Legalizing marijuana in Canada – once passed off as a pipe dream – appears to be gaining traction.
And in the wake of a 106-page report drafted by a federal task force on legalized recreational marijuana, advocates aren’t just blowing smoke.
The study containing more than 80 recommendations gives shape to a Liberal promise to the legalize recreational pot consumption and sales, with safeguards in place to restrict youth access and choke off the illicit market that fuels criminal enterprises.
The task force is recommending storefront and mail-order sales to Canadians 18 years and older, with personal growing limits of four plants per person.
Headed by former federal Liberal cabinet minister Anne McLellan, the report also notes that recreational marijuana should not be sold in the same location as alcohol or tobacco, and that production should be monitored with a “seed-to-sale tracking system,” to prevent diversions to the black market.
It also leaves retail pot sellers, who have defied the criminal law to open medical marijuana “dispensaries,” well positioned, especially in cities like Vancouver that have already regulated them.
“I very much expect those dispensaries to continue to transition into the fully legal system as this goes forward,” said dispensary owner Dana Larsen. “The question is where we get our supply from. I’m not opposed to buying cannabis from licensed producers if our current suppliers can become licensed.”
Langley businessman Randy Caine hopes the task force’s recommendations will open honest dialogue.
Caine, 62, is the founder and owner of three HEMPYZ Gift and Novelties shops and also ran a Langley medical marijuana dispensary.
He opened his first HEMPYZ store in 2008 and expanded to a second outlet in 2011, both in Langley, before adding a third location in White Rock in 2012.
“It’s more the decriminalizing (of pot) rather than the legalization; I think that’s something that we really need to understand right away,” Caine said. “What they’ve determined, even within (the context of) harm reduction, is we need to look at these things… as a social health issue. For me, that’s the most relevant issue that’s come forward with this task force.”
Caine said “decriminalization is what we’ve done now, which is really quite wonderful.”
“It’s shifting the whole paradigm and thought,” Caine added. “Criminalizing somebody (for possession of cannabis) also leads to the dehumanizing of people. We’re now able to look at it (marijuana) in more of a humanizing way, which is how are we going to make it better for people than criminalizing, which will make it worse for people. So it’s a tremendous paradigm shift.”
Caine said he’s been a marijuana user most of his life, “which has meant that I’ve been an outlaw for 50 years of my life.”
His hope, seeing that these terms are now “so clearly defined,” is that municipalities — including both the City and Township of Langley — will be able to move forward with drafting regulations in the form of bylaws and local controls.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Caine said. “I’d like to believe that, socially, there’s some consensus that prohibition or criminalization has not benefited anybody.”
Caine enthusiastically promotes public consultation, in the form of initiatives such as forums and online questionnaires.
“This is going to create an opportunity to create binding regulations that will actually be better for the community,” Caine said. “Criminal sanctions haven’t worked; financial sanctions, that’s what keeps corner store (merchants) from not selling cigarettes to kids. Not that they’re going to go to jail, but they’re going to lose their store.”
To those who argue that legalizing pot will make another harmful drug accessible, along with alcohol, Caine has this to say: “It’s always been accessible, but the access people have had has been through criminal association. Whether you believe, rightly or wrongly, if a person ought to be using, what this is going to to do is resolve a lot of social ills, not just for the user but for the non user. It has tremendous relevance for all of us in our communities.”
Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Morris called the report “comprehensive,” adding that the framework it outlines for legalizing cannabis in Canada will have many ramifications for B.C.
“We will take time to thoroughly review it and the 80 recommendations within it,” Morris said.
“First and foremost, we will approach our review with a public health and safety lens.”
Morris said the B.C. government’s foremost concerns are about keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth, curbing drug-impaired driving and addressing any “implications that legalization may have for our continued efforts to end gun and gang violence on our streets, which is largely driven by the illicit drug trade.”
The minister noted that Canada has an unprecedented opportunity to pioneer national cannabis legalization while better protecting people under 18, those who consume cannabis for medical and other reasons, and other people from the potential implications of that broadened access.
Liberal MP John Aldag (Langley City-Cloverdale) said Canada’s illegal marijuana trade is a $6 billion, “perhaps higher” industry.
“The whole premise behind this is to take that cash out out of the hands of organized crime and to legitimize a substance that as we know in B.C. is everywhere in our communities,” Aldag said.
Aldag pointed out that Canadian teens have the highest use of marijuana consumption in the westernized world.
“So the sense is, by actually legitimizing it and putting better controls in place, we’ll be able to make it more difficult than it is right now (for teens to access it),” Aldag said.
Another aspect, Aldag noted, is with regards to the illegal marijuana trade, nobody really knows the level of THC or the amount of contaminants that’s being added to the pot.
“There will be some quality controls in the adult recreational market,” he said.
Potential legislation will also streamline and clean up the medical marijuana industry, Aldag added.
Conservative MP Mark Warawa has concerns about the study.
“The report and the recommendations are based on politics and not what’s good for country,” said Warawa, the MP for the Langley-Aldergrove riding.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) shows even occasional use of marijuana can cause serious negative psychological effects, Warawa said.
He also opposes setting the legal age of marijuana possession and use at 18.
“Why do that? Well, political reasons,” Warawa said.
The study recommends a personal possession limit of 30 grams, which Warawa says is excessive.
“How much is 30 grams? Thirty grams is 60 joints. So the government is saying you you can be 18 years old and walking around with 60 joints that’s worth $300, $400 in your pocket and that being legal. That’s very concerning.”
Warawa added, “I don’t understand why the government would want to encourage an 18-year-old to walk around with 60 joints, smoke some, sell or share lots, and then drive a car. It appears the government doesn’t care about the health consequences on our youth or on public safety of those driving a car.”