• Daniel Demers

What’s in Trudeau’s “backup plan” for legalizing Cannabis?

When Canadians gain legal access to recreational marijuana next summer it will be under a multi tiered system which is still largely undefined and as a result uncoordinated.

While Provinces are working to put in place the policies and regulatory frameworks that will govern how cannabis will be sold and consumed within their jurisdictions, it is increasingly clear that there will be significant differences in the approaches and readiness of provinces and territories and that some may not have a system in place by the federal governments deadline of July 1st,. We will have a much clearer picture of the system that will be in place this time next year when the provincial/territorial panel on provincial readiness for legalization reports later this month. But regardless of the level of readiness at the provincial, municipal and community levels, it is clear that the federal government will establish a national distribution system that will overshadow provincial and community plans.

Last summer the Federal Finance Minister announced that for provinces that fail to have a distribution framework in place by July 1st the Trudeau government has a “backup plan”. While the details of this plan have not been made public, it is expected that the federal government will oversee a regime based on the current model for the distribution of medicinal marijuana with a focus on online purchases and delivery through Canada Post.

But how will the Federal “backup plan” work? What will be the online age restriction for provinces that haven’t set up a system in time? How will online businesses that serve these jurisdictions be licensed and inspected? What will the restrictions on distribution be and who will enforce them? If the federal government’s online regime governs sale and distribution in certain provinces will the federal government also take on responsibility for the community health and education programs that will need to be established in these provinces?

Even in provinces that meet the federal deadline to have a distribution system in place will be impacted by this “back up plan”. For example, how will online access be coordinated in provinces that have a distribution system in place but are unable to serve all of its communities? With Ontario planning to start with 60 cannabis stores, there will be a significant number of people in that province who will not have ready access and will buy recreational cannabis outside the provincial system through the online and home delivery model of the Federal Government.

Over the past several months’ questions about the Federal government’s plans for legalization have largely focused on the legislation currently working its way through Parliament. But given continued concerns about how well provinces and municipalities will be prepared by July 1st and the simple fact that millions of Canadians prefer to shop online regardless of where they live, there needs to be a lot more clarity, coordination and public engagement on Trudeaus “backup plan”.