New Brunswick’s Select Committee on Cannabis’ Report

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The Government of New Brunswick’s Select Committee on Cannabis (the “Committee“), which is comprised of government members and opposition members, has now released its final report.

The report is based on public consultations that were held across the province this past summer.  During those consultations over 70 presenters appeared before the Committee.  Additionally, more than 40 written submissions were received by the Committee.

The report is intended to be an overview of public consultations and does not provide recommendations to the provincial Legislative Assembly.  Recommendations to the government were previously provided by the Working Group on the Legalization of Cannabis (“Working Group“) which released its report on June 21, 2017.  The Working Group’s report provided recommendations as to the model that should be implemented in the Province of New Brunswick regarding the sale and distribution of recreational cannabis.

The Working Group’s report can be found here.

This post will summarize the highlights of the Committee’s report.  If you are interested in reviewing a full copy of the Committee’s report, it can be found here.

General Consensus Items

The Committee noted that there were varied points of view from the public on the proposed framework, however some consensus was found on certain points.  Those points include the following:

Getting it Right

As there is only one opportunity to implement the chosen model, presenters agreed that they want the province to get it right the first time.

Keeping Cannabis Out of the Hands of Youth

Presenters agreed that the welfare of children and youth must be thoroughly considered in the design and implementation of recreational cannabis policies.

Shut Out Organized Crime

Participants agreed that cannabis should no longer fund organize crime and that a portion of the proceeds from recreational cannabis sales should be directed to education and health care.

Invest in Education

Presenters advised the committee that the legalization of recreational cannabis must include a comprehensive educational campaign to help potential users of all ages make informed decisions.

Address Health Concerns

Participants indicated that they want the province to be proactive with physical and mental health resources and ensure the availability of those resources for those who need them.

Ensure Public Safety

Participants want clear laws and consistent enforcement and whether it is at work, on the roadways or at home, they do not want the legalization of recreational cannabis to impact their safety.

Discussion of Non-Consensus Items

There were a number of areas where public opinion varied considerably.  Those areas include the following:

Retail Model

The Working Group recommends that recreational cannabis be sold through a public distributor in government-operated stores.

However, many participants expressed the view that private retailers would provide widespread economic benefits for the province.  The Committee was also advised that innovation and adaptability, which are crucial for an emerging market, are hallmarks of private section retailers and distributors.

Conversely, other participants indicated that using a Crown corporation as a retailer would keep cannabis profits from funding organized crime, regulate zoning for municipalities, and streamline distribution for producers.

Participants were split in their opinion about whether cannabis and alcohol should be sold in the same retail outlets.  Some expressed concern that this would encourage co-consumption while others believed it would be a waste of resources to have separate retail locations exclusively for recreational cannabis.

Municipalities expressed concern about the location of recreational cannabis stores and asked the province to clarify their role in policy issues such as zoning and store location.

The majority of participants agreed that no matter if the retailer was public or private, retail staff should be well trained and knowledgeable and able to inform customers of the effects of of use, THC and CBD levels, product recommendations and guidelines for safe usage.  It was suggested that provincial community colleges could offer training programs for retail workers.

Legal Age

The Working Group proposes that the legal age be set at 19 to harmonize with the legal age for alcohol and tobacco.

While many participants agreed with the proposed age of 19, others, including many in the medical community, suggested a higher age limit given the potential negative effects of cannabis on the developing brain.  Others felt that if the legal age was set higher than 19 it could potentially fuel the illegal market.

Interestingly, First Nations groups and communities close to the Quebec border expressed concern that if the legal age is higher than in Quebec it may encourage “cross-border shopping” as is currently the case with alcohol.

Youth

Participants believe particular attention should be given to children and youth up to the age of 25.  Participants were unanimous in their calls for education, especially for youth.  The Committee heard that presenters want their children to be able to access information such as health and safety risks of recreational cannabis, usage guidelines and information about impaired driving.

Many suggested that public school curriculum should be adjusted to deliver information about cannabis to mirror current alcohol and drug programming.

It was also suggested that a campaign be established to educate regarding prevention of consumption of cannabis and driving.

Growing at Home and Possession Limits

The Working Group does not propose any changes to the Cannabis Act’s possession limit of 30g per person, nor the personal cultivation limit of 4 plants per household (and maximum 100 cm per plant).  The Working Group does recommend additional safety measures, including a requirement that cannabis grown at home must be kept secure and inaccessible by children or the public, defining “household” as a housing unit that has a bathing and kitchen facilities (which would exclude a room in a rooming house or a university resident) and affirming that landlords are free to prohibit the cultivation of recreational cannabis.  It was generally agreed that the definition of “household” needs to be clear and free of loopholes.

Participants generally did not take issue with the 30g possession limit.  However, there were some concerns with the rules surrounding home growing.  Those concerns include the difficulty in enforcing rules relating to the number of plants (and size of plants) in a given household.  Some suggested that home growing ought to be a licensed activity in order to aid police officers in enforcing rules around home growing.

Public Safety

Concerns relating to public safety include detection, impairment at work and impaired driving.

With respect to detection, some are concerned about the long elimination half-life of THC in the body and the risk of false positives for impairment tests.

Regarding impairment at work, some presenters expressed concern about their limited ability to detect cannabis impairment at work and want clear guidelines about when they are permitted to test employees.

Regarding impaired driving, police officers and participants expressed concerns about the efficacy of detection methods to apprehend cannabis-impaired drivers.

Economic Development

The Working Group noted that economic opportunism coupled with sound social policies could bring significant benefits to the province.

Many presenters are looking forward to welcoming licensed producers into their communities as they see production as an economic opportunity, especially due to the prospect of job creation.

First Nations communities also welcome the opportunity to participate in a new and growing market.  Some groups are already offering courses to members of their community to help them become candidates for work in cannabis production facilities.

The Committee heard calls for the development of training programs for retail workers and potential producers.  It was suggested that post-secondary institutions offer training to work in the cannabis industry.

Revenue and Expenditure

Many expressed concerns that there would be insufficient supply come legalization.  It was suggested that the retailer (whether public or private) should initiate relationships and contracts with suppliers as quickly as possible to ensure New Brunswickers have a safe legal supply available come July 1, 2018.

There was widespread consensus that cannabis should not be consumed in public.  Participants noted that enforcement of smoking cannabis in public ought to be stronger than with cigarettes given the strong smell and possibility of “second-hand highs.”

Municipalities expressed concern with increased costs due to enforcement and that without revenue sharing with the province, the ability to enforce provincial and municipal laws will be strained.

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