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Task force recommendations on cannabis legalization reasonable, realistic

Article originally published on December 15, 2016 by Advocate Daily.

Federal task force recommendations on the legalization and regulation of cannabis in Canada sets out a reasonable and realistic approach to establishing a framework that allows anyone 18 or older to buy recreational marijuana from a variety of producers and sellers, and even to grow an amount of their own, says Toronto criminal lawyer Aaron Harnett.

“Overall, I’m thrilled by the recommendations, the detail and tone of the task force report,” he tells 

“If the legislation matches the recommendations, Canadian society will be much better off.”

Harnett, principal of Aaron B. Harnett Criminal Defence Lawyer, says he is most surprised and delighted that the task force considered the input of those who are currently part of the illicit cannabis market, but he is impressed by its foresight to do so. 

“Clearly, the submissions made by illegal pot growers had a significant impact on the committee and what they envisioned,” he says. “I think it’s valuable the committee listened to people other than the large-scale producers and those with large-scale vested interests.

“For one thing, who has more experience to be able to explain to the federal government how things actually work in this regard than those who have been doing it for the last many decades? They are obviously an important source of data.” 

Harnett says the fact the committee considered their views also recognizes the reality that a regulated market is always going to be competing against the illicit market.

“The federal government wants to move away from the illicit market and the way to do it is to incorporate the illicit market into the legitimate market and to outcompete the illicit market,” he says. “Those are the best strategies for ensuring a healthy supply of cannabis to Canadians.”

Harnett says allowing small or artisanal producers to have a role in the supply chain is essential if you want to bring the current illicit producers on-board and allow them an opportunity to legitimize their business. 

“And they’re going to have to do that by allowing people who, for example, have criminal records that are cannabis related, to participate in the supply chain because those are the very people they are going to be competing against. So the government will have to make reasonable accommodations to allow them to be part of the legal market,” he says. 

Harnett notes the task force’s recommendation to set a national minimum age of purchase at 18, allowing provinces and territories to harmonize it with their minimum age for buying alcohol.

“What they’ve said is there is no point in making an age limit that is unrealistic because then you are driving everybody back to the illicit market, so 18 is justifiable on a number of different bases and that’s what they went with — even though the legal age to purchase and consume alcohol in Ontario, for example, is 19,” he says. “The task force decided that 18 was more defensible for cannabis and I agree.”

Another way the committee showed real insight is its decision to allow storefronts and vaping lounges, Harnett says.

“If you don’t allow them when the culture of cannabis consumption needs a way to express itself, then you drive people back to the illicit market with underground smoking lounges and storefronts like we have now that flout the law,” he says. “We have to recognize the culture of the cannabis society in addition to the other health and safety issues, and tax concerns.”

Harnett says, It’s great to see that the task force seems to have understood there is a culture associated with cannabis use that needs to be accounted for in the way the government designs the legal scheme.”

The decision to allow Canadians to personally cultivate for non-medical purposes a significant amount of marijuana — a limit of four plants and a maximum plant height of 100 centimetres — for their own use is also positive, he says.

“It shows the committee understands that people who are in the cannabis culture often enjoy, and derive great satisfaction from, growing it themselves and that doing so poses no real harm to the regulated environment the government intends to bring in,” he says.



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