Original cannabis journalism for Canadians

The Liberals are back. What does that mean for cannabis policy?

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will remain Canada's prime minister after winning a minority government. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

Liberal leader Justin Trudeau will remain Canada's prime minister after winning a minority government. (Sean Kilpatrick / The Canadian Press)

The Liberal team that legalized, regulated and taxed cannabis in Canada is back, this time with a minority mandate that will require support from other parties to govern effectively.

Weed was barely an issue in the 2019 federal election campaign, with most of the major political parties offering little or nothing in the way of cannabis-related policies less than a year after legalization.

Now that the Liberals are back in Ottawa, a Liberal political strategist and cannabis consultant says Canadian cannabis users shouldn't expect much change to existing policy at the federal level.

"I wouldn't expect any drastic or radical changes to the regulatory framework anytime in the next couple of years... There's no political pressure for it," said Omar Khan, the national cannabis sector lead with Hill+Knowlton Strategies, who has worked for the Liberals at both the federal and provincial levels.

Khan believes Canada's cannabis industry needs to get organized and speak with a single voice if it wants to convince the Liberals to make changes that could benefit the sector, such as creating an industry-wide economic development strategy.

"I think (the Liberal government) will tinker around the edges, particularly as it pertains to various public-health issues, but unless they're pushed, unless the industry can show them a political, on top of policy, rationale for doing something big or bold, no government is going to go out on a limb for an industry that is not willing to go out on a limb for itself," said Khan.

Alanna Sokic, a senior consultant with Global Public Affairs who works with cannabis companies, agrees it's unlikely that weed will be a top policy priority for the re-elected Liberals. 

"They have much more pressing concerns, like the Trans Mountain Pipeline and engaging the west in a much more conciliatory and compromising way, and cannabis is not part of that equation," she said.

But the minority Liberal government will likely partner with the NDP to advance its parliamentary agenda, Sokic notes. Since the NDP's election platform called for the complete expungement of criminal records for cannabis possession — a step further than the Liberals' expedited pardons program — Sokic said she wouldn't be surprised if the issue pops up again.

"I would also say that, given that one of the major issues of this election was the climate emergency and the climate crisis, there may also be a focus on, how can we make the cannabis industry more sustainable," Sokic said.

No one knows how long this minority government might last, but the federal Cannabis Act requires the government to launch a formal review of certain aspects of legalization as of Oct. 17, 2021. Ottawa will have to analyze the impacts of legalization on public health (especially on young people), and on Indigenous people and communities. The review must also cover the impact of home cultivation.

"Politics is about spending and accumulating political capital, and currently the industry doesn't have much political capital to spend," said Khan.

"So my advice to them is, spend the next two years trying to figure out ways to accumulate that capital, and then spend it strategically moving into that (three-year) review."


New on The Leaf

  • It's been a year since marijuana was legalized in Canada. (Mikaela McKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

    It's been a year since marijuana was legalized in Canada. (Mikaela McKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)

    A year in review: Legalization turned a year old on Oct. 17. Celebrate with The Leaf's feature-length analysis of 365 days of legal weed.
  • Manitoba's marijuana money: The province lost $2.4 million in the first fiscal year of legal cannabis, but would have turned a profit if not for one-time costs related to legalization.
  • 'Yellow flags': One of the architects of legalization in Canada says she's worried about the health impacts of vaping in light of an ongoing public-health crisis.

Elsewhere on the Weed Wide Web

  • Residents of Nunavut can't just walk into a store like many people can do in the rest of the country. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press files)

    Residents of Nunavut can't just walk into a store like many people can do in the rest of the country. (Chris Young / The Canadian Press files)

    Nowhere to buy in Nunavut: The northern territory remains the only Canadian jurisdiction without a single cannabis storefront, only online sales.
  • Cannabis sovereignty in Saskatchewan: Zagime Anishinabek First Nation has created its own cannabis laws and launched its own store.
  • Buyer beware: Americans who buy CBD products online are entering a murky world, reports Bloomberg.

What Next

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