Liberals Opt for Slow Burn on Legal Weed

Across Canada yesterday morning – or possibly closer to noon – pot enthusiasts woke up to find that the government may have decided on a date for the legalization of recreational marijuana use. Next year, celebrations of our country’s birthday may be known instead as Cannabis Day when recreational marijuana use becomes legal on July 1st, 2018.

At a weekend NDP leadership debate, MP Nikki Ashton accused the Liberals of lying about their promise to legalize marijuana. A rebuke of her position hours later should serve as a lesson for politicians everywhere tempted by the powerful drugs of hyperbole and grandstanding – just say no.

It is encouraging to see that the Liberal government has taken their time making this change and will continue to do so. There are a number of legal and social factors to consider when deciding something that has been illegal should be otherwise.

The black market for instance; while it is true that legalizing marijuana should have a negative impact on the pocketbooks of organized crime, it would be naive to think that on July 2nd next year, no one will be selling weed illegally anymore. Cigarette sales have always been legal, but contraband sales of smokes are nothing new either.

Also, the government must come to a decision relatively soon on how best to enforce existing laws between now and the day marijuana becomes legal in Canada. Police forces across the country need some sort of guidance as how to deal with people found in possession of marijuana. Not biker gangs, grow-ops, or dispensaries that wouldn’t know a prescription from a hall pass, but ordinary citizens in possession of obviously personal amounts of weed. It would be unreasonable, and quite possibly a violation of their rights, to slap people with criminal charges based solely on a calendar.

No one who isn’t posing a threat to themselves or society deserves the stigma of a criminal record for something that won’t be a criminal offence in a relatively short time.

Another factor that will be repeatedly raised in the time between now and full legalization is what affect this decision will have on Canada’s relationship with the United States. The U.S. Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been quoted in the past as saying “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” Sessions was also once deemed too racist to be a judge, so perhaps his judgement on who is and is not a good person should not be the standard.

Canada has a number of policies and laws that have run afoul of some Americans and their law makers. For example, we prefer universal access to health care over near-universal access to guns. Canadian law decided decades ago that love is love, and that the best way to approach same-sex marriage, was as a marriage like any other.

All of which is to say, if Americans or their law makers don’t like that the great white north may soon be a few shades greener, no one on this side of the border should be overly concerned. When it comes to Canada’s trade relationship with America, POTUS is a bigger threat than pot will ever be.

These are a few of the many details to be addressed between now and 2018. The federal government is expected to leave other ones – like how and where marijuana can be sold – to individual provinces. This will add a whole other level of complexity to a file that has its fair share already.

With the number of issues and obstacles to navigate, by the time the first pack of pre-rolled joints is legally available for purchase I suspect most will be glad the government took their time.

Until then, impatient inhalers will simply need to relax, and hope that by Canada Day 2018 how they choose to relax will no longer be a crime.

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