Pot luck: Canada gambles on legal cannabis

High: A cannabis plant replaces the maple leaf on this Canadian flag flying on Parliament Hill.

Will it be a success or disaster? Canada his become only the second country in the world to fully legalise marijuana. While some rejoice, others slam the move as a risk to public health.

“I’m living my dream,” declared Tom Clarke, after Canada officially legalised cannabis yesterday. He owns one of Canada’s first legal “pot shops”. As the law came into effect, hundreds of people gathered outside his shop, cheering as he made the first sale.

The same scene played out across the country. Under new regulations, adults can now legally buy cannabis oil, seeds, plants and dried cannabis from licensed shops — entirely for recreational use.

It is a bold move. Canada is the second nation to legalise the drug, after Uruguay in 2013. As a member of the G7, and one of the world’s richest nations, it is a big shift from the prohibition enforced by other big countries.

Supporters of legalisation say it will have three main benefits: cut off profits for criminal gangs; provide extra public money through taxation; and prevent children from easily accessing the drug.

“It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids,” claims Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “The current war on drugs is not working.” Indeed, the new laws include severe penalties for selling cannabis to minors, and it is hoped that illegal sources will be driven out of business.

Not everyone is convinced. Writing in the Montreal Gazette, Benjamin Anson declared the move a “national disaster… sure to cause untold suffering for countless families.”

The health impact of cannabis is still hotly disputed. While a fatal overdose has never been recorded, some scientists have made links between marijuana use and psychotic symptoms. Others fear legalisation will cause a spike in drug-related car accidents.

It remains to be seen how valid these fears are. But one thing beyond doubt is the huge financial opportunity the new law brings.

Last year, Canadians spent over £3 billion on marijuana, with 90% of that going to the black market. Now, legitimate businesses are taking over, and the biggest companies are already worth billions. If regulations and advertising bans are relaxed, this so-called “green rush” will only intensify.

Will legalisation be a disaster or success?

Up in smoke

Disaster, some argue. Cannabis can cause terrible health problems — legalisation sends out the harmful message that smoking it is OK. If usage soars, the burden on public health could become unbearable. The UK, and other countries, should be wary of following Canada’s example.

It will be a success, others respond. A regulated market is better for everyone, keeping money from criminals and giving the government greater control over who uses the drug. Furthermore, it can only be better than prohibition, which has has lead to thousands of pointless arrests and shattered lives. This is a welcome change.

You Decide

  1. Should cannabis be legalised in the UK?
  2. Is it immoral to take drugs?

Activities

  1. As a class, list as many myths and rumours about cannabis as you can think of. Then go through them one by one and discuss which ideas you think are true, and which are false.
  2. Using the links in Become An Expert, read the Globe and Mail editorial and Benjamin Anson’s piece for the Montreal Gazette. Summarise the argument of each piece in one sentence. How does each writer use language effectively? Which piece do you find more convincing?

Some People Say...

“Drugs are a bet with your mind.”

Jim Morrison

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
There are currently around 500,000 Canadians with existing criminal records for possession of cannabis. Government officials say they are working on a fast-track process to allow those convicted to apply for legal pardons. Meanwhile, those that are now caught selling cannabis to minors face up to 14 years in prison.
What do we not know?
We do not know if legalisation will cause an increase in marijuana use. In the American states which have legalised the drug there is no clear evidence that usage by those 17 years or younger has increased.

Word Watch

Recreational use
Medical marijuana has been legal in the country since 2001. Canadians are now allowed to carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public.
Uruguay
A small country in South America. It has a population of 3.4 million, compared to Canada’s 36 million.
G7
An informal political union consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US. Russia was also a member until its ejection in 2014.
Prohibition
In Britain, cannabis is classified as a class B drug. Possession is punishable with a maximum of five years in prison. Production and supply carry a punishment of up to 14 years in prison.
Taxation
The government predicts it will raise $400 million a year in tax revenues on cannabis sales.
Scientists
According to research by Patricia Conrod of the Université de Montréal. See the Maclean’s link in Become An Expert.
£3 billion
According to Statistics Canada.