Canada just went green.
On Wednesday, the country became the first major world economy to legalize recreational marijuana, beginning a national experiment that will largely change the country’s social, cultural and economic norms – presenting the nation with it’s biggest public policy challenge in decades. Canada is only the second country in the world — and the first G7 nation– to allow a nationwide marijuana market. In December 2013, Uruguay was the first country to legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana.
Across the country, as government pot retailers opened from Newfoundland to British Columbia, anxious Canadians waited for hours in line to buy the first state-approved joints. For many, it was a moment similar to the ending of Prohibition in the United States in the 1930s.
“Our Plan To Legalize Marijuana Just Passed The Senate”
Under Canada’s new federal cannabis act, adults will be allowed to possess, carry and share with other adults up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, enough to roll roughly 60 regular-size joints. They will also be permitted a maximum of four homegrown marijuana plants per household in most provinces.
The Canadian legislation, known as the Cannabis Act, stems from a campaign pledge of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to keep marijuana away from underage users and curb marijuana-related crime.
It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate. #PromiseKept
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 20, 2018
What We’re Not Talking About
While the country will provide the biggest test to the rest of the world whether legalization is ultimately successful, the new law could prove immensely challenging. The fact that it’s even possible to become dependent on cannabis may come as a surprise to many, especially young people. A survey conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), published last year, found that a majority of youth were unaware that cannabis can be addictive and lead to withdrawal symptoms.
Some health care professionals in Canada have said they are afraid of the consequences of legalizing marijuana due to it’s addictive properties. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders sets out a definition for cannabis dependence, including a strong desire to use marijuana, unsuccessful attempts to cut back and failure to fulfill obligations at work, school or home as a result. And the legalization will soon present itself to the government, it’s clear they’re willing to take on the challenge.
Marijuana use among young people has declined over the past few years, but Canada still has one of the highest rates in the developed world. Youth are better able to list what they consider to be the benefits of cannabis than the harms. Additionally, while the country has jumped to legalization, doctors fear the risks of marijuana are still not well understood, and that this ignorance could carry widespread consequences.
“I already treat kids who are dealing with the harmful effects of marijuana,” says Sharon Burey, a pediatrician in Windsor, Ont., and vice-president of the Pediatricians Alliance of Ontario in an interview earlier this year. “I’m alarmed at what is happening now, and what may happen after July 1.” The concern is that legalizing marijuana ends up normalizing it, leading to increased use.
Unforeseen Costs To The Public
The thriving market for marijuana is proof that prohibition has done little to prohibit Canadians from using the drug. However while doctors may have a large voice educating the public on the harmful effects of the drug, Marijuana advocates play up the safety of the drug as well as it’s health benefits, as the industry is set to maximize it’s profits, but they’re not talking about the downfalls. An oft-quoted report from Deloitte noted the potential marijuana market size at $22.6 billion annually, based in part on the finding that 17 percent of Canadians indicated they may try marijuana once legal – that’s 40 percent of the adult population in the country.
Additionally as this law is set in place, some doctors are concerned that legalization could come with unforeseen costs to the public, such as more trips to the emergency room. Jessica Ross, a family physician in Port Perry, Ont., has already seen more adolescents in the ER complaining of intense abdominal pain, persistent nausea and vomiting. The cause is cannabinoid hyperemesis syndrome (CHS), a condition that affects a minority of frequent users. When Ross first started an independent practice seven years ago, she never came across it. She now see’s a couple of cases per month, and that number is expected to get higher. The condition isn’t always diagnosed immediately, since a battery of tests is first performed to rule out other causes. “We have one girl who probably presented to our emergency department eight to 10 times before she ended up getting diagnosed,” Ross says.
“I have never felt so proud to be Canadian,” said Marco Beaulieu to the New York Times, as he waited with friends outside a government cannabis retailer in the east end of Montreal. “Canada is once again a progressive global leader. We have gay rights, feminism, abortion rights, and now we can smoke pot without worrying police are going to arrest us.”
Montreal will have four stores starting on October 17th, in total having 12 in Quebec. Saskatchewan will have 51 stores, all privately run. Alberta will have 17, all private also, but the government will offer online sales.
A special marijuana excise tax, to be divvied up between the federal government and the provinces, will be included in the price; sales tax will be added at the cash register.
Additionally, in Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, outside Calgary, people will be able to smoke weed where they can smoke cigarettes. In Ontario, that means streets as well as parks, but in British Columbia, smoking isn’t allowed in parks or on community beaches. In Halifax, there will be designated toking zones.