Smoking a cigarette is not a good idea – but unfortunately, Canadian officials consider that a separate, unmet need for cannabis.
For years, the government of Canada allowed people to possess and share marijuana, which they could then smoke legally. After a 1996 Supreme Court ruling, the government began implementing a separate law, classifying marijuana as a drug for medical use only.
Federal law prevents adults from using marijuana, but about eight in 10 Canadians say they are against making it illegal for individuals to consume it, according to polling by EKOS for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Among those who actually smoke marijuana on a regular basis, the results are similarly discouraging, with about 80 percent of them saying that prohibition will fail to keep marijuana away from minors.
But legalization and laws prohibiting the commercialization of recreational marijuana are expected to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue, and a new law in Quebec is expected to tax the new industry as well.
When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced his new legislation in Parliament last November, there was much expectation for the prime minister to succeed in bringing an end to the nation’s 50-year prohibition of marijuana. But Trudeau had one big problem: his own government’s members of Parliament objected to his plans.
Trudeau wanted to allow recreational use of marijuana – but not too many sales for adults. He wanted the tax revenues to cover legal costs and to reduce the potential social costs of legal pot. Trudeau had to consider the view of his own party members, but also did not want to come across as too pro-pot, fearing that he would be unable to maintain his job.
“We’re doing this because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” Trudeau said to reporters, according to the Ottawa Citizen.
At the same time, Trudeau had to contend with Quebec, the nation’s largest province and home to a sizable number of Francophones. The province and its provincial government did not support legalization.
“The ban imposed by the previous Liberal government does not protect our youth or our health, and we should not allow this to happen to the Quebecers’ initiative,” the chief minister of Quebec, François Legault, wrote to Trudeau and the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
For Trudeau, this meant an about-face. He abandoned his plan to legalize marijuana, and with it, any hopes of taxation for the government. And he abandoned a broader social plan, which had included making pot legal for those of all ages. Trudeau said he would allow people to “implement personal acts of cannabis consumption.”
Before Trudeau made his decision, the mayor of Toronto – known as “the people’s mayor” – was heavily involved. Then-police chief Mark Saunders had warned Mayor John Tory that a ban would increase police costs, distract officers from serious crimes and lead to impaired driving. Tory campaigned on maintaining an open-door policy for people to smoke weed at city hall.
Still, he did not make a decision during his term. (His current term will end in February 2021.)
Despite his disappointing decision, Trudeau can take comfort in knowing that people support his plans to legalize marijuana. In May, a coalition of public safety and social justice organizations, including Public Citizen, SumofUs, Drug Policy Alliance, West Coast Action on Health and Justice, Interlock Project and the Sisters of Erma’s, released a letter to Trudeau urging him to legalize marijuana, saying there was no reason to make it a crime to use it.
They argued that marijuana has harmful consequences for the development of children and adolescents, is addictive and often leads to violence.