Canadians waiting for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to follow through on his promise to legalize marijuana have to keep holding their breath. Prohibition will reign in Canada for now and the foreseeable future.
"The laws haven't changed yet," Trudeau said during a Mar. 1 interview with Vancouver's News 1130. "Pot is still illegal in this country and will be until we bring in a strong regulatory framework."
That's disappointing news to activists, advocates and politicians rallying around a petition to decriminalize marijuana immediately. The online call to action, which was created on Feb. 10, called on the government to decriminalize cannabis immediately, and fully legalize it within a year. So far, nearly 8,000 Canadians have signed the petition, which was sponsored by Green Party leader Elizabeth May.
But the prime minister has made it clear that he doesn't support the motion:
"I think decriminalization is a bad idea," says Justin Trudeau, "because it doesn't do anything to make it more difficult for young people to access it and it doesn't do anything in terms of keeping the black market and the criminal organizations from profiting from it. That's why I believe in control and regulation that actually will do the protection of public safety and of minors that we need. And in the meantime, it's still illegal."
The prime minister's comments come on the heels of similar remarks from his point-man on cannabis. On Feb. 27, Bill Blair - the former Toronto police chief and current parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice - told CBC that criminalization has to stay in place for now to keep communities safe. He also wants cops across the country to uphold the law consistently:
"I think it's really important that we continue to use the tools that are available to us to keep our communities safe," says Bill Blair. "The only control that is currently in place is the criminal sanction and the laws...those laws must continue to be respected and upheld right across the country."
The Liberal's position may be unpopular in pro-legalization circles, but it is consistent. The Liberals have opposed decriminalization as far back as 2013, when a policy paper drafted by the British Columbia wing of the federal party outlined why the Liberals want to legalize marijuana:
"Decriminalization of small amounts would lead to a system where it is legal to possess but not supply. Without legalizing production, sale and consumption together, organized crime will continue to meet the market demand and law enforcement agencies and health care professionals will remain in limbo."
So even though Trudeau has repeatedly criticized prohibition as a failed system that didn't protect children or the public, he'll be sticking with it while the government irons out legalization. What that will look like, and how long the process will take, is still unknown.
But one expert suggests that to get the sort of tight regulations and restrictions that the government wants, legalization is at least two or three years away.
"There are questions of distribution, regulation, the medical profession is going to weigh in. We don't have much precedence for legalizing," says Nelson Wiseman, a political scientist from the University of Toronto. "Before there was prohibition, and before they did away with prohibition, alcohol had been legal. People had been drinking it. We haven't had a situation in Canada where marijuana has been legal."
So the majority of Canadians who support legalization will have to be patient as the government charts new territory in Canadian law.
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