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Proposed Cannabis Act changes step in the right direction: advocates



While the proposals have generally received a positive reception, retailers are hoping to see an end to the ‘unbelievably high’ $1 per gram excise tax on cannabis

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OTTAWA — Proposed changes to Canada’s cannabis regulations are being met with cautious optimism from those within the industry, who say more still needs to be done to make the marketplace fair for everyone.

The proposed changes, published late last week in Canada Gazette, deal with everything from industrial hemp to growing rules to packaging regulations and are intended to make life a little easier for sellers while maintaining public health concerns.

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“Health Canada recognizes that there may be regulatory measures that could be made more efficient and streamlined without compromising the public health and public safety objectives in the (Cannabis) Act,” read a synopsis from the Department of Health.

“This is supported by conclusions and recommendations from the independent expert panel that completed the statutory review of the act.”

That review, headed by retired senior federal bureaucrat and former Trudeau Foundation CEO Morris Rosenberg, recommended the government work on reducing administrative and regulatory burdens put upon those within Canada’s legal cannabis industry, something stakeholders have long called for.

“For the most part, (the proposed changes are) just practical to what the regulations already are, and effectively how things should be behaving,” said Jennawae Cavion, owner of Kingston, Ont., dispensary Calyx+Trichomes and executive director of NORML Canada.

“It eliminates a lot of redundancy in a lot of ways.”

Among the proposed changes are plans to legalize the sale of cannabis pollen between licensed producers, a means to allow greater access to domestic plant genetics.

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Others include loosening packaging regulations to allow screw-top lids to be a different colour than the jar they’re attached to, transparent windows on cannabis packaging, and the ability for producers to add QR codes to their products.

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While response to the proposals is largely good, some are disappointed that no changes were proposed on dose amounts for edibles.

Earlier this year, a petition calling on the government to raise the THC limits in edibles from 10 mg to 100 mg was tabled in the House of Commons, a cause championed by Cavion and NORML Canada.

Sam Gerges, owner of Toronto-based dispensary chain MaryJane’s Cannabis, described the proposals as a good first step.

“But without a change to excise it’s all for nothing,” he told the National Post — a point that Cavion agrees with.

“The feds charge $1 per gram in excise, which is unbelievably high considering the average cost of goods, then the provincial wholesalers mark up the landed price — including the federal excise. It’s a tax on a tax.”

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While many of the items involving brick-and-mortar retail shops would require further approvals on the provincial level, Cavion said she’s pleased with many of the proposals.

“The biggest benefit is that it’s going to allow for more choice, more information to make purchase decisions, and allow us as retailers a little more variety,” she said.

Omar Khan, chief communications officer for High Tide — owner of Canada’s largest retail cannabis chain Canna Cabana, was more guarded.

“While we welcome the proposed changes to the federal cannabis rules and regulations, these could still take up to a year to be put into effect and are far from game-changing,” he said.

“When it comes to supporting cannabis job creators, the federal government is tinkering around the edges while bankruptcies and job losses mount.”

Khan encourages the federal government to take a page from a number of provincial governments and take greater steps to stamp out the illicit market.

While Canada was in a rush to be among the first in the world to legalize cannabis, there’s still a lot to be learned from the mistakes the government has made along the way, Gerges said.

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“The government should not be the most profitable cannabis business in the country,” he said.

“We’ve become an example of what not to do.”

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