It's been a very good year for stoners in Canada.
With the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Canada is the closest it's ever been to legalizing weed for recreational use. Toronto, the nation's most populous city, is experiencing an explosion in the medical dispensary scene and is poised to become the new Vancouver. A couple weeks ago, stoners in Toronto were celebrating "Chronica" by lighting up joint-filled menorahs; the same weekend Prince of Pot Marc Emery and his wife Jodie flew in to "budtend" at the grand opening of 416 Medicinal Health Centre. Premiers and corporations are debating the best ways to distribute legal weed to the masses, with some experts predicting revenue potential to be in the neighborhood of $5 billion [$3.5 billion USD] annually.
But the road to legalization hasn't been an easy one—in fact, just a few months ago, we had a PM spouting nonsense about how weed is "infinitely worse" than cigarettes. Here's a look at how we got where we are:
Unsurprisingly, weed became a federal election issue, with each of the three major parties taking a different stance in the leadup to the Oct. 19th vote. Trudeau promised to legalize it, which naturally offended the tough-on-drugs Conservative government of the day. Former PM Stephen Harper, while speaking on the campaign trail, said Trudeau's policies would allow weed to get into the hands of kids (it's already there), and that weed is worse than cigs.
"There's just overwhelming and growing scientific and medical evidence about the bad long-term effects of marijuana," he said in a statement that serves as a great reminder of how lucky we are that this delusional clown is out of office.
Trudeau countered that prohibition is a failure and young people are currently getting weed from dealers, so regulating and controlling it makes more sense.
NDP leader Tom Mulcair meanwhile said he supported the decriminalization of marijuana but wouldn't go as far as to guarantee legalization.
About a month after his big win, Trudeau issued a mandate letter to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, ordering her to work with Health and Public Safety ministers to "create a federal-provincial-territorial process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana." On a recent visit to Vancouver, though, the pair said they're still very much just getting the ball rolling.
"I am not going to commit to a timeline because we want to ensure that we approach it in a comprehensive way, ensuring we speak broadly with other levels of government," Wilson-Raybould told the media.
Meantime, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said this month she'd like recreational pot to be sold in LCBOs, a view echoed by Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and liquor store unions in BC.
Trudeau has said he doesn't expect legalization to be a big cash grab for the government, but rather wants revenue from its sale to go toward addiction and support programs.
When it comes to weed laws, cops in Canada are all over the place. The Vancouver police told VICE they haven't laid a charge for simple possession in "many, many years." On the flip side, in Saskatoon, where charges are laid in nearly 80 percent of weed-related stops, Inspector Dave Haye said, "we will charge on a leftover roach if we can." The schizophrenic approach toward dispensaries is much the same. Vancouver has more than 120 dispensaries that the city is now trying to regulate, 13 of them were targeted by Health Canada earlier in the year with letters calling for them to cease all operations or face legal consequences. Nearby Nanaimo is policed by the RCMP, which recently raided three pot shops and ordered them to shut down—a trend we've seen repeated in Saskatoon and Halifax.
In short, we really need JT and his team to weigh in on this stuff soon because it's a goddamn clusterfuck.
The courts in this country sometimes end up being the voice of reason. In Hamilton, Ontario, for example, a CBC investigation found that courts try to drop more than 80 percent of weed possession charges, many of which are diverted through drug education programs.
This year has also seen a couple of colorful decisions from judges who seem fed up with prohibition. Clifford Dawson, 34, an Innisifil, Ontario man who grows marijuana to treat his spinal condition was handed down a $10 fine after being arrested at gunpoint in a sting that cost millions. A Quebec judge recently went a step further, issuing a $1 fine to a man who possessed 30 marijuana plants. In releasing his decision, Judge Pierre Chevalier slammed Canada's "ridiculous" marijuana laws.
Vancouver's Grey Market and Dispensaries
Vancouver is ground zero for weed in Canada. This summer, city council took steps toward regulating the 120 or so dispensaries that exist by making them apply for city-issued licenses at a cost of $30,000 [$21,000 USD] for retail shops and $1,000 [$700 USD] for Compassion Clubs.
Approved spaces will not be able to operate within 300 meters [1,000 feet] of schools, community centers, or other dispensaries. So far, only 11 of the 176 applications submitted have been approved.
VICE Canada host Damian Abraham visited BC to scope out the dispensary scene, talk to black/grey market growers and producers of THC concentrates like shatter, which saw a rise in popularity this year and can cause explosions when made at home labs.
With legalization on the horizon, there's been an influx of dispensaries in Toronto (it's estimated there are around 40 there right now.)
Shatter, also known as dabs, is an extremely potent THC extract that will get you fucked up (take my word for it). Producers use butane to turn buds into a waxy, toffee-like substance, which is then heated with a blowtorch and inhaled. While doing dabs will definitely get you super high, it will not kill you, as some law enforcement agencies seemed to think. Vancouver police had to apologize in November after sending out tweets warning parents about the "dangers of 'Shatter.'"
"We cannot lose any more young people to senseless overdoses," they said, before later acknowledging that they were completely wrong.
In June, the Supreme Court deemed it legal for Canadians to possess weed edibles, including treats, oils, capsules, and tinctures; a month later, Health Canada OK'd licensed producers to sell cannabis oil. But the rules around edibles are still murky. Vancouver, as part of its attempt to regulate pot, recently banned the sale of all treats, including brownies, cookies, gummies, ice cream, drinks, etc. Victoria is looking to do the same. The rationale is that kids can easily get into these things not realizing they're medicine. However, US-based studies have shown that children are far more likely to be poisoned by things like diaper cream than chronic. And of those who've ingested edibles, no one has died or suffered long-term damage as far as we know. Civil rights advocates argue it's not fair to force medical marijuana users to either smoke their drugs or to make their own alternatives.
Using e-cigarettes to get high (in public) is kind of a no-brainer, and a lot of people seemed to figure that out in 2015. According to one study, 41 percent of weed consumption was done with a vaporizer or vape pen.
The Ontario government made it legal to vape weed in public for a day (Nov. 25) before changing its mind when people seemed alarmed that the laws would allow medical cannabis users to blaze in front of kids, in restaurants, at church, in movie theaters, etc. The Ministry of Health says it's working on a revised version of the new rules.
The weed industry is changing rapidly in Canada, with new developments cropping up almost daily. There's no telling what we'll be talking about a year from now, but if Colorado's success story is any indication, it'll probably be how we should've gone ahead and legalized this shit a long time ago.
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