Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Canada. Canada will become the first G7 country to legalize marijuana country-wide.
If you've been following me for awhile, then you know hat this is a topic that I have geat interest in from a health perspective and a political angle. Two of my more popular posts from last year: Why I didn’t post about 420 on 4/20 (May 5, 2016), My Thoughts on Toronto’s Pot Dispensaries (June 6, 2016). In the latter, I noted that were over 100 dispensaries in Toronto at the time. This number has drastically reduced due to several factors, including competition, police intervention, and landlord issues. Many dispensary owners got excited at the prospect of legalization and jumped ahead, even though the federal announcement, based on Trudeau's campaign promises, took over a year
In my post from June last year I also noted that I was going to create a 4-6 week email course, which is still sitting in a draft form. The process got overwhelming while I was planning it but it is still on my radar.
In this post, I provide the highlights of Canada's legalization plan.
The purpose of Canada's new marijuana plan
It's not a matter of “getting with the times” or making it easier to get your medicine, both of which I think are benefits. The government is positioning its plan as a way to reduce the role of criminal organizations in the marijuana market and limiting the availability of the drug to youth. In other words, dealers, and dealers selling to kids.
Who will be able to purchase, possess, and consume marijuana?
The new federal law makes it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy marijuana. Provinces can set a higher minimum age. The minimum age requirement to buy alcohol is 19 in all provinces except Quebec, where it's 18, so provinces might choose to make 19 the age minimum for pot at well.
Where will you be allowed to buy marijuana?
Marijuana will be allowed to be bought by mail or in provincially regulated retail spaces. Note the emphasis on “provincially regulated”. Currently, individuals with medical marijuana licenses can get mail order pot from provincially licensed growers.
The federal government will license and regulate growers, but each of Canada’s provinces will need to decide exactly how marijuana will be distributed and sold. A model similar to our Liquor Control Board (LCBO) stores could be likely. There's also been a discussion of licensing existing drug stores.
Where will stores get their marijuana?
All product sold will be produced by federally-approved growers.
The government says that this will ensure product quality and safety, but this has been an issue before. One side of the argument – largely made by licensed producers – is that with a local, illegal dispensary, you could be getting a product with mold, pesticides, and other nasty things. However, a few months ago Health Canada faced controversy because those very producers were selling tainted marijuana. As a result, patients experienced pain, nausea, vomiting, rashes and other reactions.
A senior Health Canada official acknowledged that even though the government prohibits the use of potentially harmful chemicals such as myclobutanil, known to emit hydrogen cyanide when heated, the department had not been testing cannabis growers to ensure that they weren't using it or any other pesticides. Health Canada claimed that they expected companies to do their own testing. Evidently, they weren't. Government-approved growers have become the marijuana equivalent of big pharma, lobbying against small family operations, dispensaries and for some big growers, legalization.
Another analogy: Grocery items bought at the farmers' market vs. items bought at a supermarket. Big companies often have recalls. Last week, there was a national recall of flour due to E. coli contamination after 26 people across the country got sick. Robin Hood and other companies were part of the recall. Other recalls in the past include those on packaged vegetables, bottled juice, packaged meat and other packaged products. However, small farmers with small operations generally don't have these issues. Small marijuana growers who are growing organically to help a population won't have the same issues as the large warehouse producers who are publicly traded on the stock exchange. Smaller operations take more care. Organic growing practices with natural ways to repel pests are important for a medicinal plant.
What forms of cannabis will be legal to buy?
Fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis oils and seeds and plants for cultivation (see below).
What about edibles?
The sales of edibles aren't included under current legalization plans but will be legalized at a later date.
Individuals will be able to make edibles at home, for personal use. Bake those brownies but keep them to yourself.
What will the marijuana possession limit be?
The possession limit of dried cannabis would be set at 30 grams.
The new legislation will also allow individuals to grow up to four plants at home.
How much will marijuana cost?
It’s important the government keep the prices of the legal pot low enough to compete with the black market. It will likely be priced on a per-gram basis, just like your dealer does.
No one knows yet, but economics experts point out that the government should keep the prices of the legal pot low enough to compete with the black market, which means not overtaxing it. The tobacco industry has seen this happen: Taxes on cigarettes increase and people turn to the black market, increasing illegal sales. People like to save money where possible (I won't ramble about quitting smoking to save money and maintain health – if you smoke, you know it's bad for you and that it's costing you money).
When I was in high school there was a cafe that illegally sold cigarettes under the counter to minors. Although it's not black market, I know people who buy cheap smokes from Indian reservations just off the highway, where they don't tax their cigarettes. The cost of marijuana would ideally compete.
What marijuana activity can get you into legal trouble
Anyone caught providing cannabis to minors can face up to 14 years in jail. Stop smoking up the teenaged neighbour. While you might allow your child a bit of wine, keep your teenagers away from your pot stash.
Driving with THC in your system, like drunk driving. I know people who drive well after consuming cannabis, but better safe than sorry. Sorry has potential consequences that you don't want. The new legislation will allow for roadside saliva testing to detect drug-impaired drivers. Drivers with a small amount of THC in their blood would face a fine of up to $1,000, while those with high levels (or those who also have alcohol in their blood) would face up to 10 years in jail.
Some of my favourite memories from when was 19 include hotboxing at the drive-in, but I was young and less knowledgeable then. I don't recommend it. Hotbox your bathroom and chill with Netflix instead. Pot, Netflix, and chill.
When will marijuana be legal in Canada?
Marijuana will be legal in Canada by July 2018.
What about medical use of marijuana in Canada?
The existing program for access to medical marijuana would continue as is. You get a prescription from your doctor and then a federally-licensed grower “fills it” by mail or courier.
This begs the question: If a person needs pot as medicine, wouldn't it be more convenient and quicker for them to get it at their local retail store?
Furthermore, here's an interesting quote from Liberal MP Bill Blair, former Toronto police chief:
“It is not our intent to promote the use of this drug. In every other jurisdiction that has gone down the road of legalization, they focused primarily on a commercial regulatory framework. In Canada … it’s a public-health framework.”
My opinion: By legalizing it, the government is promoting it, but no more than it already is. Politicizing the issue promotes it. Telling people not to smoke pot promotes it. Every time the issue is in the news, it's promotion. Every image of marijuana is an advertisement. If it's a true public health framework, I think that there must be public education about cannabis as medicine, and public education about recreational vs. medical use, along with the risks associated with addiction. Not that the public is educated about painkiller addiction or addiction to other prescription medicine.
I think it makes sense to promote it as a medical intervention to relieve your aches, pains, anxiety etc. Marijuana is a drug. Alcohol is a drug. Coffee and sugar are drugs. Still, it's a step in the right direction.
What about marijuana legalization in the U.S.?
According to Rolling Stone magazine: “In the U.S., though 29 states have some sort of legalization program, cannabis remains federally illegal, including for medical use. Due largely to this restriction, America's legal cannabis industry has grown into a patchwork Frankenstein monster: each state has had to determine for itself whether legalization makes sense and how the industry should be governed.”
And remember: Marijuana is a drug. Whether used recreationally or legally, keep out of reach of children.