Perhaps Canada should put a new kind of leaf on its national flag.
The country’s recently elected prime minister Justin Trudeau appears ready to follow through on his campaign pledge to legalize marijuana. The new Liberal government reaffirmed its commitment to the plan in a Dec. 4 speech offering an overview of its legislative agenda as parliament reconvenes. This would make Canada the first nation in the G7 group of leading economies to fully legalize recreational marijuana.
Legalizing pot would offer relief to Canada’s criminal justice system and deal a blow to organized drug trade, according to Trudeau. He has also said the measure would help the government make sure cannabis stays out of children’s hands. Trudeau has the public on his side: 59% of Canadians support marijuana legalization, according to a November poll conducted by Forum Research. And experts say that with a Liberal majority in the lower house of parliament, the government should be able to push through new marijuana laws with few snags.
The Canadian government plans to use US states that have legalized pot, including Colorado and Washington, as guides. To that end, the nonprofit group Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recently released a report on lessons gleaned from the states’ experiences.
The most important advice for Canada, according to the nonprofit: Take time to think through new laws. Colorado, for example, ran into trouble when it neglected to put a cap on how much marijuana could be put into portions of food, which led to some extra-powerful brownies.
While none of the frontrunners in the US presidential race have followed Trudeau’s lead in vowing to legalize marijuana, Democratic candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has introduced a bill that would lift the federal ban on cannabis and leave the decision up to individual states. Meanwhile, efforts are underway in Vermont and Rhode Island to legalize recreational pot via legislation rather than putting it to a vote.
The rest of the world will be watching Canada closely to see how its efforts at pot legalization play out. Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize the cultivation, sale, and consumption of marijuana in 2013, but there have been hold-ups along the way. Countries including Colombia, Ecuador, the Netherlands, and Peru have legalized the possession of small amounts of cannabis, while Spain and Switzerland allow citizens to grow plants at home for personal use.