As the federal government prepares to legalize marijuana, questions are being raised about a former Liberal minister’s role in shaping that legislation while working for a prominent law firm poised to capitalize on the lucrative new industry.
The new bill being unveiled Thursday in Ottawa relies heavily upon the recommendations of a federal task force chaired by former Liberal deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, a senior adviser at Bennett Jones LLP. In addition to promoting itself as the “go-to” advisory firm in the marijuana sector, Bennett Jones and a dozen of its lawyers are listed on securities documents as being granted stakes in one of the companies positioned to profit from legalization.
In recent weeks, since wrapping up her work on the task force in December, Ms. McLellan has been speaking at industry-sponsored events across Canada, where she is touted for her role as an insider on the task force that helped design the new legislation, while also promoting her as a member of the law firm.
Ms. McLellan says she sees no problem with her dual role working for a firm that both advises – and invests in – the burgeoning commercial marijuana industry while also speaking about her past work chairing the federal panel that guided Ottawa in its push to legalize cannabis.
“When I do these speaking engagements, I do so in my role as the former chair of the task force. I’m not there as senior adviser at the law firm of Bennett Jones LLP,” she said. “It cuts both ways, I suppose, in that it’s absolutely fair for people to know where I am employed, and with whom.”
But the dual role is drawing criticism from people inside and outside the industry, who question whether it is appropriate. This is particularly the case, critics say, because key recommendations of the task force place the legalized recreational cannabis industry, expected to be worth billions of dollars, in the hands of a few dozen medical marijuana producers – including companies her firm may advise.
Securities documents list Bennett Jones and at least 15 of its employees as having been issued several hundred thousand shares last summer in Supreme Pharmaceuticals, a company the firm has also advised.