Canada Legalizes Recreational Cannabis

Today Canada legalizes the recreational use of cannabis.

Many Canadians see legalization as an important social change while others see this as a national disaster.

Ending the prohibition of cannabis aka marijuana has been discussed for decades. There is a history of stigmatization stemming from the prohibition in the 1920s and 30s when it was added to the Narcotic Control Act.  In the 1960s cannabis use was associated with hippies and US draft dodgers. In 1972 the Le Dain commission recommended decriminalization of simple possession and cultivation for personal use.

Le Dain’s recommendations were not implemented. Canada continued it’s ‘war on drugs’ resulting in many incarcerations of young people and use of police and customs resources for enforcement of possession and/or trafficking. The black market thrived.

Use of medical marijuana for individuals with HIV/AIDs and other chronic medical conditions was approved by the courts in 2000 with a doctor’s authorization.  By 2013, the Canadian Government changed access for medical marijuana from home-grown to commercially licensed producers.

Legalization was a key election promise by Justin Trudeau in the 2015 federal election. The passage of Bill C-45 commonly known as the Cannabis Act in June 2018 set the clock ticking toward October 17, the implementation date.

What is Cannabis?

Cannabis is a psychoactive drug derived from the cannabis plant that grows wild in many tropical areas.  It is the most widely used illicit drug in the world.

Cannabis contains two major chemicals, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).  THC produces intoxicating effects after consumption.  CBD is non-intoxicating and produces the medicinal benefits used to treat many conditions.  Marijuana is said to reduce the pain of arthritis, alleviate insomnia, lessen nausea associated with chemotherapy, stimulate appetite for cancer patients, reduce the effects of post-traumatic stress, curtain epileptic seizures, and decrease neuropathic pain. Health Canada recommends oils for medical users rather than smoking cannabis due to respiratory concerns. It is said that 25% of medical marijuana users are 65 years of age or older.

Cannabis plants -- Photo by Alex Person on Unsplash
Cannabis plants — Photo by Alex Person on Unsplash

Usage — Permissions and Restrictions

Canada is the first country in the world to implement cannabis legalization on a national level. As of today, October 17, 2018, Canadians are allowed to possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis or the equivalent (fresh, dried, liquid, seeds, etc.)  Edible products will not be available for purchase until a future date, most likely sometime in 2019.  Consumers are allowed to use dried cannabis to make their own edibles.

Each province and territory has approached legalization differently. Some jurisdictions will allow private retail sales in licensed stores as well as online sales; other provinces have opted only for government-operated sales.  Age of use might be 18 or 19, depending on the jurisdiction.  In some provinces, consumption laws will be similar to existing smoking laws, thus allowing weed to be smoked in public areas such as parks; in other provinces, consumption will be restricted to private settings. Growing your own cannabis, within the limit of 4 plants for personal use, will be allowed in some jurisdictions and prohibited in other areas.

Interprovincial transport of cannabis is allowed, however, with each province taking a different approach, there will be confusion when crossing provincial boundaries. Canadians will not be allowed to transport cannabis across international borders. There is speculation that US border authorities may restrict entry to the US for Canadians who work or invest in the cannabis industry.

Public Concerns

Public opinion about the legalization of recreational use of marijuana is divided.  Many welcome this as a positive step while others are concerned that marijuana will be a gateway drug to narcotics such as heroin, opioids, and cocaine. Many Canadians believe that no form of cannabis is safe and refuse even to think of using the drug.

Public education of the rules around marijuana use has been limited. There is misinformation.  For example, legalization allows use only when cannabis has been procured through legal sources; use of cannabis that is purchased from illicit sources remains a criminal offence.

With the legal age for consumption set at 18, many worry about the effect of exposure on brain development which occurs until the age of 25. The potential harm to teenagers and young adults may also create a higher risk for onset of mental illness.

Issues related to driving when impaired are prominent concerns. Police forces are training specialized officers as drug recognition ‘experts’. Tests for high levels of alcohol in the bloodstream are common but tests for high levels of THC may be subject to court challenges especially when police judgement is a factor as impairment is not clearly defined. Use of cannabis in the workplace will be subject to various rules.

From a labour perspective, airlines, police forces, hospitals, and other employers in safety-critical industries have created rules and, in some cases, outright bans for employee use of recreational cannabis use by employees. Many employers are taking a ‘fit for work’ approach.

The government hopes that legalization of cannabis will suppress the black market.  High prices and limited stock in the government regulated supply chain will most likely allow the criminal element to continue its thriving business, at least in the short term.

Economic and Financial Implications

Canada has been licensing growers to produce medical marijuana since 2013.  Several larger producers are public corporations that trade on both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the New York Stock Exchange.  They sell medical marijuana products where cannabis is legal anywhere in the world.  The potential market for medical pot alone is considered to be worth billions.

Many large growers employ hundreds of people and are on a hiring spree. Cultivation experts are in high demand earning annual salaries in the $100,000 range.  Small start-ups are popping up throughout the country.  Covered greenhouses that previously produced peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and flowers are being converted to profit from this lucrative market. The industry is evolving. In anticipation of the legalization of edibles in 2019, new products including energy drinks, snack foods, coffee pods, infused teas, gummies, and even a cannabis beer are under development. Spinoff marketing and branding opportunities abound.  Companies view the Canadian market as a jumping off point for international dominance. Municipalities will benefit from business licensing fees.  On the negative side, enforcement of new laws may be costly for governments as new types of policing may be required.

Legalization of cannabis will allow researchers to study the effects of this drug.  As scientists develop evidence-based findings, treatment protocols will be developed for medical uses.  Effects on developing brains will be studied.  Heavy users will be studied to determine whether memory or cognitive functions are impaired with long-term use.

Governments at both the federal and provincial level will benefit from tax revenues as well as increased growth of gross domestic product (GDP). Some experts estimate that government revenues from the sale of cannabis and related products will surpass revenue from alcohol sales within two to three years.

The social and economic effects of legalization of recreational use of cannabis in Canada are unknown.  Corporate profits and higher government revenues won’t mitigate potential negative health effects.  Perhaps higher levels of anti-social behaviour and relationship problems will emerge for long-term users. Certainly, public awareness and education programs aimed at young people will be needed to ensure that risks of exposure to the brain are understood.

Thanks for reading this lengthy post which is adapted from a guest post that was published on July 1 in the Exploring Retirement newsletter  http://www.

I’m interested in your comments — how do readers feel about the legalization of cannabis? For Canadian readers — how will you mark Oct 17? Personally, it will be a day like any other for me.  Happy hour at our house will still involve a glass of wine!

2 Replies to “Canada Legalizes Recreational Cannabis”

  1. A very helpful post. I’ve been wondering about Canada’s legalization and the background for it. We don’t get much information on Canadian politics and issues in our regular U.S. print and broadcast media, unfortunately. I think Americans could learn a lot from Canadians. I personally don’t care about marijuana and have never used it since one puff taken in college. But I favor the medical uses that seem to bring welcome relief to many who suffer from seizures, chronic pain, spasticity, etc. I look forward to seeing the effects (if any) in Canadian culture and daily life.

    1. It’s ow two weeks since legalization. The lead story in the Ontario news today is that over 1000 complaints have been made to the provincial ombudsman about the government-run online cannabis store. Those who ordered are saying they get better customer service from street-corner vendors!!!
      Many people who I see at book clubs, at the gym, and at bridge joke about trying some legal weed but few have done so. More people are interested in using medical marijuana. I’m surprised at how many now freely admit to using marijuana to combat various forms of pain or age-related disease.
      I do think there will be a change in culture; however, it will take many years before this is evident. Nonetheless, the sky didn’t fall on Oct 17 and for most Canadians, life hasn’t changed.

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