Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberal government came to power promising to legalize recreational marijuana use in order to eliminate the black market and thereby keep cannabis away from kids. Now the New Democratic Party is alleging that the government's delays on this file is actually endangering the wellbeing of younger Canadians - although young adults in this case, not underage youth.
The government plans to introduce a legalization bill to the House in 2017, after working with a task force and the nation's provinces and territories to develop regulations that will work for Canada's various provincial jurisdictions. In the meantime, they don't plan to repeal any marijuana laws, which means that people busted for simple possession could be imprisoned for a crime that could be off the books in a year.
So on June 13, NDP Justice Critic Murray Rankin introduced a motion to decriminalize cannabis immediately. While debating the motion in the House, Rankin also alleged that the government's failure to finalize legalization quickly has likely led to more arrests by creating "a false sense of security" among Canadians who don't know that simple possession is still illegal.
NDP pressures government to decriminalize
In Question Period, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair pressured the government to adopt his party's position, saying that the decision to maintain prohibition while working on the framework for legalization "has created a confusion in the justice system."
The government refuses to change Canada's cannabis laws until the legalization regime is ready to be introduced. During Question Period, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould reiterated the government's stance that decriminalizing simple possession would do nothing to protect kids from accessing cannabis.
But NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair insisted that cannabis criminalization is a bigger threat to Canadian youth than cannabis itself. "In the meantime, thousands of mostly young Canadian citizens will have criminal records...for the rest of their lives."
He added that those records will hurt their chances of getting jobs, and affect their ability to travel abroad to places such as the United States.
Youths most likely to be arrested for simple possession
According to a statement released by the NDP, 60,000 Canadians will be arrested for simple marijuana possession this year. And 22,000 will end up with criminal records as a result. The party argue that most of those cases will involve young adults.
"The majority of the convictions for pot possession involve young Canadians, who should not be burdened with criminal records for the rest of their lives especially when the government plans to legalize marijuana at some point in the future," said NDP Youth Critic Anne Minh-Thu Quach. "The Liberals should take a clear first step and immediately decriminalize the possession of marijuana."
But that step won't likely be taken. The government opposes the NDP's motion, which Conservative MP Colin Carrie criticized during House debate because the motion doesn't address the issue of edibles being sold at illegal dispensaries, nor does it offer tools to keep the roads safe from inebriated drivers once cannabis is decriminalized.
But Rankin insists that decriminalization could help keeps roads safe from inebriated drivers, and streets safe from dealers by allowing police to focus on those areas instead of busting people for simple possession.
"[Decriminalization] would would allow the police to put the emphasis where it's needed....We need to give [police] the tools and resources necessary now, not wait a year and cause more confusion."