Today is the first day that recreational cannabis is legal to buy and use across Canada.
Here in BC, that means you can buy it from the one open store in Kamloops (pictured above, via bcgovphotos) or via the government's online store.
Nevertheless, this limited step also exposes how many people are still unjustly targeted by Canada's prohibition-esque drug laws.
As we wrote in our Issues Summary:
Humanist values of personal autonomy and liberty are incompatible with the criminalization of activities that do not infringe on the health, safety or freedom of others. Further, the decades-long War on Drugs has resulted in the needless incarceration of many otherwise law-abiding citizens. This criminalization violates fundamental principles of justice, wastes public resources and disproportionately affects racialized and indigenous communities. Both the broad criminalization and the systemic racial effects of the War on Drugs are antithetical to Humanist values.
We are therefore supportive of moves to decriminalize the personal possession of cannabis and other drugs. We support instead taking a public health approach and putting more effort into tackling the systemic issues around substance use through education, harm reduction, rehabilitation and treatment. These approaches should be informed by the best available evidence and respect the fundamental legal rights enshrined in the Charter.
In other words, today's change in the legal landscape will hopefully mean fewer people being incarcerated for activities that do not harm others. Further, it will open new avenues of medical research and reduce the stigma that prevents so many from seeking treatment from substance use issues.
Another promising step is the Government of Canada's announcement that it will introduce legislation to expedite pardons for cannabis possession and will waive the regular fees on those applications. This is something that advocates had called for during the legalization process, when the substance remained in a legal grey-zone.
However, as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association lays out, there are numerous activities that remain illegal. The most noteworthy offences are around impaired driving. Defence lawyer Kyla Lee explained her concerns with these changes to our Vancouver group a few weeks ago.
Further, there are still no good answers as to what treatment you might expect at the US border, where cannabis is still illegal at the federal level (despite recreational cannabis being legal in neighbouring Washington state).
And numerous other substances remain illegal. Making it harder for public health officials to respond to the opioid and fentanyl crises. Already Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, Toronto's Board of Health and BC's Chief Medical Officer Bonnie Henry have all suggested it's time for a broader decriminalization approach.
Nevertheless, I'm hopeful that today can symbolize that, even in this hyperpartisan age, we are still able to move toward more rational, just and compassionate policies.