Canada’s move to legalize marijuana is big not just for Canada. It could impact global — and US — drug policy.
by German Lopez
Apr 13, 2017
Canada wants to legalize marijuana — and it may be willing to break international law to do it.
On Thursday, the ruling Liberal Party in the Canadian Parliament introduced a bill that would legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. It would be the first developed country in the world to fully legalize pot since the international war on drugs began in the 1970s.
The bill will set the minimum age for purchasing marijuana at 18, although provinces could raise the age within their borders. The federal government will handle licensing producers, while provincial governments will manage distribution and retail sales. And Canadians will be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants per household and possess up to 30 grams per person. For the most part, the bill follows the recommendations made by a recent federal task force on marijuana legalization — although the bill could change as it works its way through Parliament.
None of this should seem too shocking in the US, where already eight states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 28 have allowed cannabis for medicinal purposes. What sets Canada apart, though, is it’s doing this as a country. Currently, Uruguay is the only nation in the world that legally allows marijuana for recreational purposes.
This is an important distinction from state-by-state legalization because Canada, like the US, is part of international drug treaties that explicitly ban legalizing marijuana. And although activists have been pushing to change these treaties for years, they have failed so far — and that means Canada will be, in effect, in violation of international law when it moves to legalize. (The US argues it’s still in accordance with the treaties because, even though the federal government allows marijuana legalization to continue at the state level by taking a hands-off approach, federal law still technically prohibits cannabis.)
Still, the move is, according to advocates of legalization, long overdue. When Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s party was elected in 2015, one of the main promises he ran on was to legalize marijuana. But the process of actually beginning to legalize stalled as the government waited on the task force report on legalization, and finally put a bill together based on the recommendations.
“We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana,” Trudeau’s Liberal Party declared on its campaign website. “Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.”