Health Canada still hasn’t officially begun Cannabis Act’s three year review

| David Brown

More than six months after the three-year anniversary of cannabis legalization, Health Canada confirms they have still not begun their required three-year review of the legislation.

When the Cannabis Act was created, a requirement baked into the new law was that three years after it became law (October 17, 2018), the Minister of Health would be required to begin a review of the Act and its administration and operation.

Because this clause was put in place during debates in the House of Commons around the impact of legalization on young people and Indigenous communities, as well as the impact of home growing, the review was made to specifically look at those three issues.

The Act also requires that this review create a report to be submitted to the House of Commons no later than 18 months after it begins. 

But it’s now more than six months after that three-year anniversary and Health Canada says they have not yet begun the formal review. 

The issue, first noted by MJBiz in February, was raised again in the House of Commons on April 25 in response to a written question to the government from Louise Chabot, the MP for Thérèse-De Blainville, Quebec. 

Ms. Chabot did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Michael Barrett the Conservative Party’s Shadow Minister for Health.

The government’s response, provided by Adam van Koeverden, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and to the Minister of Sport, noted that the government remains committed to beginning the review and that preparations are underway for its launch.

In response to a request for more information on the reason for the delay, a representative for Health Canada said they were unable to provide more information at this time.

George Smitherman, president and CEO of the Cannabis Council of Canada, an industry organization representing several licensed cannabis producers, says he’s frustrated by the delay and the lack of communication around it. 

Although he says he has had conversations with individuals within Health Canada who say they have done the background work on the review, it appears to be “sitting on the Minister’s desk” and not moving forward. 

“The legislative review is well beyond delayed,” says Smitherman. “It’s pretty distressing considering the high degree of challenge that the sector is facing that the legislative review is now so many months delayed.” 

“We did understand why a new government and a new minister might not be able to hit the immediate October deadline considering the election had just occurred, but now that we’re practically headed into the summer season, that’s really got a lot of people frustrated and anxious as there’s a lot of hope that the legislative review could be an outlet to create some dynamic for change.” 

The Cannabis Council of Canada will be holding a two day advocacy event May 30 and 31 in Ottawa, looking at various industry-related issues such as taxation and the calls for cannabis amnesty MPs Ahmed Hussen, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, and Don Davies will be in attendance, says Smitherman.

Health Canada has advanced several regulatory changes or proposed changes in the past year.

In April, the regulator announced changes to how sales licences for dried cannabis would be issued, streamlining the process for licence holders, extended several COVID-19 related “flexibilities” in March, and announced plans to change several aspects of the federal regulations through Gazette 1 in March, as well.

Those changes would include increasing the number of cannabis beverages that can be sold and possessed from 5 to 48, as well as changes to licensing for cannabis research, analytical testing and reference standards, and expanding the educational qualifications for the head of laboratory position that is required for an analytical testing licence.