Canada’s Decision to Legalize Recreational Cannabis Places Them Center Stage in World News

Written by: Vanessa Benoit

Once a country only talked about for its “bacon,” Canada is no longer the neutral country intent on staying out of controversial affairs. In fact, Prime Minister Trudeau appears to be in the habit of taking stances that land Canada in the hands of journalists across the globe. Most recently, they were covered by the New York Times, who reported that Canada plans to completely decriminalize the recreational use of cannabis. The bill is fully expected to pass and when it does, Canada will be the second country, behind Uruguay, to fully legalize cannabis as a consumer product, much like alcohol and cigarettes.

The country already has a medical marijuana system in place. But there are obstacles that can prevent patients from getting their hands on their medication. Arguably, this bill should create greater ease for them.

Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, is Trudeau’s appointed lawmaker in charge of managing the new legislation.  At a news conference, he stated that legal sales would hopefully begin by the middle of 2018.  “Criminal prohibition has failed to protect our kids and our communities,” he said.  He also stated “It is not our intent to promote the use of this drug . . . Too many of our kids currently have access to cannabis.” [Ian Austen, Trudeau Unveils Bill Legalizing Recreational Marijuana in Canada. New York Times. Published April 13,2017]. It is evident that Canada is seeing “the War on Drugs” as a failed experiment.     

Changes to Expect

There’s a list of things we can expect from this new legalization:

  1. The federal government will license and regulate cannabis growers.
  2. Canada’s provinces must decide on their own how the drug can be sold and distributed within their own provinces. 
  3. Marijuana equivalents of breathalyzers will be developed and implemented to ensure drivers aren’t driving under the influence.      
  4. Purchasers must be at least 18 years old, although different provinces are allowed to set higher age minimums.  Many medical experts advise against using recreational cannabis under the age of 25. 
  5. A person may only carry a maximum of 30 grams (roughly an ounce) at any one time.
  6. Households can grow up to 4 marijuana plants.
  7. Producing and distributing marijuana outside of government regulation will be considered a criminal offense.

New Testing Laws

Details on how marijuana will be handled in the workplace and behind the wheel still need to be ironed out. For example, it is still unclear what level of THC is considered too much for a person to drive or operate machinery without impairment.  But several police forces are already testing two different types of screening devices that can detect THC, among other drugs, in saliva.  There’s also a problem with the shortage of officers trained by a Drug Recognition Expert or DRE.  It is estimated that between 1,800 and 2,000 DRE officers are needed for this upcoming legislation, but Canada has fewer than 600.  [Joanne Laucius. With marijuana legalization, a new problem sprouts: How to test for high drivers. Ottawa Citizen. Published February 4, 2017] 

In the workplace, it is clear that special accommodations will be needed for those who are using marijuana medically and those accommodations likely won’t apply to those who use it recreationally.  As policies for workplace drug testing are being ironed out, Labour Minister Patricia Hadju has said that the government is working closely with provinces to “come up with a framework that will address substance abuse at work.”  But so far, that discussion has been very broad.  Meanwhile, a Calgary-based oil-and-gas safety group, Enform, wants there to be a prohibition of marijuana use on the job for employees in safety-sensitive workplaces.  They also want there to be a predetermined period that a person must be sober before showing up on the job.  And lastly, Enform is calling for an expert panel that can examine and determine effective ways to measure marijuana impairment.  [Dean Beeby. Employers want Ottawa’s help to deal with marijuana-smoking workers. CBC News. Published on March 15,2017]      

Pesticides

Pesticide regulation is also seeing an upgrade in Canada, at least for medicinal cannabis.  It used to be that medical marijuana growers only had their crop tested for heavy metals, mold, and harmful bacteria; they were expected to regulate and maintain themselves in their pesticide use.  But Health Canada, which oversees 43 different producers of medicinal cannabis, is now going to require pesticide testing. That requirement started after a plant from Peace Naturals Project Inc. tested positive for a pesticide ingredient that is not approved for use on cannabis.  Health Canada says that this is necessary to “ensure that Canadians can continue to have confidence in obtaining safe, quality-controlled medical cannabis.”  

A handful of class-action lawsuits are underway for patients who fell ill from tainted marijuana.  There are only 17 pesticides sanctioned for use on any cannabis crop.  Health Canada wants to ensure that all producers are complying with that approved list, even if tainted marijuana was due to an accident of cross-contamination.  [Jacquie Miller. Health Canada orders medical marijuana growers to test for banned pesticides. Ottawa Sun. Published on May 6, 2017]     

Patient Access

Patient access will be considerably increased since there will be a higher volume of local cannabis distributors.  However, considering that medical patients are often looking for a specific strain or THC to CBD ratio, they might end up wanting to stick with distributors that are growing cannabis with medical patient needs in mind.  It is unlikely that edibles will be available commercially but you are permitted to make them within your home.  And if a regulated retailer is not within your province, you will be able to order online, from federally licensed producers, and have your product delivered safely to your residence.  All things considered, we can probably expect to see a mixture of recreational users as well as medicinal users showing up in the door of these new retailers.  And the ability to shop online should considerably increase patient access. [Tania Kohut. Here’s how you will buy pot once it’s legalized in Canada. Global News. Published on April 13, 2017]    

It Will Be Fascinating for the World to Watch…

Considering that Canada is breaking some new ground for legalized cannabis, they will likely set the stage for the do’s and don’ts that other countries will want to adopt, should they also decide to legalize marijuana as a consumer good.  Politicians and activists alike will want to watch closely to see where Canada comes up short and where it excels, as this new legislation comes to pass. Fortunately, a lot of the important concerns with legal marijuana are already being discussed and addressed ahead of time.

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