Drugs

The Canadian Parliament Has Spoken — Country Will Become Second in the World to Legalize Marijuana

It’s the first G7 country to legalize cannabis.

Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian

With final approval by the Senate Tuesday night, the Canadian parliament has legalized marijuana. That makes Canada the second country to legalize marijuana (after Uruguay), with what will be the world's second-largest legal marijuana market (after California).

Canada also becomes the first G7 country to free the weed. While nine U.S. states and the District of Columbia have also legalized marijuana, it remains illegal under federal law here.

The move, fulfilling a campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the ruling Liberal Party, puts an end to nearly a century of marijuana prohibition in the Great White North. It didn’t come without a struggle, with Conservative senators seeking to delay the measure and succeeding in pushing back the actual rollout date from a once-promised July to what Trudeau announced Wednesday would be October 17.

Under the Cannabis Act, people 18 and over (19 in some provinces) will be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of pot in public, and each household can grow up to four plants. The House of Commons and the government turned back a Senate amendment that would have allowed provinces to ban home cultivation.

The law retains criminal penalties for possession of more than 30 grams or growing more than four plants, and includes an especially harsh provision mandating up to 14 years in prison for sales to minors.

Each province will have its own scheme for handling sales, with some considerable variation. In Ontario and New Brunswick, for instance, sales will be handled by the province, while in most other provinces, sales will be handled by the private sector or private-public collaborations. Marijuana will also be available for sale online.

But Canadians will have to wait for edibles. Marijuana-infused foods will not be available for purchase for some months until the government develops regulations for them.

Marijuana is already big business in Canada, generating an estimated $4.5 billion in sales in 2015, and Canadian marijuana producers are already geared up to produce a huge legal marijuana crop—in fact, maybe too huge. The two largest producers, Aurora Cannabis and Canopy Growth, are set to produce a million pounds each, while second-tier producers will be adding to a possible glut.

But those are worries for down the road. Tuesday evening for was for celebrating.

“It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana - and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that,” a triumphant Trudeau tweeted just after the final vote.

“We’ve just witnessed a very historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition,” Liberal Senator Tony Dean told reporters. “It ends 90 years of needless criminalization, it ends a prohibition model that inhibited and discouraged public health and community health in favor of just-say-no approaches that simply failed young people miserably.”

Not everyone was pleased. Senator Leo Housakos, a Quebec conservative, tweeted forebodingly that passage of the law would be “catastrophic for Canadian generations to come.”

But while Canadian conservatives foresaw disaster, American activists saw a model to emulate.

"Canada should be applauded for taking bold and decisive steps towards ending the failed prohibition of marijuana," said Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Canada's progress will galvanize support for drug policy reforms in the US and all around the world."

Hetzer also lauded Canada's federalist approach to the issue and called for redressing the damage done to individuals by pot prohibition.

"Canada's decentralized system will give provinces the freedom to tailor marijuana legalization to their local needs and contexts, allowing us to study and learn from the many different models that will emerge," she said. "Canada should ensure that the harms of marijuana prohibition are rectified, especially by expunging people's marijuana arrest records and by investing in communities most harmed by prohibition."

“This is a historic step forward for the movement to end marijuana prohibition,” said Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert. “We commend the members of Parliament and the prime minister for their extraordinary demonstration of leadership on this issue. Canada will set a great example for countries that are considering similar reforms, and it will inspire much-needed debate in those that are not.”

While the U.S. states have taken the lead, it’s an end to federal prohibition that is required, said Tvert. “It is time for the U.S. to take similar action and adopt a more rational federal marijuana policy. There has been a lot of positive movement in Congress lately, so hopefully, members will be inspired to finally address this issue head-on, as Canada has.”

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Drug Policy Alliance is a provider of financial support for Drug Reporter.

 

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Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. Smith is currently a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute