Canada Moves Closer To Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

By Kelly Burch 06/08/18

Canada is taking a countrywide approach to avoid the issues that have unfolded in the United States, according to one Canadian senator.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Canada is one step closer to becoming the first major global economy to legalize recreational marijuana, with the Senate passing a legalization plan on Thursday.

The plan and all its amendments will now move on to the House, according to the BBC. If approved there, legal sales are expected to start within 12 weeks, meaning it could be legal to purchase marijuana in Canada by the end of the summer. 

According to one Canadian Senator, Canada is taking a countrywide approach to avoid the issues that have unfolded in the United States, where cannabis is legal in some states but prohibited under federal law. 

“We’ve very much learned from the early mistakes made by some U.S. states and other jurisdictions,” Canadian Sen. Tony Dean, an independent who sponsored the bill in the Senate, told USA Today. “We know we have a national challenge with cannabis. We have some of the highest youth consumption rates in the world, an illegal cannabis market worth upward of $6 billion annually, we know it’s harmful for kids, especially younger kids… and we had a government that wanted to tackle those issues.”

Having a national system will allow the Canadian government to address these issues above board, according to Roy Bingham, the CEO and co-founder of cannabis data firm BDS Analytics.

“Canada is creating a normal industry. What we have in the United States is a very abnormal industry,” he said. “In Canada, you see tobacco, alcohol, pharmaceutical companies, all these mainstream industries interested in getting involved.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ran on a platform of marijuana legalization in 2015. The senate measure will make recreational use and sale of marijuana legal, but it will leave the specifics of the cannabis laws up to each province or state. 

Marijuana firms, researchers and public health experts will all be watching Canada closely to see how the market for legalized cannabis unfolds. 

“It’s going to be a bit of a science fiction experience for a while,” Benedikt Fischer, an expert on substance use at Toronto’s biggest psychiatric hospital, told The Guardian. “It’s unique in the world, because it’s happening for the first time in a wealthy country. It’s not like in the U.S., where there are these state experiments. Most people kind of ignore Uruguay. And so the world is really looking at this.”

One issue will be setting the price of cannabis high enough to prevent new users from getting started with marijuana, but low enough to discourage black market sales. 

“What I am mainly following … is who will be the new legal growers, and whether authorities manage to get some of the illegal growers to become legal growers,” said Tim Boekhout van Solinge, a Dutch criminologist.

Other issues including the impact of legalization on use of other drugs and dealing with impaired drivers, will also be closely monitored by policymakers and researchers from around the globe. 

“They’re waiting to see if the sky’s going to fall,” said Jordan Sinclair, company spokesman for Canopy Growth, a medical marijuana grower in Canada. “[Investors] are waiting to see if all the stigma and all the demonization of this product that’s built up in 90 years of prohibition is true. It’s on us to demonstrate that it’s not.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.