Anne McLellan tapped to lead marijuana task force ‘a terrible decision’: pot activist


[Former Liberal politician Anne McLellan has been reportedly tapped to head a task force on legalizing marijuana. REUTERS/Aaron Harris]

The appointment of Chrétien-era Liberal cabinet minister to head a federal task force on legalizing marijuana has sparked a row among supporters of legalization.

The National Post reports that Anne McLellan will lead the task force that will help guide the government toward legislation to be introduced next spring.

Deepak Anand, executive director of the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association, says the appointment of the former deputy prime minister, whose cabinet posts included health and justice, shows that the current government is committed to a well-regulated industry.

“The liberal government have always stated two key words as it relates to legalization of marijuana — regulate and restrict access,” Anand tells Yahoo Canada News in an email exchange.

“That is precisely what this government is going to do.”

While the remaining task force members have yet to be named, Anand says the Liberals have also tagged Eric Costen, previous director of the Office of Medical Cannabis to assist.

“This shows you commitment on the government’s part to build out a legalization platform based on lessons they have learnt, particularly as it relates to cannabis on a public safety and drug diversion side,” he says.

But news of McLellan’s new job was less than welcomed by activists who remember her days of dealing with the issue in government.

“It’s a terrible decision,” says Jodie Emery, a well-known marijuana activist along with her “prince of pot” husband, Marc.

“Anne McLellan is widely known as having opposed medical marijuana reform in the past. She has been wilfully ignorant about the science of cannabis. She claims it’s more dangerous than tobacco, which is what we heard Stephen Harper saying.”

Emery suggests McLellan is also in a conflict of interest, as the law firm where she works, Bennett Jones, is heavily involved in the medical marijuana industry and represents several licenced producers.

“The licenced producers make no secret about the fact that they’ve been lobbying the government to shut down the existing industry for the benefit of their own new stock-market industry,” she tells Yahoo Canada News.

Emery requested a seat at the task force table but she says Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief-turned-Liberal MP who is in charge of the effort, has refused to engage activists as part of the review.

“It just goes to show that this Liberal government is not looking to legalize marijuana in a way that Canadians expected. They are creating a new form of prohibition with new regulations, new restrictions, stricter punishments,” she says.

Ian McLeod, a spokesman for Justice Canada, says government will announce the members of the task force in the coming weeks.

“It will include perspectives from many different sectors, including health, justice, law enforcement and public safety,” McLeod says in an email to Yahoo Canada News.

“The government has committed to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to marijuana in a careful and orderly way, and will introduce legislation in spring 2017 that ensures we keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals.”

Herb Dhaliwal, a former cabinet colleague of McLellan and now CEO of the medical marijuana company National Green BioMed Ltd., says McLellan is very capable.

“I think the fact that she’s already worked on these issues gives her a better understanding, particularly of the politics of this issue,” he tells Yahoo Canada News.

“I think it’s a very good choice for the government.”

He doesn’t see her appointment as a signal of a tougher stance.

“There will be many people involved and the [justice] minister will make the final decision but it’s good to make sure they hear the views of people out there and bring forward something that’s workable,” he says.

McLellan’s reputation and experience will also help to ensure federal-provincial co-operation on an issue that involved both levels of government, he adds.

“She’s very well-respected,” he says.