New Laws Will Set Us Free – Or Will They?

March 26, 2018

Legalization of cannabis is coming and we will all be home free! Or will we?

Although generally, it will be a relief for many people to be able to possess cannabis legally, I and many others have serious concerns about the regulations, especially around impaired driving laws. While many business types are running around with dollar signs in their eyes, the person on the street should be alarmed to know that he/she could just as likely become a criminal under “legalization” as they were during prohibition.

Lawyer Tina Fraser compiled a chart to navigate all the new laws surrounding cannabis when it becomes legal in 2018. (1) . There are currently eight cannabis-related offences, such as possession, trafficking, importing and exporting under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, while under the Cannabis Act, there will be 45 offences, and many penalties will be far stiffer. (2)

One of the central objectives of the Cannabis Act is “deter[ring] illicit activities in relation to cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures”. (3)

People have been buying from the illegal market all their lives, and legalization wants to impose instant social control in one swift swoop. Buy from the legal market…or else. The criminal sanctions on anyone who buys or sells illegal cannabis, having more than 30 grams on your person in public, having 5 cannabis plants – these can all bring you in conflict with the law. The days of haphazard ways to grow, sell and buy cannabis are over. There is a new kid in town who seems terrified of the competition and is bullying them out of the picture rather than embracing them into the fold. Micro-cultivation licences are a good start, depending on the final legislation.

It does not matter whether there is no legal cannabis available due to severe supply shortages. It does not matter that you don’t have access to a retail outlet and couldn’t afford to order more cannabis on-line (plus delivery charges) until Friday, and because of the long weekend, you will be lucky to see your product on Tuesday or Wednesday the following week. If you are not home at the time of delivery, add another day to go to the post office for pick up. If you go visit your buddy down the street to get something to tide you over, you are both criminals. If you are short on cash and your dealer “fronts” you some pot until payday, can you expect a store to do the same?

The courts will be overwhelmed with so many unsuspecting new criminals, and constitutional challenges will be launched that will eventually bend and shape the laws into a more humane system, as the legal system did with the medical cannabis program.

Other than impairment laws, and where you can or cannot drink, the tobacco and alcohol laws allow freedom to buy as much as you want, homebrew as much wine or beer as you wish, or grow 15 lbs. of tobacco for personal use. Sharing a drink with adolescents gets you a fine if any legal consequences are rendered at all. If a serious incident arose from supplying a minor with alcohol, then possibly jail time. With cannabis, an adult could face 14 years of jail time for giving or selling a youth some cannabis. A little over the top?

One of the main purposes of legalization was deemed to protect youth, yet they will not escape a criminal record if they have more than 5 grams on them which will do more harm to them than cannabis ever will.

In all fairness, the governments had to start somewhere, and taking a cautious approach was predictable. They say it is easier to loosen laws than add restrictions, but they have had no problem tightening regulations around alcohol, and especially around tobacco.

One thing is for sure, what cannabis legalization looks like in year one, will look different than cannabis legalization in five or ten years down the road.

Debra Harper