Marijuana dominated headlines in Canada last weekend as reports emerged that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau planned to legalize recreational cannabis use across the country by Canada Day (July 1) 2018. But the country's top cannabis advocates say the government isn't moving fast enough and the outlook on legalization is still hazy.
"It's encouraging to have a timeline towards legalization so businesses and governments can be prepared for the coming changes," Lisa Campbell - a spokesperson for the Cannabis Friendly Business Association (CFBA) - told Civilized. "But many details remain yet to be seen in regards to how to provinces will move forward with distribution, age limits and pricing."
Will dispensaries be legalized?
Distribution is arguably one of the biggest bones of contention between advocates and the federal government because of the fight over Canada's illegal cannabis dispensaries. Police across the country have been raiding these stores for months, seizing their profits as well as their cannabis products and arresting employees and owners. Meanwhile, advocates like Abi Roach - Founder of CFBA - argue that dispensaries should be allowed to operate because they offer invaluable service and better products than consumers can get through Health Canada's licensed cannabis producers.
Ultimately, each Canadian province might have the final say over cannabis distribution in their jurisdictions. That means Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne might get her wish to hand cannabis distribution over to the province's liquor stores. But the CFBA hopes the Ontario government will listen to key stakeholders that support the dispensary's business model.
"We encourage the Ontario government to follow the Ontario Chamber of Commerce decision to endorse private storefronts," Campbell told Civilized. "The Federal Task Force Report recommends no co-location of alcohol and cannabis, so having cannabis in the LCBO would directly violate those guidelines."
She added that it might be in Premier Wynne's best interest to support dispensaries if she hopes to win the provincial election on June 7, 2018. "Consumers want independent cannabis storefronts, and CFBA polls found 75 percent of Torontonians supported dispensaries before the raids," Campbell noted. "With provincial elections coming its time for the politicians to listen to what Canadians want legalization to look like."
Will pot busts continue?
Other advocates are criticizing the government for allowing pot busts to continue until legalization takes effect next year. That means Canadians could face jail time, fines and criminal records if they get busted for simple possession. So prominent activists Jodie Emery, who was recently arrested along with her husband Marc for operating a chain of illegal dispensaries across the country, are calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to decriminalize cannabis immediately and to order police to stop making pot busts.
Joining Emery's fight is Kirk Tousaw, a cannabis advocate and attorney who recently helped Canada's medical marijuana patients win the right to grow their medicine at home. In response to reports that legalization would take effect by Canada Day 2018, Tousaw rebuked the government for allowing cannabis arrests to continue.
There are no valid reasons, moral or legal, to continue to enforce the prohibition on simple possession of cannabis. None. @MinJusticeEn— KirkTousaw (@KirkTousaw) March 27, 2017
But it doesn't look like the federal government will soften its position on cannabis arrests. Since winning the federal election in 2015, Prime Minister Trudeau has repeatedly opposed decriminalization.
"If you decriminalize it, you make it easier for kids to access it," Trudeau said in an August 2016 interview with Ben Mulroney of CTV's Your Morning. "Decriminalize it, you continue to have organized crime controlling marijuana. That is counter to why we want to do it. That is why decriminalization has never been interesting to us.”
So prohibition will remain the law of the land until 2018.