by Micha on 16/01/2017 | Opinion

Canada: Cannabis legalisation more difficult than expected

Legalisation Following his election victory, Canada’s Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he would regulate the buying and selling of cannabis. In mid-December 2016, the task force he brought in especially for this purpose made a proposal, which dealt with no less than 80 detailed questions about the upcoming legalisation. Read more about the legalisation of cannabis in Canada here.

Canada Cannabis legalisation more difficult than expected

It seems obvious that in the foreseeable future, cannabis will legally be dispensed to adults, but the “how” and the “where” of it will cause the government a bit of a headache over the coming period. The task force was unable to agree to the proposal by the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario to serve both cannabis and alcohol in off-licences, as that could encourage customers to mix alcohol and cannabis. What’s more, there would then be a need to impose special regulations on some provinces that do not sell alcohol through off-licences. The committee alluded to the advantages and disadvantages of medical dispensaries like the ones in Vancouver, state-run specialist shops and licensed cannabis shops, as well as shipping by post, but without making a specific recommendation for one model.


No nationwide support for legalising cannabis

During a press conference of the task force, it became clear that the legalisation didn’t meet with country-wide support. Even though committee member Dr. Mark Ware chose his words carefully, you could read between the lines what resistance he and his employees have come up against for some time now: According to Dr. Ware, “In this regard, there are some very different views from the provinces and the territories”. Some people are well prepared and ready to collaborate, whereas others are still considering their own view on the matter.” Dr. Ware assumes, however, that the concerns of some of the provinces can soon be cleared up in consultation with the government. The board recommended that provinces and territories monitor the growing and trading of cannabis, as well as collaborate closely with the municipalities.

What’s more, in addition to large groups, small cannabis companies and commercial operations should be given the opportunity to gain a foothold in the market. Finally, the committee recommends allowing the provinces and territories to decide by whom, how and where cannabis is traded. As in Colorado and other US states, there should be an upper limit for buying, possessing and growing cannabis for personal use. The task force shrunk from defining how high this upper limit should be, because even once cannabis has been legalised, there will be penalties for those who fail to meet the new regulations. The committee declined to make a specific recommendation as to the extent of the new punishments for cannabis offences and other delicate issues such as expunging current cannabis offences from criminal records. Both issues are matters for the Ministry of Justice and do not fall within the remit of the board. The minimum age should be 18 or 19, depending on the legal position locally (in some Canadian provinces, you are only an adult once you have reached the age of 19).

Vague timing

The question as to the exact point in time of the legalisation also remains unanswered. Trudeau had promised to flesh out a law for legalising cannabis by spring 2017. With the presentation of its recommendations for regulation, the committee is said to have completed its preliminary work, but now it’s up to the government to prepare the law and set it in motion. Task force leader Anne McLellan explained to journalists how complex that is given Canada’s pioneering role as the first G8 nation to legalise cannabis:

“We are only the second nation to decide to take this step. Those who have already done so have predicted many surprises for us. Now we need to learn from experiences from Colorado and Washington State. The organisation and implementation of a Canadian system is an unprecedented task. The world will be watching us and we are under enormous pressure to get this process right. It will also enable other countries to view Canada as a successful model of legalisation. … It is very important that Canada’s government gets this right”, added McLellan. “We are the first developed nation to move towards legalisation”.

To keep his election promise, Prime Minister Trudeau does not necessarily have to declassify cannabis by spring 2017. He “only” needs to draft and submit a specific bill in collaboration with the Ministries of Justice and Health, as well as with the many other parties involved, based on the committee’s recommendations. However, due to the many aforementioned hurdles and the lack of time, that’s no mean feat. But given the reality in Canada, it doesn’t seem impossible and is also very necessary.

How the cannabis scene is responding

Since Canada’s scene has known that the government will legalise, some parts of the country view the ban as no more than red tape. In Vancouver, each time medical dispensaries were closed by the police, they were simply reopened the next day or the day after. Wherever one was closed, there would soon be two new ones nearby. Many dispensaries are now also selling cannabis for recreational purposes, as long as the customer is able to prove that he is of age. Due to pressure from the street, Vancouver City Council soon passed a law which provides licences for such dispensaries that meet the recently issued regulations. The leaders of the council recognised that even a controlled grey zone is better than a black market, and the first eight shops have already been licensed.

Developments in Montreal are slower to progress, however. The police and local government there are still trying to curb the uncontrolled growth with repressive measures. So it was that Marc Emery, who already operates several “420 lounges” in Vancouver and now wants to expand into the 1976 Olympic city, spent another night in the cells due to cannabis. He and other fellow campaigners opened eight specialist cannabis shops overnight as part of his “Cannabis Culture” chain, which were raided by the police the next day and shut down again. The nocturnal campaign didn’t just anger the Montreal police, but also the mayor of Montreal. Emery should concentrate on how he could sell cannabis legally in Montreal in the future rather than breaking the law, commented Denis Coderre on the closures. But a night in jail and an angry mayor was like water off a duck’s back to the “Prince of Pot”, as the Canadian lawyer and self-promoter likes to call himself, after his five years in a US federal prison. The incident in Montreal clarifies at least the need for a legal basis to be established quickly at federal level. After all, next door in Ontario, his and others’ shops are, by contrast, tolerated in the provincial capital: in Toronto, Emery has been operating several medical dispensaries and two inconspicuous specialist shops for adults for months now.

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