Canada Doesn't Need A Plan For Legalization. The Governing Party Already Has One

Prime Minister Justin has offered few details about his plans to legalize cannabis nationwide. We know who will be handling the file, and we know the government wants to keep prices low to combat the black market. But the framework for regulating and restricting access to cannabis remains vague.

However, the Liberals may have already offered us a glimpse into the future. In 2013, the B.C. wing of the Liberal Party of Canada released a policy paper on legalization. The document was a followup from the national party's January 2012 biennial policy convention in Ottawa, where nearly 80 percent of delegates voted in favor of making legalization part of party policy.

The Liberal government obviously isn't bound by the policy prescriptions in this document, but they do show the party has already researched some solutions to questions that have arisen since the election in October.

Here's what legalization could look like according to that paper:

1. What will the age and possession limits be?

The policy paper recommends making the age limits for recreational cannabis the same as alcohol consumption, so Canadians would be able to purchase pot legally once they turn 18 or 19, depending on which province they live in.

Canadians would be allowed to possess up to four ounces of cannabis, which is four times the limit in Colorado, Oregon, Washington. That difference was part of the plan. Smaller limits create more work for law enforcers. And since plants can yield more than an ounce, Canadians who home grow might find themselves being charged simply because their harvest was better than expected.

2. Can we grow pot at home?

Yes, you read that correctly. Canadians would be allowed to grow their own cannabis at home if Trudeau adopts the policy drafted in 2013. Home growing, the policy makers wrote, would likely prevent a black market from developing by giving consumers a legal alternative to retail cannabis.

This would also be part of their strategy to combat the black market by keeping prices low and quality high so that there's no incentive for people to buy outside of the legal framework.

3. Where will weed be sold?

This has become a hot debate in Canada. Many politicians want provincially run liquor stores to handle the marijuana market, but activists argue that independent retailers should handle regulated sales.

The 2013 policy offered a compromise: liquor stores would share the market with specialty private stores. But gas stations and convenience stores would be out of luck: the policymakers didn't think those locations could keep cannabis away from minors.

4. How will we deal with international prohibition treaties?

Early in January 2015, a leaked memo to Prime Minister Trudeau sparked fears that Canada's commitments to three United Nations drug conventions would become roadblocks on the path to legalization.

But the policy analysts in 2013 had anticipated that problem and have offered solutions.

First, Canada is a sovereign nation, which means its elected officials are ultimately responsible for making or revising federal law. Legalization would be a major change, but other countries have liberalized their cannabis laws without repercussions from the U.N.

Second, Canada is not bound to uphold the treaties by international law. According to the policy paper:

"The conventions impose moral obligations on states, not legal ones.There are no penalties or sanctions for violating the conventions other than a public rebuke by some of the signatories."

Third, if the treaties do become major obstacles, the government could withdraw from them:

"Canada has rights to withdraw from these UN conventions, as granted in the articles of each convention - exercisable by written notification to the UN Secretary-General. Withdrawal would take effect one year after the date notification was received."

Lastly, the policy makers say that Canada not only can but should take a stance against the conventions (as they currently stand):

"Canada should lead a movement to amend out-of-date international conventions to reflect changes in medical evidence and international consumption rates. They have been used as an excuse for inaction and regressive thinking for too long."

5. Will people convicted of cannabis offenses get a fresh start?

The paper recommended offering clemency to prisoners, and pardoning and expunging the records of all Canadians found guilty of minor cannabis offenses. That recommendation was missing from the legalization initiatives in Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, and Alaska, where many residents are still haunted with criminal records.


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