Canada Announces Bill to Legalize Marijuana
On Thursday, April 13, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his liberal MPs unveiled a long promised bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in the nation.
While many nations have stopped enforcing anti-pot laws, or at the very least have allowed use for medical purposes, Canada would be only the second nation to officially legalize the drug for recreational use. Uruguay was of course the first to do so in 2013, and its policies are now entering a second phase of regulation and development.
In unveiling this new bill, Canada’s Liberal Government made a strong statement about the ineffectiveness about the nation’s own prohibition on marijuana. “Despite decades of criminal prohibition, Canadians – including 21% of our youth and 30% of young adults – continue to use cannabis at among the highest rates in the world,” Bill Blair, MP, is quoted as saying. “The proposed legislation, which is introduced today, seeks to legalise, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis.”
Canada’s cannabis black market has been written about extensively, notably because over the past decade or so the profile of cannabis growing and dealing has changed. Where once cannabis was painted as the illicit work of gangs who would lure in youths by offering cannabis and then move them on to harder drugs, companies who are in all other ways respectable and law-abiding have been popping up throughout Canada that have openly sold marijuana goods, from potent concentrates right through to baked delicacies.
While Canadian authorities have been able to tackle some operations, for example through raids in Vancouver, this has done nothing to deter this mainstreaming or “cannabis culture”. Put simply, Canada’s government lost the war on pot.
This was something that the Trudeau campaign knew and campaigned on. The liberal government has long argued that accepting that recreational marijuana is something that Canadians want could allow the nation to shift gears and then begin regulating marijuana. This in turn could ensure that marijuana growers and suppliers are acting safely, for example by ensuring that the supply is not tainted. Essentially, the liberal government has argued, that legalization on a national level is the only way to protect people, and particularly young people, who might take up the drug.
What Canada’s new marijuana legislation will do.
The responsibility for overseeing marijuana regulation will be split between the government and Canada’s provinces, with the aim of setting minimum standards that the provinces can build on to suit the needs of their citizens.
The government will regulate all production of marijuana products, much in the same way it regulates everything else. This means that it will control things like licensing to make sure that the marijuana supply is safe and that those growing it are doing so without risking the health of their workers or wider public health.
The federal government has set a legal age for buying marijuana at 18. This will probably be resisted by legalization advocates who will contend that in order to ensure young people aren’t getting marijuana from illicit sources the legal age should be lower, for example at sixteen. Regardless, the government will give states the authority to increase the minimum age if they so choose.
The legislation would also create strict guidelines for the marketing of marijuana-containing products. There is some debate as to whether plain packaging would be best, something that has been shown to cut uptake of nicotine and alcohol containing products, and also prevent young people being enticed by appealing branding. The government will also ban company endorsements appearing on packaging and will require child proofing as standard. At the moment, the legislation would also ban self-service dispensing of marijuana related products.
Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada. This legislation would make dried and fresh cannabis and derivatives like cannabis oil, available on the market. Marijuana-containing edible products will be regulated at a later time.
While the actual sale of marijuana would be government regulated, the bill does contain provisions for growing marijuana for personal use. A four-plants per household limit will be set, while people will be able to carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis on them for their own personal use.
With legalization will come penalties for people breaking the law. Illicit marijuana businesses will face prosecution, while those who sell marijuana to minors will face potential jail time. Driving under the influence of marijuana will also be a serious offence, and the government is looking at a system of roadside saliva testing to enforce a ban on driving while intoxicated.
What are the chances of this bill passing then? Well, it is true that conservatives in Canada have heavily resisted legalizing marijuana, but Trudeau’s liberal government has a strong majority and even centerist parties appear open to marijuana legalization. As such, while the bill will likely be reworked and debated, it seems almost certain that legal recreational marijuana is now in Canada’s near future. This brings up an interesting point for international law.
Technically, Canada is on course to break international agreements.
Under global “war on drugs” agreements such as The Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs and, later, the United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, no nation’s government is supposed to officially legalize narcotics and, per regulations, drugs like marijuana.
Many nations have effectively got round this though. For example, several states in the U.S. now allow for recreational marijuana, but the federal government has never legalized its regulation. As a result, the U.S. can argue it remains in compliance with the law. This is an approach that many other nations have adopted.
Canada, though, is going beyond that. It is officially breaking with this decades old agreement and charting its own path. Campaigners have long called for an end to banning marijuana, saying it’s counter-productive, anti-science and anti-sense, but world leaders have been slow to react. Could Canada’s proposed law bring about a change at the international level? That remains to be seen, but it certainly will spark more heated debate about the effectiveness (or lack thereof) of policing recreational marijuana use.
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