New era begins in Canada

On October 17 Canada became the first G7 nation to legalize the use of cannabis for recreational purposes.

In Nova Scotia, 12 Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) outlets, including Antigonish, are currently providing cannabis to customers.

The location at 151 Church Street is 890 square feet and features a stylish, white décor highlighted by bright green, orange, red, and purple posters and wording, and also features wooden accent shelves housing cannabis accessories.

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Hoping to make it a modern shopping experience, the NSLC said the first thing customers see upon entering is its social responsibility program. Those waiting in line are greeted by a host who talks about their products, and for additional help, the NSLC has developed a cannabis discover guide where customers will be able to understand the experience profiles, the type of the cannabis, what cannabinoids are, the terpenes that are present, and the flavours of the cannabis.

The 12 trained employees at the Antigonish location went through extensive training in partnership with MADD Canada and Lift & Co. – a national company that educates Canadians for the legal cannabis industry.

The NSLC will sell recreational cannabis in five formats; pre-packaged dried cannabis flowers, pre-rolled joints, seeds, cannabis oil and gel caps.

Cannabis is categorized under four experiences; Relax, Unwind, Centre, and Enhance. Relax are indica-dominant strains that are generally more focused in the body than the mind. Unwind are indica-leaning hybrids and typically offer a soothing effect and felt throughout the body and mind. Centre are a sativa-leaning hybrid that provide balanced experiences in the body and mind. Enhance are sativa-dominant strains and offer livelier experiences focused more on the mind than the body.

In order to purchase cannabis in Nova Scotia, people must be 19-years-old, and provide a valid government-issued photo ID. According to the Cannabis Act, Canadians will be able to purchase and posses up to 30 grams. Along with in-store purchases, Nova Scotians can obtain cannabis through the NSLC Web site: myNSLC.com/Cannabis.

When the NSLC placed its initial order for recreational cannabis in late August, from 14 different Canadian Licensed Producers, they announced an order of 3.75-million grams with a total of 15-million grams within the first year. In addition, a total of 282 cannabis products would be offered with a selection of 78 strains of cannabis.

Despite all the hype, it was a weak start as on October 11, the NSLC announced it would not have as much cannabis as anticipated to sell on legalization day.

Along with supply problems come the lack of choice and variety for consumers, another problem that will likely be rectified as legalization becomes institutionalized.

Then there qualms with the price standard established by the NSLC just before legalization. While the base prices generally reflect the prices offered in dispensaries, the premium prices are cost-prohibitive for the many Nova Scotians living near, at, or below the poverty line.

Had the provincial government turned the sale of cannabis over to the private sector – leaving the NSLC in charge of distribution given their existing infrastructure and network – the price could arguably be lower.

More cannabis outlets in more communities, more cannabis options and more Nova Scotians having access to the market will stabilize prices and generate good value for consumers.

That brings up the final, and perhaps most distressing problem; that many Nova Scotians will have limited access to legal cannabis.

Given the strike posture taken by the postal workers union, it appears on-line ordering will be limited, and possibly unreliable.

And there are only 12 outlets to serve the entire province. There is only one store in all of Cape Breton Island, only one outlet for the Strait area, and similar service gaps around the province.

Those are the inevitable hiccups that will arise during the early stages of legalization; a completely new process for a country of this size, and a vast undertaking, in any context.

Even with these imperfections, legalization is worth the headaches.

Not to reduce this to a money-grab, but legalization will help ensure the financial sustainability of this country and its provinces. The tax revenue that will go into public coffers from the sale of cannabis will be massive, less than what has been projected by provincial and federal governments. By the end of the day on October 17, the NSLC recorded approximately $660,00o in sales revenue.

Then there’s the reality that cannabis is widely consumed, regardless of its legal status, and compared with other legal substances like alcohol and prescription pills, is relatively harmless for adults. For those below the age of 19, it is harmful and there have to be limits on its consumption and usage, all the more reason to regulate its sale and distribution.

Above all, legalization is an acknowledgement of the legal reality that cannabis-related crimes such as possession were unnecessarily clogging courts and wasting the time of law enforcement.

Tepid steps toward decriminalization that went nowhere were taken in the 1970s, then in the 1990s, and during these times, Canadians charged for harmless offences continued to be unfairly stained with criminal records which prevented them from gaining employment, traveling, or obtaining education or training.

Any step away from that direction is a good one, and while there will be shortcomings along the way, it’s the right direction for this country.