Cannabis, Cannabis Everywhere

It’s a busy time for all things cannabis. Easily the most high profile developments are the legalization of recreational use in Colorado and Washington in the US. That paved the way for a widely heralded New York Times editorial that proclaimed unequivocally: “The federal government should repeal the ban on marijuana.” This coming November, legalization will be on the ballot in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C.

All of which has Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto musing about liberalizing cannabis laws so that his country keeps pace with developments in the US. This comes after he and the presidents of Colombia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala persuaded the UN General Assembly to convene a special session (UNGASS) to explore alternatives to the failed war on drugs — in Mexico alone, an estimated 100,000 have died or disappeared in drug-related violence. Further south, delays in Uruguay’s roll-out of a legal, regulated cannabis market are putting that plan into question.

Here in Canada, April 1 brought new medical cannabis laws that are confusing and now stalled by a court injunction. Nevertheless, the federal government projects that this industry will be worth $1.3 billion in 10 years. So it’s no surprise that entrepreneurs across the country are jockeying to get in on the action; applying for licences, building greenhouses, and repurposing vacant industrial space — like an old chocolate factory outside Ottawa.

The government is also looking at changes to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that would make it possible for police to issues tickets for possession of small amounts of cannabis, instead of laying charges. It could be a positive step, but the risk is that if it’s easier for police to process minor cannabis offences, individual officers might stop using case-by-case discretion and instead formally record all minor offenses.

Regardless, it’s a pretty timid move compared to what’s happening elsewhere in the Americas — particularly given how many Canadians don’t think possession should warrant any police attention whatsoever. Even the government’s own polling shows that over 70 percent of Canadians think cannabis should be legalized or decriminalized. No matter… Conservatives seem to have set their sights on the remaining 30 percent, denouncing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s pro-legalization stance and going so far as to claim he wants schoolchildren buying pot in convenience stores.

To top it all off, anti-legalization Americans who don’t like what they’re seeing in their own country have inserted themselves into the Canadian conversation, helping launch a Canadian branch of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. It remains to be seen whether Canadians will buy their version of prohibition-lite — i.e. allowing for some degree of decriminalization, but maintaining that cannabis is a public health menace.

So what’s next? Will Trudeau stand by his support for legalization come election time? How will the national debate be impacted by the return to Canada of Marc Emery — arguably Canada’s most famous pot crusader? What initiatives can we expect to see from Sensible BC, NORML Canada and other cannabis interest groups?

Clearly there’s an emerging conversation in Canada, and a big year coming up.

For our part, we intend to be at the forefront of that conversation. So here’s what we have planned:

Medical Cannabis forum in Mexico City – Sept. 22-23. 2014

As part of our International Program, CDPC is supporting efforts in Mexico to introduce medical cannabis in that country. In September we’re partnering with several Mexican organizations to co-sponsor a Medical Cannabis forum in Mexico City. Experts from the US and Canada will convene in two meetings, one sponsored by the Senate of Mexico — which is deliberating a bill to legalize medical cannabis — and a second meeting at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) to discuss the state of medical cannabis research in the three countries.

Cannabis Policy Brief – Fall 2014

We’re currently working on a policy brief that will outline what it could look like to regulate cannabis through a public health framework. It will cover the history of cannabis prohibition, the potential health harms, and the key social and health harms relating to cannabis policy, followed by an examination of the regulatory mechanisms that could balance the health impacts of cannabis with the rights of consumers and the pursuit of profit by commercial interests.

UNGASS – Ongoing

All off this is leading up to the UNGASS session in 2016. UNGASS is a special meeting of UN member states to discuss major global issues like health, gender, the status of children, etc. The focus of 2016 will be the world’s drug control priorities, and we expect it to precipitate a new approach to drug policy – either through the development of a more progressive global consensus, or, more likely, because it will shatter the distorted idea that a global consensus is possible.

In the build-up to UNGASS, we’ll be asking “what’s Canada’s role in the world?” Will we line up with the old guard? People like the former president of the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board, who accused Uruguay of demonstrating “pirate attitudes” for proposing cannabis legalization? Or will we side with forward looking reformers who feel countries should be free to craft drug policy — regarding cannabis and otherwise — that reflects national attitudes and interests? Our job will be to make sure it’s the latter.

Donald MacPherson

About Donald MacPherson

Donald MacPherson is the Executive Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and one of Canada’s leading figures in drug policy. In 2000 he published Vancouver’s groundbreaking Four Pillars Drug Strategy that precipitated a broad public discussion on issues related to addiction.

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