What Will Cannabis Legalization Look Like?

There has been much talk and debate about what cannabis legalization will look like in Canada. The effects to society – the economy, policing, public consumption, and the list goes on. The reality is come October 17, 2018 the world won’t look much different than it does today. When alcohol prohibition was lifted, it took a whole generation for it to become normalized and the black market to fade away. Canada is leading the charge by being the first G7 nation to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. The industry is shaping itself while the world is watching this experiment play out. Likely there will be hiccups along the way, but like the phrase associated with cannabis use “start low, go slow” appears to be adopted by the government on their approach to rollout. With a sophisticated black market, a host of regulatory controls, limited products and limited stores – what will Canadian cannabis legalization look like?

The changing landscape of Cannabis in Canada

October 17, 2018 is the day that retail outlets will open their doors to Canadians above the age of majority in their respective provinces. In some provinces – Ontario, for example – there won’t be any retail in 2018, all sales will be online. Let’s say you decide to check out a store on day 1, what will it look like? What will you experience?

If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing what the retailers have done with store design, you may be thinking of a seedy head shop and that is not the case at all. The stores rival anything you’d see in a high-end boutique. The designs are open and inviting, with friendly and knowledgeable staff.  One thing you won’t see? Any cannabis. All packaging must be tamper-evident, childproof, opaque, and behind lock and key. Typically, the store experience will be educational, with informational displays and stations. A consumer will rely heavily on staff for product knowledge and recommendations as you won’t be able to see, touch, or smell the product.

One thing many find surprising is the lack of product optionality that will be available as compared to the black market. Only two types of products will be allowed in year one of cannabis legalization – flower (or bud), and cannabis oil. Edibles, concentrates, and other value-add products (VAP’s) are slated to come out late 2019. Topicals are an interesting product line because they are probably the easiest and most benign way to use cannabis, but they are only allowed as liquid at room temperature. They are not allowed as balms, salves, body butters, etc. but are expected to be available as a VAP in 2019. They also are not allowed to include counter-irritants or have any ingredient that could enhance the cannabis like menthol or essential oils. Fingers crossed the restrictions lessen in 2019 as topicals are booming Stateside, introducing cannabis to new users who are simply looking for health benefits without the high.

What you can purchase is limited, but that is not all. How you can purchase is also limited. Retail varies from province to province, with a mix of public and private, storefront and online only. Each province has their own set of regulations and every municipality has its own set of bylaws. For example, every province except Saskatchewan has a government ran distribution hub. There is a mix of private and public retailers, with Ontario recently making the switch from LCBO (Liquor Control Board of Ontario) to private in the last few months. Let’s look at Alberta for example – the AGLC (Alberta Gaming & Liquor Commission) will be the sole online retailer for cannabis in Alberta. Private retail brick and mortar shops are permitted but they will only be able to buy their cannabis from the AGLC, and the AGLC has only selected 15 Licensed Producers of medical cannabis to purchase their stock from. As an example, in Calgary, on October 17th only 2 locations have been approved and will be ready to open their doors. Sufficed to say, the world won’t look a whole lot different after the 17th. Now if you look at British Columbia, they currently have a vast network of black-market dispensaries that don’t appear to be closing any time soon. Some have attempted to make the switch into the regulated market with very few applications between existing and new retailers. It will take time to sort out the kinks, have applications processed and approved but change is upon us, albeit slowly.

What is the difference between medical & recreational cannabis?

 The simple answer is “nothing”. Essentially the same Licensed Producers that supply the medical market will be supplying the recreational market and the product is the same. What is starting to happen is a brand or product line differentiation i.e. a Licensed Producer will have one brand name for medical, and one for recreational. As far as potency and quality go – there is no difference. Even the tax structure will be the same. Although there are many petitions circulating to not tax medical cannabis, it is still a-go as of today. Medical clients will still only be able to purchase directly from the Licensed Producer they signed up with when they received their medical documents. However, for recreational, consumers will have options based on who the provincial commissions are supplying.

 

What is the big deal anyway?

 Many Canadians are happy about the legalization of cannabis, but an equal amount are unhappy about it too. Anything new can be scary, but we can learn from US states that have legalized like Colorado and Washington and try to learn from their mistakes and successes to avoid growing pains. One thing is for sure, every Canadian won’t all of a sudden start smoking cannabis just because it is legalized. Likely those who currently smoke will continue to do so, and individuals new to cannabis will tend to try products exclusive of smoking. There are many methods of consumption such as: smoking, vaping, topicals, capsules to name a few. As time goes on the list will grow, such as edibles, drinkables, and concentrates for 2019.

 

With some guidance and trial and error, new users can feel confident in tailoring their cannabis use to what they want to experience. Whether you are looking for relaxation, help sleeping, pain relief, or skincare there are many options to navigate. Understanding what you hope to achieve with your cannabis use can help with narrowing down to an appropriate method of consumption, cannabinoid content and dose level to ensure you have a positive experience. It will take time to break down the stigma, as it is difficult to change perceptions after decades long prohibition. There are a number of studies and anecdotal evidence pointing to positive effects, the hope is that continues, and individuals look to more natural therapy options like cannabis.