Though he wasn’t the only impetus to legalization, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will be known as the one who legalized weed in Canada. Unlike his dad, the late former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, Justin has admitted to using the stuff, and it was no surprise that the dashing young, PM hopeful made cannabis legalization his main platform to run on.
President Donald Trump, meanwhile, never claimed to use any substance and he isn’t the kind of president the nation would want to have a beer with, because he’s a teetotaler as well. So far, marijuana legalization seems to be the only topic he’s shying away from. And the journey the U.S. is taking toward legalization, one ballot box at a time, seems to be the only way to move cannabis into the legal mainstream.
The Beginning of the End of Cannabis Prohibition in Canada
Canada had medical marijuana laws dating back to 2001 that would allow a small number of patients to grow cannabis or purchase it from licensed growers. But it was a major pivot in 2013, the creation of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) that started up the commercial industry for medicinal cannabis. The race to industrialize the production of medical marijuana was on, patient lists expanded, and Canadians gained real sight of legalization on the horizon.
It was also in 2013 that Justin Trudeau won the leadership of the Liberal Party and first publicly expressed an interest in legalizing marijuana, saying “I’m actually not in favour of decriminalizing cannabis. I’m in favour of legalizing it. Tax it, regulate. It’s one of the only ways to keep it out of the hands of our kids because the current war on drugs, the current model is not working. We have to use evidence and science to make sure we’re moving forward on that.”
It was evident by then that a sizeable market for government-regulated medicinal cannabis but now it was time to move “recreational” consumers away from the black market too.
Trudeau won the 2015 federal election and took his Liberal party from 36 seats to 184 seats in the House of Commons. Cannabis legalization for the sake of public safety and public health became the Liberal party’s official promise everyone from activists to entrepreneurs hung on from that day forward.
After analyzing the results of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, Trudeau reiterated his aim to legalize it in Canada too. He has spent the three years since working with industry leaders, addiction and mental health experts, community leaders, entrepreneurs, doctors and law enforcement officials to show his commitment to a smooth transition to legalized cannabis for all adults.
In June of 2018, the Canadian Senate passes Bill-45, known as the Cannabis Act, which officially put Trudeau’s legalization timeline in motion for the end of the summer. The Canadian prime minister set the marijuana legalization date as 17 October, stating before parliament that this new system will be better at protecting Canada’s youth and diverting money from organized crime.
A More Trump-like Approach to Cannabis Prohibition
On the campaign trail, Trump promised to respect state laws. It was strange then, that upon winning he appointed an Attorney General like Jeff Sessions, who as a senator was one of Congress’s most vocal legalization opponents. The year following Trump’s inauguration was full of conflicting signals coming from Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the administration’s position on cannabis enforcement, including his directing of the Justice Department task force to review the “Cole Memo” and recommend some changes.
Born of a former Obama Justice Department deputy attorney general, the memo was to allow states to implement their own laws around cannabis, mostly without federal intervention. When the task force didn’t quite deliver what Sessions was looking for, he announced the rescinding of the memo at the start of 2018. The announcement made some ripples in cannabis stocks on both sides of the Canada-US border, but it did nothing to deter the Canadian government and its agencies from pushing forward with plans to legalize.
Taking their cues from Sessions, the U.S. House Republican leaders have blocked floor votes on dozens of legalization-related amendments during the 115th Congress, allowing zero cannabis measures to advanced to a vote before the full body. Today, Congress continues to be out of step with the American people on the topic of cannabis—one Gallup poll from that time found that 64 percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.
With Jeff Sessions positioned as the image of the cinematic bad guy, holding closed-door meetings with anti-legalization activists, Trump went on to support a bipartisan bill that would amend the Controlled Substances Act to protect states that legalize cannabis from federal interference. Since then, he’s also renewed his pledge to leave the states alone.
The Continuation of Cannabis Prohibition
As of Oct. 17, Canada became the second nation, after Uruguay, but the first of the G7 countries to legalize recreational cannabis nationwide. Canadian adults of legal age (18 or 19 years old, depending on the province or territory), can now purchase marijuana online or in store.
President Trump’s reaction to the big October 17th date was radio silence. Except for a few moderate warnings regarding cannabis at the border, the U.S. government stayed off the wire, and nary a presidential tweet mentioned it.
Marijuana reform is expected to be on the Trump administration’s agenda after the midterm elections. Trump not only says he would overrule Sessions if he tries to undermine criminal justice reform efforts (maybe those talks with Kim and Kanye helped?) but he is reportedly weighing candidates to replace U.S. Attorney General potentially.
Democratic congressman Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) is coming forward with his step-by-step plan to enact the end of federal marijuana prohibition in 2019, calling it an opportunity to correct course on cannabis. The “Blueprint to Legalize Marijuana,” relies on a Democratic House to lead on the issue and apply pressure on the Senate, where bipartisan support for cannabis reform is already growing.
Canada’s legalization isn’t over yet either. Health Canada says it will open up licence applications for micro-cultivators after legalization comes into effect. Plus, a framework for legalizing the production and sale of edibles and concentrates. And then there’s the issue of pardoning past non-violent cannabis crimes for which the activity indicated is no longer prohibited. With no indication of when the government will table a bill for these pardons in the House of Commons, all we have to go on is a Trudeau promise.