Canada became the first major country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis use. 46-year-old Ian Power, one of the first Canadians to buy legal weed in the easternmost province of Newfoundland said he wasn’t going to smoke, vape or bake the gram of cannabis he bought. Rather, he was going “to frame” his historic legal cannabis purchase. “I’m having a plaque made with the date and time and everything. This is never actually going to be smoked, I’m going to keep it forever,” he told a journalist.
Though some 30 countries around the world have given the green light to medical marijuana use, Canada is the second country after Uruguay to legalise recreational marijuana for adult use nationwide. The move potentially positions Canada to become the industry world leader, analysts say. “Right now, we’re producing some of the best cannabis in the world. This is an opportunity, and it’s very scalable,” Lisa Harun, co-founder of vaporiser company Vapium, told Canada’s Global News.
On day one of legalised sales, there were block-long line-ups of buyers and the government-operated websites and private retail portals were collectively processing more than 100 orders a minute, a sign of high demand for the drug.
Around 15 per cent of Canadians use pot either for medicinal purposes or for recreation. Canadians spent C$5.7 billion on the product last year, the national statistics department says, with 90 per cent of that amount going to illicit dealers.
The government’s goal is to eradicate an illegal cannabis marketplace worth billions of dollars. Countries around the world will be watching to see how well Canada succeeds in stamping out illicit sales with an eye to following suit.
“Right now, we know young people have easier access to marijuana than just about any other illicit substance. It’s easier for a teenager to buy a joint than to buy a bottle of beer. That’s not right,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, laying out the aims of legalisation, which was an election promise. “Secondly, we know criminal organisations and street gangs are making billions of dollars off the sale of marijuana. We feel regulating it, controlling it will bring that revenue out of the pockets of criminals and put it into a system where we can both monitor, tax it,” he said.
The country of 37 million legalised medicinal marijuana in 2001 and set up a licensing system for private marijuana growers that laid the foundation for the country’s flourishing weed industry. Now, Canada’s pioneering step legalising recreational use gives the country a headstart in developing a wide-range of marijuana-based products — from edibles to drinks, oils and “craft” cannabis strains. Recreational cannabis legalisation is seen as a developing global megatrend. In the US, recreational marijuana use is legal in nine states and 29 allow medicinal weed. US companies fear missing the boat that Canada will end up the dominant player. Giving added traction to the market, UK spirits giant Diageo is reportedly in talks with at least three big marijuana producers in Canada to create cannabis-infused drinks.
In the early years, it’s clear that demand for legal marijuana in Canada will vastly outstrip supply. In fact, financial advisers Mackie Research Capital forecasts legal supply won’t match demand until 2020. Canopy says that by then, the market will have moved beyond recreational weed to pharmaceuticals, beverages and sleeping aids.
The Canadian Medical Association called legalisation of recreational marijuana an “uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians”.
In response to such concerns, Canada’s organised crime reduction minister Bill Blair has declared, “It’s not the intention of the government (and) it’s certainly not my intention to normalise the use of this drug.” Blair’s been frank about his dislike for cannabis and its impact on public health but says it was his time as cop that made him realise marijuana criminalisation was “failing” on every front. “We’ve now created competition in the market-place — they’ve (organised crime) never had competition before,” Blair said.
Surveys, though, show some 55 per cent of Canadians remain unconvinced legalisation is the right move. One of the public’s chief concerns is that police aren’t equipped to reliably screen for drug-impaired driving. The federal government has only approved one roadside test device for cannabis and it may not give accurate results in Canada’s freezing winters. Lawyers expect a raft of cases challenging the saliva tests to hit the courts.
Prime Minister Trudeau — even though he spearheaded the legalisation drive — made it clear he wouldn’t be celebrating by smoking pot. “I’ve said many times I’m not a drug user, I don’t drink much alcohol, I don’t drink coffee. I’m not going to smoke marijuana,” he told reporters.