While it started as an election campaign promise, last week the road to legalizing the use of marijuana has become a little more concrete.
The Canadian government introduced its bill to legalize recreational marijuana use. This would allow Canadians to possess up to 30 grams of marijuana and sets the minimum age at 18.
The proposed bill, according to the government, is to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and to curb organized crime profits. Subject to Parliamentary approval and Royal Assent, the Government of Canada intends to provide regulated and restricted access to cannabis no later than July 2018.
Ryan Semchuk has a prescription to use medical marijuana, but has been following the debate closely and likes the approach the government has been taking to make the changes.
“I agree with the way they have been approaching it, to have it not easily accessible through the black market is huge. The strategies they are taking are the right steps,’ he said. “To me, to have it regulated, to have a safe, healthy supply of a product that doesn’t really have any negative health effect is a good thing. Then we are not dealing with fentanyl or other hard drugs on the street.”
MP Kevin Sorenson has some concerns, especially about youth access. The government regulations called for prohibition under the age of 18, however, the province will have the ability to bump that to 21.
“There are still a lot of unanswered questions in regards to the health and safety of Canadians, I’m talking about the use of marijuana before the age of 25, before the brain is fully developed, there are just a lot of ‘ifs’ yet,” he said.
Semchuk also does have some concerns about access for young people.
“I know that whether you are 18 or 21, you are going to do what you are going to do, but after doing more research into growth and brain development I can see some concerns on the development side of these individuals,” he said. “If I were to open a recreational retail space, I would make it 21 or older.”
A second bill was introduced to strengthen measures to deal with impaired driving. Sorenson says this is a safety concern for all Canadians.
“There is no adequate test at the present time, like a breathalyzer, that has a very quick roadside test to see if someone is under the influence of marijuana,” said Sorenson. “In fairness to the Liberals, they acknowledge some of that. But the answer they give is that ‘it’s a campaign promise.’ That may be fine and dandy but until there are some answers for the health and safety of Canadians, I think they need to continue to proceed with caution. I continue to oppose it.”
Semchuk also has concerns.
“The problem with marijuana is that it affects people so differently depending on the content of THC, the type of terpenes in marijuana, depending on your body size, there are so many variables,” he said. “It is going to be tough to measure. My concern is there is a fair playing field there.”
He says the government has handled medical marijuana well.
“I am pretty impressed with the way the federal government has been handling it, especially from the medical side, regardless of the negativity of the current system in place, I feel as a patient, the system that is in place is very safe, accessible and I think they are doing the right thing from a quality standpoint.”
Come July 2018 Semchuk believes there will be enough marijuana to supply the market.
“Health Canada is aware of that, as I watch the approval process of new licensed producers in Canada, Health Canada has about 30 or 40 more in the works as we sit. It is a model that consists of both large sale opportunities as well as medium and small opportunities to balance it out so there is no dominance of one company in the market,” he said.
Local lawyer Colin Kloot has spent many years as a federal prosecutor in Drumheller, and while he takes no position on use of marijuana, he recognizes that existing policies do not work.
“I maintain the war on drugs was lost a long time ago, especially on marijuana,” he said. “Regulating marijuana makes sense because it is so commonplace, to keep making casual use an offence is nonsensical.”
He says, how these changes will be implemented remains to be seen.
“Who knows how this is going to pan out, there is a lot of groundwork to be done,” he said.