Pubdate: Fri, 14 Apr 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: Jenna Valleriani
Page: A7
Referenced: Cannabis Act:


Jenna Valleriani wonders about equal access and people already
convicted of minor crimes.

Thursday, the federal government tabled its long-awaited legislation
for the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis. Almost four
years have passed since Justin Trudeau first announced the Liberal
party's intention to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis. Canada
hasn't seen a shift like this since the end of alcohol prohibition in
the 1920s. While the tabled legislation represents a great first step,
there is still a lot left up in the air - responsibility that falls
predominantly on the provinces and territories. This also underscores
concern over equal access to cannabis for adults across Canada.

Following the marijuana task force final report in mid-December, the
proposed legislation captures some important pieces of a comprehensive
framework. Some positive outcomes include the application of
non-criminal sanctions to young Canadians who are underage. This was
absolutely vital to ensuring legalization would meet one of its main
mandates: the protection of young people. Currently, youth are
disproportionate targets of drug-related arrests, a majority for
cannabis alone. On the flip side, sanctions will be much more severe
for those who sell to minors or attempt to exploit youth in
cannabis-related crimes - up to a surprisingly serious 14-year sentence.

Age limits follow the task force recommendations, setting the minimum
at 18, with an option for provinces to adjust that age to match their
"individual realities." This may lead to quite diverse legal-age
ranges across provinces, likely up to a more conservative 25 in some
spots. We can only hope provinces seriously consider the likelihood of
higher age limits perpetuating demand in the illicit market, in
addition to federal encouragement to balance public health and public
safety. Barring regulated and legal access to adults aged 18 to 24
will only encourage the black market, since this age range is the
highest-using cannabis population in Canada.

The production of cannabis under this new personal use system will
follow the medical model - one in which producers who meet stringent
and often quite onerous regulation will apply to Health Canada for a
licence. Additionally, provinces will be left to deal with
distribution. If no retail model is put in place, adults will be able
to purchase through the mail directly from a licensed producer, but we
also need to consider the additional bureaucratic layer that personal
possession limits impose, and if this will cause an administrative
nightmare for mail transactions.

Some big questions remain, particularly around driving under the
influence. Three new driving offences will be introduced for having a
specified level of a drug or combination in one's system. This
includes mandatory alcohol and drug screening, where police can demand
an oral fluid-screening test if they "reasonably suspect" that a
driver is under the influence. What counts as reasonable seems
purposely unclear. Aside from the fact that we don't yet have the
technology to test for actual intoxication of cannabis (only the
presence of THC), many legal experts have already expressed serious
concerns about the constitutionality of these changes. This also
intersects with additional concerns around police profiling, and the
potential to disproportionately impact minorities in particular.

Finally, we didn't hear about past convictions for simple possession,
as well as ongoing arrests that may occur until the bill is in force.
A comprehensive approach must include consideration of those who have
been harmed by cannabis prohibition through its criminalization. While
we're unlikely to see a blanket expunging of criminal records, Canada
could set up a fast-track pardoning system for those convicted of
simple possession and trafficking of cannabis.

While today represents a historical and long-awaited moment in drug
policy reform, there are still many questions around the specifics,
particularly whether provinces will follow the lead of the federal
government. In reality, the bill's success depends on how things such
as age restrictions, distribution, taxation, pricing and other
elements shape up. One thing for certain is that much of the work is
now up to the provinces, and could end offering varying access to
cannabis for adults across Canada.

Jenna Valleriani is a PhD Candidate at the University of Toronto in 
Sociology and Collaborative Program in Addiction Studies, and Strategic 
Adviser for Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy.
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