This guest post is written by Kate Harveston, a writer and political activist from Pennsylvania. She blogs about culture and politics, and the various ways that those elements act upon each other. For more of her work, you can follow her on Twitter or subscribe to her blog, Only Slightly Biased.
Medical cannabis was first legalized in Canada in 2001, which allowed citizens to partake as long as they had a prescription. The medical cannabis business expanded over the past 16 years, reaching a point today in which Canada is on the verge of full-scale legalization. With the continued support of Trudeau, 2018 could be a big year for Canadian cannabis.
Though the momentum behind legalization seems insurmountable, there are a ton of factors that will inevitably be considered before Canada jumps headlong into legalization.
A long road
Before 2001, cannabis was wholly illegal throughout Canada, as delineated in the 1923 Narcotic Drugs Act Amendment Bill. As with many other countries, cannabis popularity surged throughout the ’60s and ’70s, leading to a nationwide panic and increasingly strict penalties for possession and use. As it rests today, possession of cannabis without a valid medical condition is still a federal crime.
However, as of 2001, Canada became the first country to legalize medical cannabis. Between 2001 and 2014, a government-issued medical card was required, and all cannabis sales were completed through government dispensaries, barring rare exceptions. However, in 2014, the laws changed to allow practicing physicians to write prescriptions for their patients. Since then, the laws have remained fairly stagnant: non-medical possession is still illegal, and dispensaries require permission from a registered doctor.
From this timeline, one thing is very clear: drug policy moves very slowly. The pro-recreational movement continues picking up steam, but it could easily be another year, 2 or 5 before the laws catch up to the public trends. For many, changing the rules is more aesthetic than anything else: they already hold prescriptions for medical use and have a wide selection of dispensaries at their disposal.
Money tends to push legislation forward in ways that public or political support can’t. With this in mind, as well as the estimates of a multibillion-dollar recreational cannabis industry following legalization, even the crawl of bureaucratic maneuvering will likely rush forward. South of the border, US states like Washington, Oregon, and Colorado are already reaping the benefits of a fully-legal system, imposing heavy state taxes on the sale and distribution of the budding industry.
Of course, Canada operates as one unit, so legalization would take effect all across the country, potentially dwarfing even the statewide booms. Companies already establishing themselves in cannabis-legal states are eyeing Canada as their next targets for expansion, potentially jockeying with domestic companies. The sooner legalization occurs, the sooner these huge investors — and all the money they bring — open their doors for business.
Of course, this only scratches the surface of a joint US–Canada market. Strains grown in California could be shipped to Ontario or vice versa. With an entire contiguous coast stretching from Vancouver to San Diego, the opportunities for cross-breeding and trade seem endless.
As we ring in the New Year, many questions remain over the prospect of a green 2018. The motivation to enact full legalization is certainly there: Canada would benefit from both domestic and foreign revenue following a move towards recreational cannabis use. However, predicting a move like this can be difficult.
As it stands, the House of Commons has already passed a bill to legalize cannabis for this July. It is still before the Senate, and many believe it is unlikely the Senate will oppose it. It’s already received first and second reading.
Keeping in mind the push and pull factors behind legalization will help gauge exactly where the progress stands. Assuming the West Coast states can work out some trade agreement that skirts US national law, the economic benefits for both Canada and the states will probably tip the scale. On the other hand, government red tape could bring the entire process to a crawl. We’ll just have to wait and see.