Pubdate: Tue, 12 Sep 2017
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Sylvain Charlebois
Page: A7


Ontario's overly prudent new policy is short-sighted, Sylvain
Charlebois says.

Ontario has become the first province to define how it intends to sell
non-medicinal marijuana to the public. Around 150 stores across the
province will open and will be operated by a division of the
province's liquor board, the LCBO. Marijuana won't be sold alongside
wine or liquor, but in separate, independent stores. The legal age for
purchasing marijuana in Ontario will be 19, as it is for alcohol.

While Ontario deserves some credit for forging ahead with guidelines
for its legal marijuana distribution system, the province's statement
was filled with ambiguities and unknowns.

Most important, no consideration has been given to edible cannabis
products, or how these products would be marketed. The province will
not sell edibles, for now. Nor have guidelines for home cultivation
and use been contextualized, especially for households with children.
Cooking at home with marijuana, for example, can be tricky. What's
more, the food service industry and restaurants were not even
mentioned in the announcement.

But the black market remains and may have an impact on everything else
the province is trying to achieve in mitigating risks for the public.

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit drug in the developed world.
Its use has, for the longest time, been associated with negative
social and economic outcomes. Many wonder how legalizing marijuana for
recreational use could affect food in general - and it will, despite
Ontario's wishes.

Since Ottawa's announcement, several food companies, processors and
distributors are considering the possibility of commercializing
cannabis-infused products. In some U.S. states where marijuana is
already legal, consumers can purchase a variety of marijuana-infused
food products from fudge, cookies, and brownies, to hard candies,
gelato and even gummy bears. Yes, candy.

Some food products, like marijuana brownies, have long been a staple
of cannabis coffee shops in some parts of the world, but the new
products are quite different and may be deceptive. They are skilfully
produced and packaged to mimic popular candies and other sweets.
Making cannabis more readily available to children, especially in
edible forms, represents significant risks. Research shows marijuana
use can be damaging to children and their developing brains, and of
course, to fetuses through use by expectant women. A lack of a policy
framework related to edibles, or pretending the problem does not
exist, will lead to more challenges down the road.

Ontario has adopted an excessively prudent, incremental deployment
strategy to the marketing of marijuana across the province. Again,
this is unsurprisingly short-sighted.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana, Canada is following
in the footsteps of a few U.S. states, and edible marijuana products
have been tremendously popular in these markets. Making them illegal
won't solve anything since they will reach the market, one way or
another. The food service industry is also considering its options
with the looming legalization of marijuana. Some guidance by provinces
would serve the public well, particularly at a time where many wonder
how marijuana, as a legal food ingredient, could potentially impact
our society.

While governments may see the legalization of recreational marijuana
as an interesting new source of substantial revenue, risks associated
with the prevalence of marijuana use as a food ingredient have not
been clearly articulated. Even with the few stores Ontario will
operate, the amount of revenue will likely motivate the province to
reconsider its options in this field. No doubt, more stores will open.

But as the province grows its addiction to marijuana tax revenues, it
should also consider how it will develop guidelines for edibles, and
for marijuana as a food ingredient for domestic use. Or else, the
underground market will occupy that space and that is not a desirable

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Sylvain Charlebois is dean of the Faculty of Management, and professor 
in food distribution and policy, at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
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