Not a lot of nice things to say about Health Canada

Published on April 25, 2022 by John McDonald

Photo: John McDonald/the oz.
From left to right, MPs Richard Cannings, South Okanagan-West Kootenay, Alistair MacGregor, Cowichan-Malahat-Langford and John Aldrag, Cloverdale-Langley City respond to audience questions during the inaugural BC Cannabis Summit on April 21 in Kelowna.

It’s not hard to see why Health Canada gave its regrets when invited to send reps to the recent BC Cannabis Summit.

Not too many people in attendance at the industry event in Kelowna had nice things to say about the federal government agency that regulates the production of cannabis across the country.

“Why are they even in this game? Health Canada’s knowledge in this area is zero,” declared Conservative MP Rob Morrison, during a moderated question-and-answer session with regional members of Parliament.

“Big government has created all sorts of rules and red tape making it almost unmanageable for small growers,” he added.

Morrison got no disagreement from the audience, who peppered the panel with questions and observations about the complexity of regulations and frustrations they face producing and distributing the product.

The MP panel, which covered most of the mainstream political spectrum in Canada, agreed at the very least the agency needs to speed up its current internal review or better yet make it public by putting it to a House of Commons standing committee.

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Vancouver Island NDP MP Alistair MacGregor, a member of the standing committee on agriculture, said he would push to have the review put on his committee’s agenda while also talking to his counterparts on the health committee about the same issue.

MacGregor said the committee would be able to invite people who actually work in the industry as witnesses and use their testimony to craft recommendations.

“A parliamentary committee is not subservient to the executive branch,” he told audience. “We can make those recommendations…we can make any recommendations we want.”

Southern Interior NDP MP Richard Cannings also cast doubt on the Health Canada review which he sees as self-serving. “This is an internal government review inside the bureaucracy,” he observed.

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Lower Mainland Liberal MP John Aldrag said his government did the right thing by legalizing cannabis in 2018 but agreed the reform of current regulations needs to move more quickly.

He compared it to how long it took laws around alcohol to change after the repeal of Canadian prohibition early in the 20th century. “We needed to start somewhere but at the same time we don’t want this to take 60 years,” he added.

Morrison said the regulatory walls put up by Health Canada run counter to the goals of the Cannabis Act, which includes ending the black market.

“We need to move forward rapidly. These growers are just going to say we can’t live within these guidelines, we are just going to grow it illegally,” Morrison said, of efforts to lure black market growers into Health Canada’s regulatory framework. “They are bumbling around making it more difficult for people so they don’t start growing legally.”

The inaugural B.C. Cannabis Summit ran from April 20-22 in Kelowna.