If you thought the debate over this whole legalizing weed thing was over and done with, sorry to burst your bubble, but it most certainly is not. While the federal government has put forth a bill that would make possession and use of recreational marijuana legal for those over 18 on July 1, 2018, we are far from a consensus over what that should mean (or even if it should happen at all).
And it’s not just the ‘It’s going to make the kids lazy’ and ‘It’s a gateway drug’ arguments either. There’s dissent on both sides of the marijuana debate and legitimate concerns from authorities about organized crime.
First of all, the federal bill is one thing, but it leaves it up to the provinces to create their own additional regulations (including legal age) and figure out how to distribution should work–like with alcohol. In June, Canada’s premieres warned the federal government that a year may not be enough time for them to debate and roll out their marijuana legislation and regulation. The provinces need to treat this like alcohol. They need to come up with the ‘legal way’ to get weed (the how and the where).
It’s a little unnerving to hear that the premieres aren’t confident in their ability to figure this out on time. They’re not the only ones either. Also concerned are the police whose job it will be to enforce these regulations. They too have warned the government that they can’t possibly be ready for July 2018. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police as well as the provincial police departments from Ontario and Saskatchewan will testify this week to the House of Commons health committee that they will need way more time for training officers than the bill is currently giving them.
According to the police, new training will be required for all their officers (once the rules are set) and they will need to increase the number of officers capable of doing road-side drug impairment testing by more than double. If the current date stands, there will be a period of six months to a year that these police predict organized crime will ‘flourish’ in the recreational pot industry.
Another point of contention is the question of people growing weed in their own backyards. The Ottawa bill will allow people to legally grow up to four plants themselves, but police say that will be difficult and costly to enforce. They also argue it would give youth an easier and cheaper way to gain illegal access to the drug. According to the OPP deputy commissioner, if Canadians have a system through which they may obtain pot legally, they shouldn’t need to grow it themselves.
On the other hand, marijuana activists think limiting people to four plants and forcing them to do their pot business through a system monopolized by the provincial government is completely unfair. They argue that legalization was meant to bring the existing industry out of the shadows, not create a completely new (government-run) one. Under these laws, selling pot without authorization by the government still makes you a criminal.
Despite those arguments, it looks like provinces will be opting to make provincial dispensaries the only means by which to legally acquire pot. The Ontario government announced this week that their distribution system will be run by a subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO). It’s an effective way of limiting and monitoring distribution for the province, but it also means no market competition (which is never great for consumers).
Other camps still have problems with even the most basic parts of the federal bill like the legal age. Most notably, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer who said he and the party would continue working at the federal level to get the Liberal government to raise the legal age above 18.
So it looks like this thing we all thought was settled is far from over. We might not even see legalization happen on time and we certainly won’t have a stable system in place if it does.
Hopefully the end result is worth the wait.