In his opening monolog, late night talk show host, Jimmy Kimmel, joked that Canada is “about to become the stoner living in America’s attic.” However, legalization is not what Quebecers would call a fait accompli. After 94 years of prohibition on pot, Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released proposed legislation on Thursday that would make Canada the first G7 nation to make marijuana legal nationwide by July 2018. The Cannabis Act provides a framework for regulation and taxing, but before everyone gets too excited, it’s worth pausing to reflect on just how this would all work.
The proposed industry will be“well-regulated” in that it will track every product “from seed to sale.” Adults 18 and over will be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of dry flower and grow up to four plants at home for personal use, and gifts (but not sales). That age is lower than the Canadian Medical Association’s recommendation of 21, which makes sense if you consider 18+ is the typical age to begin experimenting with the drug. Anyone under 18 caught with up to five grams of marijuana will not be punished but anyone caught selling to a minor will face stiff penalties. Packaging and labeling geared toward youth are banned, as are pot vending machines. There will be graduated fines for citizens caught driving under the influence (likely using roadside oral fluid tests), similar to those for drunk drivers. Rules governing cannabis sales, distribution and areas of consumption will be in the hands of the provinces, including raising the legal minimum age.
The hope by many is that this measure will release the country from many of the financial and public safety burdens they share with the United States. Enforcing Canada’s current marijuana laws costs about $500 million each year, not to mention the financial strain of incarceration along with the mandatory minimum sentences for minor marijuana offenses. But has the war on drugs failed in Canada? True that this new legislation knocks down prohibition in the same way that alcohol did last century, but there are still many other drugs on the street that Trudeau has no designs on legalizing, including the latest terror: Fentanyl. What legalization should cut out is a chunk of the black market that includes members of Hells Angels and other crime organizations cultivating ACMPR medical marijuana and then distributing it illegally.
Taking the next steps
The Cannabis bill is incompatible with its international legal obligations, including its part in the United Nations Drug Control Treaties: Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961), Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971), and Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988). But Mr. Trudeau and his Liberal party are set on making the bill the crown jewel of his career so expect the bill to go forward as planned.
The clock is now ticking on the inception of Canada’s supposed multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry, something that will rival the appeal of the beer industry. It may even shift some jobs and customers from the beer industry in the way we’ve seen numbers start to move in canna-legal states. If there’s one thing the Canucks love, it’s beer and weed.
The next 15 months is critical to achieving safe and regulated production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis, Canada-wide. Health Canada is in charge of licensing enough growers so that the legal supply meets the market demand by next July, and deciding on whether the illegal dispensaries already present across the country will be eligible for retailer licenses. The provinces will be in charge of the pricing and taxing of those growers and retailers. A lot of money is at stake here, and if provinces get too greedy, or can’t produce product fast enough, they could risk consumers returning to black market weed.
Health Canada is already under scrutiny for allowing some of Canada’s licensed medical marijuana products to go unchecked for illegal pesticides. The ordeal affected 25,000 patients and will likely result in a class action lawsuit against the two Licensed Producers. Concerns now center around how the government plans to ensure the adult-use products are safe from banned pesticides in federally regulated cannabis. LP products are now subject to random testing, and Health Canada will likely open up more third-party testing facilities to accommodate the influx of licensed growers and a wider variety products that will now include edibles. The exact details of the testing process have yet to be framed by the bill.
How will Canada’s pro-canna legislation affect the US?
Americans will be under the same regulations as briefly described above, and border security will probably have a keen eye on Americans who are traveling between the two countries for the purpose of pot tourism.
But there’s something even more hopeful about Canada having the legalization baton in hand because it could put a lot more pressure on the United States to step up and move marijuana from the prohibited list a little faster. This is an opportunity to see an efficient marijuana market in a landscape that is broader, though less dense than it’s downstairs neighbor and that’s probably a good thing.