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VIBERT: Strictly-regulated legal pot environment expected

['Julia Ratcliffe, a technical consultant with The Bug Factory, a company that supplies insects for natural pest control, examines marijuana plants for pests at the MediJean medical marijuana facility in Richmond, B.C., on Friday March 21, 2014. The number of Canadian firms applying for lucrative medical marijuana licences has topped 1,000, as a so-called "greenrush" continues to overwhelm Health Canada.']
File photo

Nova Scotians thinking that next July they’ll be able to nip down to the corner pot shop whenever they want, might want to chill until they see the province’s plan.
Cannabis will be legal next summer, but the rules and regulations are yet to come and Nova Scotia, along with the other Atlantic Provinces, will create tightly-controlled, strictly-regulated environments.
Last week, the province wrapped up its online survey asking Nova Scotian for opinions on a variety of questions about cannabis control and access.
The provincial law and regulations will be consistent with Justice Minister Mark Furey’s statement that the top priority “is to protect the health and safety of Nova Scotians.”
Legalization is a federal decision, but it falls to the provinces to determine the character of the trade, including marketing, sales, distribution and taxation.
Like most provinces, the Nova Scotia government will position its regulatory regime as all about health, with revenue-generation down the priority list.
The province will hold a monopoly on sales and take its cut off the top in taxes. But, whether the government will be the direct seller or will contract and licence private vendors, has yet to be determined.
That’s a critical decision for pot shop operations that have popped up around the province, ostensibly to serve medical marijuana users. Some of those outlets are said to be taking advantage of relaxed enforcement of existing laws to expand their markets early. Many anticipate more business when pot is legalized.
They may want to avoid long-term leases, unless they have other business plans for their storefront locations.
Health advocates favour direct sales from government-operated stores – the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission model – as the safest way to control access to pot and specifically keep it out of the hands of young people.  
New Brunswick has already decided to create a Crown corporation to oversee and manage the pot trade in that province, and the four Atlantic premiers want regional consistency.
While direct sales by government would create start-up logistical and facility costs, that model would also guarantee the province 100 per cent retail profit margins.
Regardless of the sales model, provinces will control everything from store locations to hours of operations.
There have been suggestions that the Nova Scotia Liquor Commission might absorb the cannabis product-line, but health advocates don’t favour co-location of pot and booze.
In fact, the Public Health Association of Nova Scotia (PHANS) and other health advocacy groups are promoting stand-alone, single-product cannabis stores, to ensure people are not introduced to pot while looking for something else.
As for where pot can be consumed, and by whom, sources say the province is leaning toward a legal age of 19, the same as for alcohol consumption, although Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health Rob Strang has recommended 21.
The health advocacy groups support Strang.
Whoever runs them, stores won’t be located anywhere near schools or other places kids and adolescents regularly congregate.
Pot smoking will be restricted to those areas where tobacco is permitted today.  In fact, tobacco smoking and vaping in public places, like sidewalks, may be restricted, to eliminate pot from those areas and maintain consistency.
Cannabis brands won’t be permitted to sponsor events, and advertising will be limited.  Products will almost certainly be sold in unappealing packages, adorned with health warnings, like cigarettes. Flavoured, candied or other product variations that would appeal to young users will be verboten.
Health advocates are calling for child-proof packaging, which could present problems for regular users of any age.
The advocacy groups, including PHANS, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Pediatric Society and the IWK Health Centre, want the province to track the social and health impact of legal marijuana and make corrections as necessary.
The same groups want governments to earmark a portion of pot revenue for health initiatives and research.
When pot is legal in the Atlantic Canada, it won’t be like the wild west Colorado experience. Governments will take a much more active and restrictive role. Not unexpectedly, legalization in Canada will be a government enterprise, while in the USA it is all about private enterprise.

Jim Vibert, a journalist and writer for longer than he cares to admit, consulted or worked for five Nova Scotia governments. He now keeps a close and critical eye on provincial and regional powers.


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