Pot legalization will leave businesses with questions, consultant says

Ivan Vrana, vice president of public affairs with Hill+Knowlton Strategies in Ottawa, has been consulting on the subject of marijuana since 2013. He spoke with a Cornwall business audience on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

CORNWALL – As a major policy change comes down the pike in Canada on legalizing marijuana, a consultant on the topic told a Cornwall business audience that this “fluid” event will leave businesses with questions even after it’s legalized.

Ivan Vrana worked 18 years with Health Canada on the cannabis file before moving over to the private sector, consulting on marijuana in 2013. He’s been with the Ottawa consulting firm, Hill+Knowlton Strategies, as its vice president of public affairs since 2015.

Vrana told a chamber of commerce luncheon at Ramada Cornwall on Wednesday that the provincial and federal governments still have a lot to do before pot is legal for recreational use in this country.

He anticipates the legislation will be passed by the Canadian Senate in a June 7 vote but wouldn’t come into force until August or September.

Vrana is hoping there will be some “adaptability” by governments, given this uncharted territory for the country, which is also on the world stage on how it will handle marijuana. The industry is expected to “explode” with 600,000 users requiring 500 metric tons a year.

It will also have an effect on smaller economies like Cornwall given it’s an industry with an economic forecast of $5-7 billion a year. “I’d imagine for a community like Cornwall. If there are five jobs in a small community, it makes a big difference.”

“I know I probably raised more questions than I answered. But that’s the whole point to a degree…it continues to evolve on a regular basis and we have to watch this and get the proper guidance,” Vrana explained.

Nothing will be resolved with legalization of marijuana but it will have to be a “spring off board” to act and react to future challenges, he said.

The main issues for small business will be employees operating a vehicle, disciplinary procedures, decreased work performance, using heavy machinery and attendance, the speaker noted, citing a Human Resource Council of Canada study.

The challenge is it’s a “confusing kind of product” – it’s not alcohol or tobacco.

“The proxy, if you’re looking to get a handle on to try to understand this in Ontario, what it means for your business, is probably looking at the Occupational Health and Safety Act and…how they apply that to alcohol,” Vrana said.

“The best I can tell you is, right now, you have to start thinking about developing your own sort of policy and communicating it clearly to your staff,” he said.

Vrana had a handful of questions from the audience on how business owners will define impairment, Canada-U.S. travel for work, ramifications in federal workplaces and the tourism aspects.

The noon hour talk was also sponsored by the Community Futures Development Corporation and the Cornwall Business Enterprise Center.

Thumbs Up(4)Thumbs Down(6)