6 Things to Watch as the Countdown to Legal Canadian Cannabis Commences

Published on June 30, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Canadian flag in the mountains at sunset

July 1 brings Canada Day, an annual celebration of national unity. This year, it’s also an important milestone: As of today, Canada is exactly one year away from being only the second country on Earth to fully legalize cannabis for adult use. (Thanks for stealing our thunder, Uruguay.) It’s an exciting time to be alive—how often do you get to see federal prohibition repealed?—and the change carries huge ramifications for the legal, medical, financial, and political spheres. Here are six things to watch for as the 12-month countdown plays out.

1. Canadian Celebrities Jumping on the Canna-Bandwagon

In a case of positive advocacy, Gord Downie—Tragically Hip frontman, Canadian icon, brain-cancer patient, and medicinal-cannabis user—has inspired his band to join forces with Canadian licensed producer Newstrike to extol the medical benefits of the plant. While The Hip have a genuinely personal interest in their canna-biz, can it be long before other prominent Canadians get on board? Is there room for Michael “Buble Hash”? Nickelback’s Nickel-Bags? Rob Ford’s Green Crack? Justin Bieber’s Bubblers and Bongs? (Feel free to submit your suggestions below.)

2. Provincial Wrangling

The federal government has left the nuts and bolts of taxation, delivery, and age-limits to individual provinces, which are as different as the geography of our great nation. The Old-World Roman-Catholic ethos of Quebec rubs up against the narcissistic slickness of Ontario and the laid-back nature of British Columbia. Will the casual West Coast continue to allow its existing dispensary system? Will monied Bay Street corporations and governmental suppliers control distribution in the East? The logistics of legal, adult-use cannabis are uncharted territory, and things might get a bit sticky.

3. OGs vs LPs

Will the original clandestine outlaw growers who put their freedom on the line peaceably coexist alongside licensed providers (LPs) when Canadian cannabis becomes big business? With high-powered lawyers, doctors, politicians, law enforcement, and lobbyists securing top spots in the industry, where will the trailblazers and outliers go—and what will become of their years of knowledge? Can this be a marriage of skills or will it be a war of wills? A good example of harmonious co-operation is Emblem Cannabis in Paris, Ontario, which has hired veteran grower Nate Neinhuis, a preeminent North American expert on horticulture, cannabis extraction, and environmental and lighting systems. One key point of contention: Many of the outlaw growers have the distinction of being exactly that, with criminal records for cannabis guaranteeing their exclusion from participation in the LP system and official, legal acknowledgment from Health Canada.

4. Will Supply Meet Demand?

If you have a serious medical condition, being without your pain medicine can be tantamount to torture. While many LPs entered the business with dreams of plentiful profits, many got a quick lesson about the delicate intricacies of actually growing cannabis plants. After a dismal first summer replete with powdered mold, pesticide scandals, personality conflicts, poor sales, and substandard product, the new LPs that haven’t spent their time in the trenches learning the art of growing cannabis have gotten a crash course in humility. Let’s hope the hubris dies out and that growing is left to the growers, not businessmen.

5. Tax Drama

How much tax will you pay on your bud? If the Liberal mandate is to be followed verbatim, the answer is “very little.” The goal is to keep prices low enough to hobble the illegal market while still making raking in enough tax revenue to keep government accountants happy. Can it happen in real life? We’ll see.

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6. Will Canada Make the July 1, 2018 Deadline?

I imagine Justin Trudeau likes the idea of being re-elected as prime minister of Canada. So it’s a fair guess that he’ll work to push through legalization by the deadline. Am I a realist or a dreamer? Time will tell.

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Sean Spencer
Sean Spencer
Sean Spencer is a writer living and working in Toronto.
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