Canada’s sober approach to marijuana legalization

Trudeau once again affirmed Canada’s desire to legalize in order to restrict access, not create a thriving industry.

In a conference on Canada’s economic future in Toronto on Wednesday, Justin Trudeau was asked if legalizing marijuana will allow Canada to develop a thriving marijuana industry comparable to France’s wine industry.

Despite hearty laughter from the audience, Trudeau took the opportunity to once again highlight the relative seriousness of Canada’s approach to legalizing — namely, lowering youth use and diverting profits from crime, not “creating a boutique industry or bringing in tax revenue.”

This is not a new mantra for Trudeau, his party has used these points as the foundation for their legalization argument since it was formally introduced in July 2013, and has said tax revenue is not a priority. However, it’s an important distinction to be raised and the joking tone with which the question was asked, and the seriousness with which Trudeau replied, highlight the continued disconnect between the common idea of legalization being a joke or all about getting “high” and the explicitly harm-reduction based approach being advocated for by many, and that has been proposed by Canada’s new government.

Trudeau did go on to acknowledge that he has ‘no doubt that Canadian entrepreneurs will be tremendously innovative in finding ways to create positive economic benefits from the legalization and control of marijuana’, but still returned back to finish with the mantra of ‘protecting kids and protecting our streets’.

“Look, our approach on legalizing marijuana is not about creating a boutique industry or bringing in tax revenue, it’s based on 2 very simple principles. The first one is: Young people have easier access to cannabis now, in Canada, than they do in just about any other countries in the world-29 different countries studied by the UN, Canada was number one in terms of underage access to marijuana, and whatever you might think or studies seen about cannabis being less harmful than alcohol or even cigarettes, the fact is it is bad for the developing brain and we need to make sure that it’s harder for underage Canadians to access marijuana, and that will happen under a controlled and regulated regime. The other piece of it is there are billions upon billions of dollars flowing into the pockets of organized crime, street gangs and gun runners, because of the illicit marijuana trade, and if we can get that out of the criminal elements and into a more regulated fashion we will reduce the amount of criminal activity that’s profiting from those, and that has offshoots into so many other criminal activities. So those are my focuses on that. I have no doubt that Canadian entrepreneurs will be tremendously innovative in finding ways to create positive economic benefits from the legalization and control of marijuana, but our focus is on protecting our kids and protecting our streets.” -Justin Trudeau

For those expecting Canada’s legalization to look like a 420 rally, or like the wild west open market of some US states, these comments may serve as a sober reminder that Canada is seeking to create a ‘respectable’, even conservative form of legalization, especially at first, as all the eyes of the world will be on Canada, and all of the Liberal’s political opponents will be ready to pounce at the first negative outcome of an under-regulated market.

While these laws are likely to lessen over time (much like alcohol laws have lessened over time) the expectation of an open, free market that resembles today’s black market, only legal, is not being supported by any of the Federal Government’s messaging.

The fact that asking about legalization still elicits such hearty laughter seems precisely to highlight why the current government feels the need to take such a serious and sober approach. And isn’t taking cannabis seriously a good thing for all cannabis advocates?