A Law Student’s Ponderings about the Legalization of Marijuana:
The potential of legalization of marijuana is something that has been a very heated topic in Canada. Canada was divided. One side saw marijuana as a gateway drug and with it legalized, people would use it to transition to other drugs. Others argued that if the government can legalize and regulate it, it would be better to protect the health and safety of those already smoking it. The latter succeeded when Justin Trudeau of the liberals took federal office in the fall of 2015 on a platform of legalizing marijuana. In light of a recent announcement from the federal government that marijuana will be legalized officially on July 1 of 2018 and a release of details about the new legislation being drafted, there are several considerations that come to mind.
While others are generally looking forward to being able to smoke marijuana once it is legalized, as a law student, I am looking forward to seeing the legislation that is put in place, and the offences and criminal cases that will come from this. I wonder what kind of new regulatory or criminal offences the police and other criminal justice enforcement agencies, as well as lawyers will be tasked with having to investigate, charge, prosecute and defend. An article from Global News as well as the government website asserts that selling a marijuana to a minor will become a new offence, as well as possession over the limit and illegal distribution with penalties ranging from a citation to 14 years in jail. Such a wide range of penalties will lead to police and the Crown exercising considerable discretion..
There will also be new laws put in place that govern police powers when they pull over people that are driving. Where it is easier for police officers to sense if people are intoxicated by alcohol and a test can be easily done with a breathalyzer, with marijuana becoming legal, new challenges will be posed. How reliable is the test that a police officer will use to determine if someone is impaired by marijuana? Perhaps this is a legal issue the government has been pondering and why they set a July legalization date as opposed to legalizing it on the popular 4/20 date in April.
I can smell the potential Charter infringement cases a mile away. There is no way to actively test for levels of drug impairment that don’t involve some sort of interference with the body- it is not as easy as breathing into a machine. Furthermore, will these even be able to give an accurate depiction of “how high” someone is? Which raises another question about what the legal limit will be. What will the .08 of marijuana be?
It will also be very interesting to see how Canada’s social climate in regards to drug related offences and charges shift in the year following the legalization of marijuana. Will there be designated areas for smoking marijuana in public places, like smoking pits? After a long day at the office, or at the court house, will co-workers and colleagues not go for a beer, but a smoke instead? Will the societal stigma on marijuana-users as being “lazy” or “unproductive” change with legalization?
This sweeping change to Canada will bring with it a ripple effect that will alter aspects of daily life, whether we realize it or not. I am personally looking forward to seeing how the legal and criminal justice landscape is affected by and mobilized in the aftermath of legalization. July 1, 2018 could not come sooner.