(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s tepid approach to marijuana is giving it the breathing room to learn the lessons of other states as well as its neighbor up north.

State legislators are looking toward Canada to see what provinces there have gotten right and what problems remain.

“Canada has more restrictive regulations,” David Hammond of the University of Waterloo said during a joint House Health and Liquor Control Committee hearing on Thursday. “We allow less advertising, we have more rules on products, we have more prominent health warnings on labels.”

Canada has federal legalization with each province setting standards and tax rates. Each province serves as a distributor; some, like Quebec, only have public sellers (similar to how Pennsylvania regulates liquor stores) and others, like Ontario, have a mix of private and public sellers. Quebec’s path has meant that it has many fewer storefronts than others.

The question has become, Hammond said, not over whether to legalize recreational marijuana, but how to regulate it.

Quebec restricts the use of vapes and edibles, as well as regulating the strength of marijuana products, which has an influence on what type of marijuana gets used by the public.

“If you restrict a product, is it the case that people get it from the illegal market? No, in fact, what happens is it looks like they’re actually less likely to use the product and instead turn to the products in legal stores,” Hammond said. “That gives regulators a bit more leeway and flexibility if they choose to restrict certain products.”

He did note, however, that legalization has increased marijuana use and THC-intensity in Canada and American states. Shifting buying habits from an illegal dealer to a state-sanctioned store can take years, as well. 

“There’s a fair number of upfront costs,” Hammond said. “But certainly, the revenues have been substantial … my understanding would be that revenues have far outstripped the costs.”

Other testifiers said provinces like Quebec give Pennsylvania a better model than states like California.

“Take a more cautious approach because the real dangers will come not so much from home grows or from pesticide residues – but they will come from what is intentionally put in the package and allowed, and what happens if you build a powerhouse of agricultural, industrial, and retail interests that profit from a harmful and addictive drug and develop increasing political influence,” said Lynn Silver, a senior advisor at the Public Health Institute and clinical professor at the University of California San Francisco. “That’s what we are seeing from my state.”

Others warned of the need for rigorous testing of products to ensure quality and safety, which has been a problem in states like Texas. Youth marijuana exposures, too, have crept up in Colorado after legalization of both medical and recreational use.

The hearing was the sixth in a series hosted by the House Health Committee about recreational legalization, ranging from criminal justice reform to public safety concerns.

“I think we’ve tried to do this in an extremely deliberative way,” said Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh.