Top 5 Milestones in Canadian Drug Policy in 2016

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This past year has seen a fair share of progress and setbacks in Canadian cannabis policy, and it certainly was a productive year for the medical cannabis industry. The role of the Supreme Court, the overall progressive report from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, the growth of innovative technology and research, the ever changing MMPR/ACMPR, and developments across the border — all left their mark on the future of cannabis policy in Canada. Further, the progress Canada has seen over this past year is symbolically marked by a shift in 2016 from the term ‘marihuana’ (or even marijuana) to the use of the term ‘cannabis’ which is now being used by the federal government.

In the same stroke, the MMPR/ACMPR continues to face growing pains as we enter 2017. Most recently, we see this in the availability of starting materials from LPs (not to mention their cost), consistent access to particular strains, slow expansion of access to concentrates other than oils, a continued slow approval process for LP Applicants, and many other issues that continue to surface under the medical regulations. These surely signal that there are still many cumbersome rules in place that are impeding market growth and diversification, and reflect a tender balance in the medical market between public health goals and having rules and regulations flexible enough to adapt to a changing market climate as Canada paves its way into the legalization of personal-use cannabis.

Here are the 5 biggest cannabis developments in 2016 (IMHO) that will impact the Canadian cannabis landscape in 2017.

1. The Allard Decision + ACMPR
While Allard started in 2014, it concluded in February 2016 with Judge Phelan ruling that the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) violated Section 7 Charter rights by removing the personal production of cannabis for medical purposes. By August, the government’s response to this ruling was announced – repealing the MMPR for the new Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR). The main difference in the two programs is the new allowance of personal growing for those licensed to do so, as long as starting materials are obtained through LPs. This has been quite controversial since its implementation, with a lack of available starting materials and the high costs of obtaining those materials. Lift reported in December that the federal government is now reaching out to numerous foreign government agencies and legal companies for help in providing starting materials.

2. Minister Philpott’s 420 announcement at the UN + Task Force report is finally released
No one can forget our new Health Minister announcing to the world at the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Drugs that Canada will be legalizing cannabis, and taking a ‘new’ approach to drug policy that prioritizes a health and harm-reduction approach. Then, over the summer, we also saw the launch of a Task Force and public consultation that sought to inform the creation of a legalization regime. This included the Honourable Anne McLellan who acted as chair, and vice-chair Dr. Mark Ware.

Over the following months, they met with diverse interests from all levels of government, law enforcement, public health experts, medical cannabis patients, researchers, the general public, indigenous representatives, and youth. Finally, in mid-December, the final report of recommendations was released which encompassed a range of diverse voices, coupled with the Task Force’s expertise, and led to what formed a fairly progressive report (or at least, a good start). Key recommendations include an age restriction of 18 (or mirroring provincial drinking ages); moving away from a model that would sell both alcohol and cannabis in one location (a particularly important recommendation for places such as Ontario with its dominating LCBO distribution model); small personal production allowance; plain packaging and restriction on advertising/ promotion; allowing consumption lounges; and following a licensed production model for commercial production and sales. Also notable was their focus on regulation that allows for a diverse marketplace, and a nod to the pioneering work of the British Columbia Compassion Club Society during their press conference for the release of the report.

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