Canada, the second country in the world to legalise cannabis

On 17 October 2018 the law passed by the Canadian senate(52 votes in favour, 29 against and 2 abstentions) in June this year came into force, that officialises the legalisation of the sale, consumption, cultivation and possession of marihuana for recreational purposes in Canada (Cannabis Act, 2018). The use of marihuana for medicinal purposes was authorised in 2001. The initiative was part of the electoral programme of the current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, of Canada’s Liberal Party, the same one that legalised gay marriage in the country in 2005.

Canada is the first country of the G20 that has taken this step (in the United States, it is only legal in 9 of the states and in the city of Washington) and the second in the world, a little over a year after Uruguay applied the initiative driven forward by ex-president José Mujica to legalise the consumption and purchase of marihuana by Uruguayan citizens (Law nº 19.172, 2013).

The purchase, sale and possession of cannabis cannot involve more than 30 grams (Cannabis Act, article 8, 2018). Besides, the minimum age permitted to acquire and consume cannabis is regulated in a provincial context: in all provinces, the legal age to buy and consume cannabis is 19, with the exception of Quebec and Alberta, where it is 18. The minimum age to consume marihuana coincides with the one to drink alcohol and all provinces except Manitoba, where the legal age for the consumption of alcohol is 18. Regarding places where consumption is permitted, in some provinces marihuana can be smoked in the same places where cigarettes can be smoked, and in others, it is limited to private areas.

Another regulation that is also delegated to provincial authorities is the one related to sale and distribution permits (Cannabis Act, article 69, 2018): in general, they are private companies authorised by a provincial authority licenced to cultivate and distribute cannabis, except in some provinces, where a public company is responsible for marketing the substance.

According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, the objectives of the new law are mainly the following:

  • Stop Young people from having access to cannabis.
  • Protect public health and security by guaranteeing the quality of cannabis.
  • Deter criminal activity by imposing legal sanctions on those who operate outside the legal framework.
  • Reduce the amount of crime related to cannabis in the penal justice system.

Although the authorities predict that the price will be 25% higher than on the black market (about 10 Canadian dollars, equivalent to 6.7 euros), the quality will be better, which is expected to encourage consumers to acquire cannabis via legal channels. The money raised with the tax charged for cannabis will be shared between provincial (75%) and federal (25%) treasuries.

Meanwhile, with the coming into force of the Cannabis Act, a pardon is expected to be given to all those sentenced for marihuana possession -hundreds of thousands of people-, as long the amount is no more than 30 grams. This measure will mean that those sentenced for possession of marihuana will no longer be banned from entering the United States, as is the case now.

The case of Canada will be closely followed by the rest of the world, as it is the first economic power to end the prohibition of the sale and consumption of marihuana for recreational purposes. This example will surely serve to elicit debate in many other G20 countries, and the results will encourage or discourage the promotion of similar laws in other states.

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