The federal government is pushing ahead with plans to legalize marijuana and none too soon. Health Minister Jane Philpott certainly didn’t play down the controversial announcement. She chose a special session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York regarding drug use and drug-related crime.
The timing was more than coincidental. Philpott chose April 20 to reveal that Ottawa plans to introduce legislation legalizing marijuana in the spring of next year. Her address coincided with 4/20 - the annual day of celebration for cannabis culture lovers, the so-called National Weed Day.
Despite Liberal party promises, the speed towards full legalization is still a pleasant surprise. Many people thought that perhaps the government might first move towards decriminalization - that full legalization was too radical, too quick, too dangerous. But Ottawa decided to move forward as promised before and during the federal election last fall.
The legalization issue was really a nobrainer for Justin Trudeau.
And it was one of the defining moments for the youthful leader of the Liberal party as he sought to stake out a legitimate claim to become prime minister.
His pledge to legalize marijuana was unorthodox and politically dangerous. It could have backfired and derailed the party’s election hopes. The Conservative government was relentless in its attacks: legalizing marijuana would lead Canadians to cocaine and heroin addiction. But it badly miscalculated the views and sensibilities of Canadians.
A majority of Canadians admit they have tried marijuana. What university or college student hasn’t?
There are already widespread medical exemptions to use marijuana for pain control and relief. Licences to grow legal marijuana for medical use are nothing new.
It seems silly in this day and age for anyone to have a criminal record for smoking a joint, any more than having a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. In Vancouver, public use of marijuana is widely accepted and ignored by police.
Several U.S. states such as Colorado and Washington have legalized marijuana, generating millions in tax revenue.
The Canadian government is setting up a committee to assist in drafting marijuana rules and regulations.
As Philpott said, it’s essential the legislation keeps marijuana out of the hands of children and profits out of the hands of criminals. The government is wise to take the position that legalization is the best way to protect the country’s youth while enhancing public safety.
It’s important that Ottawa gets the legislation right. It must severely punish those who provide pot to minors or drive while under its influence.
As Philpott was speaking in New York, a new Angus Reid poll was being released in Canada. It showed that 68 per cent of Canadians feel pot should be made legal, a ninepoint increase from a 2014 poll asking the same question. The poll found that 64 per cent of Canadians feel the legalization of weed will do more good than harm in the long run.
Canadians are ready.