New Brunswick continues to be a thought leader in the field of regulation of recreational cannabis and provides us with a first look at what the provincial regulation of recreational cannabis might look like. New Brunswick’s working group on the legalization of cannabis has released its interim report containing several recommendations for the regulation of recreational cannabis.
The working group is comprised of senior officials from the departments of Justice and Public Safety, Health and Finance, as well as the New Brunswick Liquor Corporation and Opportunities NB.
Some of the highlights of the working group’s recommendations include:
- The establishment of a Crown corporation retail model in New Brunswick.
- The separation of the sale of cannabis and associated products from the sale of liquor.
- A legal age of 19 for the purchase of cannabis in order to ensure a balance between public health and safety and desire to coordinate with the legal ages already in place for alcohol and tobacco consumption.
- Distancing the sale of cannabis from areas where youth are likely to be (i.e. schools and playgrounds).
- A personal possession limit of cannabis of 30 grams.
- Requirements that cannabis grown for personal use be secure and kept away from children and the public.
- Amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act to include penalties for impaired driving due to the consumption of cannabis similar to penalties in place for alcohol consumption.
The regulation of cannabis is a difficult and complicated matter involving a balancing of several interests and safety concerns. With the myriad of competing interests, it is virtually impossible to satisfy everyone and the New Brunswick Medical Society has already expressed its disappointment with the recommended legal age of 19. There are studies to suggest that cannabis can be harmful to those under age 25. However, having varying legal ages for different substances also present practical difficulties for training of retail staff and enforcement.
The working group’s report also leaves some questions unanswered at this point, such as restrictions on the labeling and marketing of cannabis and in particular, value-added products such as edibles, such as candy and baked goods, which have the potential to be attractive to youth. Will cannabis be permitted to be marketed and packaged to be attractive to consumers, like alcohol, or will it be relegated to hidden top shelves behind plain or warning-laden packaging, like tobacco products? Time will tell.
Will cannabis be subject to a sin tax? The working group’s report makes no recommendations in this regard, other than to state that New Brunswick will follow the national consensus, whatever that may be. The taxation of cannabis is a complicated and nuanced issue.
In addition to the working group, a select committee of the legislative assembly has also been struck to conduct discussions on the legalization of cannabis and to generate feedback from New Brunswickers. The select committee will hold engagement discussions throughout the summer. Its report is scheduled to be release in September 2017, with the intention that the findings of the select committee will be incorporated into the framework the provincial government will establish through legislation to be implemented in Fall 2017.
The working group report provides an interesting look into how New Brunswick plans to address some of the difficult issues surrounding the legalization of recreational cannabis. With a stated legalization date of July 2018, we can expect to see the other provinces following suit shortly with recommendations and proposed regulatory regimes of their own.