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Canada Has Legalized Pot — And the US May Soon Bow to State Legalization

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Tags Legal SystemMedia and Culture

06/29/2018

This October, recreational cannabis will become legal in Canada. Or, put more accurately, it will become legal again.

As in the United States, the prohibition of marijuana was a twentieth-century invention, but nevertheless remained an untouchable prohibition for several decades, and in spite of a 1972 recommendation from a federal commission that marijuana be de-criminalized.

Medical marijuana was finally legalized in 2001, although efforts at de-criminalizing recreational marijuana failed in 2003 and 2004.

With the election of Justin Trudeau in 2015, however, there began to be serious talk of legalization, and as of Tuesday, it looks like recreational marijuana will become legal later this year. CNN reports :

Recreational marijuana use will soon be legal in Canada after the Senate passed a "historic" bill on Tuesday with a vote of 52-29.... The act to legalize the recreational use of weed was first introduced on April 13, 2017, and was later passed at the House of Commons in November. The Senate passage of the bill was the final hurdle in the process.

With the bill's passage, Canada becomes only the second national government to legalize marijuana.

The first was Uruguay in 2013, although the Uruguay experience is often ignored — even though Uruguay has a stable economy and a relatively high standard of living. The country is, however, quite small with only 3.4 million people.

So, the legalization of marijuana in Canada, with its 36 million people, is a significant turn of evens in the global drug war.

This fall, provinces will still maintain powers to regulate cannabis, but generally speaking, recreational marijuana will no longer be prohibited in Canada.

This changes the geography of drug prohibition in North American considerably. Given that the entire West Coast of the United States, and much of New England has now legalized recreational marijuana, this adds yet another large swath of North America (excluding Mexico) to what we might call the "legalization" zone."

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This also means that over 100 million people in North America will soon live in places where recreational marijuana has been legalized. This comprises nearly 30 percent of the combined US-Canada population. Soon, it will be possible to drive along the west coast of North America from San Diego to the arctic circle without leaving jurisdictions where recreational marijuana. At least according to local law.

US federal law, of course, continues to be a challenge. Thanks to federal banking regulations, it still remains difficult for American cannabis-related firms to obtain financial services. And both users and producers continue to inhabit a legal gray area in which its possible for federal agents to still selectively crack down on people who, according to state law, are law-abiding citizens. Certainly, federal agencies lack the manpower to engage in general crackdowns in areas with legalized marijuana, but the feds can still "make an example" of certain people if it wishes to.

Local resistance to such federal crackdowns, however, continues to grow. Especially in states where the cannabis industry has gained an economic foothold, such as in Colorado, even Republican politicians bristle at the idea additional federal meddling. Back in January, for example, Colorado Congressional delegation (including the GOP portion of it) responded with relative fury to Jeff Sessions's announcement that he planned to ratchet up federal enforcement of marijuana.1

Since then, Colorado GOP Senator Cory Gardner has teamed up with Elizabeth Warren to "gives states the right to determine their own marijuana policies without federal interference."

In addition to removing industrial hemp from federal prohibition, the bill also:

Amends the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 801 et seq.) (CSA) so that — as long as states and tribes comply with a few basic protections — its provisions no longer apply to any person acting in compliance with State or tribal laws relating to the manufacture, production, possession, distribution, dispensation, administration, or delivery of marijuana.

Trump has announced that he will "probably" support the bill.

With Trump, of course, that could mean anything, but the long term trend at this point is clear. Thanks to local success in essentially nullifying federal marijuana laws, it's only a matter of time before US policy changes to allow far more state autonomy on this matter.

Constitutionally speaking, of course, the states have always had the prerogative to do what they will on matter of drug policy. This has long been abundantly clear in the Tenth Amendment.

  • 1. There is also a lack of ongoing resistance to continued legalization in Colorado. Recent studies show, for example, that pot use among teens has decreased since legalization: https://coloradopolitics.com/marijuana-teens/

Ryan McMaken (@ryanmcmaken) is the editor of Mises Wire and The Austrian. Send him your article submissions, but read article guidelines first. Ryan has degrees in economics and political science from the University of Colorado, and was the economist for the Colorado Division of Housing from 2009 to 2014. He is the author of Commie Cowboys: The Bourgeoisie and the Nation-State in the Western Genre.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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