Canada has legalized cannabis after 95 years of criminal classification. Although we are only the second country in the world — after Uruguay — to do so, this move seems long overdue. The War on Drugs, as we’ve known it, has been a resounding failure — promoting destructive, racist, punitive and generally counterproductive policies.
Legalization appears to be a step in the right direction. The prohibition of pot was historically grounded in racist logic, and more recently, it was solidified through misinformation and fear. Ultimately, this has led to the harmful stigmatization of a rather benign drug that has been helpful and pleasurable to many.
During the prohibition of cannabis, statistics in the last decade show that possession arrests have disproportionately affected minority populations and vulnerable communities, though research has shown that consumption of the drug is similar across racial groups.
The current regulations surrounding legalization leave something to be desired. This is true for a number of areas — to varying degrees — across the country, as each province largely dictates their own policies. Policies range from significant to ridiculous, with Quebec going so far as to prohibit the graphic depiction of cannabis on non-cannabis products, such as T-shirts and posters, with a first-time offence garnering a minimum fine of $2,500.
Saskatchewan, for its part, seems to have a rather typical set of regulations — though not without points of contention. The province is allowing only the federal minimum of 4 plants per household, and public consumption is prohibited, which means that those who do not own a home may have no place to smoke the drug in private.
Additionally, landlords and condo boards have the ability to restrict cannabis use in their rental units. Currently, in Saskatoon, there are no plans to allocate safe public spaces to the consumption of cannabis.
Outside of government-imposed restrictions, private companies are putting their own mark on post-legalization Canada. For example, both Air Canada and WestJet are banning some employees from using cannabis while off duty. The Calgary police force has a similar ban for all officers who are qualified to use a handgun and available for duty. However, bans such as these are susceptible to Charter challenges.
The above regulations have serious implications on the freedom Canadians will have to enjoy cannabis after legalization, but they pale in comparison to the new impaired driving laws. Bill C-46, which reformed legislation on alcohol-impaired and drug-impaired driving, uses a set THC blood level as low as 2 nanograms per millilitre of blood to determine the level of impairment.
A universal standard works fine for alcohol but is arbitrary concerning cannabis. That is because the drug is fat soluble — unlike alcohol, which is water soluble. THC is essentially soaked up by fatty tissues in the body.
As a result, heavy users can test for high amounts despite a lack of recent consumption, while occasional users may test very low, even if they have recently used the drug. Linking blood-content levels to impairment is very difficult in the case of marijuana and will likely result in unjust charges and imprisonment.
The effects of driving drunk are well studied and understood, and while it may be tempting to apply the same standards to cannabis, it would be misguided to do so. Simply put, punishments for cannabis-impaired driving as well as restrictions for employees need to be informed by the realities of the substance.
Legalization should be celebrated as a progressive and just decision. However, overly restrictive policies still need to be questioned and challenged.
Photo: Aqsa Hussain