An employee inspect medicinal marijuana by hand at Tweed INC. in Smith Falls, Ontario December 5, 2016. (Lars Hagber/AFP/Getty Images)
Inspecting medicinal marijuana at Tweed Inc., in Smith Falls, Ont. (Lars Hagberg/AFP/Getty Images)

Public servants and former politicians are buying into legal pot, raising concerns of cronyism and conflict of interest



In 2013, Joshua Tepper became president of Health Quality Ontario, a government body that evaluates and helps guide the province’s health policy. His team advises on services ranging from mental health to end-of-life care and he began earning a salary as a civil servant of about $400,000. The following year, Tepper also started working with one of Canada’s largest marijuana companies, Mettrum Ltd. Between 2014 and 2016, he was listed as an “independent director” of the company, where he was paid for his services and acquired shares that, at the time, were worth about $110,000.

“It seems to be the very textbook definition of conflict of interest,” says Daniel Weinstock, a law professor at McGill University and a former Canada Research Chair on ethics and political philosophy. “Public good should be the only [interest] that gets folded into the legislation.” In legalizing marijuana, federal and provincial governments have been criticized for creating an oligopoly of major companies like Mettrum, called licensed producers, rather than a free-market model, which would grant licenses to mom-and-pop dispensaries and more easily enable Canadians to grow pot at home. Politicians justify the oligopoly by arguing that licensed producers make the purist weed and sell it most safely.

But civil servants like Tepper, along with past and present politicians of all parties, have found their way into these firms. While there is no evidence of undue influence, there is at least the appearance of  a conflict of interest surrounding a well-connected few. A former premier, police chief and members of Parliament, along with a past RCMP commissioner, a sitting senator—government men and women are now executives, advisers and shareholders in the country’s licensed pot companies, which will enjoy a privileged commercial position under the legalization bill  introduced Thursday by the Trudeau government.

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