Why you should care
Because today Canada became the world’s second nation to legalize recreational cannabis.
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WHAT TO KNOW
What happened? As if Canadians weren’t friendly enough … On Wednesday, the constitutional monarchy became the world’s second nation to legalize recreational marijuana, after Uruguay. Customers in the eastern province of Newfoundland and Labrador were the first to purchase legal pot as stores opened at midnight. Authorities will reportedly pardon all convictions for possession of up to 30 grams — now the legal limit — though rules about sales still vary depending on provincial regulations: Ontario, for instance, probably won’t see any shops open until April.
Why does it matter? Canada has one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world, particularly among young people, so there’s already a huge market for it there. Last year, Canadians spent $4.4 billion on marijuana, according to the census agency Statistics Canada, with the vast majority of that going into the black market. This was one of the reasons behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s election promise to legalize it for recreational use.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Boom time. Reminiscent of the dot-com boom or the end of prohibition, many Canadians are looking forward to their marijuana industry gaining legitimacy. And producers have high expectations. The top 12 marijuana companies in the country are worth around $42 billion, and then there’s the secondary industries — those making farming supplies, accessories and technology — that will receive a boost from legalization. And don’t forget all the pot-themed merchandise, like shirts depicting Justin Trudeau riding a giant joint.
Dazed and confused. The legal framework around cannabis use is set to be a regulatory labyrinth. Each province and territory has set its own rules. For example, smoking in public in Ontario is fine, but doing so in Saskatchewan could mean a $200 fine. Buyers will be required to obtain the substance from officially recognized stores, and there are legal consequences for driving with too high a concentration of THC in your blood, though ministers haven’t made clear what that means in terms of how long smokers need to wait between getting high and getting behind the wheel. It’s also still illegal for minors to smoke pot — and sharing a toke with one could get you up to 14 years in jail.
Winners and losers. Big companies like Canopy Growth, the largest grower in Canada, and Aurora Cannabis, are set to make bank. So is the federal government, with tax revenue that could reach as high as $400 million a year. But not all Canadians are laughing. In provinces that will only allow government-run stores, small mom-and-pop dispensaries will be closed, and small-scale cultivators could also eventually be outcompeted by Big Marijuana. There may be only half a dozen major cannabis players left after a few years, according to industry experts.
Test case. Canada is the second country in the world to legalize cannabis; Uruguay was the first. Its first commercial sale took place last year when pharmacies started selling it directly to consumers. Still, thanks to production shortages and strict regulations on pharmacies, the legal market there can’t keep up with the rising demand, and the black market has benefited as a result.
WHAT TO READ
Why Canada’s Pot Legalization Won’t Stop Black-market Sales, by Nichola Saminather at Reuters
“Many buyers of illegal pot will have little incentive to switch to legal weed, which is expected to be more expensive and less available because of strict regulations on sales…”
A Case Against Marijuana, by David Leonhardt at The New York Times
“I worry that in the rush to legalize, we haven’t fully thought through what it means to create a whole new industry that encourages a lot more use of a mind-altering drug.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Newfoundland’s First Sale of Legal Recreational Marijuana
“The stigma ends tonight. Prohibition has ended right now. We just made history.”
Watch at Global News on YouTube:
What’s Legal and What’s Not Under Canada’s New Cannabis Law
“In the Northwest Territories, mail-order cannabis will be available for communities without a liquor store.”
Watch at The Canadian Press on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATER COOLER
Could America be next? President Donald Trump has expressed openness to marijuana reform at the federal level, saying he would “probably” support the STATES Act, which exempts legal state-licensed dispensaries from federal raids. Meanwhile, Americans are growing more approving: A 2018 poll by Pew revealed 64 percent of Americans, including 51 percent of Republicans, support legalizing marijuana.