Anne McLellan Says Legalization Will Cost Canadians

The head of the Liberal government’s cannabis legalization task force warned Canadians that the process will cost the country to set up.

“People — and I think the provinces, the territories and the government of Canada understand this — do not expect big revenues in the early years,” said Anne McLellan. “In fact, there are going to be up-front costs that governments at all levels are going to have to absorb.”

McLellan said jurisdictions with legal cannabis sales, like Colorado and Washington, needed to spend money on things like public education and training for bureaucrats to oversee the new system and to expect similar costs in Canada.

McLellan admitted, regardless of initiatives from the government, the black market for cannabis will never go away.

“What you try to do through pricing and other mechanisms is minimize the involvement of criminal organizations, but nobody should be naive and think you can eliminate criminal activity from these areas entirely. That’s not going to happen,” she said.

The task force leader said the government will try to find a “sweet spot” in taxation and price that will encourage the vast majority of cannabis sales to take place in the legal market.

McLellan said the world will be watching Canada as it moves to legalize cannabis.

“What people really need to understand is that this legalization initiative is pioneering work. Uruguay has done this, but [it’s] a small country, not a developed nation, not part of the OECD,” she said. “What happens here is going to be watched very, very carefully by the rest of the world.”

The task force recently completed a tour of Canadian cities, where they met with various stakeholders in the cannabis industry and, while all the feedback received will shape the recommendations going forward to the government in November, McLellan said the system won’t be perfect and will need to be tweaked as time goes on.

“People should expect that. Government should expect that. Civil society should expect that and quite honestly the media should not describe those tweaks as failures,” she said.

She said the task force is still working on details of the plan, including legal age limits and locations where cannabis should be sold. McLellan mentioned that provinces have suggested the legal drinking age should be used as a cut off for sales.