The First G7 Nation to Legalize It!
While Canadians and marijuana advocates around the globe are celebrating Canada’s intrepid move to legalize cannabis, it’s important to remember that even the most progressive actions have motivations behind them. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not been timid about his public health reasons for supporting and pushing recreational cannabis legalization in Canada. And even though it’s only the second country to do so after Uruguay in 2013, and the first G7 country, there are a lot of rules and regulations in Canada’s Cannabis Act package. Advertising and packaging will be heavily restricted, and non-psychoactive CBD will still be regulated just as rigorously as recreational marijuana. The country, however, will certainly reap the benefits of the ensuing revenue stream, no doubt! And all eyes will be watching to see how recreational legalization will play out in an advanced global economy.
So Why’d They Do It?
- The Trudeau stance
- Public opinion
- A tolerant history
- The money factor?
The Trudeau Stance
The promise to legalize cannabis was a major part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s campaign in 2015. His promise became reality just three years later on October 17, 2018, with the enactment of the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45).
Trudeau argued that nearly a century of criminalizing marijuana had only made things worse, putting cannabis in the hands of minors while lining the pockets of criminals and clogging up the criminal justice system. Canadians are some of the heaviest users in the world … obviously, criminalization has not been very efficacious.
Trudeau has insisted throughout that along with legalization will come strict sales regulation, severe repercussions for anyone that sells to minors, and active enforcement of penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana.
In the last couple of decades, an increasing majority of Canadians have agreed that cannabis should be decriminalized. A nationwide Nanos poll in 2016 revealed that about 70 percent of Canadians were on board with legalization. In a time when recreational legalization seems to follow the medical legalization of cannabis, it seems quite natural that Canada, which legalized medical marijuana in 2001, would now legalize cannabis under the Liberal Party. Once people begin to understand and accept the medicinal benefits of cannabis, the stigma seems to fade fairly quickly.
Canada’s Fairly Tolerant History
- Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill (1923): Cannabis became illegal through being added to Canada’s Confidential Restricted List.
- First Seizure (1937): Although it had been illegal for 14 years, Canadian police did not perform a first official seizure until 1937. Cannabis just did not attract much attention. From 1930-1946, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) only recorded 25 Cannabis arrests.
- The 60s and 70s Counterculture Spike: The RCMP’s numbers spiked in 1968, when 2,300 cases were recorded, and in 1972, when 12,000 were logged.
- The Le Dain Commission (1969-1972): This was a very thorough and thoughtful Commission into The Inquiry of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs. Carried out from 1969 to 1972, it ultimately recommended that the possession and cultivation of cannabis be decriminalized, that cannabis be removed from the Narcotic Control Act, and that it be controlled much like alcohol. Its conclusions were largely ignored at the time. Interestingly, the administration at the time was the Trudeau Federal government, with Pierre Trudeau (Justin Trudeau’s father) at the helm as prime minister.
- Medical Marijuana Legalized Nationwide (2001): Medical marijuana use was first outlined under the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, and then the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.
- The Federal Cannabis Act (2018): Bill C-45 makes Canada the second country in the world to legalize cannabis.
The Money Factor?
In 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau insisted that policies for legalization were never about the windfall of tax revenue. For him, it was always about public health and safety. But now that the Cannabis Act has passed, Canada’s federal government predicts $400 million a year in tax revenues from sales of cannabis. It would be naïve not to believe that it is this aspect that has made legalizing cannabis palatable for some legislators.
For comparison, according to BDS Analytics, the U.S. pot industry did nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017. Canada expects $4 billion.
Rules, Rules, Rules
“It’s there, it’s legal, and that’s fine, we’ll give you access, but we’re not going to encourage it.”
That’s how one policymaker for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse described the government’s position on legalizing in 2016.
Whether the recreational cannabis industry will remain regulated from a public health and safety standpoint, it’s certainly beginning with some strict rules, including up to 14-year sentence for anyone selling cannabis to a minor, strict enforcement of testing for driving under the influence, and virtually no room to advertise, brand, or promote cannabis products.
There’s conflict surrounding the testing for THC in cannabis DUI cases. Because THC can stay in one’s system for a long time and psychoactive effects can range from person to person, there are concerns over whether the way police will conduct tests will be fair.
With regard to marketing, there is a range of concerns. Some believe that once too much commercialization is allowed, the commercial industry will begin to write the law regarding the regulation of cannabis. The craft cannabis industry could get left behind. Others, however, wonder if it’s fair to have a market for cannabis in which the government collects taxes and simultaneously severely restricts a company’s ability to market and brand their product. The rules for packaging go as far as to outline plain packaging with essentially no attractive or provocative design.
The Cannabis Act officially passed in June of 2018, but cannabis was not set to become legal until October 2018. Trudeau’s administration and Canadian police were adamant that cannabis would remain illegal and punishable in those few months. The reason given was to keep black market sellers from profiting during the period.
Once recreational cannabis became legal on October 17, however, authorities announced they will begin plans to pardon those who have been convicted of possessing 30 grams or less of marijuana.
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