Pubdate: Fri, 24 Nov 2017
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Author: Brian Platt
Page: A8


Tougher checks than exist for licence holders

As the federal government inches closer to legalizing recreational
marijuana by next summer, it is still figuring out where to draw the
line on how much previous criminal history should disqualify someone
from taking a senior role in the industry.

In draft regulations released this week, the government proposes
requiring everyone in "key positions" at licensed marijuana companies
to hold a security clearance issued by the health minister's office.
But it's also asking for feedback on whether people with "histories of
non-violent, lower-risk criminal activity" should be allowed to pass
security checks.

Police forces have been urging the government to set up even tougher
rules on security clearances than currently exist for medical
marijuana licence holders.

"Health Canada's security clearance processes do not go far enough to
prevent the infiltration of organized crime in the medical marijuana
industry," said Rick Barnum, deputy commissioner of the Ontario
Provincial Police, in testimony to the Commons committee that studied
the bill earlier this fall.

"Starting with the large grows that will be regulated and licensed,
it's important to recognize... that is what organized crime will
target. That's where the most amount of money they could make would
be, and that's our biggest opportunity to get them out."

Thomas Carrique, who chairs the organized crime committee of the
Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, told MPs that Canada
currently has a $7-billion illicit marijuana industry, and some of it
will inevitably continue after legalization.

"There are over 300 criminal organizations currently involved in the
production, distribution, importation, or exportation of cannabis," he
said. "We can mitigate it, but we cannot eliminate it."

The draft regulations contain multiple measures to stifle the
influence of criminal groups, including mandated security systems at
marijuana facilities and a national Cannabis Tracking System that
would monitor the entire supply chain to prevent diversion into or out
of the legal market.

The proposed security clearances would apply to anyone holding a
designated "key position" in companies licensed to grow, process or
sell marijuana. These positions would include the top manager, the
chief of security, the master grower (for cultivators), the head of
quality assurance (for processors) and the head of client services
(for retailers).

It would also apply to the company's directors and officers, and to
shareholders who own more than 25 per cent of the company.

In general, the proposed security clearance regime is stricter than
medical marijuanawhen it comes to company ownership, but more lenient
in the actual business operation (currently, a security-cleared
employee must be present whenever medical marijuana is being handled).

Getting a clearance would include not only a criminal record check,
but also a review of any relevant files held by police agencies,
including "intelligence gathered for law enforcement purposes."

Crucially, the consultation document suggests that clearances could be
given to people with non-violent criminal histories, such as charges
of possession or small-scale cultivation of cannabis.

"I frankly wasn't expecting that, because I really hadn't gotten the
sense that was something that was on the radar screen and they were
willing to address," said Trina Fraser, an Ottawa lawyer who has
advised many cannabis businesses.

"It at least shows an open mind that the government has right now to
creating some kind of amnesty provisions for those types of offences."

Fraser said most U.S. jurisdictions with legalized marijuana have
included some level of amnesty. The California city of Oakland has
even used its licensing system as a form of reparations, giving
priority to marginalized communities disproportionately affected by
previous cannabis convictions.

But it's not clear how far the Canadian government is willing to go in
forgiving transgressions. For example, many people who were arrested
in connection to illegal marijuana dispensaries were charged with
possession with intent to traffic, which may not count in the amnesty.

Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver lawyer specializing in cannabis, called the
consultation document a "major step" in the right direction, but
remained skeptical given his experience dealing with Health Canada's
security clearances.

"I've seen people denied for pretty vague reasons," he said. "No
criminal contact themselves, just sort of having been with someone
else who got busted for growing cannabis. So, that kind of stuff needs
to get cleaned up, and I think it's important the government is
recognizing the public may have something to say about that."

Fraser said some hard thought needs to go into whether it makes sense
to exclude people with "grey market" cannabis experience from the
soon-to-be legal market.

"Depending on how you look at it, I think they're going to be more of
a risk to public health, safety and security if they're not subject to
regulation," she said. "If you look at it from that perspective, you
should cast the net as wide as possible."
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MAP posted-by: Matt