Pubdate: Sun, 05 Nov 2017
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The New York Times Company
Author: Ian Austen


TIVERTON, Ontario - Behind a forbidding high-security fence topped
with razor wire, Supreme Pharmaceuticals is busy preparing for the
legal marijuana trade, with workers expanding a greenhouse complex
where the lucrative crop grows.

But while Supreme looks like it will be ready for the day when
prohibition ends, Canada's governments still have a lot of work to

Proposing legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana
was the easy part for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. With about eight
months to go before Canada becomes the second nation after Uruguay to
take this step, the federal government and the provinces are staring
at a formidable to-do list.

Ottawa still has to set the limit at which drivers will be declared
impaired under criminal law, and must determine the rules for
advertising and the standards for growers.

Working out most of the details affecting consumers is largely up to
the 10 provinces. But only three - Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick
- - have offered any idea of how they will operate and regulate their
marijuana markets, and then only in the most general terms. The other
seven are still in the midst of public consultations.

Two of the most important questions for consumers - how much the legal
product will cost and how much it will it be taxed - are still being
debated by the two levels of government.

In most of the country, it is still unclear whether marijuana will be
sold only in government-run stores. And most provinces have yet to
decide the amount of marijuana that individuals will be able to
possess or grow.

Nor have most provincial governments decided on the minimum age for
buyers, or where smoking marijuana will be legal. The federal
government must also explain how it will deal with international drug
treaties that prohibit marijuana sales.

Even the precise starting date for legal pot is a mystery.

On top of that, and perhaps counterintuitively, police forces are
warning that successful inauguration of a legal system for selling
marijuana will require an accompanying crackdown on the black market.

Despite all these challenges, suppliers are optimistic that legal
recreational sales will be a reality by summer.

"I 100 percent think Canada will be ready," said John Fowler, the
chief executive of Supreme, which has been selling medical marijuana
since 2016. "But I think the real question is: What does 'ready' mean?"

The answer, Mr. Fowler said, will be managing expectations in the
early days.

"Canadians should not expect that on Day 1, the legal market is going
to supply the billions of dollars of illegal cannabis being consumed
in Canada," he said in his windowless office at the greenhouse complex
near the shore of Lake Huron where employees work in disposable suits
and hairnets to avoid contaminating the multimillion-dollar crop.
"That will take time, and I think that's fine."

Even with the uncertainty, many investors are betting there is money
to be made on legal marijuana. Last month, Constellation Brands, a
major wine and beer distributor in the United States, invested $245
million in Canopy Growth, the owner of several licensed medical
marijuana growers in Canada.

While the commercial side is upbeat, many provincial leaders say Mr.
Trudeau's timetable of legalization by July - one of his main campaign
promises - is unrealistic. Some have demanded a delay.

In a statement, Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, said that he
and several of his counterparts believed a postponement was needed to
deal with all the questions.

"Despite these concerns, the federal government has not changed its
timetable," Mr. Wall said.

Speaking with reporters last month, Brian Pallister, the premier of
Manitoba, said that his province is reluctantly working to meet the
federal government's schedule.

"That doesn't mean I like it," he said. "I'm going to continue to
express my concerns about the rapidity of this change."

But Bill Blair, the former police chief of Toronto and a Liberal
member of Parliament tasked by Mr. Trudeau with overseeing the
marijuana issue, said that the government will stick with its plan. He
dismissed suggestions that the process was rushed, noting that the
federal government had been discussing the issue with provinces for
two years.

"I don't minimize the complexity of the work ahead," Mr. Blair said on
Friday. "But by establishing a date for implementation, it's focused
the process." Further delay, he added, "just facilitates vast
windfalls of profit to criminal enterprises."

Of the three provinces that have released broad outlines, the plans
put forth by Ontario and Alberta, although sketchy, treat marijuana
much like alcohol.

In Alberta, marijuana will be available in licensed, privately owned
shops. Ontario, which has a population of 13.6 million spanning two
time zones, will set up 150 government-owned stores. The buying ages
will be 18 in Alberta, 19 in Ontario. (Ontario introduced legislation
for its new system this past week, but many important details will
come later.)

How the provinces and the federal government will divide the tax
revenue is still unclear. Governments do not want a repeat of their
experience with cigarettes, in which high taxes intended to discourage
smoking created a large black market.

Many police forces are among the groups calling for a delay. While a
new law will allow the police to use saliva tests to identify
marijuana-impaired drivers, what will qualify as impairment has yet to
be defined. Little equipment to conduct the tests is now in the field,
and few officers have been trained in its use.

"Are we going to be ready?" asked Mario Harel, the president of the
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the head of the force in
Gatineau, Quebec. "We don't think so. We're dealing with a lot of
situations so we're going to be doing our best to be as ready as possible."

While some Canadians are questioning the accuracy of saliva tests,
Robert Mann, a scientist at the Center for Addiction and Mental Health
who studies cannabis use, said the tests have proved valid in other
countries, although he acknowledged that marijuana's active ingredient
was not as easily measured as alcohol.

His larger concern, he said, is changing public opinion about whether
it is safe to drive under the influence of marijuana.

"There's quite a common perception that you can drive safely under the
influence of cannabis," Dr. Mann said, adding that this view is based
in part on now-refuted research from about 20 years ago. "It took
quite a while for people's attitudes about drinking and driving to

The authorities have also faced black-market sales in stores after Mr.
Trudeau's legalization announcement. Cities and provinces have taken
different approaches to the black-market shops. In Vancouver, where
they are most numerous, officials try to keep control through business
licenses. In other areas, particularly Quebec, the police have moved
swiftly to close them down.

Mr. Trudeau's government has repeatedly said that the stores are
illegal and will not be a part of the new recreational market.

Brendan Kennedy, the president of Tilray, a licensed medical marijuana
producer, said the experience of American states with legalization
suggested that the stores will quickly wither away in the face of a
legal alternative - provided that "there is adequate supply and
adequate locations of legal products."

Mr. Harel, the police chief, is less certain the black market will
vanish anytime soon after legalization.

He anticipates that the illegal market will aggressively promote food
laced with marijuana, one of many products that will not immediately
be allowed under the new system. In his view, the success of the legal
system will rest on swiftly and aggressively shutting down the black

"We figure it's an $8 billion-a-year economy," he said of illegal
marijuana sales. Legalization, he added, will change the dynamics of
the black market. "But we don't think it will fade away."
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