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Pot sector wants packaging changes, financial relief from Cannabis Act review


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TORONTO — Canada’s cannabis industry is hoping a newly launched review of the legislation that paved the way for the recreational use and sale of pot will help the sector stave off more financial difficulties.

The statutory review launched Thursday by Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos and Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett will analyze the Cannabis Act, which set purchase and possession limits at 30 grams of dried pot or the equivalent, restricted youth access to marijuana and established safety requirements for growing, selling and transporting the substance.

The federal government is required by law to conduct a review three years after the legislation came into force on Oct. 17, 2018 that studies the impact of cannabis on public health, young people and Indigenous communities. 

The review’s scope will be broadened beyond what the law requires to include a look at the economic, social and environmental impacts of cannabis conducted by Morris Rosenberg, a former deputy minister of justice and deputy attorney general of Canada, and a panel of four experts that have yet to be named.

It could also trigger changes to potency and packaging restrictions and excise tax regulations the sector has long griped about, Duclos said.

The industry is frustrated the review’s launch arrived a year later than mandated, but is still hoping it can result in enough tweaked restrictions to make cannabis distribution easier, draw in new customers and prevent more staffing and facility cuts.

“The industry is really suffering … Some of the restrictions and lack of clarity in the regulations is really making it difficult for a lot of players in the industry,” said Sherry Boodram, chief executive and co-founder of consultancy business CannDelta Inc.

“If there aren’t major changes, there’s going to be detriment to the industry, for sure.”

The review comes as the industry is grappling with uneven distribution of cannabis stores, making it harder for pot shop owners to earn a profit. Some regions have one store on every block while others have none because their municipalities opted out of allowing pot shops. 

At the same time, marijuana producers have been laying off staff, cutting facilities and trying to align their production with demand that is still being curtailed by a mighty illicit industry that has no potency limits and few marketing restrictions. 

Boodram hopes the review will quell some of the headwinds, if it results in changes that allow companies to be more creative with their pot packaging and take part in events, thus reducing stigma around cannabis, building distinct brand identities and attracting new customers.

Currently there are bans on packaging that could appeal to youths, depicts people, characters and animals or evokes “glamour, recreation, excitement (and) vitality.” Restrictions on displaying, selling and promoting cannabis at events exist, too.

Elisa Keay, owner of K’s Pot Shop in Toronto, witnesses the problems packaging regulations cause all the time, when customers come in trying to remember a product they bought and loved but can only recall it came in a black jar.

Because companies are limited in how they can package items, many firms sell pot in black jars, “so then you sit and play 20 questions” with the customer to determine what they are looking for, she said. 

Though she can often eventually figure out what the person was looking for, brand loyalty shouldn’t be so challenging and companies shouldn’t be “handcuffed by some regulations that are a little too rigid.”

Rick Savone, Aurora Cannabis Inc.’s senior vice-president of global government relations, agrees.

“Not only are companies forced to deal with competition rules that make all of our packages look alike, we’re dealing with … illegal producers of cannabis that can use any kind of packaging, they want any kind of ingredients that they want,” he said.

Illegal sellers can also make any health claims they want while licensed producers and stores are “gagged.”

“So the competition is far worse,” he said. “It just makes it impossible for us to be able to speak to clients to say, ‘This is how you may want to use it, and these are the potential benefits that you may want to know about.'” 

High Tide Inc., the cannabis company behind Canna Cabana stores, hopes the review will tackle the current 10 milligram limit on edible pot products.

The cap “only serves to drive consumers to purchase illicit market products that are unregulated and don’t come in tamper-proof packaging,” said spokesperson Omar Khan.

There is also room for improvement in how fast products move from farms and manufacturing facilities to store shelves, Boodram said.

She wants Health Canada to drop the time it takes to review new cannabis products or changes in potency and ingredients from 60 days to a much lower time frame like 15 or 30 days, especially when minor alterations are being analyzed.

The current timeline, she said, holds up cannabis production and prevents companies from catering to consumer demand.

“Companies will lose deals because of that, because things are not moving fast enough for the partners,” she said. 

Even if the government heeds advice from Boodram and the others, it could be years before they see changes.

The Cannabis Act dictates the ministry reviewing the law must issue a report, including findings and recommendations, no later than 18 months after the review begins.

Khan said, “We would urge the government to expedite the timeline for this review as many smaller players within the industry simply cannot wait 18 months for relief.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 22, 2022.

Companies in this story: (TSX:ACB)

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

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Alberta premier defends new rules on in-person learning, no mask mandates in schools

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By Dean Bennett and Colette Derworiz

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is defending new rules ordering schools to provide in-person learning during the current wave of viral illnesses, saying a clear, measured response is crucial for students and parents.

“We need a normal school environment for our children, and we need to make sure that the classrooms stay open to be able to support our parents,” Smith said at a news conference in Medicine Hat on Friday.

“That’s why we made the decision that we did — to give that clear direction.”

Her comments came a day after she announced regulatory changes saying school boards must provide in-person learning. Schools also can’t require students to wear masks in school or be forced to take classes online.

The changes take effect immediately.

“Anyone is welcome to wear a mask if they feel that that is the right choice for them, but we should not be forcing parents to mask their kids, and we shouldn’t be denying education to kids who turn up without a mask,” Smith said.

She has said mask rules and toggling from online to in-person learning adversely affected the mental health, development and education of students during the COVID-19 pandemic and strained parents scrambling to make child-care arrangements when schools shut down.

That’s over, Smith said.

“We’re just not going to normalize these kind of extreme measures every single respiratory virus season,” she said.

School boards have been asking for more direction as a slew of seasonal respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, along with some COVID-19 cases, have led to high classroom absentee rates and have jammed children’s hospitals.

In Edmonton, Trisha Estabrooks, board chair for Edmonton Public Schools, said the decision provided the clarity that the board was seeking.

“All Albertans now understand that it’s not within the jurisdiction, and nor should it ever have been within the jurisdiction of individual school boards, to make decisions that belong to health officials,” said Estabrooks.

She said the province has made it clear that any future public health order would supersede the new rules.

The in-person learning change applies to grades 1-12 in all school settings, including public, separate, francophone, public charter and independent schools.

The masking change applies to those same grades and schools, but also to early childhood services.

The Opposition NDP criticized the new rules, saying it’s unrealistic to force schools to be all things to all students while also handling a wave of viral illnesses and not providing additional supports to do it.

Jason Schilling, head of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, said the government needs to work with school boards to figure out how to make this work.

“You have schools that are struggling to staff the building, (they) can’t get substitute teachers, teachers are sick, they’re covering each other’s classes, principals are covering the classes,” Schilling said in an interview.

“And then to say if you go online, you are to still offer the same programming in person — we just don’t have the people to do that.”

Wing Li, communications director for public education advocacy organization, Support our Students, said it will be difficult for schools to offer hybrid learning without any additional resources.

“There are no teachers,” Li said in an interview. “Pivoting online was mostly due to staffing shortages, which is worse now three years in.”

Li said online learning is challenging for students but, when temporary and supported, can keep schools and communities safe from spreading illness.

“This is a quite aggressive use of the Education Act to enshrine an ideology,” she said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 25, 2022

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Don’t have a cow: Senator’s legen-dairy speech draws metaphor from bovine caper

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OTTAWA — Haven’t you herd? A dramatic tale of 20 escaped cows, nine cowboys and a drone recently unfolded in St-Sévère, Que., and it behooved a Canadian senator to milk it for all it was worth.

Prompting priceless reactions of surprise from her colleagues, Sen. Julie Miville-Dechêne recounted the story of the bovine fugitives in the Senate chamber this week — and attempted to make a moo-ving point about politics.

“Honourable senators, usually, when we do tributes here, it is to recognize the achievements of our fellow citizens,” Miville-Dechêne began in French, having chosen to wear a white blouse with black spots for the occasion.

“However, today, I want to express my amused admiration for a remarkably determined herd of cows.”

On a day when senators paid tribute to a late Alberta pastor, the crash of a luxury steamer off the coast of Newfoundland in 1918 and environmental negotiators at the recent climate talks in Egypt, senators seated near Miville-Dechêne seemed udderly taken aback by the lighter fare — but there are no reports that they had beef with what she was saying.

Miville-Dechêne’s storytelling touched on the highlights of the cows’ evasion of authorities after a summer jailbreak — from their wont to jump fences like deer to a local official’s entreaty that she would not go running after cattle in a dress and high heels.

The climax of her narrative came as nine cowboys — eight on horseback, one with a drone — arrived from the western festival in nearby St-Tite, Que., north of Trois-Rivières, and nearly nabbed the vagabonds before they fled through a cornfield.

“They are still on the run, hiding in the woods by day and grazing by night,” said Miville-Dechêne, with a note of pride and perhaps a hint of fromage. 

She neglected to mention the reported costs of the twilight vandalism, which locals say has cost at least $20,000.

But Miville-Dechêne did save some of her praise for the humans in the story, congratulating the municipal general manager, Marie-Andrée Cadorette, for her “dogged determination,” and commending the would-be wranglers for stepping up when every government department and police force in Quebec said there was nothing they could do. 

“There is a political lesson in there somewhere,” said the former journalist.

Miville-Dechêne ended on what could perhaps be interpreted as a butchered metaphor about non-partisanship: “Finally, I would like to confess my unbridled admiration for these cows that have found freedom and are still out there, frolicking about. While we overcomplicate things, these cows are learning to jump fences.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 26, 2022.

Marie-Danielle Smith, The Canadian Press

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