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Shaping Canada’s Legal Marijuana Industry: Can It Escape the Red Tape?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made legalizing recreational marijuana one of his government’s priorities. Even though major changes are coming for the cannabis industry as soon as next year, many worry the new laws and regulations will be more focused on big money corporate interests, shutting out many small businesses.

Federal Law and Medical Marijuana

While Canada has a federal medical marijuana program, the rights of patients to access medical marijuana have been inconsistent since the program began. Originally, patients were allowed to grow their own cannabis. But, under the previous government, all distribution medical marijuana was turned over to a handful of government-licensed producers. The courts have recently restored the rights of patients with prescriptions to grow their own cannabis, but the government-licensed producers continue to exert considerable political power.

Trudeau has promised to bypass Canada’s strict federal medical marijuana regulations in his efforts to make recreational legal. Many worry about the growing political power of the government licensed distributors. The fear is that that instead of recreational marijuana being a boon to daring entrepreneurs and small businesses, only well connected corporations, such as the ones already producing medical marijuana, will be allowed to grow recreational marijuana.

British Columbia and the Future of Canadian Cannabis

For a long time marijuana dispensaries have operated relatively openly in various cities throughout the country. Authorities have mostly ignored these dispensaries and focuses on higher priority criminal issues. Recently, authorities in some areas have begun cracking down on these illegal dispensaries.

Similar to the United States, many provinces and cities are tired of waiting for the federal government to make recreational marijuana legal and have begun the process of licensing cannabis dispensaries. British Columbia, long the center of Canadian cannabis culture, is a leader in this effort.

Victoria and Vancouver have begun issuing licenses to recreational marijuana dispensaries. The licenses are expensive, difficult to get, and come with a long list of restrictions. Many of the previously tolerated dispensaries find themselves having to relocate to apply for a license or face being shut down. Because of all of the red tape associated with getting and maintaining a license, along with expense, some long time observers worry that the system making recreational officially legal under at least city ordinance is squeezing out small business in favor of big money. They also note that while recreational marijuana is still technically illegal under federal law, Trudeau’s government may be looking to model the national program on what cities like Victoria and Vancouver are doing.

British Columbia’s neighbor to the south, Washington state, has already shown that legal cannabis can mean big money. Will the big money of Canada’s imminent legalization of recreational marijuana end up being another place for big money to influence politics? It seems strange the some of the biggest fears about a federal legalization of recreational marijuana is about the impact regulations will have on entrepreneurs and small businesses. However, it could also be a sign that marijuana is finally being taken seriously as an industry.


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