Canada just took a 'crucial step' toward legalizing recreational marijuana

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Thursday morning, the government of Canada announced that it has created a task force that will be charged with developing a framework for legalizing recreational marijuana nationwide.


The move marks a "crucial step" in the legalization process, Rafik Souccar, a top law enforcement official on the Canadian task force, said in a press conference.

Legalizing recreational marijuana was a main part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's campaign platform, and his government has repeatedly signaled that it would be making a move toward legalization in the coming years.


"We believe in legalization and regulation of marijuana because it protects our kids and keeps money out of the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs," Trudeau told parliament earlier this year.

The task force's final report will be issued in November of this year, and will be publicly available, officials said in the press conference.

The move is expected to cause a reaction in northern U.S. states, since most major Canadian cities are within 100 miles of the U.S. border. Others have suggested that the move could directly impact U.S. drug policy.

In an impassioned speech at the United Nations in April, Health Minister Jane Philpott signaled that legalization could take effect as soon as 2017, where she acknowledged that the plan "challenges the status quo in many countries."


Marijuana legalization in the states of Washington and Colorado have been pointed to as a precursor to Canada's move. And some have suggested that a larger shift in U.S. drug policy could be coming very soon. U.S. newspapers have quoted anonymous Drug Enforcement Agency officials as saying that marijuana could be rescheduled as a Class II drug as early as July 1 or August 1.

“It's nice that those experiments are there for us to see what's worked,” Zach Walsh, a professor at the University of British Columbia in Kelowna, who studies cannabis, told USA Today earlier this year. “We'll learn from those and I think, because we're looking at doing it federally and in a more organized way and maybe with a bit more prep time, I think we'll take what's worked from those models and make our own.”


It's not clear if Trudeau shared his plans with President Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who were in Ottawa this week for the annual "Three Amigos" summit, where they discussed other regional issues.

Current marijuana laws in Canada are generally only loosely enforced. Medical marijuana shops and other dispensaries have long operated in a legal grey area in many major cities. But busts still happen. Earlier this year, police raided 43 Toronto shops that had been operating in the open for years, sparking widespread confusion.


"The biggest problem is that nobody knows what's coming down the pipeline as they draw up this piece of legislation. There was already supposed to be a task force in place — of course that hasn't happened," Alan Young, lawyer and associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation about that incident.

With the understanding that federal laws would be coming soon, Canadian city governments have been begging the federal government for clarity on how to handle marijuana cases.


Now, they're one step closer to having that clarity.

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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