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Legalize or Demonize: Leaders in Canada, US Have Very Different Views on Marijuana

Canada has fostered a legal cannabis boom that will put cartels out of business. Meanwhile, the Trump Administration embraces "demon weed'' rhetoric.

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Leaders in Canada and the United States continue to move in opposite directions on legalized marijuana, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau moving to legalize and U.S. officials continuing to demonize.

Stuart Dee | Getty Images

The differences are apparent even in how the officials talk about marijuana. Trudeau admitted a long time ago he got high while serving in Parliament. President Donald Trump is the first president in 25 years who claims he never got high.

The Canadian attorney general supports national legalization, saying it will help control the criminal element and make it harder for kids to buy cannabis, among other things. The U.S. attorney general calls marijuana almost as bad as heroin and says “good people" don’t use it.

Trudeau tells a fairly typical story about smoking pot, saying he partook when he and some friends were gathered around the pool at his Montreal home. He’s tried it five or six times, he says, admitting sometimes “I guess I have gotten a buzz” but never became a big fan.

Fairly banal, but interesting in contrast to what’s happening in the U.S. It’s an issue investors on both sides of the border are following closely.

Related: First Cannabis ETF Hits Market and Rises Sharply in Initial Trading

Slightly less awful.

In a much-quoted speech in March, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions called marijuana “only slightly less awful” than heroin. Here’s the full quote from his speech as posted on the attorney general site:

“I reject the idea that Americans will be a better if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana – so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful. Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life.”

He went on to praise the “Just Say No” efforts of the 1980s.

For his part, Trump has taken no public position on marijuana since taking office. He voiced tepid support for medical marijuana during the campaign. Few people put faith in what Trump said while campaigning because he has already flip-flopped on major issues, including labeling China as a currency manipulator, using military intervention in Syria and forcing Mexico pay for a border wall (so far he has not even convinced Congress to pay for the wall).

Meanwhile, in Canada.

When Canadians elected Trudeau, they knew what they were getting on the marijuana issue. The Liberal Party candidate made it clear he would push for national legalization.

Part of the reason involves his brother, Michael, who died in an avalanche in 1998. At the time, he faced marijuana charges for a small amount found in his car after a traffic accident. He felt the potential penalties were disproportionate to the crime.

Trudeau has said repeatedly legal marijuana will reduce the criminal element and help keep it away from children.

The official release about the legalization effort states that “the current approach to cannabis does not work. It has allowed criminals and organized crime to profit, while failing to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth. In many cases, it is easier for our kids to buy cannabis than cigarettes.”

The law sets the legal age to buy and possess cannabis at 18. Those 18 and older could grow up to four marijuana plants at home. The government would strictly control retail sales of marijuana. New “zero tolerance” penalties would be put in place for those caught driving under the influence of marijuana or violating marijuana law.

Related: Hurdles and Hopes in the Development, Production and Distribution of Cannabis

The proposal also allows each Canadian province to alter the rules governing marijuana use as they see fit.

Unlike Sessions, Canadian Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould said the country is better off with a law “to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis and create new laws to punish more severely those who drive under the influence.” Wilson-Raybould also called the law an “evidence-based approach that will protect Canadians’ public health and safety.”

On April 13, Trudeau introduced legislation to legalize cannabis which is expected to pass and take effect in July 2018.

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