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Health Canada and the State of Cannabis Policy

February 21, 2024

Walker Patton, the Chief Commercial Officer at Woody Nelson, recently sat down with David Brown, the founder of StratCann, to speak about current Canadian cannabis news, policy, and predictions. A transcript of this interview has been adapted into a mini-series of articles, discussing topics that range from farmgate, engaging with the public, engaging with government, edible extracts, and effective lobbying.  Some of the transcription may have been altered slightly for clarity or length.

Here, David speaks to the current state of Cannabis Policy and Health Canada.  

Health Canada and Cannabis Policy

David: I understand that it's not Health Canada's responsibility, but somewhere within the government you would think that they would take some responsibility for laying out a set of regulations that'll allow businesses to be successful. Previous to legalization, even when this was a strictly medical only regime, Health Canada had a place in regulating the supply chain. Now that it’s a consumer good, perhaps they should not be the end-all-be-all in terms of how these businesses operate and how these regulations are put together and interpreted.

Ideally, when the government created a cannabis portfolio within Innovation, Science and Economic Development, it was supposed to look at the cannabis industry through a lens of economic development, not public health. Unfortunately, that group seems to be relatively toothless. They're taking a lot of notes. They're doing a lot of engagement. I think they're doing really good work, but I don't see that work influencing policy at this point. Unfortunately, there's another bigger issue there.

If I had an inside line with Trudeau, my question for him would be, ‘why are you abandoning this historic file?’ The industry is in dire straits. Part of it is because it's within the realm of Health Canada, who doesn't have a mandate of anything other than protecting public health. And it's unfortunate that the federal government legalized and then seemed to just walk away from it. There’re a lot of small adjustments that could be made to the regulations and the way the government interacts with the industry that could allow the industry to thrive.

Walker: Governments around the world are looking at our cannabis industry and evaluating our regulatory framework. If you’re looking at it from an industry perspective, it’s hard to argue that this has been a success. Our governments’ lack of interest in making those adjustments concerns me. Not just because it impacts our industry and the people in it, but also because it impacts our ability to be competitive in an emerging global market. That leadership position seems like it’s ours for the taking but it’s also looking like we’re intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

David: I could also get into why I think that is. It's a really complex answer and I would put a little bit of blame on the industry for not properly engaging with government. I think there's some blame to be passed around in many different areas there. But the federal government could stand to give some more power to other agencies to regulate this and not just Health Canada.

Walker: I know that if somebody were to come to me for help in creating cannabis regulations for another country, I’d have to use Canada as a model of what not to do. There are things we’ve done well and areas where we’ve improved, but it’s not enough. When you see an entire industry struggling to grow and assume it’s because the individual businesses lack effort or competence, it’s like a farmer looking at a failing crop and telling the plants to grow harder. At a certain point, the farmer has to take responsibility for their farm.

About David Brown

David Brown is the founder of StratCann, a cannabis industry news and events company based in British Columbia. David has been working in the Canadian cannabis space for about ten years now, as a writer, event coordinator, policy advisor, and all around industry facilitator. David was a founding member of Lift Cannabis from 2014-2018, a Senior Policy Advisor with Health Canada’s cannabis branch from 2018-2020, and the founder of StratCann in 2020 where he has been working as a writer and policy advisor ever since.

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