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Trudeau: Canada’s Pot Legalization Will Be Corporate, Boring (And Not Equitable!)

Chris Roberts

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Canada

What do you know about Justin Trudeau, Canada’s boyish and bilingual prime minister, whose Liberal government is slowly but surely following through on a promise to legalize marijuana?

In case your knowledge of this North American world leader is encapsulated in the above sentence let us proffer another fact, gleaned from the dreamy P.M.’s dreary interview Monday with VICE: He is boring.

As is his plan for Canada to become the second country on earth to legalize cannabis on a national level.

There was so much hope for something so much better.

Trudeau fielded questions for most of an hour in VICE Canada’s Toronto headquarters from all directions: from VICE senior writer Manisha Krishnan, from Toronto’s chief of police, from Seth Rogen—Hollywood’s senior stoner these days—and from members of the Canadian public.

If legislation introduced earlier this month passes—a near-certainty, given that Trudeau’s Liberal Party has a majority in Canada’s Parliament—adults 18 and over in Canada would be able to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis by July 1, 2018. The drug would be sold in federally-licensed retail locations, and stiff penalties—up to 14 years in prison—would be reserved for anyone selling marijuana to minors.

Prior efforts by Canadian leaders to loosen the country’s marijuana laws have been thwarted in part by the U.S. government.

That could happen again. Or not—because who knows? Trudeau hasn’t dared to broach the topic of cannabis legalization with President Donald Trump, who (nominally at least) wields some influence on the continent. (So could Trudeau on this topic, were he to dare to assert himself.)

Since it was a VICE forum, much of the questioning pushed Trudeau on why his legalization scheme doesn’t go far enough. Trudeau’s interlocutors included a young black man from Toronto, the unfortunate new owner of a criminal record thanks to a marijuana possession charge, who wanted to know what Trudeau would do about his newly wrecked future prospects. Malik Scott’s arrest is one of the 22,000 annual busts for marijuana in Canada, a figure Trudeau called “shocking;” what is Trudeau going to do about making that black mark go away?

The short answer, after Trudeau repeated an anecdote about his father, the longtime prime minister, pulling strings to make a similar marijuana charge leveled against his younger brother go away: Nothing!

There is nothing about past marijuana charges being annulled under Canada’s legalization scheme—as there are in U.S. states including California, where legalization has already led to former nonviolent offenders’ records being cleared and nonviolent drug prisoners sprung from incarceration—and, at least for now, there are no plans to offer such amnesty.

So you can forget about anything resembling reparations.

Malik can’t even count on securing a job in Canada’s future cannabis industry. People with criminal records—including records for marijuana sales or cultivation—can’t count on being “reward[ed]” with licenses to participate in Canada’s new cannabis industry, Trudeau said.

From there, the long list of disappointments only grows.

Trudeau won’t decriminalize all drugs—such as possession of heroin, despite an ongoing opiate crisis and despite clear signs that encouraging opiate users to contact authorities could save lives, because that’s not in his “mandate.”

Edible marijuana won’t be included in legalization, because that’s not a priority.

And Big Weed will absolutely have a leg up in cornering the Canadian marijuana market, just as it has now with medical cannabis in Canada.

Medical marijuana is currently available in the country directly from one of the 43 companies with licenses from Health Canada to cultivate and distribute the drug. Acquiring a license is no simple feat; most of the Canadian marijuana firms (including Canopy, the world’s first billion-dollar weed company) are big operations with big funding, run by ex-corporate executives. This system will stay in place, Trudeau said—and recreational marijuana’s business landscape will likely be similar, he said.

That’s not the only system Trudeau seeks to preserve.

Taking advantage of Canada’s lax (at least compared to the U.S.) law enforcement and the permissive atmosphere around marijuana created by Trudeau’s legalization promise, retail dispensaries have opened for business in several major cities, openly selling marijuana—despite the risk of police raids, which have also discouraged some retailers from reporting crime to police. Those dispensaries, Trudeau said, are still illegal—and will still be raided by police.

“Until we have a system in place that is a better system than our current system, our system has to stand,” Trudeau said.

The prime minister reiterated why he’s for legalization in the first place: to keep weed away from kids, to kill off the black market dominated by “organized crime, Hells Angels, controlled the sale of marijuana,” he said. “We don’t want that.”

About the most interesting thing he said was, yes, as a member of Parliament a few years ago, he smoked a joint—but he didn’t really like it. (Where have we heard this before?)

If he succeeds and Canada is the second country in the world to legalize marijuana on a national level, he’ll celebrate with a shot and a beer. How forward of him.

Trudeau is indeed treading lightly.

In doing so, he is pleasing almost nobody. It’s not enough for marijuana advocates in the country, who say that he’s setting up a recipe for Big Marijuana that won’t help the victims of the country’s unjust marijuana enforcement.

And it’s too much, according to the Conservative opposition, which is already using Trudeau’s “out of touch” lecture on white supremacy to Malik in order to bolster a fundraising pitch.

Defenders will say Trudeau’s critics are unrealistic, that Canada legalizing at all is a great step forward, that the current proposal is a start. It is: a start for corporate weed, carried forward by another corporate liberal. 

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