When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau advanced cannabis legalization during his campaign, it was an exciting idea that progressives could rally behind. Even so, Canadians couldn’t help but wonder if anything would come of the Liberal leader’s proclamation that his government would work to regulate cannabis “right away.”
But then actions followed the words, and a bill was introduced in 2017 that would legalize cannabis at the federal level, effectively abolishing current prohibitionist laws. Trudeau’s initial timeline was hasty—his goal was for the country to see its sales launch by July 1.
While legalization in Canada is most certainly on its way, July 1 will probably come and go before the new law is implemented.
Delays and Disruptions
Canada’s Senate is set to vote on draft legislation on June 7, only a few weeks before the July 1 dream arrives. Senate committees are recommending numerous changes. It is highly unlikely that the government will be ready to roll out its program in the few weeks after its vote. Trudeau hasn’t denied this possibility. When confronted about a possible delay, Prime Minister Trudeau said,
“Legalization is not an event, it’s a process. And that process will continue.”
One Senate committee recommended that legalization be delayed for up to a year to give the government more time to collaborate with Indigenous groups in light of the production facilities that will be based on Indigenous land. Chair of the Aboriginal Peoples’ Committee, Senator Lillian Dyck, explained the need for more time.
“If the community wants to pass some kind of bylaw that restricts it in some way, that has to be hammered out with the federal government before this becomes law,” she said. On the other hand, cannabis could be very profitable for Indigenous groups. “If you want First Nations to get ahead, then you have to provide them with equal opportunity for the economic opportunities that arise,” Dyck said when discussing the possibility of giving First Nations a cut of the tax revenue.
Another committee suggested a year delay to give police departments more time to prepare for what will likely be a major cultural evolution. Law enforcement has expressed confusion and frustration with how little they have been included in the legalization process. For example, Ottawa police have stated that they have not been informed of the costs of legalization or the kind of equipment or training they will need once pot becomes legal nation-wide. Law enforcement officers will need devices to test sobriety, places to store illegally cultivated or amassed pot, and education on the plant itself.
Other recommendations include providing a limit on the amount of dried cannabis a person is allowed to store at home, more leniency for minors who are caught with small amounts of cannabis, and an agreement with the United States about how Canadians will be treated when trying to legally cross the border.
On the other hand, senators are worried that continuing to delay legalization does nothing to combat the black market. What everyone can agree on here is that prohibition does not actually stop people from purchasing and consuming pot. The longer that prohibition remains, the longer the illegal market remains in control of the cannabis market. “If we keep delaying it, we just keep the illegal market wide open,” said Liberal Senator Jim Munson.
Getting Everyone On The Same Page
Moreover, regulators are not on the same page as entrepreneurs when it comes to how cannabis sales will launch and progress. This is especially true in light of a regulatory standard imposed on the industry in March. Canada’s health regulator has mandated strict the packaging and labeling of recreational weed so that the brand is understated. This is a tough pill for producers and processors to swallow since building a brand is an essential part of market growth. Additionally, some experts predict that sales will be slower than anticipated as consumers slowly transition out of the black market and producers struggle to meet demand in the beginning months.
These variables have lowered investor morale, causing dips in Canadian cannabis stocks that are particularly noticeable following the skyrocketing gains between October and January. However, stocks will probably get closer to their pre-slump numbers (though not quite so high) after the June vote and as implementation nears.
Cannabis’ Legislative History in the Maple Leaf
In the first half of the twentieth century, Canada’s southern neighbors were in a tizzy about the devil’s lettuce. The “marijuana menace” became an all too easy to target symbol American bigots could pin their xenophobic and racist fears on. Because the narcotic use of cannabis assimilated into American society alongside the Mexican refugees who brought it with them, weed and anyone who used it was regarded as dangerous, crass, and probably insane. Even though rates of cannabis use in Canada were almost non-existent, the fear seemed to have caught on. For no clear reason, Canada prohibited cannabis at the federal level in 1923.
During the 1960’s, another frenzy swept up the United States and throughout Canada as well. This time, it was the psychedelic culture of the times—one that celebrated the consumption of psychoactive substances including the never more popular ganja. Between 1962 and 1972, cannabis use in Canada exploded. Since then, prohibitionist cannabis laws have ensnared countless lives in Canada’s criminal justice system.
In 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal began to turn things around. The court ruled in favor of Terrance Parker, an epilepsy patient who illegally used cannabis to treat his condition. The court ruled that the prohibition of cannabis was an unconstitutional infringement upon Parker’s right to “life, liberty, and security.” A year later, legislators took action as well. Cannabis was legalized for medical use at the national level in 2001.
In 2015, after making cannabis legalization a central component of his platform, Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister of Canada. Two years later, the Liberal party introduced the Cannabis Act to parliament, the very law that hoped to legalize cannabis for recreational use at the national level by July 2018. Although the launch of recreational sales has been delayed, Canada has come too far to turn back. And even though waiting can be frustrating, Canadians can take heart that their government is doing its part to prepare for what will be a multi-billion dollar, culture revolutionizing industry of which their country has become the de facto leader.