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Country primed for new pot era

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

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OTTAWA, Canada (AFP) — Pot stores across much of Canada were poised to throw open their doors today as the sale and recreational use of cannabis is made legal for the first time by a major Western country.

Stores in St John's, capital of eastern Canada's Newfoundland province, will be the first to open their doors to pot enthusiasts as of 12:01 am local time today.

“I'm going to have a lot more variety than the black market dealers, so you have a lot more choice at our store. The prices are very comparable,” Thomas Clarke, owner of THC Distribution store, told public broadcaster CBC.

On the eve of legalisation, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau defended the historic but controversial change, which has been welcomed by entrepreneurs but sharply questioned by medical professionals.

“We're not legalising cannabis because we think it's good for our health, we're doing it because we know it's not good for our children,” he said as he arrived in parliament.

“We know we need to do a better job to protect our children and to eliminate or massively reduce the profits that go to organised crime.”

Canada's Cannabis Act, which fulfills a promise Trudeau made in the 2015 election campaign, lifts a 95-year prohibition and makes Canada only the second nation after Uruguay to legalise the drug.

Demand is such that retailers in Manitoba and Nova Scotia retailers are expecting to quickly run out of product, citing a supply shortage.

In Ontario buyers will have to wait for their pot to arrive in the mail, after it is ordered online — until the opening of retail storefronts in 2019.

Canadians consumed 773 tonnes of cannabis in 2017.

Despite the Government's hopes, the black market is not expected to disappear overnight. To make that point, the CD Howe Institute noted that the federal government has licensed enough producers to supply only 30 to 60 per cent of demand in the first year.

Bill Blair, a former police chief in Toronto who is Trudeau's point man for pot legalisation, remains optimistic, however, that the legal market can grab as much as half of share of the market from illicit dealers within the first year.

“Many people think of legalisation as an event, but it's a process,” Blair told AFP.

“For almost a century criminal enterprises had complete control of this market, 100 per cent of its production and distribution, and they profited in the billions of dollars each year. I suspect they're not going to go gently into the night,” he said.

Fully shutting down the black market will likely take up to four years, according to Justice Department documents cited by Canadian media.

All will depend on the selling price of legal weed being lower than the street price.

According to Statistics Canada, black market prices have fallen in the past year to an average of Can$6.79 per gramme.

That prompted some licensed retailers to drop their pricing schemes to better compete, such as in Quebec where it will sell for Can$5.29 per gramme including taxes, officials announced yesterday.

“There is no doubt that Canadians are in unknown waters,” Brian Palmer, president of the Canadian Police Association, said Monday, while assuring citizens that police are ready to stop drug-impaired drivers.

Opposition parties accuse the Government of having rushed legalisation, saying municipalities, police and public health officials are struggling with health and law enforcement implications of legalisation.

Some doctors have also criticised the move. But Blair insists legalisation aims to improve health outcomes.

“We have developed a public health framework for the regulation of cannabis that focuses very clearly on social and health harms for the first time,” he said. “It's not a criminal model, it's not a commercial model, it's a public health model.”

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