Will imported marijuana ease a shortage after October 17?

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1 month until marijuana legalization: Is Canada ready?
WATCH: 1 month until marijuana legalization - Is Canada ready? – Sep 17, 2018

Importing cannabis could be the key to easing a national shortage after legalization, a Toronto marijuana lawyer says.

The federal Cannabis Act bans importing recreational marijuana. But nothing, in principle, would stop licenced producers from supplying the medical market with imported cannabis and devoting their entire domestic production to recreational users, Matt Maurer explains.

“There is a concern amid the government and other people that there is going to be a shortage come October, because if history is any indication in other jurisdictions, we’ve seen that when legalization hits, there’s a product shortage.”

“There’s nothing to stop a massive import of medical product, allocating it to that, then use the domestic product for the recreational market.”

Approval (now a complicated, one-off process for each shipment) would have to be simplified, he says.

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In the long run, though, could Canadians see recreational marijuana from around the world, much as we now see with alcohol?

The issue of importing recreational pot is closed at the moment, as no other country (except for Uruguay) has legalized it.

But will that change?

Incoming Mexican interior minister Olga Sanchez Cordero has come out strongly in favour of legalization, in part as a way of trying to dampen the country’s internal drug war.

“Canada has already decriminalized, as well as almost half of the states in the United States,” she said in July. “What are we thinking? Why are we killing ourselves when North America and many European countries have decriminalized?”

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Mexico’s supreme court has ruled that smoking marijuana is a “fundamental human right.”

In an interview this month, former Mexican president Vicente Fox predicted that Mexico would legalize recreational marijuana within 18 months. Fox has said he wants cannabis to be included in NAFTA agreements.

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It’s not just Mexico: a growing national movement in India is calling for legalization there. Jamaica, which decriminalized marijuana in 2015, allows the export of cannabis-derived medical products.

And Uruguay, which legalized recreational marijuana before Canada did, plans to export cannabis oil for the medical market.

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In the fairly near future, it’s easy to imagine a country where recreational marijuana is legal asking to export it to Canada, Canada pointing to the Cannabis Act and refusing, and the result being a trade dispute.

The rules might not be on our side, says Peter Clark, a veteran Canadian trade negotiator.

“The problem is, if you’re allowing the full use in the country, domestically produced, and you don’t allow foreign-produced to come in, you probably have an issue of what’s called ‘national treatment.’ That is: you’re supposed to treat imported products no less favourably than domestically produced.”

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It’s on the horizon, Maurer says.

“Fast-forward to two years, or five years, and other countries have started to legalize — I’m sure they will by that point — and then you get into your regular political and trade considerations. Do we want to protect all these licenced producers that have jobs here in Canada and facilities here in Canada and pay taxes here in Canada?”

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“It’s hard to argue overall with the premise that it’s cheaper to grow it somewhere like Colombia or Mexico, where it’s hot all year round and you can grow it outside with much less infrastructure.”

One thing that might ease a transition to imported marijuana is that the companies producing it offshore could be Canadian.

Aurora, for example, recently bought a South American cannabis company that has a million-square-foot greenhouse under construction in Uruguay, and hundreds of acres of outdoor production space.

Canopy Growth and Green Organic Dutchman have both invested in cannabis production in Jamaica.

It also opens the door to a little more ease of import back into Canada, Maurer says. “If you’re Aurora and you’ve acquired a company in Uruguay, it’s a little more familiar for the Canadian government for Aurora to come to it and say, ‘Listen, all we want to do is import the product we grow in Uruguay into Canada. It’s the same stuff we do here. We follow the same things down there. We can just do it cheaper there. There’s no reason for you to not let it in.’”

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