On October 17th, the federal Cannabis Act will come into force – along with a raft of provincial laws and municipal by-laws – all aimed at legalizing cannabis. This should be an exciting day. But it’s not the end of the story.
CCLA has supported the decriminalization of marijuana possession for over a decade. We have gone to court multiple times to argue that medical marijuana users should not be subject to criminal sanctions for trying to alleviate severe pain, seizures, or any other number of debilitating physical ailments. We absolutely support legalization.
The way the federal government has decided to pursue legalization cannabis, however, is concerning. Many Canadians think that, come October 17th, cannabis will be legal – maybe not legal like buying milk or eggs from the store – but something akin to alcohol, or tobacco. The belief is that cannabis will be a tightly regulated substance, that people of a certain age are pretty much entrusted to use as they see fit. This is a mistake.
There are a raft of new criminal offences that accompany legalization. Take a look at our ‘Top 10 things that are still a crime’ list to see some examples.
The fact that you have a patchwork of provincial, territorial and municipal laws and by-laws that interact with the federal criminal prohibitions means that something that’s perfectly legal at home may be a crime when you’re visiting your friend in another city.
The legal minefield is dizzying, confusing, and downright scary since it’s accompanied by the threat of years in jail. An 18-year-old that shares a joint with their 17-year-old friend faces a maximum of 14 years in jail. Ever seen something like that with alcohol or tobacco? The law also gives concerning search and seizure powers to police, and authorizes courts to seize property associated with the commission of offences. As we have written previously – and as our Executive Director Michael Bryant told the Senate last spring – the government has legalized the cannabis industry, but not the substance or its usage.
Add to this the fact that municipalities, universities, landlords, condominium boards, and all sorts of employers are passing different – and sometimes downright silly – policies drastically limiting people’s use of a now-legal substance, and the maze becomes even more difficult to navigate. One key take away that people need to remember is that absolute bans on consumption aren’t legal unless there are specific exemptions and processes to address the needs of medical marijuana users.
Finally, let’s not forget the difficult issues of the border and impaired driving. You can check out our videos on these and other topics – but unfortunately there aren’t a lot of clear answers we can give.
For CCLA, all of this boils down to one conclusion – our work to put in place a sensible, proportionate and fair legal scheme to regulate the use of cannabis is not done. Not federally, provincially, or municipally. We will be closely monitoring how these laws are enforced and interpreted by police and the courts. We’ll also be watching employers and landlords.
Cannabis use will be legal, sometimes, in some places, for some people – but it is clear that there is still a stigma that is dominating decision-making in many arenas. We need to work together to overcome this, and make sure policies and laws are based on evidence, not fear.
#STILLACRIME – Things that are still illegal
Wait a second. What do you mean by “still a crime”? I thought it was legal!
The new laws that legalize cannabis are complex and confusing, so we’ve put together a list of 10 things that are still a crime when it comes to cannabis. Click the image below to read what they are and how you can stay on the right side of the law.
Q&A ON CANNABIS LEGALIZATION
CANNABIS AND THE U.S. BORDER
CANNABIS AND THE HOME
WHEN IS CANNABIS LEGAL OR ILLEGAL?
CANNABIS AND THE WORKPLACE
CANNABIS AND DRIVING