Canada Legalized Marijuana: Big Implications for US Drug Policy

Bill C-45, better known as the Cannabis Act, was approved by the Canadian Senate, making it the first wealthy nation in the world to legalize marijuana in its entirety. The Cannabis Act allows for sales for adults, home growing, and marijuana possession. Provincial governments will manage distribution, sales, and related regulations such as minimum age, while the federal government will oversee criminal sanctions and the licensing of producers. The law will ultimately go into effect on October 17, 2018. What sets Canada apart from the US is the fact that it is doing this as a country. Prior to Canada, Uruguay was the only country that legally allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.

Similar to the US, Canada is part of international drug treaties that ban legalizing marijuana. Although many activists have been pushing to change these treaties over the years, they have failed and that means that Canada will be in violation of international law in moving to legalize. The Canadian government is hoping to legalize marijuana to clamp down on the black market for cannabis and provide a safe outlet for adults, but it’s risking making pot more accessible to kids and people with drug use disorders. It is taking a bold step against outdated international drug laws, but it could upset countries like Russia, China, and even the US that have historically adopted a stricter view of the treaties.

Whether Canada is successful in its legalization attempts will depend on how it strikes a balance between these concerns. And depending on how it pulls this off, it may provide a model to other countries interested in legalization — including the US.

Frank T. Luciano has almost 40 years of experience in defending drug cases in Hackensack and elsewhere. He is also a lifetime member of the legal committee of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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