Canada’s Liberal government officially tabled legislation Thursday to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.
At a news conference attended by the various ministries affected by the proposed law, former Toronto police chief and current Liberal Member of Parliament Bill Blair called legalized pot a way of “protecting children and making our communities safer.”
Every minister who spoke ensured that they made repeated references to “protecting youth” and “getting organized crime out of this business.”
The legislation would establish a user’s minimum age at 18 years, though individual provinces can raise that legal limit. Possession will be limited to 30 grams — one ounce — of dried or fresh marijuana. People will also be permitted to grow up to four plants at home.
There will be new criminal code provisions, including making it an offense, punishable by up to 14 years in jail, for the illegal distribution or sale of cannabis as well as similar penalties for providing or selling marijuana to minors.
It will also be a criminal offense to use a youth in the commission of a marijuana-related crime.
However, minors found with five grams or less of marijuana in their possession will not face criminal prosecution.
There are also a series of prohibitions on the marketing, advertising and display of marijuana products. For instance, advertisers will not be allowed to market pot directly to youths in the same way that tobacco cannot use youthful themes. Marijuana will not be sold in vending machines or other means of self-service.
Impaired driving laws will be toughened users who mix alcohol with pot, with penalties rising from a $1,000 fine to life imprisonment, depending on the concentration of drugs and if someone else becomes a victim, either by injury or death, of the impaired person’s actions.
With an eye on cross-border legal issues, the new law will allow visitors to Canada to consume marijuana. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, at Thursday’s news conference, was asked by numerous reporters about potential problems at the border, and whether Canadians traveling to the U.S. “should just lie” to border guards about whether they had consumed marijuana recently. Goodale said Canadian tourists “should never lie” to border guards and suggested he had raised the issue with U.S. officials.
There are a lot of unanswered questions about today’s legislation, such as where marijuana will be sold, how much it will costs, what percentage of the price will be tax and whether people will still opt for under-the-counter marijuana if it is significantly cheaper than the government-sanctioned variety.
The bill is opposed by the official opposition Conservatives and has many critics in the addiction recovery community, who are not convinced the legislation will be effective in protecting children or in reducing the growing dependency of Canadian youth on cannabis.