The legalization of cannabis in coming months will offer a clear opportunity for provinces to shut down the black market for the drug and put an end to any notion there are still “grey” areas in Canadian law, top Liberal officials said.
In a joint interview, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and her parliamentary secretary, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, said the new regime for legal marijuana will vary by province, as different rules are being put in place for distribution and retail.
“There is no one-size-fits-all … I’m really comfortable with leaving it up, for example, to the British Columbia government that knows its communities, that has a direct relationship with municipalities and local officials, to develop a distribution system that works in the context of British Columbia,” Mr. Blair said.
However, Mr. Blair and Ms. Petitpas Taylor said the goal will be to put an end to the current situation, in which medical cannabis growers and illegal dispensaries are selling their products to recreational users. In their view, the recreational regime should be strict, especially in the early going, and only loosen up over time if data and research back up such changes.
“I don’t think we can get into this notion of there being anything that is grey,” said Mr. Blair, a Liberal MP. “It is black-letter law.”
The biggest challenge of the new regime will be to displace existing infrastructure through which cannabis and edible products are illegally sold in physical stores and through the internet in Canada.
The government hopes that once the drug becomes officially legal, consumers will be convinced to buy through government-regulated retailers, with law-enforcement authorities continuing to crack down on other outlets.
Statistics Canada estimates that the country’s cannabis black market was worth as much as $6.2-billion in 2015. A recent study the agency released pegged the underground cannabis industry as moving about 697,500 kilograms of product that year. That dwarfs the 33,482 kilograms of dried flower and cannabis oil delivered last fiscal year by the federally regulated medical mail-order system, according to Health Canada.
Ms. Petitpas Taylor said the illegal market for cannabis will not disappear with the flick of a switch, but that everyone should work together to better protect young Canadians and remove criminal elements from the production chain.