Proposed changes to the Cannabis Act are going in the right direction: supporters

While these proposals have been generally welcomed, retailers hope to eliminate the “incredibly high” $1 per gram excise tax on cannabis

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OTTAWA — Proposed changes to Canada’s cannabis laws are being met with cautious optimism from industry officials who say more still needs to be done to make the market fair for all.

The proposed changes, published late last week in the Canada Gazette, cover everything from industrial hemp to cultivation rules to packaging regulations and are intended to make life easier for sellers while preserving public health concerns.

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“Health Canada recognizes that there may be regulatory measures that could be made more effective and streamlined without prejudice to the public health and public safety objectives set out in the (Cannabis) Act,” a Department of Health summary reads.

“This is confirmed by the conclusions and recommendations of the independent expert panel that completed the statutory analysis of the act.”

The review, led by retired senior federal official and former CEO of the Trudeau Foundation Morris Rosenberg, recommended that the government work to reduce the administrative and regulatory burdens placed on people working in Canada’s legal cannabis industry, something that stakeholders have long called for.

“For the most part, (the proposed changes) are just practical compared to the regulations already in place and how they actually operate,” said Jennawae Cavion, owner of Kingston, Ont., Calyx+Trichomes dispensary and executive director of NORML Canada.

“It eliminates a lot of redundancies in a lot of ways.”

Among the proposed changes are plans to legalize the sale of cannabis pollen between licensed producers, allowing greater access to domestic plant genetics.

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Others include loosening packaging regulations to allow caps to be a different color than the jar they are attached to, transparent windows on cannabis packaging, and the ability for manufacturers to add QR codes to their products.

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While the response to the proposals has been largely good, some are disappointed that no changes to food doses have been proposed.

Earlier this year, a petition was introduced in the House of Commons calling on the government to increase THC limits in edibles from 10 mg to 100 mg, led by Cavion and NORML Canada.

Sam Gerges, owner of the Toronto-based MaryJane’s Cannabis dispensary chain, described the proposals as a good first step.

“But without changing the excise tax, it’s all for naught,” he told the National Post, and Cavion agrees.

“The federal government collects a $1 per gram excise tax, which is an incredibly high amount considering the average cost of goods, and then provincial wholesalers add on the landed price – including the federal excise tax. It’s a tax on a tax.”

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While many of the items for brick-and-mortar stores would require further provincial approvals, Cavion said she was pleased with many of the proposals.

“The biggest benefit is that it will provide more choice, more information to make purchasing decisions, and a little more variety for us as retailers,” she said.

Omar Khan, director of communications at High Tide – owner of Canada’s largest cannabis retail chain Canna Cabana, was more cautious.

“While we welcome the proposed changes to federal cannabis rules and regulations, they could still take up to a year to come into effect and will not be a game-changer,” he said.

“When it comes to supporting cannabis job creators, the federal government is teetering on the edge while bankruptcies and job losses mount.”

Khan is encouraging the federal government to follow the example of a number of provincial governments and take greater steps to stamp out the illicit market.

While Canada was eager to be among the first in the world to legalize cannabis, there is still a lot to learn from the mistakes the government made along the way, Gerges said.

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“The government should not be the most profitable cannabis business in the country,” he said.

“We have become an example of what not to do.”

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