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Business & Profession Legislation & policy

Through the Red Tape

It happened. In July 2018, Canadian President Justin Trudeau made good on his campaign promise to legalize cannabis for recreational use – seventeen years after the decriminalization of the plant for medical purposes. His reasons? Among others, to minimize the potential for organized crime, as people flocked to find a “natural” alternative to prescription drugs.

The passing of Bill C-45 seems unlikely to lead to the ‘free-for-all’ that some may fear – and, in fact, it may pose more challenges than it solves. In the build-up to the bill, Trudeau stated, “Producers need time to be able to actually prepare for a regimented and successful implementation of the regime ... This is something that we want to get right.” And as policymakers, regulators and scientists navigate this new territory, regulations are likely to get tougher and more complex for producers and consumers alike. After all, although legal on a national level, the details vary from province to province – as does public perception.

British Columbia’s inhabitants, for example, are less likely to want a ban on sales outlets, where Québeckers are more resistant to partaking, post-legalization. Over half the general population think the push to change the law was a cynical ploy to win votes, and still more believe it will encourage a thriving black market.

In this time of upheaval and confusion, it is possible – and arguably essential – for science to be the “voice of reason.” Now more than ever, the cannabis science community has a responsibility to provide valuable information about medical efficacy. Out of the shifting regulatory landscape, positive developments are already starting to emerge, with increased investment in production, formal education and research. In particular, national legalization represents a clear benefit to clinical research; Canadian scientists will be able to sidestep the red tape tangling up their nearest neighbor and conduct the trials that are sorely needed.

Though cautionary and realistic, MJ Milloy (the scientist featured in our article on the potential impact of C-45) sees a bright future, with changing legislation helping to tackle significant social problems. Canadian researchers now have the edge, but Milloy acknowledges that “science in general” continues to be at a disadvantage. How will the USA react to the disadvantage? Perhaps Canada has cast the pebble that starts the avalanche of legalization…

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About the Author

Joanna Cummings

A former library manager and storyteller, I have wanted to write for magazines since I was six years old, when I used to make my own out of foolscap paper and sellotape and distribute them to my family. Since getting my MSc in Publishing, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and content creator for both digital and print, writing on subjects such as fashion, food, tourism, photography – and the history of Roman toilets. Now I can be found working on The Analytical Scientist, finding the ‘human angle’ to cutting-edge science stories.

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