By Julie Winsel

Our neighbors to the far north passed Bill C-45 on November 27, legalizing recreational marijuana throughout Canada. Effective July 1, 2018, the country is now in a frenzy trying to figure out how best to respond in terms of enforcement of best and legal practices, and how to incorporate the booming business into the existing liquor store infrastructure.

In Vancouver, BC, Steven Feldman hosts a weekly radio talk show on Roundhouse Radio 98.3: Canada Pot Talks. The show covers “the wide spectrum affected by the legalization of recreational cannabis – from social, health and community issues to the booming new ‘green’ cannabis economy and the hottest new investment sector – Canada Pot Stocks.” Every week, Feldman brings on relevant guests, from local dispensary owners to pharmaceutical representatives, to talk about how the legalization of is going to affect hockey and maple syrup’s favorite country as well as some of the flaws in the regulation that the government is building.

As Feldman and his guests discuss on the show, the goals of enacting Bill C-45 seem simple:

  1. Keep cannabis out of the hands of youth
  2. Have stricter regulations when it comes to dispensaries and who can hold licenses to sell cannabis
  3. Keep cannabis out of the black market and reduce imports from the US, where some border states, such as Washington, have already legalized cannabis.
  4. Build stricter laws and penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis and selling or giving cannabis to minors

These make sense, right? Let’s all agree that, just like alcohol and cigarettes, kids should probably not be able to legally buy their own pot. And by legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis, the amount of illegal selling through organized crime and cross-border smuggling should reduce.

However, there are some issues when you dive deeper into the laws, something Robert W.E. Laurie, a lawyer with Ad Lucem Law Corporation, has strapped on the proverbial SCUBA gear and done. Laurie, writer and speaker in addition to his law practice, was a guest on Feldman’s show on December 9 as well as January 6. In both episodes, Feldman and Laurie discussed “Prohibition 2.0.”

While Laurie says that there are a number of problems with the regulations that the government is enacting with legalization, one of the biggest is the increase in criminalization and penalties to those who are not abiding.

First, there is the belief that there will be an increase in the number of people driving while under the influence. Around this point there are a number of flaws, both in (1) the belief in the increase and the increase in risk on the road and (2) that there is no solid way to determine whether or not someone is under the influence of cannabis while they are driving.

Laurie compares the fear of the increase number of presumably high drivers to the fact that there are truck drivers, pilots, and everyday drivers out there who are already taking heavy pharmaceuticals while on the job and driving among us. Laurie mentions Ritalin, used to treat ADHD, has a severe impact on those taking it with respect to their safety on the road. Laurie asks, why aren’t they concerned now? Why do they feel like they’re not ready?

“They’ve had 93 years to get ready from my point of view,” Laurie says. “And if they’re not ready now, they never will be.” He goes on to say that they only way they’re not ready is that they’ve been trained in the enforcement and prohibition mentality.

Laurie says that, according to Bill C-46, which outlines the regulations around controlled substances such as cannabis and alcohol, a person can be convicted of driving under the influence and have their driver’s license revoked for 90 days if they are found to have 2ng but less that 5ng of THC per milliliter of blood.

But how do you measure whether or not that person is actually being impacted by the THC in their system? The psychoactive effects of ingested cannabis only last a few hours, but are present in your system for much longer.

“Cannabis works differently for different people,” Laurie says, adding that alcohol and cannabis work very differently in how they are absorbed and processed by the body. Alcohol, as it is water-soluble, is out of your systems within hours, while cannabis, because it is fat-soluble, can take days or weeks or even months to be fully out of your system.

Second, there is the disproportionate penalties to providing cannabis to minors, whether selling or not. For selling alcohol to a minor, a business faces only minor penalties and fines, while the selling or provision of cannabis to a minor, even if it is with full consent from parents and the child’s doctors, can have you facing up to 14 years in jail and severe penalties. Laurie finds this to be insulting, saying that civil rights and freedoms are being sidelined because of money.

There are also issues of supply shortages, the fears around whether legalization will lead to increased access to cannabis for youth, and, if sales are going to be made through existing liquor stores and incorporated into that system, what happens to the medicinal dispensaries who have been in business for years already.

There is still a lot of stigma and fear that accompanies the legalization of marijuana anywhere. But, by looking at the actual science and letting cannabis stand on its own, folks who fear the herb could find some benefits.