Issue #3 June 2019

As with any spectacle, there is almost always urban myth surrounding it, and cannabis legalization is no different. One of the myths that prevails is that Justin Trudeau was an enthusiastic architect of cannabis legalization in Canada. In an interview at the beginning of the 2012 Liberal Party Convention, he was asked about his opinion on cannabis legalization. (The Liberal Party’s official position at that time favoured decriminalization.) Mr. Trudeau’s answer might surprise you. “So I don’t know that legalizing it — although I totally understand the arguments around removing the criminal elements — I don’t know that it’s entirely consistent with the kind of society we’re trying to build.” Just a few days later, the Party voted to adopt a position supporting the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. Only after that did Mr. Trudeau become the exuberant advocate for which he is widely recognized. Apparently, someone explained to the future PM what his required opinion was. Who was the someone? A specific answer is elusive. What is known is that several elite members of the Liberal Party were already deeply invested in the cannabis industry and that there was an assurance of significant market growth in the expansion of the legal therapeutic market to include a legal recreational one.

There is considerable evidence that market expansion has driven Canada’s cannabis legalization campaign from the beginning. This became apparent in the Final Report of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. To be fair, the Task Force made several recommendations in support of public health protection, including prohibiting advertising to children, preventing and reducing impaired driving, providing education and other prevention programs and improving access to treatment. However, some of the Task Force’s recommendations fell short of evidence-based strategies for public health protection. Examples include allowing advertising to adults, setting a low minimum age for use and allowing cannabis edible confections – all of which were discouraged by Canada’s major health policy authorities. What the policy issues on this second list have in common, in contrast to the first list, is that they have potential for profound impact on market expansion. The Task Force recommendations that were inconsistent with a public health approach were ones that would bolster market expansion. And they all found their way into Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act.

I have recently submitted for review a manuscript that provides a perspective on legalization as a Liberal Party “inside job” and describes the ongoing marginalization of public health protection in service of market expansion. It also tells of the frequent violations of the law by this ambitious cannabis industry in pursuit of those expanded markets, and of permissive regulation in response. Consider all that within the context of provisions in the Cannabis Act that continue to harshly penalize relatively minor cannabis offences.

I like to describe my approach as ‘evidence-based story-telling’. Informed story telling is an effective and enjoyable way to learn from each other in our public health initiatives. I am keen to engage your organization or community in an exchange of stories.

My list of presentation topics is attached.

Have an enjoyable and safe summer. And, oh yeah, Go Raptors!