Legal Cannabis in Canada? The U.S. Could Follow

By Lydia Parker

Canada has become the first G7 nation and second nation in the world after Uruguay to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide. After 95 years of prohibition, sweeping law changes have altered Canada’s legislation and set the eyes of the world on what many are calling a national experiment.

Whether or not this historic move will bring about a promised economic boom, decrease in black market marijuana profits and a safer nation of marijuana consumers have yet to be seen. As a national experiment, the legalization of marijuana in Canada will be a game-changer for national politics as well as a case study for future nations considering cannabis legalization in some form.

Canada’s legalization of marijuana is a historic moment for world politics. However, critics of the legislation are citing ethical and health concerns as well and are questioning how Canada will enforce the new laws nation wide. Though many are celebrating Canada’s legalization as a win for progressive politics, the Cannabis Act and its sweeping legislation can only be considered a political, economic and social success if it proves itself to be more than a political tactic for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and actually achieves its aforementioned goals.
Red flags are waving in regards to the framework and feasibility of Canada’s marijuana legalization. The legislation itself allows cannabis to be used on a national scale, but does not specify how new laws regarding the drug will be enacted throughout Canada.

The New York Times reports, “The federal government has left the country’s 13 provinces and territories to carry out the new legislation and set their own rules, creating a patchwork of regulations.” Some critics, like The Washington Post’s J.J. McCollough, a political commentator and cartoonist from Vancouver, are calling Prime Minister Trudeau’s approach toward legalization both unnecessary and underdeveloped in terms of scope and enforcement. The legalization of cannabis in Canada should be “an enormously complicated undertaking, given the country’s wide diffusion of regulatory authority among federal, provincial and municipal levels of government,” said McCollough.

Instead, many are concerned that the sweeping legalization was done as a kind of political performance without proper preparation for its enactment.
Under the new legislation the legal age for marijuana possession and purchase is 18 in Quebec and Alberta and 19 in the rest of the nation. The Cannabis Act “stems from a campaign pledge of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to keep marijuana away from underage users and curb marijuana-related crime,” CNN reports. New legislation allows adults in Canada to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and four marijuana plants per household, according to CNN.

Marijuana legalization has been a highly debated topic over the last few years, with Uruguay becoming the first country to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide in Dec. 2013. CNN reports that in the U.S., 30 states have legalized marijuana in some form, while recreational use is now allowed in nine states. Many U.S. politicians are now including promises of marijuana legalization in their campaign platforms.

Questions concerning the economic benefits of a government-backed marijuana trade and the possible health and ethical issues caused by the legalization do not have simple answers.

On one hand, marijuana legalization could prove to be extremely profitable for Canada, especially for licensed distributors and growers. The Times reports that the industry is expetced to earn $5 billion in profits.

On the opposing side of the issue, many health experts are urging caution in response to marijuana legalization. The Times reported that cannabis has addictive qualities. Cannabis is a psychoactive drug, and it is important to not forget that even if a substance is legalized, the negative and potentially harmful effects are still a risk to consumers.

The United States seems to be on course to continue its partial state-by-state legalization, though nationwide legalization will likely not occur within the next few years, especially as tension and disagreement between state and federal governments about marijuana legalization continue.

The U.S. should not consider legalizing recreational marijuana. Not until enough time has passed to see what internal and external effects Canada’s legalization has wrought on the economy and population.

If Canada’s legalization proves to be a success on all fronts, and not simply a flashy political demonstration, then the U.S. should consider nationwide legalization.


Lydia Parker, FCRH ’20, is an English major from Beverly, Massachusetts.