The Path to Legalization of Marijuana in Canada

The Liberal government’s proposal to introduce recreational marijuana legalization by 2017 has drawn both praise and criticism from rival political parties, but none more vocal than the New Democratic Party. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair told reporters at CBC News that he is extremely pessimistic of the policy proposal, calling it “just another broken promise,” and a pandering show of support for former Toronto Police chief and front man for the pot legalization movement in Canada, Bill Blair.

Central to Mulcair’s criticism of the proposal is his argument that current state of the law places marijuana in a confusing grey area, leaving law enforcement unsure as to how to proceed when they encounter public drug use and sale. The ambiguousness of the law also opens a door for commercial marijuana vendors to emerge en masse, a phenomenon most prevalent in the country’s big urban centers. An infrastructure for both the distribution and sale of recreational marijuana is being established in Canada, before the law has had an opportunity to adapt and formally regulate the market.

The solution that Mulcair suggests that would be in everyone’s best interest would be to “decriminalize” marijuana, a designation that is understood by many to be an intermediary step between criminalization and legalization. The words ‘legalization’ and ‘decriminalization’ are often used interchangeably, which can lead to even further confusion, because the two terms stand for two entirely different legal principles. Under a legalized model, marijuana becomes a substance that anyone over a determined legal age can possess and consume it, without the fear of being arrested. No different than how cigarettes and alcohol are treated today. However, in a decriminalized model, people can still be arrested and charged with marijuana-related offences, but possessing small amounts no longer lands the perpetrator with a criminal record or a jail sentence.

His suggestion has some sound rationale behind it, especially when one considers the issues that may arise from arresting someone for marijuana possession now, when, in a year (assuming the Liberals keep to their suggested timeline) the same activity will have no criminal penalty attached to it. Is it fair to arrest someone for a “crime,” when legislative changes are inevitable? Mulcair doesn’t think so.

Jason Quintal | June 19, 2016

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