A week before 4/20 cannabis celebrations blazed up across North America, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled the country’s plan to legalize recreational cannabis. On April 13, 2017, Trudeau set out a series of proposals that would legalize recreational cannabis, with some restrictions, for anyone 18 and over. When it goes into effect, the plan would make Canada only the second country in the world to legalize cannabis. But how does Trudeau’s plan compare to legal weed laws in the United States? There’s no doubt the Canadian Prime Minister is looking to the U.S. as a model of what legalization can look like. And in fact, there’s a lot he can learn from Colorado as he fills in the details of his plan.
Canada Can Learn A Lot From Colorado As It Legalizes Cannabis
Colorado has the oldest adult-use recreational cannabis laws in the country. The state legalized recreational for adults 21 and over back in 2012. Since then, the state’s program has seen its ups and downs. Overall, however, the implementation has been successful.
There are two crucial things Canada can learn from Colorado, successes that the country will want to replicate.
It’s The Money You Don’t Spend…
The war on drugs isn’t just a failure, it’s a hugely expensive. We usually talk about the tax revenue states are raking in from record legal cannabis sales. But legal cannabis also saves states some serious coin.
That’s because states with legal weed have saved millions on their budget simply from the drop in marijuana-related arrests. If there’s no more prohibition, there’s no need to invest in enforcement, prosecution, and incarceration.
According to Forbes, marijuana arrests dropped 46 percent in the first year, and 81 percent between 2012 and 2015.
And Canada can really learn from Colorado in this aspect. According to Forbes, marijuana arrests dropped 46 percent in the first year, and 81 percent between 2012 and 2015. And it’s not just savings on enforcement. Redistributing resources to more serious issues improved public safety.
Canada should learn from Colorado’s example, especially considering some of the harsh penalties in Trudeau’s bill. These penalties have attracted major criticism.
Canada Can Learn From Colorado What Not To Do
For one, Trudeau’s bill eliminates the amnesty his party had called for prior to the election. Amnesty would apply to anyone with a marijuana conviction. Instead, Trudeau is encouraging Canadian police to keep locking people up for weed.
Secondly, Trudeau’s plan harshly penalizes anyone caught driving high. And cops can pull anyone over, regardless of evidence, to test for cannabis impairment.
So far, however, legal weed’s impact on traffic safety is unclear. So there’s no immediate reason to clamp down so harshly on drivers who smoke cannabis. Especially when you take into account the unreliability of roadside saliva tests.
The bill would hit anyone who provides cannabis to a minor with a 14-year prison sentence.
Even further, the bill would hit anyone who provides cannabis to a minor with a 14-year prison sentence. Considering you’d get the same sentence for sex trafficking or terrorism, many people are outraged over these aspects of the legalization bill.
Certainly, protecting minors from unscrupulous adults is important. It makes sense to make it illegal to provide weed to minors. But Trudeau is buying into the myth that legalizing cannabis puts children more at risk than prohibiting it.
In Colorado anyway, the evidence about teenagers consuming weed is inconclusive. In the first year of legalization, the Health Kids Colorado Survey reported that teenage marijuana use fell a couple percentage points.
On the other hand, the overall trend is a slow but steady increase. But that increase follows the national trend, so it’s tough to tell how much is due to recreational legalization.
Investing In The Industry
Another way Canada can learn from Colorado is to create a legal framework that lets businesses thrive. Colorado’s legal cannabis industry is a juggernaut worth more than $2.4 billion.
Since Canada is taking a top-down approach, legalizing cannabis at the national level, people are concerned about how much regulation is going to cost the country. But if Canada can learn from Colorado, it’ll realize that the tax revenue from legal cannabis sales is much greater than the cost of regulating businesses.
And taxes don’t need to be high. New Jersey, for example, just revealed a plan for legal weed that would tax sales 25 percent. Colorado has shown that a more sensible marijuana tax generates significant revenue to cover costs and fund other programs.
National Legalization Solves Problems With State-Only Laws
Colorado has certainly learned some of its own lessons in the years since legalizing recreational cannabis. Still, most of those problems have arisen from the fact that marijuana is federally prohibited in the United States.
An increase emergency visits? Yes, that’s happened in Colorado, but most of the trend is due to inexperienced users coming from across the border. Canada could learn from Colorado there, and restrict access for tourists.
A problem with inter-state drug trafficking? Colorado has definitely seen an uptick in this issue, but that’s only because cannabis is such a lucrative black market product in prohibition states. By legalizing cannabis at the national level, Canada can avoid learning the lessons Colorado had to the hard way.