A woman exhales while smoking a joint during the annual 420 marijuana rally on Parliament Hill on April 20, 2016. – Justin Tang,The Canadian PressEveryone smoking recreational marijuana right now is a criminal.
That is according to Canadian law and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who — planning to legalize this summer — has encouraged authorities to enforce these rules.
There are a lot of criminals. In 2016, an estimated 4.9 million Canadians between the ages of 15 and 64 years old spent money on pot, which translates into $5.7 billion according to a new Statistics Canada report. And 94 per cent of that, the agency said, was consumed illegally. Your child, sibling or parent might be guilty. You probably have a cousin that’s guilty. Some of your friends are likely guilty. That’s millions of Canadians guilty of possession of cannabis.
What happens after legalization? One day pot smokers are sitting on their couch, watching Futurama reruns and eating too much snack mix illegally. The next day, they can buy marijuana from a government approved shop and watch cartoons as a free, law abiding citizen. Here in Ontario, the pot will come directly from one of 40 government operated dispensaries. This is a preposterous situation and one that could have been avoided.
Marijuana should have been decriminalized years ago … and it almost was.
In May 2003, Outremont MP Martin Cauchon sponsored Bill C-38 — not to be confused with the C-38 of Feb. 2005, The Civil Marriage Act. The earlier C-38 was a decriminalization bill, specifically intended to contravene the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act passed by the same government seven years earlier. The majority Liberals were on board with this idea. Then prime minister Jean Chrétien joked in an interview with the Globe and Mail, “perhaps I will try it when it will no longer be criminal. I will have my money for my fine and a joint in the other hand.”
I remember this failed bill. I remember, even though I may have been stoned on the couch of my friend’s student house, playing Mario Cart on Nintendo 64 while it was being read. The summer months of 2003 were glory days for stoners. No one knew if marijuana was going to be legal or illegal so everyone that smoked did so indiscriminately.
But, of course, that high was short lived. In November of 2003 Chrétien prorogued parliament to avoid the Auditor General’s report on the sponsorship scandal. The next year the Liberals, shamed from the corrupt advertising program, were reduced to a minority government. In 2006, the 13-year-old regime fell, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives were elected and the decriminalization bill was never passed.
In 2003 I was in my young 20s and I didn’t care much about prorogation or the sponsorship scandal. I cared about passing the intro to psychology final at McMaster and scrounging change for pizza. Even though there were no dispensaries then, pot was pretty easy to find. One friend grew it in his apartment. Another friend’s parents grew it in their backyard. There was little moral ambiguity but it was still illegal.
Had the decriminalization act succeeded, it’s possible, but not likely, that the current legalization Bill C-45 would be unneeded. Under the conservative regime, even when polls showed two-thirds of Canadians wanted the government to ease up on possession laws, Harper refused, saying legalization was the “wrong direction for society.” Had the country taken a path to legalized marijuana then, it’s possible all today’s dispensaries would be regulated, supported by authorities and paying large sums in taxes.
Now 15 years later legalization is coming, but the process is as shady as a back alley drug deal. The Ontario plan will see all the hash cash in provincial coffers. Illegal dispensaries are sure to get the short end of the stick; their crime is supplying the demands of millions of Canadians. When legalization goes through, the government of Ontario will shut down these dispensaries. With so few provincial drug dealers — only one store in Hamilton — they will find themselves incapable of growing and selling the quantities of marijuana desired. The black market will live on.
This massive quantity, an estimated 770 tonnes of mostly illegal pot was purchased in the country in 2016. Stats Canada says $5.4 billion dollars of it — 94.7 per cent of all marijuana consumed — comes from Canada. Canadians growing pot for Canadians.
The majority of these millions of people – relatives and friends – are not violent, they don’t support international terror and they aren’t in gangs. Dispensary owners may be breaking the rule of law, but it’s because the rules failed us. There should be no ambiguity. Marijuana should be decriminalized now.