Should Canada legalize marijuana?

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Two states in the U.S. have legalized Marijuana – will Canada follow suit? Canada is typically regarded as a nation with fairly liberal policies, but the Canadian government has not yet taken action to legalize this widely used drug.

In November 2012, the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington voted to legalize marijuana. While a policy of this kind is determined individually per state in the U.S., in Canada it would be determined federally, and would be adopted as a national policy.

In Canada, possessing or cultivating marijuana is a criminal offense. The only exception to this rule is using marijuana for medical purposes. This requires a prescription from a physician to treat one of a small list of symptoms, such as nausea from cancer, or seizures from epilepsy.

However, only someone who is truly oblivious would be inclined to believe that marijuana is being used strictly for medical purposes in this country.

Over half of young Canadians can gain access to marijuana in less than ten minutes, and a 2007 survey stated that 8.2 per cent of Canadian youth use the drug on a daily basis. With reference to the overall adult population, 17 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 64 regularly use marijuana for recreational purposes.

Political party stances

Currently in power, the Conservative Party of Canada is not in favour of legalization. In fact, they tried (but failed) to increase the severity of the legal consequences for cultivating or selling marijuana. So long as the Conservative Party remains in power, legalization is not a strong prospect.

On the other hand, the Liberal Party of Canada voted to make legalization a part of their official platform at their biennial convention in January 2012. Also, legalization has been a part of the Green Party of Canada‘s platform since at least 2010. Legalization would come into effect should either party win the next federal election in 2015.

The New Democratic Party is in favour of decriminalization, but not legalization.

But wouldn’t decriminalization necessarily imply legalization? Not quite. There is an important distinction between the two.

Decriminalization

Decriminalization of marijuana would mean that it is not a criminal offense to possess a small amount of the drug, but it would be illegal to sell or purchase a large amount of it.

The policy of decriminalization is largely unclear. Among other problems, discrepancies regarding what would constitute a “small” or “large” amount of the drug would necessarily follow suit. The drug would remain in the black market, and there would be no official regulation or policy regarding it.

The idea behind the policy of decriminalization is to avoid targeting the casual drug user in order to focus police efforts on the larger suppliers. Although this would be beneficial, unless something is done to eliminate the demand for illegal marijuana altogether, it is reasonable to infer that the drug dealers would continue to persist, regardless of the concentrated police efforts.

Legalization

The Liberal Party recommends that under legalization, the price of marijuana be kept 30 to 35 per cent below the street price. This policy would aim to eradicate the organized crime surrounding the sale of this drug by attempting to put the dealers out of business.

The federally regulated and sold marijuana would be kept at a regulated THC level of 11.1 per cent. As a result, not only would it be cheaper, but it would also be much safer than the marijuana that one could purchase illegally.

The Green Party recommends that marijuana be removed from the drug schedule, and suggests that we create a regulatory framework to have small, independent growers safely produce it. They also want to develop a taxation rate for marijuana, similar to tobacco.

Legalization would necessitate a number of set policies surrounding the sale and usage of the drug. For example, in Washington State, the legal age to purchase and use marijuana is 21, and it is only permitted to possess 1oz at a time.

Benefits

A huge benefit for the Canadian government would be the projected $4 billion in tax revenue from the regulated sale of marijuana. Also, if dealers were, in fact, put out of business, organized crime surrounding the sale of marijuana would be reduced significantly, and police efforts could truly be redirected elsewhere.

Of course, if Canada were to legalize marijuana, there are a number of questions that remain unanswered, and potential issues would have to be addressed.

Potential consequences

How much would it cost? Would it be legal to smoke in public or around children? Would legalization spur an international response, or cause issues with cross-border trafficking? Would government-regulated sale truly eradicate the black market? Would the act of legalization have any adverse effects, like causing consumption to increase? Should we retract criminal records for those who were convicted for possession or sale of marijuana in the past?

Although the statistics about marijuana usage in Canada are high enough to be worthy of consideration, much of the population chooses to abstain from the drug for personal reasons. However, whether you regularly, occasionally, or never use this drug, the policies surrounding it will surely have an impact on everyone in the country.

What is your opinion? Should marijuana be legalized or decriminalized? What related policies should be put in to effect?

 

Written and researched by Jenna Hussein, a Political Columnist at Vancity Buzz. Follow Jenna on Twitter at @jennahussein.

 

Image: Cannabis Culture

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Jenna Hussein Political Contributor at Vancity Buzz. Vancouverite, undergrad student in Southern California, currently lives in Washington, D.C.
@jennahussein

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