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Canada Takes Next Step Toward National Marijuana Legalization

While the US federal government remains stubbornly opposed to legalizing marijuana, our neighbor to the north is increasingly interested in cannabis commerce and moving away from pot prosecutions.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Even as voters in more U.S. states approved legalized recreational marijuana this November – and 28 states have legalized medical marijuana – the federal government still lists marijuana as an illegal drug.

Harrison Ha | Getty Images

However, just north of the border, Canadian leaders have started moving in the opposite direction.

Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada and leader of the Liberal Party, created a committee in the summer of 2016 to look into the issues surrounding making marijuana legal for recreational use across the entire country.

The panel recently submitted its findings. They call for a tightly controlled, heavily regulated recreational market that aims to provide adults who want to use cannabis a safe and legal way to buy it, while at the same time cracking down on the marijuana “black market.”

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The panel, chaired by former Canadian Deputy Primate Minister Anne McLellan, wrote in its report that if put into action their recommendations will  “strike a balance between implementing appropriate restrictions, in order to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use, and providing adults access to a regulated supply of cannabis while reducing the scope and scale of the illicit market and its social harms.”

Trudeau has said he expects to file legislation based on the panel’s recommendations in the spring of 2017.

Different approach in Canada.

In the U.S., some in the marijuana industry have voiced concerns about President-elect Donald Trump’s position on legalized marijuana, particularly since his nominee for attorney general, Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, have been a vocal opponent of legalized marijuana.

In Canada, the Liberal Party has taken a clear stance on making recreational marijuana legal. On the party’s website, it states: “We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.”

“Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work,” they further state. “It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.”

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The party hopes that legalizing recreational marijuana will reduce the amount available to young people and also keep the profits “out of the hands of criminals.”

Getting there, according to the panel, will take a great deal of work on the part of the national government.

Key recommendations.

The lengthy panel report focuses on taking a public health approach to regulating legalized marijuana. In doing so, the panel considered health issues such as chronic use of marijuana, mixing it with abuse of other substances (such as alcohol) and young people having too much access to cannabis. They also took into consideration the dangers of interaction with the illicit marijuana market.

Some of the key recommendations include.

  • Regulating advertising so it will not appeal to young people, or associate marijuana with use of other substances such as tobacco or alcohol
  • Set the legal age limit at 18
  • Requiring packaging that clearly states what the product contains, including strain of cannabis and amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the ingredient in marijuana that causes the “high”
  • Conducting sales only through specialty stores licensed by the government
  • Homeowners could have up to four cannabis plants, and individuals could carry up to 30 grams in public
  • Creating a “seed-to-sale” tracking system for recreational cannabis production
  • Extending the restrictions on public smoking of tobacco products in Canada to include cannabis
  • Strengthening penalties for selling cannabis outside the legal system

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While the panel concludes that creating a government-run infrastructure for cannabis sales will take time and effort, they conclude that “Canada is well-positioned to undertake the complex task of legalizing and regulating cannabis carefully and safely.”