Article by Gil Kerlikowske, Toronto Sun
It turns out legalizing recreational cannabis in Canada was easier said than done..Trying to convert a market from illicit to regulated was done in the name of health and public safety with the added benefit of tax revenue. The conversion has introduced new challenges..Having spent my career in law enforcement, drug policy, and trade, I recognize it must be a journey where all stakeholders contribute..As policymakers shift between models of cannabis distribution (government-run vs. private sector, online vs. bricks-and-mortar), Canadian law enforcement entities work to ensure products are authentic; regulators grapple with compliance and strict production and marketing rules for licensed operators; and health authorities focus on ensuring products are safe..The introduction of edible and infused products presents new challenges for protecting the public, such as complexities around safety as THC and CBD is mixed with different types of food and consumer products..Law enforcement will face additional challenges in preventing black market penetration as products containing cannabis become harder to differentiate from regular consumer-packaged goods..Public Health authorities will be challenged in protecting consumer health as the public interacts with these products. Regulators will have to manage changes in the cannabis marketplace as these products will attract a more diverse consumer base than traditional forms of cannabis..Governments must find a solution that minimizes illicit activity; enables consumers to confidently purchase legal, safety-tested products; eases the burden on enforcement agents; and maximizes tax revenue to support continued oversight and research, as well as community programming..In Canada and the United States, tobacco companies are required to place secure, counterfeit-resistant stamps on retail packaging to allow regulators, law enforcement and consumers to quickly differentiate legal from illegal products..When implemented on individual retail units, these identifiers facilitate enforcement, enable inspectors to efficiently verify products are legitimate, and ensure appropriate taxes have been paid. Law enforcement welcomed and supported this tool.The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) has taken a proactive step using tobacco models by requiring a secure stamp on each cannabis unit..The CRA stamp provides a counterfeit-resistant mechanism to enable inspectors, law enforcement and consumers to recognize a cannabis product has been legally sourced.The CRA stamps provide unique visual designs for each province to ensure products are being sold in the appropriate jurisdiction. The stamp is also uniquely serialized, further enabling authorities to identify the manufacturer where the stamp was originally applied.In fact, when we see news coverage of black-market cannabis products, the most visible differentiator is the lack of CRA stamps..The untapped opportunity is to build on this success by combining the CRA stamp with additional cannabis track-and-trace capabilities..This approach would combine the material security of the anti-counterfeit CRA stamp (required on all retail products) with digital security using enhanced data capture and analytical toolsets to provide regulators with more detailed information on production and product movement while consumers would have up-to-date product safety information both before and after retail purchases.