Now that Canada Legalized, What’s Next for Marijuana Law Reform?
Just because Canada has legalized cannabis, doesn’t mean the work of marijuana law reformers is done. In fact, federal legalization in Canada is just a jumping-off point for drug policy activists, and can serve as an example to American officials about what’s next, post-prohibition.
“Since the Cannabis Act passed, there’s been a number of key issues that we’ve been noticing and focusing on in terms of raising awareness about what’s problematic,” Andy Lee — communications director of NORML Canada — told Civilized. “One of our biggest concerns is that the test for determining impaired driving is incredibly inaccurate right now.”
Depending on the province and police division, there are three main tests (saliva, urine, and blood) that should, supposedly, determine, whether a driver is impaired. If a person has between two and five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, they can be charged with an impaired driving offense.
“What we’re noticing is that a lot of these tests are not very reliable,” said Lee. Not only do medical marijuana patients, who are regular consumers, carry a greater risk of testing false positives, but the presence of THC in the blood alone does not necessarily indicate impairment.
“An individual’s baseline THC levels will vary greatly and could potentially be over this minimum in people who use cannabis daily (for example, medical users or chronic recreational users) before they have even consumed cannabis that day,” Avery Sapoznikow — chair of outreach board for Canada Students for Sensible Drug Policy — told Civilized via email. “The method in and of itself is flawed — THC is stored in fat in your body and a saliva test is not going to be an accurate assessment of impairment. Finally, the laws in place now do not take into consideration the well known concept of tolerance to the effects of psychoactive substances.”
The same amount of cannabis could make a veteran consumer and a novice consumer feel wildly different, while perhaps impairing the latter but not the former. “The current method of testing compares these different types of users using the same assessment tool and same cut-off for impairment, which is clearly flawed,” wrote Sapoznikow. “New laws regarding cannabis and impaired driving need to consider the different types of cannabis users and how different usage habits contribute to impairment.”
Another key area in need of improvement is ensuring that medical cannabis patients have fair access to their medicine, and aren’t impacted by legalization, Lee said.
“In Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta, we’re seeing huge shortages of cannabis on the retail side,” he said. “What effectively has happened is that a lot of the licensed producers who were originally set up to provide access to medical cannabis created company brands to start servicing the recreational market, so a lot of the supply has been trickling down toward supplying the recreational market [under] legalization. We want to make sure that medical cannabis users are able to access the medicine that they require.”
A third issue continues to be raising awareness and educating the public about the new regulations, and about cannabis more broadly. “There are quite a lot of rules and stipulations that make it so that it’s very confusing overall,” Lee said. “We’re trying to raise awareness of all the facts, making sure that everyone understands what’s legal and what’s not.”
And lastly, NORML Canada is working to break down the stigma around cannabis use, Lee said. “We believe that cannabis culture and cannabis history in Canada is quite filled with talents and experience and richness in terms of culture.”