Pubdate: Sun, 16 Apr 2017
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The New York Times Company


A majority of Americans and Canadians believe that marijuana should be
legal. The governments of the two countries, however, appear to be
moving in very different directions.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been a staunch opponent of
legalization for years, recently ordered a review of an Obama-era
policy under which the federal government agreed not to interfere with
state laws on marijuana, as long as the states took steps to regulate
its distribution and use. Mr. Sessions's apparent goal is to make
Washington the ultimate authority.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, by contrast, would
decentralize authority. His government on Thursday introduced
legislation that would legalize the drug nationally by July 2018, and
give the country's provinces the power to regulate it.

Many nations have decriminalized marijuana, have allowed it to be
prescribed for medical purposes or have effectively stopped enforcing
laws against it. Should Mr. Trudeau's bill pass, as expected, Canada
would become only the second nation, after Uruguay, to completely
legalize marijuana as a consumer product.

More than half of Americans now live in states that have legalized use
of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes. A recent Quinnipiac
University poll found that 59 percent of voters nationally believe
that the drug should be legal and 71 percent say that the federal
government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states that
legalized it. A recent Canadian poll found that support for
legalization is even greater in that country, at 68 percent.

Given the robust level of public support in the United States, as well
as a growing body of evidence that cannabis is less harmful than
previously thought, Mr. Sessions's decision to reopen the door to
federal enforcement in states that have legalized the drug is
wrongheaded. It is also potentially dangerous, because it could
disrupt efforts by states and the District of Columbia to regulate
marijuana, as well as help to re-energize the black market for the
drug - and the crime and violence that go with it.

During the campaign, President Trump said he supported medical
marijuana. And while he criticized its recreational use, he said
during an October rally that legalization "should be a state issue." A
few days later, on election night, four states (California,
Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada) voted to legalize recreational
marijuana use, and four others (Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota and
Montana) voted to permit medical use.

Mr. Sessions does not appear to have been paying attention to the
states or, for that matter, to the president.

Mr. Trudeau came out in favor of full legalization in 2013 when he was
in the opposition. After his party won a parliamentary majority in
2015, he created a task force to study the issue and make
recommendations. (Canada legalized medical use of the drug in 2001.)
The new bill would set a minimum age of 18 for buyers, though
provincial governments would be able to set higher ages. People would
be allowed to grow up to four plants at home, and provinces would
regulate commercial growers and retail sales, including how the drug
was priced and sold.

Before revoking state authority, Mr. Sessions should spend some time
studying how the states that have legalized marijuana have been doing
and listening to their political leaders. Gov. Jay Inslee of
Washington, which legalized marijuana in a ballot initiative in 2012,
says the attorney general has not responded to requests for meetings
on the issue that he and the governors of Alaska, Colorado and Oregon
have asked for.
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