Canada legalised recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018

Canada has become the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalise the possession and use of recreational cannabis. Medical marijuana was made legal in the Canada in 2001.

How ready is Canada for legal cannabis?

The Canadian provinces and municipalities, which are responsible for setting out where cannabis can be bought and consumed, have been preparing for months for the legalisation of cannabis. But there are still many unanswered questions on some key issues around how legal cannabis will work in Canada.

A number of analysts predicted a shortage of recreational marijuana in the first year of legalisation as the production and licensing ramps up to meet demand.

Ontario, Canada’s most populated province, will not begin opening retail stores next spring, although its residents will be able to order cannabis online. Until retail locations across the country are more widely available, some unlicensed cannabis retailers, which have flourished in the years since the law was first proposed, may stay open and it is unclear if the police will crack down on these, or turn a blind eye.

What’s at stake?

Legal pot has been an inescapable topic for months in Canada, as governments and companies prepared in earnest for October 17, 2018. But this is not just a domestic affair.

With global trends shifting away from a strict prohibition of cannabis, the world will be watching this national experiment in drug liberalisation. If the outcomes are positive, other countries might just be more willing to follow suit and also legalise cannabis.

A measure of the success of the legalisation of cannabis will depend on whether it meets Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s stated goals: restricting access of the drug to young people, who are among the heaviest users in Canada, reducing the burden of cannabis laws on the justice system, and undercutting the illicit market for cannabis.

Why is Canada legalising cannabis?

Legalisation fulfils a 2015 campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the leader of the governing Liberal Party. He argued that Canada’s nearly century-old laws criminalising the use of the drug had been ineffective, given that Canadians are among the world’s heaviest users.

He said the new law will try to keep drugs out of the hands of minors and profits out of the hands of criminals.

The Canadian federal government also predicted that it woul raise $400m a year in tax revenues on the sale of cannabis.

What is the legal situation elsewhere?

Canada followed Uruguay, which became the first country in the world to legalise the sale of cannabis for recreational use in 2013.  Nine US states have legalised the recreational use of marijuana, while many more allow its use on medical grounds

South Africa’s highest court legalised the use of cannabis by adults in private places in September 2018, although the sale of the drug remained a crime.

Medical marijuana is also gaining ground in many European countries. Portugal and the Netherlands have decriminalised the drug.

In April, Zimbabwe became the second country in Africa, after Lesotho, to legalise the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

What are the new rules around cannabis?

Adults can now buy cannabis oil, seeds and plants and dried cannabis from licensed producers and retailers and can possess up to 30 grams (one ounce) of dried cannabis in public.

Cannabis-infused foods, were not immediately available for purchase but will be within a year of the bill coming into force. The delay was to give the government time to set out specific regulations for these products.

What are the concerns?

The Canadian Medical Association Journal published an editorial calling legalisation “a national, uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians”.

Canada brought in new drug impaired driving offences, but there are doubts about the reliability of the screening technology and the potential for drugged driving cases to clog up the courts.

The Canadian government announced they will present legislation intended to fast-track pardon applications of people who have been convicted of possession under 30g (one ounce). There are currently some 500,000 Canadians with existing criminal records for possession.

The change in Canadian drug policy also created headaches with the USA, where the drug remains federally a controlled substance. But Canada rolled out signs at all airports and border crossings to warn travellers that crossing international borders with the drug would remain illegal.

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