BC Cannabis Regulation Engagement

October 31, 2017

To: Cannabis Secretariat of British Columbia

From: RavenQuest BioMed Incorporated

Impending federal legislation pertaining to the legalization of regulated non-medicinal (recreational) cannabis represents an obvious economic opportunity for the province of British Columbia.  These significant benefits do come with a number of challenges which must be addressed.

Our organization makes this submission in the interest of helping the Province (and its ministries) implement a regulatory regime that aims to keep members of the public safe, healthy and aware while also creating the conditions necessary for optimal market efficiency.

Senior management within our organization brings a depth of knowledge which we believe can provide meaningful input on a number of relevant issues.

Specifically, our CEO, George Robinson, has been active as a highest-level advisor and consultant to multiple licensed cannabis producers since the MMPR (predecessor to the ACMPR) was introduced in 2013.  He has been instrumental in helping a lengthy list of producers meet and/or maintain the rigorous standards of compliance set out by Health Canada, and is seen by many as a visionary with an in-depth understanding of the myriad aspects – facility design, product safety & efficacy, market acceptance/development, product evolution – of this burgeoning industry.

Bill Robinson, who heads our Government and Indigenous Relations efforts and recently retired as President and CEO of the Alberta Liquor and Gaming commission, brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in liquor regulation in a province that mirrors British Columbia in its diverse population distribution across larger centers, mid-sized cities and remote, rural communities (we believe, for example, that retail distribution should be addressed according to community size and proximity to larger centres, as is seen with retail liquor in BC).

From our perspective a healthy, safe and economically beneficial introduction to legalized cannabis is in the interest of all stakeholders.  With this in mind, many of our recommendations revolve around the principles of Education about safety issues surrounding cannabis use and Awareness about what constitutes responsible versus irresponsible enjoyment of the various products that will become available to the consuming public.

We see ourselves as contributors with something to add to, rather than take from, the consultation process.  The following are our recommendations for each of the key issues identified by the ministry.

Minimum Age

We see the protection of youth to be of key importance as the roll-out of federal legalization becomes a reality.  While Bill C-45 specifies a minimum age of 18 for possession and use of cannabis, we argue that many students turn 18 while they are still in high school.  We suggest it is counterproductive to allow cannabis access to any students still attending high school given the potential for sharing in social situations or communicating the message to minors that non-adult cannabis use is legal or acceptable behavior.  While some research suggests that cannabis use affects brain development as late as age 25, it should be noted that the vast majority of current cannabis users are under the age of 25 and that, absent a safe and legal alternative, this demographic risks exposure to illicit, unregulated and potentially dangerous cannabis.  Weighing all of these factors, we suggest and agree with consensus that the minimum age requirement be 19.

Personal Possession Limits

We are in agreement with Bill C-45 legislation proposing that adults can legally possess or share with other adults up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis.

On the issue of personal possession limits, the pending federal legislation outlines a strategy to protect youth from criminal prosecution for small amounts (five grams or less) of cannabis.  While this is a good first step, in keeping with our principles of public Education & Awareness, we advocate a strategy focused upon education and guidance for youth found to be in possession.  Specifically, we would suggest that youth found with small amounts of cannabis be required to participate in an online education program with mandatory knowledge testing at the end of the program.  This approach can be made to be a positive, corrective experience as opposed to a punitive one.  This online approach will also ensure equal access for youth in remote rural areas.  This is important because, while large urban areas often have prevalent messaging and ease of access to programs, this same level of messaging and access often doesn’t reach remote, rural areas.

Public Consumption

On this issue we are in agreement with the apparent consensus, specifically that the combustion of cannabis be allowed in the same specified areas for smoking or vaping tobacco.  However, we also believe the cannabis consumption market will evolve rapidly as the existing stigma surrounding illicit cannabis use lessens after national legalization.

The recent investment by Constellation Brands (Corona & Modelo beers, Robert Mondavi wines) into Canada’s largest LP, Canopy Growth, is a major clue as to the direction in which the cannabis market is ultimately headed.  Constellation cites a joint-project aimed at developing “cannabis-infused beverages” as a key rationale behind the investment.  Industry observers have openly speculated this is the first of many such investments by international spirits conglomerates into the cannabis sector.  While non-combustibles (edibles, drinks) are not included in the current first-generation legal framework, we expect the legislation will evolve rapidly in the coming months and years.  We fully expect that a multi-tiered, sophisticated consumable market which includes products such as THC-infused water and various high-end beverage options for sophisticated consumers, is the direction this market is headed.

This direction provides the Province with the opportunity to help drive the consuming traffic off the street, out of parks, and instead into licensed lounges or cafes.  This development, played out over time, is in the interest not only of responsible enjoyment by cannabis consumers, but will also help move consumption out of public areas with proximity to schools and parks, again in the interest of protecting youth.

Drug Impaired Driving

This issue is one in which there appears to be a significant gap between public perception and scientific realities.  Studies show that between 70%-80% of those who are actually impaired by cannabis believe they are as-good or better drivers while under the influence of THC.  In keeping with our emphasis upon Education & Awareness, we, as cannabis industry participants, would support an industry-led awareness campaign aimed at correcting this misperception and creating social attitudes that reflect the real dangers of drug-impaired driving.  Our suggestion is that industry leaders use a multi-media approach to craft and deliver three clear messages to the public

  1. Cannabis-impaired driving is dangerous
  2. Cannabis-impaired driving is illegal
  3. Cannabis-impaired driving is socially unacceptable

Pertaining to blood-THC limits, we recommend a threshold of zero for all drivers with an “N” or “L” designation.

We concur with the proposed federal legislation relating to blood-THC content for unrestricted drivers, namely a limit of 5 nanograms of THC.

The library of knowledge about THC impairment is still limited relative to that of alcohol impairment.  Due to British Columbia’s cultural acceptance of cannabis use in comparison to other jurisdictions, we believe there exists an opportunity for this Province to take a leadership role in funding the research necessary to establish what constitutes cannabis impairment and how best to measure it.

Personal Cultivation

Bill C-45 allows for each individual household to cultivate four plants for recreational use.  We believe this presents a serious issue surrounding youth access, as well as enforcement.  Significant costs will likely arise out of the various forms of inspection, enforcement, regulation – particularly relating to rent versus own scenarios — that will be necessitated by the allowance of personal growing inside the home.  We suggest the Province avoid micro-managing these issues and allow municipalities to oversee the management of enforcement and compliance.

In addition, the coming retail landscape will ensure that recreational cannabis will be readily accessible, eliminating the need for home-grown cannabis, in our opinion.

More importantly, growing cannabis inside the private home raises real concerns about child and youth access to the drug.  We believe this question requires more consideration, however we suggest that any micro-regulation relating to home grown cannabis is best done at the municipal level of government.

Distribution and Retail Models

As Bill C-45 works its way through third reading in the house and ascends to the senate, we expect to see language allocating a certain portion of Canada’s total licensed growing space (known as “canopy”) to Canada’s Indigenous Peoples.  The rationale behind this allocation is to provide Indigenous Peoples an opportunity to participate at the ground floor in a new and accelerating industry, leading to gains in employment, incomes, standards of living and economic independence for Indigenous Peoples.

As we move toward legalization, we strongly recommend the Province of BC echo this sentiment when considering retail and distribution on Indigenous Peoples’ lands.  In particular, we advocate for a policy of Indigenous self-determination with respect to retail taxation and regulation, and would strongly advise the Province take a “hands off” approach to the development of retail cannabis distribution on Indigenous Peoples’ lands.

For the broader market, we believe that the framework for a workable distribution model already exists in the alcohol industry and recommend the province follow a similar path with cannabis.  Specifically, we support the implementation of a hybrid system with the Provincial government as a centralized wholesaler and regulatory authority.  This central wholesaler would act as supplier to a combination of private, government-compliant sellers and government-run stores.

In addition, we submit that this model (essentially a “copy” of the existing alcohol distribution framework) should extend further by replicating how remote communities handle alcohol purchases.  In other words, we think it makes sense to allow grocers, gas stations or other “retailers of necessity” in remote locations to sell cannabis, provided they are compliant to the regulations ultimately set out in the retail-licensing guidelines.

Summary

To reiterate, our end game is a healthy, safe and educated public.  Without this foundation, we cannot, as a society, reasonably enjoy the health, lifestyle and economic benefits of the proposed legislation.  It is for this reason that our organization places an emphasis upon the need for Education & Awareness and stands ready to act as leaders on initiatives relating to these tenets.   We wish to thank the Provincial Government and its ministries for the opportunity to contribute as we work together toward a smooth transition to legalization.  We will continue to do our part as responsible and good-acting corporate citizens, and would welcome the opportunity to continue this dialogue should you wish to reach out.