Cannabis Legalization: Is it a practical approach?
This October, Canada celebrated their one-year anniversary of the legalization of Cannabis. Although the long anticipated legalization was met with great acceptance, there was a portion of the population who still maintained mixed feelings regarding the new statute.
It turns out the possibility of legalization was not just a campaign ploy by Justin Trudeau to attract the attention of disengaged voters. The Prime Minister legalized recreational Cannabis in October 2018 in an attempt to tackle the war on drugs, leaving many of us wondering the same thing; is it really worth it?
As with many Government regulated substances, there comes a copious amount of rules and regulations. Some view Canada’s decision to legalize the substance as a practical tactic to combat the war on drugs. Historically, if the Government is able to regulate a banned substance, there seems to be a smaller black market for illegal activity and smuggling. The Government is then able to profit from recreational drug use, while still being able to strictly regulate the methods and activities relating to the drug itself.
But, there has been a vast amount of backlash from the Canadian population in regards to the laws surrounding the possession of recreational Cannabis. Take for example, the Government’s ban on selling edible marijuana. Although now legalized, the edibles were banned for a year, post legalization, which means those who wish to enjoy the magical highs of cannabis, could only do so by smoking and inhaling. I recognize that this decision attempted to reduce the enticing appeal to children, but it put many individuals at a disadvantage, those who longed for the high but disliked the taste or process of smoking the herb itself. Sure one could attempt their own pot brownies at home, but assuming they will turn out as well as the pre-made ones is a bit of a stretch.
Not only are the rules for purchasing marijuana strict, but as are the rules for growing the plant itself. In many provinces, one may possess up to 4 plants in their home dwelling. That being said, you are not allowed to have a budding plant in public. According to an article published by CTV news, if one is caught in public, even just transporting a flowering or budding plant, they can face up to five years in prison. Then there stems the issue of smoking in public. Many assumed that when Cannabis became legal, it would be similar to the legislation regulating tobacco, and although smoking tobacco in public areas has become more restricted, it is still allowed in parks, and one can casually walk down the street smoking a cigarette. The same cannot be said about marijuana in all provinces.
Regulations vary across Canadian jurisdictions, but it seems as though Manitoba faces some of the more constrictive rules. In Manitoba, you can only smoke marijuana in a private dwelling, which means your ideal Sunday afternoon stoned in the park is going to be a bit more of a hassle to accomplish. In addition to the ban on smoking in public, Manitoba is the only province in Canada where you cannot grow or possess your own plants. Originally Quebec had banned the ability for one to posses their own plants in their home, but as of late, the legislation has adapted to allow for personal possession of up to 4 plants.
With the promise of legalization, many believed we would be living an easy-going life, smoking marijuana as carelessly and freely as we wanted to. But that is not necessarily the case. By implementing strict regulations and pairing with them outrageous penal sanctions, its almost as though smoking just isn’t worth the risk. For example, in Manitoba, the fine for smoking cannabis in public is $672, compared to the fine for consuming tobacco of $237. Both are legalized drugs, and both regulated by the Government, but one comes with a much more serious set of penalties and restrictions. One may argue that these sanctions are a display of what Richard Jochelson terms “authoritarian policing”, meaning the police are now shifting from victim-based crime, to a method of policing victim-less crimes, and focusing their efforts on patrolling possession crimes to prevent threats to the community. Jochelson and colleagues in “The Disappearance of Criminal Law” argue that policing has adapted from a focus on actual harm done to victims, to a more future harms-based policing of possession, primarily to combat threats to society. Although a valuable strategy to target issues that may actually pose a risk to society, is the threat of Cannabis to society so great, that it merits a near $700 fine for smoking in public, or a 5-year jail sentence for possessing a budding plant in public? As Karen Busby stated, it is not a criminal offence, but the provincial offence carries with it the same effect as one.
I recognize that Parliament’s attempt to regulate cannabis is a combat tactic against the war on drugs, and is an attempt to eliminate illegal activity surrounding the drug itself, as well as it’s damaging method of illegal production and distribution. But the restrictive orders surrounding legalization make it feel as though the drug isn’t really legalized, but rather provides the authorities with a platform for increased surveillance and harsh penalties for those who are just trying to enjoy the beneficial highs of the glorious MaryJane. The aforementioned restrictions, paired with the increased price on a single legalized gram of marijuana from a dispensary, and the inability to purchase condensed oils and edibles, (and not to mention the insane amount of plastic packaging that comes with a single legalized purchase), run the risk of deterring people from purchasing their drugs legally. This in turn results in an increased desire for the use of black market marijuana, which is counterintuitive to the original goal of the legislation in the first place. Although the Cannabis Act has come a long way in satisfying some stoners across Canada, I believe it has a long way to go in order to be effective against the war on drugs.
Daniel Leblanc & Mike Hager, “Canada’s Marijuana Legalization Plan Designed to Reduce Criminal Role in Market”, The Globe and Mail (13 April 2017), online: <www.theglobeandmail.com> [perma.cc/U5EM-DVEY].
Jackie Dunham, “10 Things that are Still Illegal after Pot Legalization” (18 October 2018), online: CTV News
Jackie Dunham, “Pot Legalization is Here: The Rules You Need to Know” (18 October 2018), online: CTV News <www.ctvnews.ca> [perma.cc/5389-2MCC].
Richard Jochelson, Kirsten Kramar & Mark Doerksen, The Disappearance of Criminal Law: Police Powers and the Supreme Court (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2014) at 9.
Jill Coubrough, “Planning to Plant Pot? Manitoba Laws Come with Real consequences, Lawyer Says” (22 June 2018), online: CBC News <cbc.ca> [perma.cc/H8M2-N68T].