As Canada moves towards legalizing recreational cannabis, there’s a surprising group of entrepreneurs jumping into the market: cops and politicians.
In 2015, former Toronto police chief Julian Fantino was “completely opposed” to marijuana legalization and supported mandatory jail time for minor cannabis offences. Fantino, who was also a Cabinet minister in the former Conservative government, criticized the now governing-Liberals’ plan to legalize the drug. He said it would make smoking marijuana “a normal, everyday activity for Canadians”. So it comes to no surprise that cops and politicians are wanting in.
Change of Heart for Cops and Politicians
In November, along with former RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar, Fantino opened Aleafia. Aleafia is a “health network” that helps patients access medical cannabis. He stated he had a change of heart on legislation as long as it stays away from children and criminals.
In an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, he said his 2015 comments were made “in a different era”. Mr Fantino said he had a change of heart when he met soldiers who find real relief from it.
Marijuana activists have fought against prohibition for decades and sometimes faced subsequent criminal charges for their activities. Naturally they were angry over Fantino’s reversal on pot. Dana Larsen, a prominent cannabis advocate, called his decision “shameful” and “unacceptable.”
“I would not buy from those people,” he says, adding he would tell other marijuana users to do the same.
There is also concern the pot culture that flourished for decades will be ruined by a multi-billion dollar industry in a new corporate sector. Fantino is arguably among the more controversial entrepreneurs to join the “green rush”.
But a number of high-profile former police officers and politicians have jumped into the industry in recent years. This includes ex-MP Gary Goodyear, former Ontario premier Ernie Eves and former deputy Toronto police chief Kim Derry.
Canada was an Early Adopter of Medical Marijuana
The industry got a boost in 2013 when federal government regulations shifted to allow licensed commercial producers to grow, package and distribute medicinal cannabis to patients. Also, registered patients have skyrocketed from 24,000 in June 2015 to more than 200,000 in June 2017.
Many of companies supplying that market have plans to expand into the recreational product when the product is legal next summer.
In December, the federal statistics agency estimated Canadians consumed an estimated $5 billion to $6.2 billion worth of marijuana in 2015. In comparison, Canadians spend about $7 billion a year on wine.
The government is suggesting the legislation is moving through Parliament as a way to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and to undercut organized crime. Derek Ogden spent more than 25 years with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Also serving as head of the force’s drug squad. He understands the frustration of activist watching the people they battled for decades now entering the industry.
“There’s absolutely no way Canada would be in this position right now as far as taking steps to legalize had it not been for the work that the activists did,” he says.
Access to Medical Marijuana Needs Security
But Mr Ogden, who now runs National Access Cannabis, a consultancy that helps patients access medical marijuana, says it’s no surprise that ex-cops are in demand. Licensed producers are hungry for people with security experience who can get clearances and who understand Canadian drug laws. Safety is a key component.
“One of the ideal groups of candidates to slide into those positions were former law enforcement personnel,” he says.
Mr Ogden himself got into the business around 2014, when Canadian and American producers hired him to consult on security protocols. Consumer demand was overwhelming. People who use medicinal cannabis are simply doing so “to avoid the legal implications” of using the drug recreationally.
He had an “aha moment” after meeting a respected physician who relied on cannabis during a battle with cancer. Mr Ogden now uses it himself for a chronic health issue. He stated changing his mind on its recreational use was “a tougher one”.
Gateway Drug to Medical Miracle
Former British Columbia municipal politician Barinder Rasode “grew up thinking [pot] was a gateway drug that ruined people’s lives”. But now she’s president of the new National Institute for Cannabis Health and Education. They research cannabis production and its use in Canada.
Marijuana activists have done a very important job at highlighting problems with prohibition. In addition, with legalization on the horizon, “having many voices at the table is really, really important”, she says.
“I don’t think the fact that somebody at some point had a different opinion about cannabis should exclude them,” she adds. “I actually think their voices are extremely valuable.”
Marijuana is the most commonly used illegal drug in Canada. Almost 60% of drug offences in the country in 2016 were cannabis-related. This may also be contributed to the number of dispensary employees charged during police raids.
Nevertheless, despite Mr Larsen mistakes he does believe police and politicians who supported prohibition should apologize. Police and politicians now entering the cannabis business should admit they were wrong.
“I want people who were victimized by cannabis prohibition – who went to jail, who had their families torn apart, who lost their children, who couldn’t access medical cannabis – I want their voices to be heard,” he said.