Canada has become the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The federal legalization follows a 2015 campaign promise by current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The pathway to legalization was cleared yesterday when Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, passed through the Senate with a vote of 55-29. The Senate had pushed a large number of amendments back to the House, before voting on the revised bill yesterday. Some of the amendments included blocking provincial governments from being able to ban home cultivation, or refuse the legalization outright.
The initial goal was to have recreational sales being July 1. However both the House and Senate needed additional time to review the new Cannabis Act. The Act includes an 8-12 week buffer period for provinces to prepare for the sale of recreational marijuana, meaning that the new legal sale date will begin between late August and mid-September. Until then, unlicensed sale or possession will result in heavy fines and up to 14 years in jail.
When proposed, support was acquired by pledging to impose stiffer penalties on anyone supplying marijuana to minors and selling outside of official channels. However, the bill has faced criticism for not sufficiently addressing the issue of marijuana use among young people, one reason the provinces cited for blocking home cultivation. Also removed, an amendment to create a public registry of cannabis company investors. The amendment was intended to limit the ability of criminal gangs from using offshore tax havens to invest in the new industry. An amendment to limit the sale of pot-themed company merchandise was also removed.
International Travel Ban
One item currently outstanding is how the federal legalization will affect travel to countries where marijuana use is still illegal. For example, US Border Services currently views anyone using recreational marijuana in the last year as a 'drug abuser', a designation that can result in being banned from US entry for life.
Of note, the current bill is not expected to address people currently incarcerated under possession or distribution charges. However, the move is expected to contribute significantly to racial equality given the larger percentage of indigenous and minority youth arrested for possession and potentially barred from either employment or public services.
The legalization framework is also expected to significantly reduce the police and court resources dedicated to controlling the behavior of addicts and recreational users. Police and court budgets will now be available to address violent crime and clearing case backlogs, taking more criminals off the street and making communities safer.
The new market for legal recreational cannabis is predicted to exceed $7B annually, and is expected to be taxed very heavily. Tax revenue will be used for mental health and addiction counselling resources, schools, roads, and public transit infrastructure.