OTTAWA – Legislation to legalize marijuana in Canada will be introduced in the spring of 2017, said Federal Health Minister, Jane Philpott, last Wednesday in a media conference.
Minister Philpott made the announcement while in New York where she is leading the Canadian delegation to the United Nations General Assembly special session on drugs.
“I am proud to stand up for our drug policy that is informed by solid scientific evidence and uses a lens of public health to maximize education and minimize harm,” she said. “As a doctor, who has worked both in Canada and sub-Saharan Africa, I have seen too many people suffer the devastating consequences of drugs, drug-related crime and ill-conceived drug policy. Fortunately, solutions are within our grasp.”
Although that will put Canada at odds with a few current international agreements on drugs, who are vigorously fighting legalizing marijuana, Philpott believes Canada’s approach is reasonable and fair and Canada’s government is convinced it is the best way to protect the youth and enhance public safety.
Studies have shown that rather than being what used to be treated as a “gateway drug” leading to much more dangerous street drugs and prescription drugs, legalizing pot could serve to prevent young people especially from becoming involved with the illegal, hard drug trade.
Philpott talked of the heartbreak of a mother who lost her daughter due to substance abuse.
“She described watching her daughter slip away as she struggled to access the treatment and services that should have been available to save a beautiful, fragile life,” Philpott said.
“Stories like this are far too commonplace. Countless lives are cut short due to overdoses of licit and illicit substances. Today, I stand before you as Canada’s minister of health to acknowledge that we must do better for our citizens.”
Arresting people and putting them in jail has been past practice in Canada and elsewhere, but close studies of the social impact of legalized marijuana, including in the states of Colorado and Washington, have indicated the many of the fears associated with legalized pot just did not occur and fewer people are going to jail and getting a police record for marijuana use.
Ironically, or maybe not, the date of April 20, the annual day of celebration for cannabis users, also known as 4-20 was chosen as the target date for Ottawa’s 2017 announcement.
“I would like to see a quicker route of action, but I’m pleased to hear of any news really that means we will be getting to a better place for all with respect to cannabis prohibition,” said David-George Oldham, the founder of a medicinal marijuana advocacy group.
“We can have regulations that finally make sense for once.”
Getting ready for that announcement will include putting important regulations and checks and balances in place, but Canada is determined under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, to decriminalize the plant and embrace its medical benefits instead.
A task force will be led by Liberal MP and former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to look into designing such a system. A Health Canada secretariat will support the group.
Canada is not the only country in the world changing its stance on pot.
In 2001, Portugal, became one of the first countries to decriminalize marijuana. Their law reads: The personal consumption of cannabis is limited in the range of 0.5 grams hashish, 2.5 grams marijuana, and 0.25 of hash oil per day. An individual is not allowed to possess more than 10 daily doses; any excess is treated as trafficking. The cultivation of cannabis or possession of seeds is completely illegal.
Uruguay presently stands as the most open country to marijuana legalization. In that possession, sale, transport, and growing are all legal with few restrictions. The Uruguayan law and governments do not treat the user or consumer as the problem and consumption of cannabis is legal and not criminalized under laws of the land. However, traffic, distribution, and production of cannabis are prohibited.