Pubdate: Thu, 13 Apr 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Authors: Mike Hager & Grant Robertson
Page: A6


New marijuana bill relies on recommendations of McLellan's panel; she
also works with 'go-to' advisory firm in the industry

As the federal government prepares to legalize marijuana, questions
are being raised about a former Liberal minister's role in shaping
that legislation while working for a prominent law firm poised to
capitalize on the lucrative new industry.

The new bill being unveiled Thursday in Ottawa relies heavily upon the
recommendations of a federal task force chaired by former Liberal
deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, a senior adviser at Bennett Jones
LLP. In addition to promoting itself as the "go-to" advisory firm in
the marijuana sector, Bennett Jones and a dozen of its lawyers are
listed on securities documents as being granted stakes in one of the
companies positioned to profit from legalization.

In recent weeks, since wrapping up her work on the task force in
December, Ms. McLellan has been speaking at industry-sponsored events
across Canada, where she is touted for her role as an insider on the
task force that helped design the new legislation, while also
promoting her as a member of the law firm.

Ms. McLellan says she sees no problem with her dual role working for a
firm that both advises - and invests in - the burgeoning commercial
marijuana industry while also speaking about her past work chairing
the federal panel that guided Ottawa in its push to legalize cannabis.

"When I do these speaking engagements, I do so in my role as the
former chair of the task force. I'm not there as senior adviser at the
law firm of Bennett Jones LLP," she said. "It cuts both ways, I
suppose, in that it's absolutely fair for people to know where I am
employed, and with whom."

But the dual role is drawing criticism from people inside and outside
the industry, who question whether it is appropriate. This is
particularly the case, critics say, because key recommendations of the
task force place the legalized recreational cannabis industry,
expected to be worth billions of dollars, in the hands of a few dozen
medical marijuana producers - including companies her firm may advise.

Securities documents list Bennett Jones and at least 15 of its
employees as having been issued several hundred thousand shares last
summer in Supreme Pharmaceuticals, a company the firm has also advised.

"When selecting its task-force chair, our government would have done
well not to provide fuel for this reasonable concern," said Michael
DeVillaer, a drugpolicy expert at McMaster University, in a recent
report on marijuana legalization.

"That fuel was provided when government selected someone whose
employer was not only intimately tied to the cannabis industry, and
had identified that industry as a premium growth opportunity, but was
also positioned to benefit financially from that industry's success."

Brent Zettl, president of CanniMed Therapeutics, one of roughly 40
licensed producers in Canada, said even if the government knew about
Ms. McLellan's interest, the public should be made more aware of the

"Clearly it's in the grey area," he said of the situation.

Ms. McLellan, who is not listed as a shareholder in the securities
documents, said the potential conflict of her role was properly
disclosed at the outset of the task force and care was taken to ensure
there were no issues. She said she had no knowledge of her firm
investing in any cannabis companies.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson for Health Canada issued a statement that
said Ms. McLellan and the other eight task-force volunteers declared
their interests and affiliations and signed confidentiality agreements
that stipulated they could not release government material without
permission. The statement thanked Ms. McLellan and the task-force
members for their work, which ended with the Dec. 13 submission of
their final report.

Ms. McLellan said she has handed out Bennett Jones business cards
while meeting with companies as the chair of the independent panel
last fall, but only as "a matter of convenience - not promotion of the
law firm."

"I am very sensitive when I do these things to not wanting to be seen
to be promoting Bennett Jones. So it is a fine balance that one walks

The Bennett Jones partner who spearheads the firm's work in the
cannabis sector was unavailable for comment Wednesday. However, Peter
Zvanitajs, senior media adviser at Bennett Jones said: "If you talked
to Anne, then she provided the [company's] comment."

Supreme Pharmaceuticals said it had no comment and referred The Globe
and Mail to the company's filings with Canada's securities regulator.

The federally licensed producers stand to be the big winners as the
government is expected to unveil a bill that ramps up production from
these companies to supply demand for recreational cannabis.

Arthur Caplan, head of medical ethics at New York University's school
of medicine, said Ms. McLellan can better manage the issue by
disclosing at speaking events that she works for a company heavily
involved in the marijuana sector.

"It's not that she can't be truthful or say something important, but
you have to have a certain skepticism about her comments," he said.

Mr. DeVillaer said simply disclosing the conflict of interest is not

"The financial interest was property declared, but that makes it no
less of an interest," Mr. DeVillaer said. "The purpose of declaring
the interest is to expose it to public consideration as to whether it
constitutes a conflict of interest."

His report concludes the dual role is "an unacceptable conflict that
is incompatible with the protection of the public's health."

Mr. DeVillaer said this week that the speaking events Ms. McLellan has
conducted since wrapping up the task-force work also deserve scrutiny
since the line between the law firm and the government task force in
promotional material promoting the events is unclear.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt