On September 22, 2022, Canada’s Minister of Health, Jean-Yves Duclos, and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, Carolyn Bennett, announced the overdue legislative review of Canada’sCannabis Act(Act).
The Act came into force on October 17, 2018, with two key objectives:
- To protect the health and safety of Canadians
- To provide for the establishment of a legal market to displace the illicit market
The Act requires the Minister of Health to conduct a review of the legislation three years after coming into force. The Minister of Health must table the independent panel’s report to both Houses of Parliament 18 months after the independent review commences. Morris Rosenberg, a lawyer and former senior civil servant, has been appointed as the chair of the independent panel. However, the remaining four panellists have yet to be appointed. The Minister of Health indicated that efforts were being made to confirm appointments as soon as possible.
According to the Minister of Health, there are approximately 900 commercial licence holders in 10 provinces and two territories across Canada. In the second quarter of 2022, legal cannabis consumption composed 69% of the marketplace. Prior to the Act’s implementation in 2018, that number sat at 9% according to Health Canada data.
According to the federal government, the review will ensure that the Act adapts to the meet the needs of Canadians. The panel will consult with the public, governments, the cannabis industry, Indigenous communities and other relevant stakeholders. An online engagement process has begun, and stakeholders can provide their views to the federal government via an online questionnaire or written feedback by November 21, 2022.
Review’s Original Focus
Under the Act, the legislative review must focus on the Act’s impact on public health, particularly:
- The health and cannabis consumption habits of young persons
- The impact of cannabis on Indigenous persons and communities
- The impact of cultivation of cannabis plants in a housing context
Review’s Broadened Focus
However, the federal government has decided to broaden the focus of the review to also include:
- Economic, social and environmental impacts of the Act
- Progress towards providing adults with access to strictly regulated, lower-risk, legal cannabis products
- Progress made in deterring criminal activity and displacing the illicit cannabis market
- Impact of legalization and regulation on access to cannabis for medical purposes
- Impacts on Indigenous peoples, racialized communities and women who may be at greater risk of harm or face greater barriers to participation in the legal industry based on identity or socioeconomic factors
At the press conference, when asked about what the federal government is doing to ensure that the cannabis industry is viable, the Minister of Health indicated that this analysis was part of the mandate of the panel. However, the Minister of Health noted that the primary focus is on the safety and health of Canadians and that everything else is secondary.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who is the co-chair of the all-party Cannabis Caucus in Parliament, indicated that the federal government “didn’t get it exactly right the first time” and that the review was an opportunity to determine “what should come next.” He indicated that the panel has a wider scope of review to ensure that the federal government better addresses the illicit marketplace, empowers the legal cannabis industry to deliver for patient access and addresses issues with respect to past criminalization.
The Act currently permits Canadians to grow four plants at home. When pressed on whether there could be changes at the federal level to restrict home growing, the Ministers indicated that this would be part of the review as well.
The panel is also reviewing cannabis-industry issues with excise duties, taxation, potency and packaging, as confirmed by the Minister of Health.
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