The federal government on Thursday launched a long-awaited review of how marijuana legalization has affected the health of Canadians, the domestic cannabis industry and the black market.
The Liberals lifted a century-old ban on the recreational use and sale of cannabis in October 2018, on the condition that they review the law three years after it took effect.
This review is almost a year late.
“We have been, in many ways, world leaders in promoting sensible drug policies, and the legalization and regulation of cannabis is an example of that,” said Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who co-chairs the All-Party Cannabis Caucus, at a press conference.
“But we didn’t do it perfectly, we didn’t do it exactly for the first time.”
The law says the government must investigate the impact of legalization on public health, youth use, indigenous peoples and communities, and the ability to legally grow cannabis in homes.
The government has decided that the review will need to take a much broader view, including an examination of whether legal cannabis has made progress in displacing the illicit black market.
“Our government has legalized cannabis to protect the health and safety of Canadians, especially minors, and to displace the illegal market,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at the press conference.
The review will also examine the economic, social and environmental impacts of legalization, which has enabled the creation of a thriving cannabis industry.
A panel of experts will conduct the review, led by Morris Rosenberg. A lawyer by training, he was Deputy Minister of Justice, Health and Foreign Affairs between 1998 and 2013.
Rosenberg is also the former president and CEO of the Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation, a position he left in 2018.
“The scope is very broad, all views will be welcome,” Duclos said. “Mr. Rosenberg will have a difficult task.”
The other four members of the jury have been selected but have not yet been announced.
The panel plans to hear from the public, governments, Indigenous peoples, youth, marginalized and racialized communities, cannabis industry representatives and medical cannabis users, as well as health experts, in substance abuse, criminal justice and law enforcement.
Duclos and Addictions Minister Carolyn Bennett asked the panel to apply a sex and gender lens to their investigation and pay particular attention to how legalization has affected women, Indigenous peoples and racialized people who may face greater barriers to participating in the legal industry.
Bennett said data so far shows cannabis use among young people has remained stable since legalization. She praised the government’s awareness campaigns and said children had more knowledge about the potential harms of cannabis use than before.
Cannabis products became legal in stages, starting in 2018 with fresh and dried products, plants, seeds and oils. Introducing more product classes, including edibles, means the government now has to do more, Bennett said.
A recent study by Toronto’s SickKids and The Ottawa Hospital found that there have been more than six times as many hospitalizations in Canada for cannabis poisoning in children under 10 since the legalization.
The increase in hospitalizations was twice as high in provinces where edibles like chocolates and gummies are sold legally, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in August.
Duclos and Bennett must report to the House of Commons and the Senate within 18 months of the launch of the review.
Duclos said he would have liked to start the review in the spring of 2022, but took longer to broaden the scope and find the right independent experts to undertake the work.
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on September 22, 2022.