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  • Post Time Posted March 05, 2019
If you’re frequently checking out cannabis CanCon on Twitter, your feed will eventually find a retweet or original post courtesy @TrinaFraser1, aka Trina Fraser, a partner at Brazeau Seller Law in Ottawa. A lawyer at the firm for 19 years, she’s recently gained social media (and IRL) acclaim for specializing in legal issues in the Canadian cannabis space.

What began as a kind gesture to help a cousin soon took over Fraser’s career, so much so that her client base is brimming with licensed producers, applicants to the federal program and retailers in the cannabis space. We wanted to know more about Fraser’s unique scope, so we caught up with her recently. The following is a transcript of that interview.

How did you first get interested in learning more about cannabis from a legal perspective?

In 2013, my cousin asked me to watch a new CNN documentary by Sanjay Gupta called Weed, which focused on a little girl called Charlotte Figi. She has Dravet syndrome, a really severe form of intractable epilepsy, and my cousin’s son also has Dravet syndrome. We watched how CBD oil, from cannabis, helped Charlotte so much, and we started to talk about how the same thing could help our family. We needed to get this specific strain, called Charlotte’s Web, and it was in Colorado and it was complicated, so I helped out by learning the regulatory and legal framework of what Health Canada had at the time for medical marijuana.

As I got into cannabis, I realized there were very few legal firms that were publicly stating that they advise on cannabis matters. So this was an obvious opportunity and I started to specialize in cannabis law.

And you started getting calls from existing clients or new clients you never heard of before, ringing you up non-stop?

I definitely had existing clients wanting to know about investing or being a key part of a cannabis company. I started getting referred from client to new client, and soon, since no one was really working in the cannabis space. I got retained by applicants who produce cannabis, and some of those licensed applicants are still my clients. When I started learning about this space, the industry was all so new, and believe me, I had to do a lot of reading of regulations, policy frameworks, day and night. 

So beyond reading up on the legal issues, how do you hone your expertise in cannabis legal matters?

I always found a benefit in conversations with those in the industry, and I started to expand my network and learn something from everyone I met. I would also do my best to make time for journalists, which helps raise my profile, and then I started speaking at events and conferences. Heck, I’ve asked Health Canada reps if we could meet for 10 minutes at a Starbucks, because I have a quick question or two.

Is there a gap between the need for more cannabis lawyers and the lack of legal professionals in this space in Canada? Is that gap being addressed somehow?

I’ve seen how many law firms are pursuing this sector and each can boast an angle that can be different from another, like specializing in securities or regulatory or even real estate. To be honest, if a law firm hasn’t started looking to the cannabis industry then they’re not thinking strategically.

I think I’m only going to see a rise of the three main types of clients I have: licensed producers of cannabis, companies in the application system right now, and retailers involved in cannabis. There’s lots to work out with licensing and promotional restrictions and regulatory compliance.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of accomplishing in the past five years?

I have been involved in advocacy work related to Health Canada, where I’m trying to move the needle on regulations and make principle submissions to them on why certain things are not permissible, and what should be permissible. For instance, the newest version of the Cannabis Act implemented some issues we wanted addressed. Look at pre-rolled joints. That wasn’t in the first draft of the Act but we had a conversation with Health Canada from a medical point of view – for those suffering from arthritis and Parkinson’s, they don’t have the dexterity to roll dried-bud and so if a joint is the method of consumption that works best to alleviate their condition’s symptoms, we had to see pre-rolled joints available to purchase. It’s all about product consistency across the board.

From a legal standpoint, what has been frustrating for you to watch in terms ofhow The Cannabis Act has rolled out?

What’s most frustrating to me is the taxation of medical cannabis. It’s actually infuriating. Yes, it’s always been subject to GST which we also had an issue with from day one, and then to add this excise duty of 10%? And also, low THC would be exempt from the excise duty, so it’d basically be hemp. The government is saying to 340,000 Canadian medical-cannabis patients that it doesn’t believe you are truly using it for medical purposes so we’re putting a sin tax on your medicine. 

References:
  1. https://twitter.com/trinafraser

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