Legalization of cannabis presents significant policy challenges, says U of S and U of R researchers

SASKATOON – The legalization of cannabis presents far-reaching economic and social implications for policy makers across Canada, according to researchers at the province’s two universities.

Restricting youth access, mitigating criminal activity, protecting public health and safety, and ensuring a safe supply chain will all be critical for the success of the legalized cannabis sector.

“Given the complexity of legalizing cannabis, the policy response must be multi-faceted, collaborative and flexible,” said Kathleen McNutt, executive director of the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS).

The paper, written by JSGS researchers at the U of S and the U of R entitled, Legalizing & Regulating Cannabis in Saskatchewan sets out the complexity of cannabis legalization in Canada and details the implications within the provincial policy context. The paper also outlines 40 policy and programming recommendations that will provide Saskatchewan with a significant opportunity to achieve the federal objectives, while also maximizing economic opportunities and capitalizing on innovation.

“A socially responsible entrepreneurial ecosystem that supports innovation and economic development will situate Saskatchewan as a leader in the sector,” said Jerome Konecsni, JSGS executive-in-residence at the U of S.

The Government of Canada’s decision to legalize cannabis by July 2018 is driven by three core objectives: (1) restrict youth access; (2) mitigate the illicit market through serious criminal penalties; and (3) protect public health and safety. While some provinces and professional associates have requested more time to prepare for legalization, the federal government has argued that any delays would mean continued access for youth and ongoing profits to illicit market participants. 

“Elimination of the illicit market will require long-term co-ordination of regulation, criminal enforcement, and an effectively run legal market,” said George Hartner, U of R lecturer. “Realistically, such a large and well-established illicit market will not be eliminated immediately upon legalization. Therefore the near-term focus must be on reducing the size and reach of the illicit market, and in making significant investments in policing and public education.”

In regards to distribution and retail, the federal government is allowing provinces to regulate how cannabis will be sold within each jurisdiction. That being said, licensed cannabis producers are moving cannabis sales online to widen their reach, regardless of jurisdictions. Choosing not to regulate distribution and retail within the province, means that all economic activity and profit associated with distribution and retail will remain outside the province, thereby limiting the economics benefits for the people of the province.

“A single distributor creates a ‘choke point’ for testing and packaging all cannabis entering the provincial market, and allows for an effective, centralized seed-to-sale tacking system to ensure only safe, legal cannabis is available within the province,” said Jason Childs, an associate professor at the U of R. “A single distributor model will also have added bargaining power when negotiating with producers, allowing for better quality and variety to be sourced at a price that is competitive with the illicit market.”

In the study on the implications of recreational adult-usage cannabis in Saskatchewan conducted by JSGS, researchers found both opportunities and challenges to legalization. Looking at Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Uruguay, researchers found that estimated use has been stable or has dropped, youth consumption remained stable or declined in some American states, and all had experienced positive economic impacts. Conversely, these jurisdictions also had increases in impaired driving and accidental ingestions, primarily by children.

The e-paper and a policy brief summary were co-authored by McNutt, Konecsni, Childs, Hartner, Cynthia Bojkovsky and Derrick Callan are available online at:


For further information contact:
Erica Schindel
Communications and Marketing Specialist
Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy
University of Saskatchewan

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