Legalizing cannabis a monumental shift

Tourism and business leaders need regulatory direction

The process of making pot-production and sales a legitimate industry can best be described as “hurry up and wait,” said the City of Vernon manager of economic development and tourism.

Kevin Poole says the regulatory framework for a legalized cannabis industry being developed by federal and provincial governments has raised many cost issues for their civic counterparts, and has raised questions ranging from how to train and educate the industry workforce to tourism marketing opportunities.

“This industry will be about creating partnerships and right now the provincial government is a bit slow out of the gate on developing a framework for how this is going to unfold,” Poole said.

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Poole was one of the featured speakers at a forum held in Kelowna today, organized by the National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education.

Poole said he receives an email inquiry almost daily about opening a dispensary, something his city council has put on hold until the regulatory framework is finalized.

“I just have to keep telling people we are not there yet,” Poole said.

Some regulatory and financial decisions have been made. Health Canada has developed regulations on the production side and public safety education initiatives to deal with legalize marijuana, and has agreed to a 70-30 split with the provinces and territories on marijuana tax revenue sharing, said Mike McGuire, director of operations for Health Canada cannabis legalization and regulation branch.

Access will be restricted from youths under the age 18, although some provinces have raised that age to 19, and legal possession will be defined as 30 grams for an individual and up to four plants in a residence.

He said policy on edibles and public consumption is expected to formulated over the next year.

Adoption of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, is now before both the House of Commons and the Senate, McGuire said, with a vote in Parliament expected on June 7.

At the provincial level, a joint committee has been established to address provincial and municipal issues related to legalizing pot, most notably starting with how much of the province’s 70 per cent revenue share will be shared at the civic government level.

The province has already indicated a hybrid system where government and private sector dispensaries will be allowed to operate, with the government controlling the provincial distribution of marijuana similar to how it currently controls liquor distribution.

All this leaves tourism and education boosters developing new ideas on how to address pot-industry labour needs and entrepreneur demands.

For example, said Poole, the idea of starting pot production tours similar to wine tours commonly is raised, but that will depend on the legislative limitations of possession and use in public.

“What I have noticed from legalizing in Colorado is it is legal to sell within their state, but it is still federally illegal in the U.S., so they can do little to promote the industry beyond their own border. They can’t do a thing with it,” Poole said.

In Canada, he said legalizing cannabis across the country will remove the marketing ability.

“Once all the rules are in place, you will see the entrepreneurs figure it out and develop new business off-shoot ideas,” Poole said.

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David Purcell, emerging business director for Kwantlen Polytechnic University, said legalizing marijuana is expected to create an industry employing from 50,000 to 150,000 across Canada.

Purcell said that creates challenges in providing an adequate certified labour force to meet that job demand on both the production and retail side, as well as educating people about the fact-based realities of cannabis use.

He said Kwantlen is at the forefront of developing courses related to the industry and is looking to continue expanding on that curriculum, at one point seeing creation of a diploma or degree program on cannabis.

“We are looking to create evidence-based education initiatives that can help correct the false perceptions and inaccurate stereotypes so the public can feel more comfortable in the legalized cannabis world,” he said.

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