Canada is set to become the first G20 country to legalize marijuana in a piece of sweeping legislation that could see weed legal by the weekend.
During the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party promised to introduce a vote on legalization. Now, after years of quiet study and debate, the Canadian Senate is set to vote on Bill C-45 on Thursday, following six months of review.
If passed, as it is expected, the bill will then go back to the Canadian House of Commons. Parliament already passed their version of C-45, but they need to review any amendments which the Senate has added. If everyone agrees, the bill will then receive Royal Assent and become the official law of the land.
While plenty of states around the world have decriminalized marijuana — including the Netherlands, Colombia, Spain, and Australia — up to now, only Uruguay has fully legalized it.
But don’t go planning a road trip to our polite northern neighbors quite yet. It will take up to three months for recreational marijuana to go on sale. The new regulations would allow those 18 and older to buy weed from regulated stores, as well as grow small amounts at home. At the same time, Canada wants to set aggressive targets to bring down teen marijuana use and tax weed sellers — but at a standard low enough to undercut the black market.
Each of Canada’s 10 provinces plans on implementing the policy in slightly different ways, in effect creating a massive petri dish for other countries to look at. For example, Alberta will have private retailers selling marijuana, but in Ontario it will only be available at state-run shops. New Brunswick will go a step further, requiring users to store marijuana in a locked container — presumably to make sure the unsuspecting don’t consume too much weed and freak out a la Maureen Dowd.
“It’s going to be a bit of science fiction experience for a while,” Benedikt Fischer, a Toronto-based substance abuse expert, told the Guardian. “It’s happening for the first time in a wealthy country. It’s not like in the U.S., where there are these state experiments. Most people kind of ignore Uruguay. And so the world is really looking at this.”
However while Canada’s upcoming legalization is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, some pressing concerns remains. For starters, there is no decision yet on whether those who have been previously incarcerated for marijuana offences — who are disproportionately black and indigenous — will now be granted amnesty or not. In January, the government said that it was “weighing all of the legal implications”, but has yet to reach a decision.
“We’re in the midst of a major change here,” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said. “I think the responsible thing is to do the analysis, seek where the unfairnesses are and take the appropriate steps to correct those problems, but you need to do it in an orderly way.”
There are also concerns as to whether a full-blown legalization will see weed — which is already a market worth more than $5.5 billion in Canada — increasingly corporatized at the expense of the pot counterculture. In both the United States and Canada, the weed industry has seen an influx of former politicians looking to cash in on its increasing popularity.
In Canada, a former Toronto police chief who was “completely opposed” to its legalization has joined a pro-legalization “health network.” In the United States, former Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner now sits on the board of Acreage Holdings, a company which specializes in cannabis investment. Meanwhile, part of the new Canadian legalization law stipulates that marijuana growing companies must disclose foreign owners in a bid to ensure offshore cash isn’t invested in the market.
In the grand scheme of things, rich old white dudes deciding they want to invest in marijuana now that it seems marketable isn’t that bad — after all, you need a powerful lobby in order to advocate for positive legalization, both in Canada and the United States. It does, however, seem a bit ridiculous that after more than half a century of advocating the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, those same rich old white dudes are now the ones poised to make money off legalization.
“It’s not legalization, it’s monopolization, if they’re just making it legal for them to sell it and making it extra illegal for everyone else to sell it,” Ian Campeau, an indigenous Canadian musician formerly with the group a Tribe Called Red, told VICE. “It’s policies being made by people who haven’t smoked weed.”