On Wednesday, Canada became the second country to sell marijuana for recreational use. This is considered a political victory for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the Liberal Party who made legalized marijuana part of his platform during his campaign in 2015.
The Liberal party suffered a humiliating defeat in 2011 and it is believed that the legalization agenda passed in a 2012 party convention gave the party a significant boost, enabling them to win the national elections in 2015. With elections looming next year, Trudeau was hard-pressed to push through the legislation.
Marijuana first became illegal in Canada in 1923 but medical marijuana was legalized in 2001. Canada is plagued by drug usage and Trudeau told the media legalizing marijuana will “better protect our kids from the easy access they have right now to marijuana [and] to remove the criminal elements that were profiting from marijuana.”
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. #PromiseKept
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 20, 2018
The Canadian government predicts it will raise $400 million a year in tax revenues and create a $4 billion industry.
In 2013, Uruguay became the first country to legalize marijuana. Nine states in the U.S. have legalized recreational marijuana and 30 others have legalized medical marijuana.
The new legislation does not give carte blanche to smokers. Cannabis will only be sold at government licensed producers and retailers to adults over the age of 18. For the time being, cannabis oil, seeds and plants, and dried cannabis from licensed will be available but edible products will only be available in another year when the applicable legislation is in place.
Marijuana will not be sold in venues that sell alcohol or tobacco. An adult can possess up to one ounce of dried cannabis in public. Four plants are permitted per home.
Cannabis dealers charged with operating illegally will face fines of up to $1 million and two years in jail. Selling marijuana to a minor can be punishable by up to 14 years in jail. Driving while under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal and penalties for driving under the influence are expected to be stricter than those for driving while intoxicated. It is illegal to enter or leave the country while in possession.
There are currently about half a million Canadians serving time in jail for marijuana-related crimes which are no longer illegal. Government officials told reporters on Tuesday that they are currently considering a fast-track process to allow people who have been convicted of possession to apply for legal pardons.
Polls show that approximately 70 percent of Canadians support legalization. An estimated 5 million Canadian adults smoking pot at least once a month but experts believe another 1 million people will join in once the legislation is passed.
Not everyone is enthusiastic about the new legislation. Doug Ford, Ontario’s Premier, criticized the legalization, saying the government did not prepare for the consequences.
“It was three years ago Justin Trudeau campaigned on legalizing cannabis. Three years later, the federal government still cannot give our police a single reliable piece of equipment to test for drug-impaired driving,” Ford said in a speech on Tuesday. “This is deeply concerning. And make no mistake, by rushing legal cannabis out of the door before ensuring police have the tools they need, the Trudeau Liberals are putting people at risk.”
On Monday, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial calling legalization “a national, uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.”