Canada's Potential Pot Czar: Bill Blair?

Bill Blair Pot Czar Canada

The Canadian marijuana industry can be an ironic landscape where different names edge in from the perimeter. This month irony raised the bar a little bit higher, yet again, when Justin Trudeau announced his choice for Federal Pot Czar: MP Bill Blair. Toronto's former Chief of Police is the name raising eyebrows and turning heads.

 

Top Cop To Pot Cop

Bill "Tough On Drugs" Blair, in fact, spearheaded over a 30% increase in marijuana-related arrests within his regional purview between 2005 - 2015. He was eager and successful with the task, which makes him such an outside choice. Many industry insiders wonder why, if the industry is being pitched so hard in the medical direction, would we not appoint someone with a healthcare background - not law enforcement.

And Blair also has many close colleagues and friends in the corporate hallways of the cannabis industry, and they haven't been shy on their opinions and motivations to keep the cannabis production industry as a close and elite circle of producers - cutting out independents growing for personal use. 

When looking at cannabis treatment through the looking glass of an MS patient, Licensed Producer prices via Health Canada ($10 / g average)  are simply too high to maintain a meaningful on-going treatment regime. One has to remember, many MS patients are unable to maintain regular employment or income and rely on long-term disability payments. In the context of a household budget, many patients simply can't access medical cannabis at a pharmaceutical level. They either grow their own or rely on grow sponsors that can yield cannabis at pennies on the dollar. Perhaps a 'Drug Czar' who came from a medical background may weigh those scenarios and needs differently.

Kirk Tousaw, a Vancouver lawyer with a long experience representing defendants of marijuana-relate charges, has expressed great concern in the odd relationship Blair has with cannabis, "If we treat this like nuclear waste, it won’t work. Even if we treat it like alcohol, it may not work that well,” adding, “You have got to allow people to grow it for themselves.… It’s not really legalization if you are kicking people’s doors down and hauling them off to jail for growing the plant.

LCBO's Selling Cannabis

 

Follow The Money + Power

Blair's motivations are pretty clear: public (child) safety and taxes. Coming at the problem from a seat of great public authority and concern, the Liquor Board play is an easy call for Blair. It's the path of least resistance that ticks a lot of boxes in making Blair's job infinitely easier. It's the best standing retail institution Canada has for preventing sales to minors, that also ensures that governments get every correctly accounted penny in tax revenues.

 

While striking cannabis from Schedule II of the Criminal Code of Canada is a relatively straight-forward process at the Parliamentary level, it's the administration of cannabis on the Provincial level that will grind the wheels of progress to a halt. Every province needs a sound plan for sourcing / storing legitimate medically approved cannabis within Canada, providing a strictly regulated and safe retail environment for purchase, and an accounting infrastructure that already has deep experience in paying the government their dues in a Provincial / Federal relationship. 

Let's also not forget all that political power at stake. There are a number of key management figures within the Liquor Commission array that likely look at this as a great opportunity to seize power and influence within their own provinces. If you control the retail point in a monopoly setting, you really become a king maker for national LPs wanting to break into your market. The major commercial bureaucrats and politickers of legal vice in Canada are just beginning to sit up in their seats. There's quite a lot at stake. 

With the public clock ticking away on Trudeau, Liberals would be hard pressed to come up with a better logistic plan in a short period of time. It would seem that if the medical marijuana community and general public opinion (recent Liberal majority) both want Canadian legalization sooner than later. It just may come with some concessions and less-likely figures along the way. Transforming Provincial liquor commissions to 'Vice Commissions' seems to be in Blair's best laid plans. 


Seth MacCallum
Seth MacCallum

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