EDMONTON — Two former Alberta government cabinet ministers and a police chief are part of a group that is working to promote the legal recreational marijuana industry.
Former justice minister Jonathan Denis belongs to an organization called the Canadian Cannabis Chamber that is providing legal, lobbying and security advice to companies as Canada prepares for the legalization of cannabis next July.
Denis said he never dreamed he would be working as an advocate for an industry that will sell a substance that people were arrested for during his years as Alberta's solicitor general.
"The issue of marijuana legalization is not something that I thought would come so quickly," Denis said.
"The reality is the federal government has decided to make it a legal substance and with that comes some challenges. We want to make sure that there are as few negative effects on society as possible from what will be a legitimate business."
The Calgary-based organization said it plans to promote policies for greater access to cannabis and cannabis products, advocate for standards and best practices and reduce business costs by lobbying for sensible regulations.
Companies that pay a fee to join the non-profit organization have access to information from its experts.
"We are going to be able to do advocacy on behalf of the industry and put people together who may want to do business together in the industry just like a normal chamber of commerce."
Denis said the chamber supports 18 as the legal age of consumption and would like to see legal marijuana sold in private retail stores.
Other members of the group include former Alberta culture minister Lindsay Blackett and former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson.
Blackett, who is focusing on government relations, said there are plenty of businesses and entrepreneurs who want to get involved in the industry, including Indigenous communities that want to become cannabis producers.
Blackett said the industry is poised to grow and will help diversify the economy.
"It is coming whether we like it or not," he said. "If we work together, we can have an industry that is going to create jobs, is going to create revenue."
Hanson, who is also a former vice-president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, is listed as the chamber's "public security adviser."
Hanson now works for Merrco, a company that says it has secure payment technology for direct-to-consumer cannabis mail-orders. He could not be reached for comment.
Chamber president Peter Pilarski said the team includes people who have worked in Colorado's cannabis industry. Marijuana has been legal to buy in that state since 2014.
The chamber is organizing a seminar in Calgary later this month aimed at Alberta municipal officials. It is to include a talk by the former deputy mayor of Los Angeles who helped write the city's recreational cannabis rules.
There is also a plan to bring experts from High Times magazine next spring for an event to discuss industry trends.
Interest in legal recreational marijuana in Canada is already high and is expected to grow.
"There are going to be a huge number of businesses that are going to be popping up," Pilarski said.