I will unashamedly admit that the legalization and commercialization of cannabis makes the policy geek in me giddy. Opportunities for such wide scale, inter-governmental structural, regulatory and legal change are few and far between, once in a lifetime really. And this is a big one. The ramifications of legalization and commercialization are far reaching – public health, harm reduction, law & order, education, tax structure, trade & tourism, municipal-provincial-federal relations – the list goes on.
It is thrilling and also terrifying. There are so many opportunities for meaningful change and so many opportunities for colossal mistakes. And as the waters warm and public opinion shifts away from the failed War on Drugs mentality, the field is about the get muddied by an increasing number of actors keen to get in on this booming industry.
It has to be said upfront: there are very few who can actually call themselves experts in this field. No other developed country our size has ever tried to commercialize nationally, all at once. For many reasons, there is a shockingly small body of research out there examining the potential impact of legalization, so we are all making best guesses.
What we do have is an overwhelming body of evidence that demonstrates the failures of prohibition. It has failed to keep drugs out of the hands of children. It has failed to reduce or eliminate violent and organized crime. It has failed to make communities safer and it has cost us a lot – money and otherwise – as a society.
I am no expert on cannabis policy – yet anyway. I am a curious observer, with a background in intergovernmental relations and experience working in emerging inter-disciplinary industries, like Public-Private Partnerships, Corporate Social Responsibility and Strategic Philanthropy. I like to work where there is no real road map – where together, across sectors, we have to identify and build mutually beneficial partnerships and programs. And the legalization and commercialization of cannabis is about as back country as you can get.
I am excited to see what gets built. I have confidence that if we move deliberately, with the buy-in of the cities and provinces and with a strong-eye to evidence-based, harm-reduction policies, Canada will build a regulatory model with the potential to influence the wider global communities approach to harm-reduction and drug policy.