Legalizing Mary Jane

The unexpected policy hurdles of legalization

Legalizing marijauna has many implications that some might have overlooked.
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Now that we have a prime minister who’s ready for change, Canadian politics can move away from touting the idea that marijuana is “infinitely worse” than tobacco and focus on legalization.  

However, the time for bright and smoky election advertisements is over. The real work is about to begin.

A minefield of legal changes lies before our elected representatives in parliament, which is largely new terrain for Canada. 

How do we overhaul the current system to regulate commercial sales? How do we set up regulations around the consumption of such a popular buzz drug? 

Legalization of weed in all of its forms, such as plants, smokes and foods, will result in social and legal changes. 

However, there’s a lot to be learned from case studies in the United States.  

According to Colorado lawmakers, the shift to legal marijuana is actually much more difficult than it seems. Much of this is backed up by careful academic research.  

There are, of course, many social, political and legal policy hiccups the state will have to maneuver around. To name a few: the dangers of children eating edible products, impaired driving and hidden costs of regulations.

Danger to children 

The flashy, psychedelic and colorful packaging of treats and goodies, like magic brownies, make them appealing to young children. In states where medical marijuana is legal, there are increases in calls to poison control centres after children under nine unintentionally consume THC foods, according to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine.  

Impaired driving

Another problem puzzling policy makers is how to tackle the influx of impaired driving, as the same report linked increases in availability of edible substances to increased problems in impaired driving.  

Marijuana requires a different system of regulations and enforcement than alcohol.  Unfortunately, we won’t know what these differences are until we actually experience the issues involved.  

The hidden cost

There’s been media buzz around how legalization could boost Canada’s economy. But contrary to popular belief, there are many hidden costs to regulation, as was revealed by research by Dr. Sam Kamin, a member of Colorado’s Marijuana Task Force and a professor of law from the University of Denver.

To prevent legal ganja from slipping into the black market, a complicated surveillance system had to be implemented in Colorado and an entire bureaucracy of administrators were hired to oversee it. This means less of those fabled tax dollars will actually make it back to the community. 

But striking prohibition is still worth it

On the bright side, there’s been a clear drop in marijuana related arrests and addiction centre visits in Colorado, according to an article published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 

This may be because we’re shifting towards treating drug abuse as a medical issue as opposed to a criminal one, which will also help keep youth out of the crime system. 

Justin Trudeau has already stated that weed won’t be sold at convenience stores. Most likely, the Liberal Party will follow the Colorado framework: only licensed stores can sell marijuana and you can grow your own. Smoking in public will likely still be prohibited.

One important thing to keep in mind, whether you’re a regular toker or non-toker, is that these unintended consequences don’t necessarily mean we shouldn’t legalize weed — but it does mean that we need to tread carefully and consider wide legal and policy changes.  

We need to understand the consequences and tackle legalization in a way that won’t negatively impact public health. You can be sure that parliamentary committees and policy makers will be crossing their eyes over this one.

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