We now have a prime minister who has promised to legalize marijuana in Canada. But what will legalization look like? Here's seven things the cannabis community wants to see happen before we consider prohibition to be truly over.
7. Don't increase penalties
In some of their campaign literature, the Liberals were promising to create "new, stronger laws, to punish more severely" people who sell cannabis to minors, or to anyone operating outside of their undefined new system.
Considering we already have Harper's strict mandatory minimums for cannabis offences, we do not need to be punishing anyone "more severely" for anything related to cannabis.
The laws and penalties against selling cannabis to minors should be very similar to those relating to alcohol. The whole legalization system for cannabis should follow the wine model, not some new system that includes even more harsh punishments for cannabis.
The Liberals must reject the idea that they need to add new, harsher cannabis laws to balance out legalization.
6. Allow personal growing
Any model of legalization must include the right to grow some cannabis for personal use. Colorado allows every adult to grow up to six cannabis plants for their own use, or to share with friends and family. That would be a good start for Canadians.
People with a doctor's recommendation for cannabis should be allowed to grow whatever quantity they need for medical purposes. The Conservatives tried to shut down the current home-garden program for patients, but were stopped by a court injunction. That injunction needs to remain, and be expanded to make it easier for patients to grow their own when needed.
Growing cannabis indoors under lights should be subject to municipal bylaws if it is a complex, multi-light system. But growing a few cannabis plants on your porch or in your backyard should not be subject to any special rules or restrictions.
If home cultivation is not allowed, then cannabis is not truly legalized in Canada. Canadians must have at least as much right to grow their own cannabis as they do to brew their own beer and wine.
5. Allow dispensaries
There are now hundreds of cannabis dispensaries open across Canada, and we can expect a huge rush of them to open over the coming months with the change in government.
The Liberals need to recognize the important role that community-based dispensaries are playing, and to incorporate them into any legal access system.
Most of the needed regulation of dispensaries will happen at the provincial and municipal level. But the federal government needs to frame their legalization legislation in such a way as to allow these dispensaries to become fully legitimate.
Any system of legalization that tries to shut down the existing network of cannabis dispensaries will face strong opposition from Canada's cannabis community.
4. License more producers
Along with the dispensaries, there needs to be a much larger amount of legal cannabis available. The two dozen currently licensed producers that exist to supply the medical market should be able to enter into the retail market. More importantly, the hundreds of applicants who have been waiting into limbo need to be quickly processed and approved.
Whatever the details of the system, it is important that there is equal access to the cannabis market, and that anyone who meets the quality standards can legally grow and sell cannabis.
Growers who currently supply dispensaries should be able to receive a licence and continue what they do, as long as they meet some minimum safety and quality standards.
Ultimately, the federal government should get out of licensing large-scale production and leave that to the provinces. But whoever the regulating and licensing authority is, the system needs to be fair and equal. Any attempt to limit production to a few major companies or create some kind of monopoly or cartel will be met with resistance, and will ultimately fail.
3. Ditch the medical program
Cannabis is a wonderful medicine with a wide range of therapeutic benefits, but we don't need a specialized medical cannabis system in Canada. Cannabis extracts should be available as non-prescription drugs for all Canadians to access.
When cannabis or a cannabis extract is prescribed by a doctor then it should be exempt from GST, like other prescription drugs. But we don't need the current complex system of restricted access for medical patients once all Canadians have access to legal cannabis.
Doctors should become more knowledgeable about cannabis medicines, and legalization should mean that all sorts of new cannabis extracts are readily available for research and medicine. But since cannabis is generally safer than products like aspirin, most cannabis medicines should be sold over the counter, without a need for a prescription.
2. Amnesty for past convictions
Legalization of cannabis must also include an amnesty for past cannabis convictions, so that those criminal records are erased from the system.
All possession convictions should be erased and pardons granted without question. This would be the bare minimum to begin undoing some of the harm that prohibition has caused.
For trafficking and cultivation convictions, there should be a simple process for people to apply to have those criminal records erased as well, as long as no violent or other significant crimes were also committed.
1. Don't overtax it
There will be a temptation to tax cannabis very heavily, so as to maximize government revenue and limit consumption by keeping the price high. This would be a mistake.
Legal cannabis needs to be cheaper and better than what is currently available, or else no-one is going to buy it. The only way to extinguish the black market is to substantially reduce the price of cannabis.
Like wine or beer, there should be different prices or cannabis, depending on where it is sold. Plants grown at home for personal use should be untaxed. A cannabis brownie for dessert at a fancy restaurant could be considerably more expensive.
Any plan for legalization must not include extremely high or punitive taxes, as the result will be a thriving black market and no real change to the status quo.
If Trudeau's Liberals stick to these seven principles then legalization will be a success.
But if they try to legalize cannabis in the form of a highly taxed product grown only by big corporations, while banning home gardens and increasing penalties for underground dealers, then legalization will not succeed, and we will still have to keep fighting for a better system.
What does legalization mean to you? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
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