What would a Canada with legal weed look like?

What would a Canada with legal weed look like?

With a federal election on the horizon, voters and politicians across Canada are speaking up on what’s sure to be a hot-button issue this election: the decriminalization or legalization of marijuana.The issue is complicated and has its roots in legislation dating back nearly 100 years. But what is decriminalization? What does it mean? And who’s for it?“Legalization includes decriminalization,” says Jodie Emery, noted marijuana reform activist. “And decriminalization is an important step towards legalization.” Emery recently campaigned to run for the federal Liberals in Vancouver East, but was rejected by the party.The concept of legalizing something is pretty self-explanatory: something once was illegal, and is now legal. Think alcohol in the U.S. after prohibition. Decriminalization on the other hand, is a little more complicated.Decriminalization is usually a reflection of shifts in morals and values in society over periods of time. When it comes to decriminalizing marijuana, it implies that as a society, we feel like it’s no longer the “devil weed” we once thought it was. From a practical standpoint though, decriminalization removes criminal status from an action, while still maintaining some level of regulation and penalties. So, you could still be fined for possessing over a certain amount of marijuana, but you won’t be sent to jail, and you won’t have a criminal record.“We want possession charges to be a low priority for police, we want provinces not to enforce this law,” says Dana Larsen, director of Sensible B.C., a non-profit dedicated to ending Canada’s cannabis ban. “Decriminalization would let police stop bothering people who aren’t bothering anyone else, and would pressure the federal government into enacting legalization legislation.”For Larsen and Sensible B.C., decriminalization at a provincial level could be a first step in that direction. Provinces can’t fully legalize marijuana as long as it’s on the federal list of restricted substances, but Larsen believes that Canadians want reform, and he’s not alone.The politicsJustin Trudeau made waves last year when he suggested there be an official system in place for the government regulation and control of pot. The Liberals aren’t the only ones though. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois support decriminalization, but not legalization. Meanwhile, the Conservative party is opposed to all forms of decriminalization, but they might have to change their tune.“If the Harper government is reelected, I think they will look into police ticketing for marijuana possession, their own sort of decriminalization, only because of public and international pressure,” says Emery. “If the Liberals form government, they will legalize marijuana, the question is, what does that mean?”What is legalization?In 2012, the Liberals made it party policy to recommend marijuana legalization. While there’s no current official plan on how to make that happen, Emery says the most important step is to remove cannabis from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. After that, they’ll have to look to other governments for models.“If we had to choose an existing model right now, Colorado is the one being emulated the most,” she says. “And I know the Liberal party has sent people down to check out Colorado as well.”Colorado made recreational marijuana use for adults over the age of 21 completely legal on January 1, 2014, but the Colorado model isn’t perfect. Until recently, banks weren’t allowed to do business with Colorado dispensaries, since the drug wasn’t legalized for recreational use on a nation-wide level. Because the state laws and federal laws don’t mesh, many banks, like J.P. Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, have policies in place not to provide services to marijuana businesses.Legalizing marijuana in Canada at a federal level wouldn’t look like Colorado, if only because we’d be starting the process from the other legal end.What will it look like?If marijuana were legalized tomorrow, not too much would change immediately, says Emery.“The industry won’t exist right away, the stores won’t be there, but taxpayers would benefit immediately,” she says. “Before we’re able to sell pot, or make tax money off of legal pot, the first benefit will be reduced police spending, and Canadians protected from unjust legal penalties.”Larsen believes in something he calls the “wine model,” which isn’t too far off for the kind of theoretical regulation that Trudeau has mentioned in interviews. Essentially, the wine model calls for marijuana to be federally controlled and provincially regulated the same way alcohol and tobacco are.“We would like to see that model, where an adult could go to a store and buy properly labeled, high quality cannabis products,” say Larsen. “If the federal government takes cannabis out of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the provinces would end up having to create legislation for cannabis.”The end result, Larsen says, would be slightly different regulations and sale laws in every province, just like tobacco and alcohol.“Alcohol is legal in Canada, from coast to coast. But each province regulates it the way they choose to, and we should do the same with marijuana,” says Emery. “That way we would have a number of models in place, and over time we could abandon the models that don’t work, improve the ones that do work, and maybe find the best model of them all.”To see what decriminalized or legal marijuana in Canada would look like, you don’t need to look very far. British Columbia has the same federal marijuana prohibition as the rest of the country, but Vancouver police tolerate recreational use, and smoking out in the open is far more common than anywhere else in Canada.“Right now in Vancouver, it looks what California or Colorado might look like,” she says. “There are 50 plus dispensaries, which is shocking to me, but they’re operating without any problems from the city.”Emery says that the dispensaries that do have issues, like selling to underage customers, are addressed by the police.“It’s a perfect model of police and city government allowing activity to continue, because they aren’t causing any harm,” she says. “The concern over lack of regulation of dispensaries falls on the federal government.”Emery says that B.C. is in a grey area. The rest of the province is far more strict than Vancouver when it comes to enforcing marijuana laws, but she thinks that’s changing.“I have a lawyer friend, and he’s hardly getting any calls these days about pot arrests, which is a good sign,” she says. “We’re in a strange time, but Vancouver is a great model that Canada can look at. It does still need improvement, we’re definitely in that grey zone were it’s still a little wink-wink, nudge-nudge.”What about medical marijuana?Legalizing marijuana for medical use has had a long and troubled history in Canada. Since 2000, there have been multiple court cases that have resulted in medical marijuana laws having to be fixed, or government positions having to be altered. The issues mostly stemmed from the fact that the government’s marijuana ban didn’t have an exemption for medical usage, which makes it unconstitutional.One of the primary problems that cropped up was that in 2007, the courts found that there was nothing written in to law that forced the government to supply the medical marijuana they had said they would after writing in the exemption. It turns out that if the government wants to control access to marijuana, they actually have to force themselves by law to do it.These days, marijuana isn’t an approved drug in Canada, despite the Canada College of Physicians having guidelines on how to prescribe it, and the fact that courts require reasonable access to marijuana when a physician authorizes it.“I like the idea of being able to go get your cannabis, if you’re sick or healthy, at the same place,” says Emery. “But I’m pretty certain that with Health Canada, and the new regulations, patients prefer a more health-focused delivery.”Emery says that she thinks the recreational marijuana industry could grow out of Health Canada’s existing medical marijuana system.“The two sectors could operate separately, or the Liberals could let Health Canada expand the current medical system to the adult recreational market,” she says before laughing. “But who knows what will happen.”Source: http://o.canada.com/news/what-would-a-canada-with-legal-weed-look-like

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