All Eyes on Canada Ahead of Pot Legalization, Says Top Cannabis Official

Article by Jacquie Miller, Ottawa Citizen

All eyes on Canada ahead of pot legalization, says top cannabis official Jacquie Miller JACQUIE MILLER. TORONTO, ONTARIO: Eric Costen, director general of Health Canada's Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, speaks at the Lift & Co. Cannabis Expo in Toronto, Ontario May 24, 2018. TYLER ANDERSON / POSTMEDIA

Canada’s top cannabis policy bureaucrat says every time he travels outside of Canada, he is reminded anew of just what a novel enterprise this country has embarked upon.

“Canada is moving into a place that no country — other than Uruguay — has ventured to go,” Eric Costen, director general for the federal government’s cannabis legalization and regulation branch, told a conference Thursday.

The world is watching Canada’s plan to legalize recreational marijuana, Costen said at the cannabis business conference in the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Only Uruguay has made recreational marijuana legal at the federal level.

The federal government aims to have pot legal by this summer. The exact date is up in the air because senators now debating the Cannabis Act are expected to propose amendments.

Costen reminded delegates that while the government recognizes the need for a viable, competitive industry, the purpose of legalization is to improve public health by minimizing the harms of cannabis use.

For example, the government is betting that making cannabis legal will restrict its use among young people if the drug is tightly controlled and the black market squeezed out.

The government’s regulations flow from public-health objectives, said Costen, which is not the case in some other jurisdictions. Nevada, for instance, legalized marijuana with the goal of generating tax revenue, he said.

Prohibition in Canada hasn’t worked, said Costen, noting that 30 per cent of Canadians aged 20 to 24, and 21 per cent of those aged 15 to 19 said they used cannabis at least once in the previous year.

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