Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana in Canada, but the harsh language of the new legislation might be a buzzkill for the country's cannabis advocates. The cannabis bills introduced today will impose "significant penalties" for anyone who breaks Canada's new marijuana rules.
But let's start with the bright side. Prime Minister Trudeau's cannabis legislation would allow adults 18 or over to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in public. They can also share cannabis with each other or buy it as well as cannabis oil and other cannabis products from retailers regulated by Canada's provinces and territories.
Canadians would also be allowed to grow up to four plants at home for personal use. That's four per resident, not per residence. So a home with two adults could grow up to eight plants. And they can craft their own cannabis products at home.
So far so good, right? Well, let's get to the penalties outlined in the bill. The toughest penalty by far the 14-year prison sentence Canadians could face for providing marijuana to minors. And anyone who creates cannabis products that appeal to youths or promotes cannabis products to minors can face up to three years in jail and a fine of $5-million dollars.
So if you had any ideas of creating THC-infused gummies shaped like SpongeBob SquarePants, think again. And don't get any ideas about shipping legal cannabis to America or elsewhere in the world. The government's new legislation would uphold the current ban on exporting marijuana from or importing cannabis into Canada.
The government promised to be similarly severe with drugged drivers. Anyone caught driving with prohibited levels of THC in their blood would face punishment. And the government promised to take a "zero-tolerance approach" to drug-impaired driving.
Legislators Promise Tough Regulations
If those regulations seem a bit harsh, it's because they're supposed to be. "It is not our intent to promote the use of this drug," Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair said during a press conference following the introduction of the legislation. "We want to permit more healthful and socially responsible use."
In other words, they don't care if their bills are buzzkills. The purpose of legalization - Blair stressed repeatedly - is to keep cannabis away from kids, and to keep profits from selling marijuana away from organized crime.
"I have spent most of my adult life protecting communities and keeping children safe," said Blair, a retired Toronto police chief. "I know that our country has some of the highest cannabis use rates in the world," he added, noting that an estimated 21 percent of Canadian youths and 30 percent of Canadian adults are illegally using cannabis right now.
"Criminal prohibition," according to Blair, "has failed to protect our kids and our communities."
Secretary Blair was joined at the conference by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Health Minister Jane Philpott, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Health Minister Jane Philpott, who stressed that the bill was about public health not commerce. The government hopes to profit from legalization by keeping kids and communities safe, not by reaping tax revenues.
"It’s not just about taking action on illegal cannabis markets," Minister Philpott said. "It’s also about protecting the health of Canadians, and most importantly, the health of our youth....It also restricts the advertising and promotion of cannabis so that it doesn’t appeal to youth. That is because cannabis is not without risk….Youth are particularly susceptible to the risks of cannabis," she added, due to the impact it could have on the developing brain. "Yet youth are also less likely than adults to see cannabis use as a risk to their health."
So the government plans to combat that misconception by investing revenue from the cannabis industry into public health campaigns.
To Philpott's right sat Minister Wilson-Raybould, who stressed the importance of keeping Canada's roads safe with the legislation's penalties for drug-impaired driving and new rules for drunk driving.
"Driving while impaired by drugs or alcohol is a major contributor to fatal road crashes in Canada," she said, noting that the new rules and charges for drugged-driving would help police pull more impaired drivers off the roads.
Minister Goodale spoke last, and like his colleagues, his message was full of stern warnings. While the new legislation is revised, "existing laws prohibiting use and sale of cannabis remain in place and need to be respected," he said.
So cannabis busts will continue until the legalization regime is in place.
The government is committed to staying on schedule with legalizing cannabis by Canada Day (July 1) 2018.
"The current system of prohibition is failing our community and failing our kids and putting our communities at risk as people are using products that are untested and unsafe," Blair said. "We all have an obligation to address the deficiencies in the current system as quickly as possible. We can’t drag our feet."
Commentators and Activists Offer Mixed Reviews
Canada's recreational cannabis legislation isn't a day old yet, but it already has a slew of critics. Some journalists were alarmed that a legalization bill would include so many new offences and tough punishments.
Expressions of surprise were heard in the press theatre when the 14-year penalty for making cannabis available to youths was announced.— Paul Wells (@InklessPW) April 13, 2017
And the overall language of the bills were harsh.
Actual quotes from the news release: "Strictly... Restricted... Crack down... Strictly... Restrict... Strict... Significant penalties...'— Paul Wells (@InklessPW) April 13, 2017
(cont'd) "... Strictly... Zero tolerance... Dangers... Strictly... Restrict... Stop criminals... Strictly... Punish more severely... Deaths"— Paul Wells (@InklessPW) April 13, 2017
So the bill is already being labeled the 'no-fun law of 2017' by some reporters.
Nobody may have any fun at any point. You have been warned. pic.twitter.com/lgkhhuDBMC— Paul Wells (@InklessPW) April 13, 2017
Meanwhile, longterm activists like Jodie Emery - Canada's 'princess of pot' - expressed outrage and dismay at the legislation's specs.
How is this "legalization"? Harsher penalties? ✔️ Continued possession/growing arrests? ✔️ Police budgets intact? ✔️ No pardons? ✔️ #cdnpoli— Jodie Emery (@JodieEmery) April 13, 2017
This is BAD "LEGALIZATION".— Jodie Emery (@JodieEmery) April 13, 2017
This is not the end of marijuana prohibition. This is Prohibition 2.0
Criminalization continues... 😒
But the legislation got much better reviews south of the border, where activists envied Canada's progress toward repealing prohibition, which seems further away than ever for Trump's America.
“While the Canadian government is moving in the direction of legalization and regulation, the Trump Administration and Attorney General Jeff Sessions seem more intent on reviving outdated and erroneous Drug War rhetoric than allowing science and facts to dictate public policy," Erik Altieri - Executive Director of NORML - wrote in a press release. "The United States should follow Canada’s example and end our own costly and disastrous prohibition on marijuana.”
So Canadian activists might want to take heart. Strict regulation is still better than prohibition.