- 14 Apr 17
Making good on his 2015 electoral promises, yesterday Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party government introduced legislation that will potentially see marijuana fully legalised in Canada by July 2018. Rapper Snoop Dogg had already tweeted his approval…
When Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau became prime minister of Canada in 2015, he pledged to decriminalise and regulate marijuana on the basis that it would help keep the drug away from children and ensure profits don’t end up in the hands of what he described as “criminal elements.”
Trudeau (45) is now making good on that promise: the Canadian government has just introduced new legislation aimed at regulating recreational marijuana use by July 2018, paving the way for the country to become the first in the G7 to fully legalise the drug.
When news that Canada was soon going to announce the legislation appeared online last month, rapper Snoop Dogg tweeted an enthusiastic “Oh Canada!” Famed Canadian folk singer Pat Robitaille released a track called ‘Weed Song’ to coincide with the government’s announcement.
Medical marijuana is already legal in Canada, but it has been estimated that the annual profits to be made from full legalisation of recreational use could be as much as $7billion (Canadian dollars).
Yesterday, the Liberal government tabled two bills designed to end more than 90 years of marijuana prohibition. “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,” said Bill Blair, the MP and former Toronto police chief charged with leading the government’s plans for legalisation. “The proposed legislation, which is introduced today, seeks to legalise, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis.”
The legislation divides the responsibilities of marijuana legalisation between the federal and provincial governments. Ottawa will regulate production, including licensing producers and ensuring the safety of the country’s marijuana supply. It will be left to the Canadian provinces to determine exactly how the drug will be sold and distributed. While the federal government has stipulated an age limit of 18, the provinces will be able to set a higher age limit if they so desire.
Dried and fresh cannabis, as well as cannabis oil, will be initially available, with edible products to follow. However, strict guidelines will be set on how marijuana can be marketed and sold. The government is currently weighing whether producers should be required to use plain packaging, with endorsements banned and child-proof packaging required. Any marketing that could appeal to young people will be prohibited, as will selling the product through self-service display cases or vending machines.
Those who wish to grow their own supply will be limited to four plants per household. Canadians will be allowed to carry up to 30 grams (just over an ounce) of dried cannabis for personal use, while those who sell or give marijuana to minors or who drive under its influence will face stiff penalties.
While no information is yet available on how marijuana will be priced or taxed, these details are expected to be announced by the country’s finance minister in the coming months. The legislation included a stipulation that those under the age of 18 found with up to five grams of marijuana will not face criminal charges.
Approval of the legislation is most likely months away; once it makes its way through parliamentary committees, the federal government will then have to negotiate the bills with the country’s senate and provinces. Some commentators have argued that legalisation by mid-2018 is overly ambitious, suggesting that 2019 is a more likely date.
How all of this will go down with President Donald Trump’s administration south of the border remains to be seen. Although eight US states and the district of Columbia have voted to legalise recreational marijuana, the White House has hinted that the Department of Justice will do more to enforce federal laws prohibiting the use of recreational marijuana. Last year voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voted to approve the use of medical marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
Concerns are already being raised over how Canada’s liberal approach will coexist with a potential US crackdown. Canadian officials were apparently in close touch with their American counterparts as they drafted the proposed law.
According to Canada’s public safety minister, Ralph Goodale: “It will be very important for people to understand that crossing the border with this product will be illegal.”
It’s estimated that nearly 400,000 people cross the border between the US and Canada every day. Since September, Canada has been pushing the US to change a policy that bans Canadians who admit to having used marijuana from travelling to the US.
Minister Goodale argued that the Canadian approach would ultimately prove to be the smartest one. “If your objective is to protect public health and safety and keep cannabis out of the hands of minors, and stop the flow of profits to organised crime, then the law as it stands today has been an abject failure,” he said. “Police forces spend between $2bn and $3bn every year trying to deal with cannabis, and yet Canadian teenagers are among the heaviest users in the western world ... We simply have to do better.”
However, Goodale stressed that until the legislation is passed, recreational marijuana remains illegal in Canada – a point underscored in recent months by the number of police raids on marijuana dispensaries across the country. “Existing laws prohibiting possession of cannabis remain in place and they need to be respected,” he said. “This must be an orderly transition. It is a not a free-for-all.”
To date, the South American nation of Uruguay is the only nation in the world to have fully legalised recreational marijuana.