Cannabis Legalization

Opinion: The Liberals are blowing smoke with claim they ‘wiped out’ half of illegal cannabis market

Opinion: About 80% of all cannabis bought in Canada is being purchased on the illegal market, far from the 50% figure claimed

The federal election is just a few months away, which means Canadians are going to be bombarded with claims from the government about its apparent successes, while at the same time hearing endless counter arguments from opposition parties. In this sea of endless noise, it can be difficult to parse out where the federal government actually stands on its claims, and whether the opposition parties have legitimate grievances, or are just opposing for the sake of opposing.

When election day does come, Canada will be a year in to cannabis legalization, which gives us a good opportunity to reflect on how things have gone thus far. Legalization is smart policy overall. That said, at nearly the one-year mark, there is lots to reflect on regarding Canada’s cannabis legalization experiment.

Just last week new StatsCan figures came out in regards to consumer behaviour and cannabis usage. Some interesting facts emerged, like the fact that men are two times more likely to consume cannabis than women are, and that men are more likely to use cannabis for non-medicinal reasons. In addition to usage patterns, StatsCan revealed that 48 per cent of cannabis consumers surveyed said they purchased some of their cannabis in the legal market. As soon as the report came out, Trudeau’s right-hand man, Gerry Butts, and senior policy adviser Tyler Meredith, were quick to pat themselves on the back for “wiping out half of the illegal market.” Wiping out half of the illegal market would be incredible, and something worth congratulating, if it were true.

The first issue with their claim is that Canadians surveyed had to self report, meaning they had to admit to committing an illegal act in order to fall into the “purchased illegally” category. Anyone who has taken an introductory research methods course knows that this percentage is almost certainly undervalued, with the real percentage of illegal purchasers being much higher. In fact, StatsCan data from the same report hints at that very fact, with 37 per cent of consumers saying they got their cannabis from family and friends. Facing the reality of admitting to a crime, it is likely that many of those surveyed opted for the family and friends option, over admitting to making illegal purchases. Ironically, the report cited by Butts and company actually explains that less than 30 per cent of cannabis consumers purchase exclusively in the legal market.

Beside the issue of self reporting, both Butts and Meredith made their 50 per cent claim based on data that doesn’t actually mean that half the illegal market is gone. It is fantastic that nearly 50 per cent of consumers self reportedly purchased some cannabis legally, however, that figure doesn’t actually mean that half the illegal market has been wiped out. This type of analysis is incredibly sloppy, because it doesn’t take into account the quantity of cannabis purchased. The past StatsCan quarterly snapshot showed that Canadians spent $5.9 billion on cannabis, with the black market accounting for $4.7 billion of that total. Thus, approximately 80 per cent of all cannabis bought in Canada was done so in the illegal market, which is far off from the 50 per cent figure being touted by Liberal party brass.

Canadians are smart enough to know when their government is telling half truths for the purpose of misdirection 

There are a variety of reasons why the illegal market is still persistent in post-legalization Canada. Those reasons largely come down to three factors: price, access and product variability. For each of those factors, the federal government failed to put consumers first when creating Canada’s legal framework. For price, it has been well documented that illegal cannabis is getting cheaper, while legal cannabis is heading in the opposite direction. The price gap between legal and illegal cannabis is largely a combination of poor federal policy compounded by provincial mistakes. Legal cannabis, at the federal level, has GST applied to it, a 10 per cent excise tax, and half a billion dollars in compliance fees for producers. These taxes and fees, in addition to provincial boutique taxes, are in large part why legal cannabis is upwards of double the price of illegal cannabis.

For access, the federal government’s overly cautious approach has significantly hampered the consumer experience for those who do purchase legally. Anyone who has been into a legal store right away sees the sterile nature of Canada’s legal market. Products can’t be seen in advance by consumers, and when they do get their product, their purchase is in overly paternalistic plain packaging. On top of that, the marketing and advertising restrictions for legal cannabis more closely mirror tobacco restrictions, when they should be more in line with how alcohol is marketed. All of these federal rules treat adult consumers like children, and take the fun out of the legal industry. This matters because the legal industry has to be more attractive than the illegal industry, and it’s hard for the legal industry to do so with its hands tied behind its back.

A cannabis package with a child-resistant zipper=like opening. Supplied

Lastly, is product variability. The federal government made the mistake of legalizing only dried cannabis and oils on legalization day. It misguidedly gave itself a one-year buffer to roll out edibles, extracts and topicals. Failing to legalize all product varieties only serves the black market. Simply put, the more variety in products available to consumers on the legal market, the easier it is to pull consumers away from the black market. Again, stamping out the black market, like the Liberals claim they have, depends on making the legal market more attractive, but that becomes nearly impossible when federal policy is wrapped in paternalistic nonsense.

The federal election is on the horizon, and the SNC-Lavalin scandal is back in full force. Fictional ad man Don Draper once said, “if you don’t like what people are saying about you, change the conversation.” This appears to be what Liberal party brass are trying to do with their braggadocious cannabis claims. The problem is that Canadians are smart enough to know when their government is telling half truths for the purpose of misdirection. This is exactly what is happening, and we can all see it.

David Clement is the North American Affairs Manager with the Consumer Choice Center.

Originally published here

Luxembourg to be first European country to legalise cannabis

Two representatives of the Consumer Choice Centre, a US-based NGO, travelled to Luxembourg in April to offer their advice on legislation.

One area of contention is whether to ban the use of cannabis in public, which risks discriminating against tenants and people of limited means. The officials recommended allowing use of the drug in specific public areas.

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Quick and smart fixes for Canada’s cannabis mess

Curbing the black market for cannabis is something that everyone should endorse, regardless of their view on legalization.

It is far better to have consumers purchasing cannabis legally, as opposed to having them buy the product illegally, from sources possibly tied to organized crime. Unfortunately, new data from Statistics Canada shows that the price gap between the illegal market and the legal market is getting worse.

In the past three months, the price of a gram of cannabis purchased illegally has fallen from $6.23 to $5.93. Over that same time period, the average price of a gram of legally purchased cannabis rose from $10.21 to $10.65. A price difference of $4.72 is a huge problem, especially for those of us that want legalization to succeed, and the black market stamped out.

As such, there are largely two factors that determine whether or not the legal market will outshine the black market. The first, and most obvious, is the price, while the second is consumer access.

In order for consumers to be encouraged to buy cannabis legally, especially if they were buying cannabis prior to legalization, pricing in the legal market needs to be competitive with black market prices. Excise taxes, sales taxes, additional regional taxes, and onerous production regulations and fees quickly drive up the price of legal cannabis.

The illegal market, not having to comply with these taxes, fees, and regulations, gets the upper hand, but it doesn’t mean that the legal market won’t ever be able to compete.

There are some simple changes that can be made to drive down legal prices. In regards to excise taxes, the federal government could amend the tax formula to eliminate the minimum tax amount and simply tax cannabis on its wholesale value. Getting rid of the $1/gram minimum (combined federal and provincial) would immediately allow for discount products to hit the shelves, which could attract price-sensitive consumers.

The Federal government could also change the production regulations for licensed producers. Pivoting the industry to a food-grade, as opposed to pharmaceutical grade, regulatory regime would immediately help lower costs, which would be passed on to consumers via lower prices.

The second major factor is access.

The legal market needs to be as accessible, or more accessible, than the black market. This is increasingly true for cannabis consumers who were buying the product illegally prior to legalization. In order to break the purchasing pattern of those consumers, the legal market has to have something to offer that the black market doesn’t.

Changes to access largely falls on provincial governments, as they are the government bodies that handle online availability, storefront licensing, and consumption rules.

Provinces could expand consumer access by increasing and uncapping the number of storefronts, and utilize the private sector where possible. Provinces like Ontario should immediately uncap their licensing process so that the amount of storefronts available to consumers reflects what the market can bare.

As supply increases domestically and catches up to demand, it will be important for consumers to have access to that new supply through readily available storefronts. Uncapped licensing, with private stores where possible, allows for that change to be as dynamic and consumer-centric as possible, which is a big win in regards to access.

In addition to increasing storefronts, provinces across Canada should follow the lead of Manitoba and allow for private cannabis e-commerce and delivery. Consumers in Winnipeg can actually get same-day delivery from licensed dispensaries, something that is illegal in Ontario. Allowing for dispensaries to deliver, or for regulated third parties to deliver, significantly increases consumer access to the point where it can be as accessible as black market dealers.

The last, and arguably most impactful change to consumer access would be to make commercial consumption legal. By the end of the year, new non-smokable cannabis products will hit the market, including beverages and edibles. Consumers should be able to consume those products in commercial settings like bars, restaurants, lounges, and clubs.

Provinces should amend their current liquor licensing procedures to include cannabis products, and consumers should be able to purchase those products like they do beer, wine, or spirits. Expanding cannabis access to commercial settings would quickly provide consumers with something that the illegal market never could: a controlled and permitted space to consume. Treating these new cannabis products like alcohol and allowing commercial sale and consumption would considerably increase consumer access by creating regulated access points in every community.

Smart cannabis policy is a policy that puts the consumer first when creating rules and regulations. If the government fails to draft policies with consumers in mind, the black market will continue to thrive. Addressing how our current regulatory regime inflates prices, and dampers access would go a long way towards actually making legalization a success.

The entire world is watching how we regulate cannabis. Let’s do it right for Canada’s sake.

Originally published here

Legal weed is a lot more expensive than your dealer: Statistics Canada

“The data from Stats Can is troubling, because it shows that the legal market is getting less competitive over time,” said David Clement, the North American affairs manager at Consumer Choice Center. “Luckily there are some simple solutions that could be enacted to help the legal market compete when it comes to price. The federal government could quickly get rid of the minimum tax amount, and simply tax cannabis on its wholesale value. This would immediately allow for discount products to hit the shelves, which will put downward pressure on prices.”

In addition to changing the excise tax formula, Clement said the government could change production regulations that are holding back industry efficiency.

“Shifting production regulations to be in line with food-grade rules, as opposed to pharmaceutical-grade restrictions, would go a long way in terms of reducing costs, which are passed on to consumers through lower prices,” he said.

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The price isn’t right for legal pot says consumer group

“It’s time to re-evaluate the taxes on cannabis,” according to a Toronto-based North American consumer affairs group.

The Consumer Choice Center said the growing gap in price between legal cannabis and illegal pot shows that it’s time to re-evaluate cannabis taxes.

Earlier this week, Statistics Canada released data on the price differences between illegal and legal cannabis. It found that over the past three months, the price of a gram of cannabis bought illegally has fallen from $6.23 to $5.93 but over that same time, the average price of a gram of legally purchased cannabis rose from $10.21 to $10.65.

“The data from StatsCan is troubling, because it shows that the legal market is getting less competitive over time,” said David Clement, manager of the Consumer Choice Center.

He said there are some simple solutions that could be enacted to help the legal market compete when it comes to price. Clement said the federal government could get rid of the minimum tax amount, and simply tax cannabis on its wholesale value, which would immediately allow for discount products to hit the shelves and decrease prices. He added the government could also change production regulations to make the industry more dynamic. Clement said shifting production regulations to be in line with food-grade rules, as opposed to pharmaceutical-grade restrictions, would go a long way in terms of reducing costs, which are passed down to consumers through lower prices.

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Legal Cannabis in Canada is More Expensive than the Black Market

“The taxes and fees create prices that are high out of the gate, and then a lack of competition prevents those prices from being slowly pushed down,” David Clement, the North American affairs manager for the Consumer Choice Center, told CBC Radio-Canadaat the time. “It costs half a billion [over five years] to enforce the rules and regulations in the Cannabis Act, so in order to generate the revenues to cover that, they’ve implemented fees and licenses on licensed producers.”

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Continued cap on pot shops draws criticism

The Ford government’s decision to hold a second lottery for retail cannabis store licences is drawing a mixed review from the Consumer Choice Centre.

The centre said it is pleased Ontario plans to open another 50 stores, on top of the 25 operating across the province now, but criticized the decision to maintain a cap on the number of stores.

North American Affairs Manager David Clement said the announcement is both good and bad news for Ontario consumers.

“It is great the government is moving to increase the number of storefronts, but the existing cap, and the prequalification criteria, miss the mark,” he wrote in a release. “We don’t see any justification for the cap to continue to exist when the province has stated that it is committed to uncapping the retail market in the long run.”

The centre said the confirmation of $250,000 in cash or the equivalent, a letter of credit for $50,000, and a secured retail space is “a huge barrier to entry, and significantly increases costs for retail operators. Those costs will ultimately end up being passed on to consumers.”

It pointed out that other businesses like bars, clubs, restaurants, corner stores, and grocery stores that sell alcohol and cigarettes do not face the same heavy burdens.

The centre believes the increased cost for consumers and the limit on locations to buy legal cannabis will drive users to the black market.

“A very simple solution would be to approve all applicants who already have retail space acquired, and do so without a cap on the number of stores — This would ensure that applicants are serious, without the heavy-handed financial requirements,” the statement said. “Doing so would drastically improve Ontario’s retail market for cannabis, which would significantly increase the likelihood of Ontario consumers purchasing cannabis legally.”

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Could CBD Be Snatched From Traditional Retailers?

Yael Ossowski, deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center, described himself as being “on the side of consumers” and called for the FDA to set some standards and regulations but also “allow companies and brands to exist. That’s the only way consumers can differentiate between good products and bad products.”

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Health Canada’s new grow-ready demand could squash entry of micros into the cannabis space

Also likely to take a hit are consumers. The U.S.-headquartered Consumer Choice Center (CCC) argues the new licensing process will hurt consumers. “This move is a significant blow for Canada’s cannabis market, especially cannabis consumers nationwide,” David Clement, the CCC’s Toronto-based North American affairs manager, says in a statement.

“The process to qualify as a licensed producer is already incredibly rigid. These changes will simply make it harder for new producers to enter the market, which, ultimately, ends up hurting recreational consumers and medical patients,” Clement argues. “More red tape will translate into higher prices for consumers, and less product availability. Higher prices and poor access will encourage consumers to continue to purchase in the black market, which runs directly against the federal government’s stated goal for legalization.”

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Health Canada shows, again, that it can’t properly regulate cannabis

Just this week, Health Canada announced that it would be making significant changes to the process for approving licensed producer (LP) applications. Specifically, it stated that all new applications will have to have a fully built and regulatory compliant facility at the time of their application. Health Canada has justified the move by citing that 70 per cent of preapproved applications have not ended up having their production site built and compliant with current production regulations. This change is incredibly problematic for the cannabis industry, and more importantly, for cannabis consumers nationwide.

The first issue with this policy change is that it will make it significantly harder for new producers to enter into the cannabis market. Now, because of the change, entrepreneurs and firms looking to enter the market will have to get financing without any indication from government that they will be approved. From a financing side, this makes investment into new cannabis firms extremely risky, with the potential for millions in sunk costs if an applicant doesn’t get approved after already building a fully compliant facility. This will drastically increase upfront costs for those who do enter the market, and those costs ultimately end up getting paid by consumers via higher prices.

The second issue with the change is that by adding more red-tape into the production process, Health Canada is actively limiting supply. Supply issues have been a dark cloud over Canada’s legalization process, and this change will only make that worse. As consumers, we want a free and fair market with appropriate access. This is important because appropriate access and product availability is what will help shift consumers away from the black market. Making it harder for new producers to get approved is yet another example of federal policy tying the hands of the legal market. If the legal market cannot properly compete with the illegal market, it is naive to think that consumers will shift their purchasing behaviours.

The third reason why this policy change is misguided is that it demonstrates a complete and utter lack of self-reflection on the part of federal regulators. One of the biggest issues with Canada’s legal market is that the regulations, for the most part, have not changed since the medical cannabis industry was formalized under the Harper government. When his former Conservative government had to deal with the reality of medical cannabis, they created a regulatory framework that mirrored how pharmaceutical products are produced. Those regulations were over-the-top and heavy-handed then, which makes them downright ridiculous now in the context of recreational production and use.

Unfortunately, the federal Liberal government never picked up on those regulatory mistakes. In fact, their own release on this policy change justifies the change because it bringscannabis production regulations more in line with pharmaceutical regulations. It is baffling that in the face of supply issues, and a prevalent black market, the Trudeau government has decided to further cement Stephen Harper’s mistakes.

The final issue with this change is that the proposed solution does nothing to address the problem that Health Canada was trying to fix. If Health Canada has an issue with the amount of preapproved applicants who end up with approved production sites, then they should address the hurdles these applicants are facing that prevent them from being build-ready. The solution here would be to liberalize the production regulations so that these paper-reviewed applicants can get to the production stage as soon as possible. Instead of going the route of liberalizing, Health Canada has doubled down on red tape, which benefits nobody.

All of this stems from the fact that the federal government has never really known how to properly regulate cannabis. When it comes to production, all the federal government would need to do to help solve these issues would be to have production regulations that mirror how breweries, distilleries, and wineries are regulated. Or, better yet, the government could simply apply food-grade production restrictions on legal cannabis. Simple changes in production regulations, as opposed to more red-tape, would go a long way to creating a more dynamic and responsive cannabis market here in Canada, one that best serves the needs of patients and consumers, while stamping out the black market.

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