For Your Consideration - Thom Barker

Legal cannabis: it’s been three years, time to get it right

Thom argues legalization is a success but needs to be tweaked to address major faults

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost three years since Canada legalized recreational marijuana.

I’m still very proud of our country for being a trailblazer in taking this important step, but with a federal election upon us perhaps it is time to take stock of where we are with it.

A recent study by Dalhousie University in Halifax indicates a significant amount of success in the experiment.

Unlike one year following the adoption of the legislation when just over half the population supported legalization almost 80 per cent of Canadians now either strongly agree (57 per cent) or agree with it.

Acceptance of the new status quo, if not universal, is overwhelming.

It also found the percentage of people who now procure their cannabis products solely from legal sources has grown to 60 per cent from 38 in 2019.

While the illegal market remains approximately half of the trade, legal cannabis accounted for roughly $12.6 billion of Canada’s GDP in May of this year on par with the automobile and life sciences sectors.

We have a way to go in curtailing the illicit trade, but let’s face it, it was never going to happen overnight, nor will it ever fully go away just as their is still an illegal market for alcohol and tobacco.

Detractors of legalization, who now number only 14 per cent, with another eight per cent being neutral, could find some fault in the fact that consumption has grown.

The Dalhousie survey found 42 per cent of Canadians now consider themselves to be cannabis consumers, up from 36 per cent in 2019 and the estimated 20 per cent pre-legalization.

Of course, there are too many stigma factors in the pre-legalization numbers to really draw much of a conclusion on uptake directly related to legalization, but clearly there is some.

Anecdotally, I am one of those people who would have answered “non-consumer, no plans to” even post-legalization, but today would have to answer “consumer after legalization.”

Seems I may have had a latent interest after all, particularly in the growing choices for edibles.

In the current election, given the overwhelming acceptance, it is doubtful any major party is going to want to touch the cannabis issue although there is certainly room for criticism.

The Liberals have seriously dropped the ball, for example, on amnesty for the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have life-altering criminal records for simple possession.

Even though the pardon process was streamlined for cannabis possession records, involves no waiting period and is free, the Parole Board of Canada had only granted 395 pardons as of March 1, 2021.

That is totally unacceptable and needs to be addressed.

The other major cock-up in the Liberal legislation was not factoring in Indigenous sovereignty. Part of the problem was introducing a federal law, but leaving it to the provinces to regulate.

Under the law, provinces have sole jurisdiction over cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis products, but no jurisdiction over Indigenous lands which fall under the federal government’s purview.

There are now hundreds of cannabis operations on First Nations reserves across the country, but are essentially illegal because they fall outside both the federal and provincial regulatory frameworks.

Nevertheless, First Nations are exerting their constitutional right to write their own cannabis laws and the provinces are reluctant to try to enforce the provincial laws on reserve.

Again, there was no way the initial legislation was going to be perfect, but it’s been almost three years, it’s time we started tweaking it to get it right.