Pubdate: Fri, 14 Apr 2017
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The New York Times Company
Author: Ian Austen


OTTAWA - Fulfilling a campaign pledge, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
introduced legislation on Thursday to legalize the recreational use of
marijuana in Canada.

Many nations have either decriminalized marijuana, allowed it to be
prescribed medically or effectively stopped enforcing laws against it.
But when Mr. Trudeau's bill passes as expected, Canada will become
only the second nation, after Uruguay, to completely legalize
marijuana as a consumer product.

"Criminal prohibition has failed to protect our kids and our
communities," said Bill Blair, a lawmaker and former Toronto police
chief whom Mr. Trudeau appointed to manage the legislation.

Mr. Blair said at a news conference that the government hoped to begin
allowing legal sales by the middle of 2018. While the government's
plan has been broadly shaped by a panel of experts, many issues still
need to be ironed out.

"We do accept that important work remains to be done," he

While the federal government will license and regulate growers, each
of Canada's provinces will need to decide exactly how the drug will be
distributed and sold within its boundaries. The government will have
to develop the marijuana equivalents of breathalyzers so that drivers
can be checked for impairment at the roadside and workers can be
tested for safety on the job. Diplomats will have to address conflicts
with international drug treaties. And many in the medical field are
concerned about the long-term health effects of increased use of
marijuana by Canadians under the age of 25.

Though eight American states have legalized marijuana to various
extents, the drug remains illegal under federal law. Mr. Trudeau's
move eliminates any such ambiguity in Canada. It follows a
court-mandated legalization of marijuana for medical purposes, which
was introduced with tight controls in 1999 and later broadened by
further court orders.

While the new legislation will take Canada beyond its medical
marijuana system, it stops far short of creating an open market. The
law will require purchasers to be at least 18 years old - though
provinces can set a higher minimum - and it will limit the amount they
can carry at any one time to 30 grams, about an ounce.

Households will be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants. But
the legislation seems built on the assumption that most users will be
supplied by commercial growers, who will be licensed and closely
supervised by the federal government.

Growing, importing, exporting or selling marijuana outside licensed
channels will remain serious crimes, according to Mr. Blair and Ralph
Goodale, the public safety minister.

Each province will decide where and how marijuana may be sold, and
will set prices in conjunction with the federal government.

How much marijuana will cost and how heavily it will be taxed will be
influenced by Canada's experience with tobacco, which is also tightly

When the country tried to discourage smoking by sharply increasing
cigarette taxes, it inadvertently created a growing black market for
cigarettes smuggled from the United States and elsewhere.

Since one of the government's main aims with the new law is to wipe
out - or at least reduce - illicit marijuana dealing, it will want to
avoid measures that spur its growth.

It is unclear where users will be able to buy the drug. Several
provinces restrict alcohol sales mainly to government-run liquor
stores, and a similar arrangement may be used for marijuana. But a
federal task force that released its findings late last year
recommended that marijuana not be offered in shops that also sell alcohol.

One thing seems clear: The illegal marijuana stores that sprang up in
several cities after Mr. Trudeau came to power in late 2015, in
anticipation of the new law, are not likely to be allowed to stay in
business. The shops are supplied by black-market growers or organized
criminal groups, and while the police have left them alone in some
cities, the authorities have been openly skeptical about assertions by
shop owners that they sell only to medical users.

Ontario's attorney general is seeking a forfeiture order that would
allow them to confiscate almost 600,000 Canadian dollars in cash -
about $450,000 - that was seized at the Toronto airport from an
employee of a chain of seven illegal medical marijuana outlets in the

Figuring out how to measure impairment is a priority on the
government's list of things it must do before the legal market is expanded.

Several police forces, including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police,
are testing two types of screening devices that can detect drugs -
including THC, the main psychoactive substance in marijuana - in saliva.

Proposed amendments to criminal laws would require motorists to give
the police saliva samples on request and allow officers to demand a
breath test for alcohol when stopping drivers for any reason.

The issue goes beyond motorists. Gilbert Brulotte, the former chairman
of the Canadian Construction Association, said the law may lead to
increased accident rates on job sites.

Mr. Brulotte acknowledged that marijuana use by construction workers
has been a safety problem for a long time. But until now, he said, any
evidence of marijuana use was grounds to fire someone. After
legalization, employers will need to show that the worker was impaired
on the job.

"We are not against legalization; we're just interested in making sure
that thresholds and proper technologies are in place," Mr. Brulotte
said, adding that the industry also wanted the right to perform random
drug tests in the workplace.

The legislation would seem to put Canada in violation of three United
Nations treaties concerning drugs. But a study released this week by
the University of Ottawa Global Strategy Lab found that the government
may be able to justify the measure under exemptions for "scientific

The promise of the new law has prompted investors to bid up the stocks
of 11 licensed medical marijuana growers. Several have tripled or
quadrupled in price over the past year.

But while the existing licensed growers - more than 40 in all,
including those that are not publicly traded - are expected to have a
head start in the recreational market, it is not clear that they will
see a boom of the kind that, say, whiskey distillers enjoyed after
Prohibition was repealed.

Indeed several of those companies saw their stock prices fall after
the bill was introduced. Shares of Canopy Growth, the largest publicly
traded producer and the owner of the Tweed medical marijuana brand,
were down more than 4 percent by late afternoon.

Mr. Blair said the Canadian system would place public health policy
above commercial interests. "It is not our intent to promote the use
of this drug," he said.

Under the new law, marijuana will be marketed more like cigarettes
than like liquor. Marketing will be limited largely to providing
factual information about the product, like its name, its ingredients
and the strain of marijuana used.

The government is considering regulations that would allow only plain
packaging to be used, as a bill now in Canada's Senate will require
for cigarettes.

Even so, Brendan Kennedy, the president of Tilray, a medical marijuana
producer in Nanaimo, British Columbia, said his company would ask that
producers be allowed to develop brands through distinctive packaging.
"Otherwise it will be a race to the bottom, as companies will compete
only based on potency and price," he said.

Though many licensed growers appeared to get into the medical
marijuana business with an eye toward the eventual opening of the much
larger recreational market, Canada's first legal grower said on
Wednesday that the government's action was premature.

"I think it's rather aggressive," said Brent Zettl, the president and
chief executive of CanniMed Therapeutics in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"I think it's rather arrogant of Justin Trudeau."

Mr. Zettl, whose company had the medical marijuana market to itself
for several years, said he owed it to his investors to get into
recreational marijuana, but he was not certain that it would be very

And he said he agreed with doctors and police officials who want
higher minimum ages to buy the drug: 25 for high-potency products and
21 for reduced potency.

The bill includes stiff new criminal penalties for people who sell or
give marijuana to minors, or who create cannabis products that appeal
to children or adolescents.

Widespread use of more potent recreational marijuana, Mr. Zettl added,
may also undermine efforts to understand the drug's medicinal effects,
particularly for users looking for relief, not a high.

"It's good from an industry perspective," Mr. Zettl said of the new
law. "I don't think it's good for society."

At the news conference, Mr. Goodale warned that Canada's new law would
apply only in Canada, and cautioned citizens not to take their
marijuana out of the country.

John F. Kelly, the United States secretary of homeland security, told
the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Ottawa last month that he saw
no need for new border measures once the law took effect. But he did
have a tip: "I would just highly recommend to Canadians to check those
pockets one more time."
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