Up until October 17 of this past year, cannabis was only legal for medical use. The first cannabis for medical use program started in 1999 and had 40 patients. The initial aim of the program was to ease the suffering of end of life patients who had terminal illnesses. By 2006, the program had expanded to 40,000 patients, and Health Canada realized that they would have to develop a new program. By 2018, the number of patients using cannabis for medical purposes had grown to 330,000.
The cannabis used in the first medical use program was grown in only one location in Flin Flon, Manitoba and the project later moved to Saskatchewan. Patients were also allowed to grow their own plants, which generated some legal complications about how many plants one person actually needed for their own medicinal purposes. There were only two ways that patients could consume it, and that was through smoking or vaporizing the dried flower. Eventually, allowing the use of oil was added in 2013, courtesy of a court challenge in British Columbia.
Before last October, the only way someone could get legal access to cannabis was through a doctor’s authorization. Canada is only the second country in the world (behind Uruguay) to legalize recreational use and possession of cannabis. Other countries in Europe, such as The Netherlands, have de-criminalized cannabis, but it has not been legalized for recreational use and for possession. Canadian adults who are 18 and older may possess up to 30 grams of cannabis dried, or equivalent in non-dried form. Adults may also grow up to four plants per residence (not per person) for personal use from seeds or seedlings purchased from a federally licenced producer.
Cannabis contains hundreds of chemicals substances called cannabinoids. The most heavily researched cannabinoid is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which is responsible for the “high” or intoxication that users experience. The potency of THC is often shown as a percentage of THC by weight (or by volume of an oil). THC potency has increased, from an average of 3% in the 1980s, to around 15% today. Cannabidiol (CBD) is another type of cannabinoid, but does not produce an intoxicating effect like THC. CBD is often used as an oil and is believed by some to have certain health benefits.
Cannabis is not only about psychoactive effects or potential health benefits. Hemp is a distinct variety of the cannabis plant that has been used for a variety of industrial purpose for thousands of years. With very low THC levels (below 1%), hemp has been used for making clothing, textiles, rope, paper, biodegradable plastics, biofuel, paint, insulation, food and animal feed. With the legalization of cannabis, some people believe that the use of hemp will also increase. Hemp can be ready to harvest in four months and produces four times as much paper as trees, which may take many years to reach maturity for harvesting. As a matter of fact, hemp can reach 12 inches in height only 3-4 weeks after planting.
Cannabis is expected to generate between five and seven billion dollars in sales in 2019. If the provincial portion of the federal excise tax rises above $100 million dollars, the provincial government will share half of the surplus with municipalities that have opted-in to allow retail stores to operate in their municipality. It’s not clear exactly how that will be shared, but, if the sales projection for cannabis holds true, there would be a surplus in excess of $100 million. The provincial government has already promised $5,000 to each municipality (and another payment of at least $5,000 for those that opt in) to cover municipal costs associated with the impacts of selling cannabis. One thing to keep in mind is that these costs associated with cannabis will be necessary, whether a municipality opts in or not.