of us.

          • Seeing how each year teens/youths are injured by tens of thousands and killed by the hundreds, you must be even more concerned about vehicle registration.

      • What war ? We have been living through an era of defacto legalization and harm reductionsim – Only 2 people spent any time in jail in BC in 2011 for pot possession – 2.
        No one is being arrested for pot possession – nor are the police taking it seriously.

    • Marijuana is not safe for human consumption – fact of science and an indisputable truth.
      It is not safer than alcohol that is just a talking point – it should be judged on its own and it does not pass the test – think of the pregnant and think of second hand smoke before you make this
      psychotropic drug out to be a harmless herb. The United Nations Rights of the Child Treaty – which is the most ratified of any piece of human rights legislation says specifically that children are to be protected from the use of psychotropic substances in the home – intoxicants that lead to accidents and yes deaths. Kids are showing up daily – yes daily in emergency wards in Denver and Seattle for marijuana psychosis and you try and make a case that legalization – is a good idea – nothing could be farther from the truth. We do not need another legal product that will cost us far more in public health costs, ruin families and harm the development of adolescent brains, reducing their ability to live full and productive lifes. We do not need legalization and prohibition works – when taken seriously and we say no to drugs. Not harm reductionism but real and serious public education on this issue – something that has been missing for a very long time.

      • Cannabis is bad! I mean “marijuan, one must use the proper reffer madness slang” so says Pamela Mccoll. You have to love a truly dedicated prohibitionist like Pam, she has all the best scientific studies to prove it and not one of them was done or paid for by big pharmacy, really you can trust her there is no way she profits from the prohibition of the Devil Weed!
        ” If it saves one child it was worth ruining the lives millions” and if the prove of harm comes from little white lies or presumed assumptions so be it, after all she just wants to save us from ourselves.

    • If they were to focus their efforts on a real proven killer, they would outlaw cigarettes which are a cancer and heart disease delivery system in a stick. Given they aren’t doing that, why can’t they treat the cannabis industry just like they do the Canadian wine industry? As you said alcohol is a bigger danger but they have no plans to severely limit it’s availability. Legalize it already. Tax it and take your share but just make it simple.

  2. Canada will rue the day it ever even considered legalization of this miserable substance. It combines all the negatives of alcohol and tobacco into one product that has particular appeal to our youth, where it damages developing minds and turns many into shiftless layabouts. The only rationale for legalization is the result of police over the years choosing to ignore enforcement of existing laws against this scourge. Instead of looking to places like Colorado that are also spiraling down into becoming drug havens, we should be following the example of places like many European countries and particularly the Scandinavian nations, who have managed to avoid this plague by actually enforcing their laws.

  3. Sam Canada – an organization that does not support the legalization of marijuana is a Canadian organization that is doing everything we can to get the counter argument out – the pro pot forces have mounted a huge p.r. campaign based on talking points and the indepth conservation Canadians deserve. Legalization is against the United Nations conventions and if you look to Sweden, who have the lowest rates of use of marijuana and who are also upholding the UN Conventions we might learn something. Colorado is turning out to be a nightmare – youth rates are up and the Governor has clearly stated the experiment was not worth it. Canada has the highest rate of marijuana use by youth in the industrialized world. It is has been deemed a significant factor in the death of young Canadians including 14 year old Haven Dubois this past year. This country needs less pot not more. It needs to send this emerging predatory industry packing. To permit the further normalization and commercialization of marijuana in our society is the wrong public health policy. Wrong wrong wrong. http://www.learnaboutsam.ca

    • Pam, you’re a broken record repeating the same unsubstantiated claims on every soapbox that you come across. Repeatedly, you claim that ‘science is clear’ on the harm caused by marijuana, yet I’ve observed that often assume correlation is equivalent to causation, citing studies that the authors themselves have not drawn such direct claims. Using Haven Dubois to bolster your argument is not only unsound, but shameful. The child’s own mother was not satisfied with the Coroner’s assessment regarding the death. “It’s so easy for them to brush it aside. It’s just another dead Indian to them,”. Often, you and your American counterpart Kevin Sabet asses that decriminalization/legalization advocates ‘cherry pick’ studies that support their claims, yet in my limited research of your material, I’ve noticed a heavy reliance on research articles published by the Heritage Foundation, a well known Conservative think tank, while brushing aside both direct criticism of those articles themselves and published research which contradicts such claims. I find it ironic that you champion a position of prohibitions success, and also use the tragedy of the death of a young Aboriginal boy to promote it’s necessity, while ignoring clear data that the policies that it creates cause far more harm to Aboriginal youth than it’s consumption. http://drugpolicy.ca/2013/04/aboriginal-people-in-canada/

  4. Sam Canada – an organization that does not support the legalization of marijuana is a Canadian organization that is doing everything we can to get the counter argument out – the pro pot forces have mounted a huge p.r. campaign based on talking points and what is needed is an indepth conversation – Canadians deserve no less. Legalization is against the United Nations conventions and if we look to Sweden, who have the lowest rates of use of marijuana and who are also upholding the UN Conventions we might learn something. Colorado is turning out to be a nightmare – youth rates are up and the Governor has clearly stated the experiment was not worth it. Canada has the highest rate of marijuana use by youth in the industrialized world. It is has been deemed a significant factor in the death of young Canadians including 14 year old Haven Dubois this past year. This country needs less pot not more. It needs to send this emerging predatory industry packing. To permit the further normalization and commercialization of marijuana in our society is the wrong public health policy. Wrong wrong wrong. http://www.learnaboutsam.ca join our efforts and write the Prime Minister and ask him to
    stop this move to permissive drug policy. Marijuana is not safe for human consumption and we do not need another legal smoked product on the retail market.

    • SAM Canada – Good for a laugh! Pam loves cannabis!!!

  5. Another Bull Sh#t promise that PM Buttercup he won’t keep. He sucked you in Libtards. Of course that’s not hard to do. Enjoy the unicorn ride. Sunny dazed, Sunny dazed. Suckers.

  6. It’s legal for citizens to grow their own tobacco, brew their own beer and make their own wine. It would be stupid and very suspect if citizens are not allowed to grow a few cannabis plants for their personal use. Saying it’s ‘not safe’ for people to grow their weed is like saying it’s not safe for people to grow their own tomatoes, corn etc. The medical potential for cannabis is huge, no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose. All those trolls from ‘SAM Canada’ are nothing more than a bunch of self-righteous right-wing snots who post LIES about a wonderful medicinal herb that’s been used for thousands of years with no problem. Recent studies show that cannabis DOES NOT lower IQ’s in young people and it DOES NOT cause lung cancer or mental health issues, it’s extremely safe.

  7. Canadians need to start worrying about the real life things that will definitely kill you.
    Cancer KILLED 76,600 Canadians in 2014.
    Take $1 billion of the $5 billion the new tax that legalization will raise and FIND a cure for cancer….don’t let a corporation OWN IT.
    Canadians need to get their priorities straight and not get distracted from what really affects their lives.
    The S.H. government spent $12.9 billion on security when 2 people died in terrorist attacks in 2014.

    • You write about this often. How many Syrians have died because of terrorism in their own country and how many have been displaced? How many Australians died because of terrorism on vacation in Bali? How many French have died due to terrorism? How many Americans due to 9/11? How many died due to home grown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh? You might as well start talking about the crazy amount Canada spends on policing vs. the number of murders per year. What is a human life worth? Do you know what we spend on a premature baby, many of whom will never become tax paying citizens? What do we spend on old people in the last month of their lives? Do you know that in many provinces 43 percent of our budget goes to healthcare and we don’t treat those who abuse the bodies any differently than those who take pristine care of theirs? There is not one cure for cancer because cancer is cell growth gone crazy. Some cancers are completely hereditary. Some are completely life style related. Some are highly curable. Others have very high death rates. Some are very common and others extremely rare. Researchers all over the world work on cures. Sometimes cures aren’t necessarily attainable but slowing down growth and extending lives is. I am not sure that finding a cure for cancer is important as finding more treatments for the various bacteria that have become resistant to the antibiotics we have. New antibiotics take years and years to develop. Stephen Hawkins says the biggest risk to the world is nuclear warfare and biological warfare. Perhaps money on terrorism isn’t such a bad investment.

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