Article by Ian Carey, Now Toronto
Cannabis enthusiasts can breathe easier now that legalization is (almost) here. But what’s already been a long strange trip toward the legalization of recreational cannabis is about to get weirder. Canada isn’t just celebrating the freeing of the weed, we’re building an entire marijuana industry. Other places that have already blazed this trail have lessons to teach us about what to expect, pitfalls to avoid and how to handle the inevitable political blowback.
1. Gotta keep it separated
Author Javier Hasse, who has been studying and reporting on cannabis legislation in South America, believes Canada can learn from Uruguay’s mistakes. The South American nation, the first in the world to legalize recreational use of marijuana, failed to keep its recreational and medical supply systems separate. When shortages in the supply chain occurred, medpot users suffered.
“Medical uses were disregarded at first,” says Hasse.
Only as legalization evolved did the government start handing out licences for medical-only growers, as well as licences to make derivatives like oils to meet the demand.
New cannabis regulations released last week suggest Canada will be taking some steps to try to prevent supply shortages from affecting medical marijuana patients. The regs include licences for micro growing and processing licences.
But a planned excise tax on marijuana will hit both recreational and medical users in Canada, where, in most cases, medical marijuana is not covered by extended health benefit plans.
2. Blame it on the blunt
Toronto is already a tourist-friendly destination, but expect the numbers to increase dramatically when recreational marijuana is legally available.
This might seem like a no-lose scenario, but even cannabis capitals like Amsterdam and Barcelona have had to deal with citizens upset about the increase in cannabis tourists that has accompanied relaxed reefer laws.
In Amsterdam, conservative politicians have been able to pull back marijuana laws by appealing to citizens’ disdain for tourists. In 2011, the city moved to ban cannabis cafés from selling marijuana to tourists. Pot shops near schools are also being shutdown. (The city has also banned all Airbnb rentals.)
In Barcelona, where anti-tourist protests were all the rage last summer, citizens groups are claiming the influx of pot tourists has made their neighbourhoods unsafe and uninviting.
Toronto should take note. While municipal politicians won’t be able to repeal federal laws, they can make things more challenging within city limits.
3. Navigating the many shades of grey
Spain legalized the cultivation of marijuana and citizens are allowed to grow their own plants for personal use. But the sale of marijuana is still prohibited.
As a result, private cannabis clubs in the country operate in a murky, legal grey area, similar to Toronto’s dispensaries.