Pubdate: Fri, 16 Jun 2017
Source: Ottawa Sun (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Jacquie Miller
Page: 6


Some provinces already moving ahead with legal pot plans

Several provinces are plowing full steam ahead with plans to ask the
public how they should manage the introduction of legal recreational
pot in Canada. But Ontario, it seems, isn't one of them.

Or, if there are plans, the province's "Legalization of Cannabis
Secretariat" is not ready to share them. Secretariat officials have
been holding private meetings and promise to "engage with the public"

The lack of information is surprising, says Jeffrey Lizotte, chief
executive of NextWave Brands, a cannabis lobbying and consulting firm.

Ontario is the country's most populous province, and the epicentre of
the legal cannabis industry, he notes. More than half of the Health
Canada-licensed grow-ops that sell to medical patients are in Ontario,
and those facilities are expanding to supply recreational pot users,

"Ontario should be the leader," Lizotte says.

The federal government aims to make dried pot and cannabis oil legal
by July 1, 2018, and has unveiled its legislation to that effect, but
many key details have been left to the provinces.

Alberta, Quebec, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and the Northwest
Territories have planned or begun consultations. Alberta has
encouraged citizens to start discussion groups to debate questions
under provincial control, such as: Where should marijuana be sold?
Should the province raise the legal age for purchasing pot above the
federal minimum of 18? Should people be allowed to use cannabis in
public? Should the province create new impaired driving laws? How
should cannabis be treated in the workplace?

Ontario, meanwhile, "is engaging with health, public safety, municipal
and indigenous stakeholders and will continue to do so over the summer
months as we develop our regulatory framework," said a statement from
the Ministry of the Attorney General, which houses the cannabis
secretariat. Besides the "proactive stakeholder outreach," the
statement said, "government officials are attending relevant
conferences, meeting with academics and responding to impacted groups
who wish to provide input."

As for how the public can get involved in the cannabis debate, that's
not known. The secretariat will "engage with the public over the
coming months."

The public silence on the issue might be because the province is
waiting until the federal cannabis legislation is passed, says
cannabis lobbyist Lizotte.

But there are also political considerations, says Lizotte, who worked
at Queen's Park for Conservative politicians before jumping into the
cannabis consulting business.

A provincial election is scheduled for June 7, 2018. That's just a few
weeks before the target date for the brave new world of legal pot.
Will Ontario try to keep the issue low-key because politicians are
disinclined to talk about pot?

A recent opinion poll suggests that Canadians are becoming wary about
recreational pot and the ability of governments to manage it. The
cross-Canada survey by the consulting firm Hill & Knowlton Strategies
found that public opinion has shifted.

Last year, "people were excited" about legalization, and polls
consistently found that 55 per cent to 65 per cent of Canadian
approved of the idea, says the Hill & Knowlton report.

The firm's survey last month found a "more guarded and uneasy public."
Support for legalization had fallen to 43 per cent. A majority of
respondents - 57 per cent - said they were concerned about how their
provincial government "is going to roll out marijuana legislation,"
compared with 12 per cent who were not concerned, and 28 per cent who
were neutral on the question.

The political landscape varies greatly by province, says Ottawa
business lawyer Trina Fraser, who advises companies on obtaining
licences to grow medical marijuana. Trina Fraser is a lawyer who
specializes in cannabis business law and helps businesses acquire
licences to grow medical marijuana.

"Certain provinces have their act together more than others. Certain
provinces are more excited than others. Some view it as economic
opportunity, some view it as something that is being imposed on them
against their will. I think there is a different political appetite
across the country toward embracing it and dealing with it."

Ontario might not be saying much publicly, but work is going on behind
the scenes, says Omar Khan, a vice-president at Hill & Knowlton who
advises clients in the cannabis industry. He suspects the Ontario
Cannabis Secretariat is "mapping out the landscape" and coming up with
options for cabinet.

"They've been thinking about this since the Trudeau government was
elected," says Khan, who until last fall worked as chief of staff to
Ontario's health minister.

On the key question of where cannabis will be sold, three options are on 
the table, says Khan: privately operated stores, government-run outlets 
similar to the LCBO, or some hybrid of the two.

It's highly unlikely Ontario will allow alcohol and marijuana to be
sold in the same place, says Khan, an assessment that is widely shared
in the industry.

The statement from the cannabis secretariat says "all policy options
remain on the table."
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