The Canadian Senate voted to legalize Cannabis Tuesday, by an impressive 2 to 1 margin. The bold move makes our reputedly polite, maple syrup-guzzling northern neighbors the first G-7 nation to legalize cannabis on a federal level. That qualification is necessary since tiny Uruguay legalized a few years ago, but it’s really just another way of saying that it’s the first large, powerful, heavily industrialized nation to make the leap. They are the second nation ever to fully legalize.
The act was first introduced in April of 2017 and was passed by the House of Commons the following November.
What will Cannabis Legalization Mean for Canada?
Even though the government had stated an intention for the new law to be implemented by July, they plan to allow provinces and territories - who will be in charge of many of the fine points of cannabis sales – 8 to 12 weeks to put their own regulations in place. A finalized date is expected to be set for early or mid-September.
Adults over 18 years old will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in public and will be permitted to cultivate as many as four plants at home for personal use.
Most retailers will be licensed on the province and territory level, although there will also be federally licensed producers in areas where this is not an option. The availability is expected to vary considerably, with 200 private recreational retailers expected across Alberta, but only 40 state-run retailers in much more heavily populated Ontario. In Newfoundland and Labrador, cannabis will be available in Loblaws grocery stores, in a chilling realization of Jeff Sessions’ most haunting vision of the looming ganja apocalypse.
In light of the meteoric growth of the cannabis industry in the US, Canadian cannabis companies have already enjoyed a massive influx of investment as plans for legalization have gradually solidified.
What Effect Does Canadian Cannabis Legalization Have Internationally?
One of the reasons this is groundbreaking in a way that US states legalizing is not (even though California has a larger population than Canada), is the flouting of drug-war era international treaties that prohibit legalization. When a country like Canada legalizes, it is the first step toward taking power away from those agreements. Once one powerful country has decided those treaties are no longer relevant, it sets a precedent for others to follow suit.
With a wide range of cannabis reform bills stagnating in the US legislature despite bipartisan support, and Trump considering moves to loosen federal prohibition, the Canadian move could not have come at a more pivotal time.
When Canada first started to seriously consider legalization, Oregon representative Earl Blumenauer, a cannabis reform advocate, noted:
“There are those who sometimes regard Canada as the 51st state. It would be an important signal about the movement coming of age. It would add to the critical mass…It would shift the center of gravity.”
"Canada's progress will galvanize support for drug policy reforms around the world,” according to more recent comments from the Senior International Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance, Hannah Hetzer.
However, without further changes in the US, the move could add to mounting trade tensions between the US and Canada, especially with the regard to the many border states that still have prohibition in place. It’s easy to imagine what will start to occur, especially in sprawling urban areas like Detroit, which sprawls into Canada itself.
The Politics of Cannabis Reform
It’s significant that the first large nation to legalize cannabis did so with a 2 to 1 margin in its legislature. This was not a close call, it was something Canadians were clamoring for at this point. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t accomplished with a campaign to defend the rights of cannabis smokers. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed in his campaign to legalize cannabis, saying regulating its use would help to keep it away from children. Trudeau has stuck with that rather successful theme, tweeting last week:
“It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana - and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate.”
This is a valuable lesson for reformers everywhere, and a valid point in itself. It’s not at all uncommon, even in small-town America, for teenagers to be able to get their hands on cannabis more easily than alcohol. Sadly, this applies to other drugs as well. Convincing middle-of-the-road non-smokers to support legalization won’t be a matter of convincing them that cannabis is great and everyone should try it (although that has won people over as well.) Reaching a point where we can pass such laws by margins like the one seen in Canada will be a matter of tapping into the “live and let live” instincts of middle America; which say you don’t have to like something your neighbor is doing to let them go about their business, and, crucially, any risks can be managed much more effectively by not driving the practice underground.