Pubdate: Tue, 26 Sep 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Brian Platt
Page: A6


Now heads private firm in marijuana sector

A New Democratic MP is warning of a 'clear appearance of conflict of
interest' after it was revealed that a member of the government's
marijuana legalization task force is now running a medical marijuana

Raf Souccar, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, served on the
independent task force that advised the government on legalizing
recreational marijuana use. The task force filed its non-binding
report on Nov. 30, 2016, and it was made public two weeks later.

Souccar is now president and chief executive of Aleafia, a
Toronto-based company that specializes in medical cannabis therapy for
people suffering from chronic pain and other conditions. According to
its corporate registry, Aleafia was incorporated on Jan. 17, 2017.
Three months later, on April 13, the government announced legislation
to legalize marijuana.

Members of government advisory panels are required to disclose their
interests in the subject matter before joining the panel. They also
sign a confidentiality agreement stipulating that they cannot disclose
material given to them by the government unless given permission. But
they are not under any obligation to refrain from commercial activity
in the sector afterward.

In an interview with National Post, Souccar said nobody approached him
about joining Aleafia until his work on the task force was done, and
that his first conversation about the company didn't come until
January, 2017.

"The circle of people that know me know better than to have approached
me while on the task force to get into this type of business," he
said. "I would have never entertained any discussions with anybody
while on the task force."

But he said he can understand why some might have concerns. "There is
clearly a potential conflict that could have occurred. And I made sure
to the extent that I believe is safe and ethical, I separated that,"
he said.

Don Davies, an NDP MP who serves as vice-chair on the health
committee that has been studying the marijuana legislation, said the
task force did good work - but the optics of one of its members now
running a medical cannabis company shows the government may need to
look at instituting a cooling-off period for consultants on policy.

"I think this is a case where there is a clear appearance of conflict
of interest, whether it's there or not. And I think that the
government would do well to examine it."

Souccar was recruited to Aleafia by Julian Fantino, a former
Conservative cabinet minister and former Ontario Provincial Police
commissioner and Toronto Police Service chief. Fantino - who took a
hard line against marijuana legalization while in politics - serves as
the company's executive chairman, and says he became convinced of the
benefits of medical cannabis therapy while serving as Veterans Affairs

As opposed to acting as a marijuana dispensary, Aleafia is conceived
as a health therapy company that sets up treatment plans for patients
and provides them with products from licensed cannabis growers.

The Post had spent the past week trying to clarify Souccar's role with
the company. He was not listed on Aleafia's website or in public
corporate documents. Three people who work for Aleafia had repeatedly
declined to answer questions about him - including William Car, the
only person currently listed a company director.

"I will not confirm or deny," Car said on Sept. 13.

A day later, Aleafia spokeswoman Heather Curran would offer little
information about Souccar's role. "He's providing counsel to Aleafia,
in the early stages here," she said.

Then on Friday, Souccar told the Globe and Mail he was in fact running
the company as president and CEO.

In an interview with the Post the next day, Souccar said his work on
the task force had changed his views on cannabis as a therapy
treatment, particularly in how it can act as an alternative to opioid

"Doing the task force was probably the big change that happened in me
. And so when an opportunity presented itself, I said, well how can
I help? How can I move this thing forward?"

Among those who paid close attention to Souccar's work on the task
force was Liberal MP Bill Blair, another former Toronto police chief
who is stickhandling the marijuana file for the government.

Blair had approached Souccar in the spring of 2017 about continuing
his advisory role on the marijuana file, but Souccar said he recused
himself from it.

"I said to him, ' I'm now, full disclosure, I'm now involved with the
company,'" Souccar said. "I felt ... just that this would not be right."

Blair confirmed he'd had that discussion with Souccar, but said he was
otherwise unaware of his work with Aleafia. And he said he doesn't see
any reason Souccar shouldn't be involved with the new company, given
the task force's focus was on recreational use, and given medical
marijuana use has been legal for 15 years.
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MAP posted-by: Matt