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“Either legalize it or decriminalize it”

Federal government starts the process of legalizing recreational marijuana use


Following through on a campaign pledge, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced that Scarborough Southwest MP Bill Blair will be leading the file on legalizing recreational marijuana. Dr. Judith Grant, the director of UOIT’s criminology program, says it’s about time marijuana was legalized, while Oshawa MP Colin Carrie says that the Liberals’ plans have a lot of unanswered questions and concerns.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Canada is on the path to a legalized and regulated cannabis market, and for one UOIT professor, it’s about time.

“I’ve been hoping for this for years,” Dr. Judith Grant, the director of UOIT’s criminology program and an associate professor at the university, tells The Oshawa Express.

“Here in Canada, we have the highest percentage of marijuana users in the world. Either decriminalize or legalize it, do one or the other, but for God’s sake, stop mulling it over because you know you’re eventually going to do it. And if you’re going to do it, do it in the right way.”

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief and now MP for Scarborough Southwest, would be leading the marijuana legalization file.

As part of an election promise, Trudeau said he would look at loosening the laws around marijuana, with the Liberal Party’s platform stating that “arresting and prosecuting these offenses is expensive for our criminal justice system. It traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offenses. At the same time, the proceeds from the illegal drug trade support organized crime and greater threats to public safety, like human trafficking and hard drugs,” and that the country’s current laws don’t keep marijuana out of the hands of young people.

Grant says that should marijuana become legal in Canada, it must be well regulated so that young people are unable to access it.

“What I see in terms of health concerns and social concerns is kids get alcohol – they have to be 19 or over – but with weed, I don’t know where they’re going to put it, if they’re going to put it in liquor stores or stores on the streets, which I don’t think is a good idea,” she says.

“And I think the main concern is young people getting a hold of it, but yet it’s going to happen, so it’s going to have to be in special places. It’s going to have to be well regulated and very similar to the purchasing of alcohol. I don’t see much difference.”

In the United States, marijuana is currently legal for recreational sale and use in Colorado, Alaska and Washington. Uruguay became the first country to legalize the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana in 2013.

Currently, marijuana is only legal in Canada for medical use.

Separating medical use and recreational use

Currently, more than 50,000 people are registered to use marijuana medically through the federal government. One of them is Marko Ivancicevic, a medical marijuana advocate and chair of Oshawa’s medical marijuana working group. Ivancicevic says that while he welcomes the news of marijuana possibly being legalized for recreational use, he is concerned about how it may affect medical users.

“I would hope that they maintain the separation of medical use and recreational use because we have to understand that when it comes to the medical program, it’s something that was induced by the courts. The courts forced it upon the government for them to make medical marijuana legal,” Ivancicevic says of a 2000 Ontario Court of Appeals decision that found that people have a constitutional right to use marijuana as a medicine.

“The problem is that, in theory, let’s say another government wins the next election after Trudeau legalizes it, and they have a policy that is a little bit more conservative, and they decide they want to remove legalization of cannabis. They can do that. So then the problem becomes if intertwine the two and make recreational and medical sitting under the same guidelines and rules, there would be many, many difficulties with the potential of another government revoking legalization and potentially causing harm to individuals that once had a medical licence.”

Skipping steps

With the federal government now moving ahead with its campaign pledge to legalize marijuana for recreational use, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie says Trudeau and the Liberals haven’t addressed how they’ll deal with potential safety concerns stemming from that change.

“How do we deal with this as far as impaired driving, for example. There is some data coming out from Colorado and I think what’s happened since they legalized marijuana, fatal crashes have…doubled to 53 deaths,” Carrie, the deputy health critic with the Conservatives, tells The Oshawa Express. “When they survey kids, 17 per cent of high school aged drivers reported driving a vehicle within an hour of using marijuana. So, you’re looking at how do the Liberals want to manage it and test for it. No Liberal has come forward attempting to address those issues.”

Carrie also says he is concerned about marijuana being sold in other forms, such as candies and other edible forms, as they would be more attractive to younger people.

“How are they going to address issues like people who are making cookies and candies, which would make the drug more attractive and accessible to youth? Again, I think Colorado, the first year of legalization, they had 45 kids rushed to poison control centres because they ate marijuana-laced sweets, and they had to have their stomachs pumped,” Carrie says. “There’s a lot of health issues here and a lot of uncertainty. The science just isn’t there, so to have Bill Blair taking this file, for me, it’s a contradiction to him working for years of trying to keep it off the streets.”

The Oshawa MP says that the Liberals, having announced that Blair would be taking on the file just a few short months after the election, are moving too quickly on this matter.

“We do have to look at educating, and that’s where (the Conservatives) focused on. As with the anti-drug strategy, we saw the use of marijuana use decrease,” Carrie says. “Even regular marijuana users will say that it’s not a good idea for youth to be consuming marijuana, and the Liberals basically have to come clean and let us know what their plan is because you can’t just go into step two without even looking at step one.”