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Learning from the Experiences of Cannabis Legalization

2020-03-02


A Whole Government Approach to Evaluation and Measurement

Cannabis legalization has been one of the most significant political and public policy decisions in decades. The approaches governments have taken and their resulting policies have varied dramatically — from relatively restrictive frameworks in provinces like Quebec to more liberal models in places like Alberta. 

In most jurisdictions, legalization has spurred significant public and private sector investment, catalyzed a variety of start ups and shifted agriculture towards cannabis. Billions of dollars, thousands of jobs and many political careers now depend on this industry and its fortunes. At the same time, a host of non-governmental stakeholders ranging from public health agencies to advocacy groups have weighed in with strong opinions on how the roll out is progressing and how to improve things in the future. 

Now’s a good time for governments to evaluate how successful their approaches have been.

It’s the Right Time to Consider the Learnings

The train has left the station and there is no turning back. In the United States, 11 states have legalized adult-use cannabis, while 33 allow for the consumption of medical cannabis. Many other states are considering legalization, along with a host of countries in the European Union, South America and Asia. The pace and type of future legislation will depend significantly on the learnings from first-mover jurisdictions — whether in Canada or places like Colorado, Washington or Nevada.

Fortunately, these learnings are beginning to emerge. MNP’s own research has identified regulatory best practices and shortcomings, along with opportunities to improve policy and foster better market and citizen outcomes.

Use Government Goals as the Yardstick

Cannabis legalization can and should be measured against the ambitious goals set by governments around public health and safety, eliminating the black market, raising tax revenues and stimulating economic activity. Public accountability is critical given the economic and social stakes and the needs of so many public and private stakeholders.

At the same time, there has been no shortage of criticism — justified and not — around Health Canada’s regulations and the retail rollout plans of some provincial governments. Much of this has come from stakeholders outside of government and even industry.

 And for good reason; there’s a lot at stake. 

All levels of government are naturally concerned about the effectiveness and efficiency of regulations and  programs — especially around job creation, economic stimulation, tax revenue and the wellbeing of children, youth and adults. A myriad of advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Royal College of Physicians are anxious about the healthcare, social and addiction impact of legalization on society. Industry players such as licensed producers, ancillary firms and retailers have a critical stake in how the rules and conditions help or hinder the creation of viable firms and a vibrant cannabis economy. 

Last, but not least, politicians are accountable to their electorate, a good chunk of whom (upwards of 20 percent of all Canadians) are both cannabis consumers and taxpayers. 

Not surprisingly, some legalized geographies like Ontario, California and B.C. haven’t ruled out tweaking their regulations to not only streamline how government puts all of this into practice but also to better fight the black market and promote public health. This pragmatism is unsurprising given the time it took provinces like Ontario to optimize their beverage alcohol retail and distribution models.  

Framing the Value Proposition

One year into Canadian legalization and with edibles just launched, there’s a strong rationale for each government to evaluate their regulatory frameworks against their stated goals — and use the results to optimize existing regulations and policies. This is necessary to improve governance, demonstrate outcomes to citizens and increase the efficiency and the effectiveness of how government goes about delivery. Less obvious, but still important, is the need to ensure departmental accountability for funding and the opportunity to rebalance policy against specific goals or targets. 

Measure, Improve, Plan

A large Canadian province recently asked MNP how a government can measure their results to date in order to improve performance and plan better for the future. Policy leaders hoped to benchmark the success of their new adult-use cannabis legalization policies and wanted a framework to understand how the government-wide approach and rules delivered against their goals.  

Our team developed an evaluation and measurement framework to address this, drawing on a mix of defined indicators and periodic reviews of government programs, services and functions across several ministries and agencies. 

We sought the insights and experiences of government leaders, managers and staff on how to tie broad goals to work functions, programs and services — as well as known indicators and ways to approach the timing and scope of periodic evaluations.  

We also performed an external scan of other legal adult-use markets in the U.S. to understand what (if anything) we could learn from their experiences and what indicators would help address the gaps in reaching the government’s stated goals. This yielded numerous insights on not only which indicators we could use to report on achievements, but also the importance of collaborating, sharing information across the whole of government, revisiting the use of technology and adopting principles and methods like GBA+ and open data.

We were able to define a future-state roadmap on evaluative studies covering more than 200 government functions, programs and services. Combined with the sets of indicators, this has offered clear line of site to reporting on the efficacy of government given its stated goals.

Addressing the Call to Action  

Canadian cannabis regulations are new, have no precedent and little market history. Good governance and public sector best practices say governments need to be measuring and evaluating performance against their desired goals. They cannot sit back and wait for stakeholders and the public to judge their performance based on media headlines or incomplete data. 

To minimize risk and promote effective policy, we recommend government leaders proactively evaluate the programs, services and work functions which combine to put the regulations into effect. As the largest and most comprehensive cannabis practices in the world, we can help make this happen in a real and expert manner.

For more information, contact Mitchell Osak, MBA, National Leader — Cannabis Advisory Services, at 416.596.1711 or [email protected]