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Legal pot will roll out differently in Canada


Mail-order weed? You betcha!

With marijuana legalization across Canada on the horizon, the industry is shaping up to look different from the way it does in nine U.S. states that have legalized adult recreational use of the drug.

Age limits, government involvement in distribution and sales, and access to banking are some big discrepancies.

And yes, Canadians will be able to order cannabis online and have it delivered through the mail—something that's illegal in the U.S.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced yesterday that marijuana will be legal nationwide on Oct. 17. In the meantime, Canada's provinces and cities are working out issues concerning how cannabis will be regulated.

Here's what to expect:

  • Government-run stores

It's up to the provinces and territories to determine how to handle distribution, and they're taking a variety of approaches.

Ontario plans to open up to 150 stores run by its Liquor Control Board—a model of public ownership that is unusual in the U.S.

The tiny Washington state town of North Bonneville has one city-owned pot shop.

British Columbia is planning for a mix of public- and privately-owned stores while Newfoundland and Saskatchewan will have only private pot shops.

In some remote areas where stand-alone marijuana stores might not be economically feasible, including in the Northwest Territories, cannabis could be sold at existing liquor stores.

Just like U.S. states with legal pot, the provinces also differ on home-growing, with many allowing up to four plants and others, including Quebec and Manitoba, barring it.

And rather than a minimum age of 21, as U.S. states have set, Canada's federal minimum age to use marijuana will be 18, with most provinces adding an additional year.

The varying approaches make the provinces something of a laboratory for determining the best ways to legalize, said Matt Gray, founder and chief executive of Herb, a Toronto-based news and social media platform for the pot industry.

“It's this amazing case study for countries globally to see the amazing benefits that legalizing cannabis can have on things like the economy, eradicating the black market and getting cannabis out of the hands of minors,” he noted.

  • Pricing and taxes

Whether run by the government or private entities, the stores will obtain their marijuana from federally-licensed growers.

Officials also will set a minimum price.

Canada's finance ministers have pegged it at about $10 per gram, but the Yukon minister in charge of marijuana says the government hopes to displace more of the illegal market by setting the base at $8.

The government wants to tax legal marijuana at either $1 per gram or one-10th of a product's price, whichever is greater, plus federal and provincial sales taxes.

It's likely to be less than the taxes imposed in the U.S.

  • Banking

Canada's cannabis businesses have a massive advantage over their American counterparts: access to banks.

Because the drug is still illegal under U.S. law, major banks have been loath to do business with the industry—even in legal marijuana states.

U.S. Treasury Department data shows a slow increase in the number of banks and credit unions maintaining accounts for marijuana businesses, with 411 reporting such accounts last spring.

But many of those institutions don't provide full-service banking, making it tough for businesses to get loans.

“The major Canadian banks were slow to warm to this,” said Chris Barry, a Seattle-based marijuana business attorney who handles industry transactions in both countries for the law firm Dorsey and Whitney.

He said smaller independent banks, investment banks, and brokerage firms got the work started.

“That has pretty much dissolved as a problem," Barry noted. "The majors are coming around to participate in the market.”

  • The products

Some consumers are disappointed that store shelves only will stock dried flower, oils, and seeds when sales begin—no edibles. The government has said it needs about another year to develop regulations for edibles.

There's also a labelling issue: Health Canada has dictated large warning labels on otherwise plain packages, with strict restrictions on font sizes, styles, and colours.

The idea is to discourage misuse and to avoid appealing to youths, but it also leaves very little room for company logos or branding.

“It looks like each bag is housing radioactive waste,” said Chris Clay, owner of Warmland Cannabis Centre, a medical marijuana dispensary on Vancouver Island.

“It's a tiny logo with this huge warning label,” he noted.

“It doesn't leave much room for craft growers that want to differentiate themselves.”

  • Pot by mail

While getting marijuana by mail may be a novel concept in the U.S., it's nothing new in Canada. Its postal service has been shipping medical marijuana to authorized patients since 2013.

Canada Post requires proof of age upon delivery, and won't leave the package in your mailbox or on your doorstep if you're not home.

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