Did Legalizing Marijuana Make Things Better or Worse for Canadians?
Since legalization kicked in on October 17, 2018, marijuana use has become more openly accepted. In Canada, people who have had an affinity for marijuana can now smoke or consume the drug in its various forms without judicial consequence. The Trudeau government even went as far as to announce their pledge to pardon minor convictions stemming from marijuana-related charges. On the other hand, though legal in Canada, usage of the drug has created problems for Canada Border Services officers, inciting uproar from travellers at the border. Dispensaries have received a great deal of backlash for their close proximity to schools. Not to mention, the overarching problematic scheme set in place to determine what differentiates possession from intent to distribute. The million-dollar question is: has this new legislation, designed to alleviate the difficulties of possession and usage, spurred a multitude of problems in the hopes of solving just one?
The Liberal government proposed this idea as a part of their agenda. Spearheaded by Minister of Public Safety Roger Goodale, the new legislation was intended to legalize an outdated and over-criminalizing societal norm, something lobbyists say has been long past due. It’s no secret that the correctional system has consistently reflected a disproportionate ratio of individuals from racialized or lower socioeconomic backgrounds, especially with regards to marijuana-related convictions. With an overwhelming wave of global and national support for the drug to be legal and after years of studies have proven the drug’s useful applications and less detrimental effects compared to other forms of legal substances, the answer was quite easy and fit well with this government’s platform.
People who have used marijuana for purposes such as anxiety, depression, sleep-apnea, and an endless list of assuaged conditions, are hailing this move as “life-saving” stating that “they feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders.” The burden carried by many marijuana users is simply that the use of cannabis makes life easier and in turn helps them to be more productive. One student mentioned “marijuana for me is literally the difference between a good performance and the ability to do well and the letting everything get to me and overthink it all”. A subcategory of the Canadian populace, students, herald the move as a step in the right direction, removing barriers to entry, and eliminating invisible glass ceilings that the rest of society doesn’t see but they feel every single day. For these people and many others, the benefits far outweigh the potential difficulties that come from this long-awaited move at the national level.
However, there are those that hold a much different point of view. As the new legislation has made it easier for individual use, there have been serious ramifications for other parts of society. In order to freely buy the drug, one needs to have stores from which to buy. In Toronto, the argument against upcoming dispensaries was centred around their location of choice. The first location was initially planned to be 450 metres away from a nearby Scarborough school. It turned out that this wasn’t an isolated situation and that the next chain of locations considered following suit, whether by chance or for economic reasons. However, the Beer Store shares a similar predicament, hosting locations as close to 100 metres from schools. Children gaining access is certainly a concern, and since being raised, the previous Ontario Liberal government put in motion a strategy to better accommodate parents.
What has yet to be remedied is the current immigration issue. When crossing the border, officers ask a number of incriminating, loaded, and leading questions, all of which travellers are prescribed to answer truthfully. Officers ask, “Have you had marijuana within the last 48 hours? Are you planning on using marijuana in the states, even in a marijuana-legal state? Have you been pardoned for a marijuana-related conviction?” Immigration professionals have cited that many of their clients are turned away from the border when being honest with any of these questions and answering yes, even though they have committed no crime and show little or no past transgression.
The opposite isn’t any better, as Immigration Consultant Jui Lung Wu points out that, “even if you answer no, they will question your answer and may send you home from the border.” The border has become a “death trap” for people who have had any contact with marijuana. Free-range policy for border security and law enforcement has shown negative effects on travellers. Worst of all, to be turned around from the border means to be denied entry—an event that appears on an individual’s travel history and only leads to future difficulties when crossing the border. Lastly, even pardoned individuals with regard to marijuana convictions are being held for longer prosecution times without exact reason. “The best reason we’ve ever heard from a border officer is that the migrant poses a threat to break controlled substance acts in the U.S. due to a propensity to do it once before—a far cry from being considered a valid reason at all” says Jui Lung Wu. Overall, the problem seems to be getting worse at the border and policy intervention is heavily needed.
So, where do we stand at the end of the day? Legalization helps users but affects both users and society at large in so many other ways. Mental and physical health improves, and an outdated, over-criminalizing law that targets racialized and low socioeconomic individuals is reformed. But on the flip side, society must contend with new dispensaries and where they should be established as well as with border woes. The question remains: is the legalization of marijuana a good or bad thing for society? My take is that it’s like two sides of a coin; one cannot exist without the other. The problem solved does create other problems, but over time, pivotal policy discussions and more appropriate resolutions will prove that the decision to legalize marijuana is one of greater benefit than detriment. Can we get there? Only time will tell.