Cannabis Legalised in Canada for Medical and Recreational Use

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Thursday 18th October 2018

At midnight on 17th October 2018, Canada became only the second country in the world to legally allow the possession and use of cannabis for recreational use. The first legal purchase of the drug was made in Newfoundland, the easternmost island of Canada.

They follow Uruguay, who legalised the drug in 2013 for recreational use. It has been legal in Canada for medicinal use since 2001, and other countries have strong restrictions on where and how it can be consumed recreationally, such as in licensed cafes in Amsterdam.

The history of Canada’s legal cannabis goes back to the 2015 election, and a campaign promise made by incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, based on the argument that despite a century of criminalising the drug, Canada has the heaviest use of Cannabis in the world.

The first person to buy it and “make history” was St John, Newfoundland resident Ian Power, who queued for over four hours to be the first person to buy a legal gram of the drug.

Information about the change to the law has been sent to 15 million households across the country, as well as a number of awareness campaigns, but concerns are still being raised to ensure that the police and other bodies are ready for the potential effects of the ban being lifted, such as a crackdown on driving under the influence.

There are a number of major implications with legalising the drug that nations across the world will be looking at to see how this national experiment works in practice. The first is readiness; provinces and municipal areas in Canada have spent the last few months preparing for when cannabis becomes legal, and are ultimately responsible for where and how cannabis is bought and sold. This means certain regions will be less restrictive than others when it comes to the drug.

There are analysts who have argued that the first year of legalisation will see a shortage of recreational marijuana, because licensing and production will need to be ramped up in order to meet the demand. There is also the question of how the legal cannabis marketplace will ultimately look once the dust settles.

In the short term a number of illegal dealers will still be around, as provinces like Ontario will only start opening retail cannabis stores in Spring 2019, and British Columbia, which has one of the highest rates of cannabis consumption in the country will only have a single legal store open when the ban is lifted, meaning that unlicensed retailers and dealers will likely still stay open in the immediate aftermath. Whether police will turn a blind eye to this is unknown at this point.

Two particular responses include the implications for use among the underage population and the implications for criminal drug suppliers in Canada. If it can effectively reduce both of these, then Canada’s decision would invariably be justified.

However, there are implications for what happens for people under the influence. Would there be an increase in intoxication based offences in the aftermath of legalising Cannabis? Similar to this, cannabis consumption typically involves smoking the drug, which has implications for respiratory and circulatory health, as well as the potential increased risk of cancers associated with smoking.

Potentially, given the high use of cannabis amongst the population anyway, this could be a positive move, as it potentially ensures a safer product compared to street cannabis and encourages responsible, limited use. A lot of questions remain however, and the eyes of the world will be hunting for any clue as to the answers.