Canada has plans to legalize cannabis nationwide, for recreational use, in 2017. Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada for 15 years.
The legislation will be presented by Canada’s Liberal Party. Health Minister Jane Philpott made the announcement last week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
“I am proud to stand up for our drug policy that is informed by solid scientific evidence and uses a lens of public health to maximize education and minimize harm,”
While the intention is to, “keep marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals,” it is unclear how it will be regulated. Canada is the United States’ largest trade partner, and there is a possibility the two countries could not only exchange cannabis products but legislation itself, with states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon setting the example.
“It’s nice that those experiments are there for us to see what’s worked,” said Zach Walsh, professor at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna and co-director of the Centre for the Advancement of Psychological Science and Law.
“We’ll learn from those and I think because we’re looking at doing it federally and in a more organized way and maybe with a bit more prep time, I think we’ll take what’s worked from those models and make our own.”
The majority of both Canadians and Americans support marijuana legalization, with Canada legalizing medical marijuana in 2001, and 24 U.S. states now have medical marijuana programs. But federal prohibition is still a reality in the United States, and that could put a damper on the two countries collaborating in an open cannabis market. “I don’t see the government legalizing the export of cannabis,” said Eugene Oscapella, an Ottawa attorney specializing in Canadian social policy. “Right now, it’s a criminal offense punishable by life imprisonment. They don’t need to change that part of the law in order to set up a legal regulatory regime in Canada.”
Cannabis tourism would be the next option if international trade was off-limits. Colorado, Washington and Oregon have seen increased tourism traffic attributed to their recreational cannabis laws, but that doesn’t necessarily mean Canada will sell marijuana to foreign tourists. “Canada has a lot of options here,” said RAND Drug Policy Research Center co-director Beau Kilmer. “You have to pay attention to what’s going to happen with the regulation and the taxes. That could really shape what happens in terms of people coming in from other countries. You have to decide whether you want to allow that.”
Conservative elements in both Canada and the United States are still opposed to legalization, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau advocated for cannabis legalization during his campaign. Once in office, Trudeau cited international treaties as the reason legalization is not moving forward.
“Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework,”
Trudeau said in an interview on March 1. He seems set on introducing regulation before decriminalization, even if Canadian citizens are being incarcerated for minor drug crimes. “I think decriminalization is a bad idea because it doesn’t do anything to make it more difficult for young people to access it and it doesn’t do anything in terms of keeping the black market and the criminal organizations from profiting from it,” Trudeau said. “That’s why I believe in control and regulation that actually will do the protection of public safety and of minors that we need. And in the meantime, it’s still illegal.”