Half of Canadians say they don’t think their home province is ready for the legalization of recreational cannabis on Oct. 17, according to a poll by the Angus Reid Institute.
The poll also reveals that 57 per cent of Canadians say that, upon legalization, they think the law will fail to prevent minors from accessing cannabis, along with 60 per cent saying they lack confidence in police to punish drivers operating vehicles while high.
The survey involved 1,500 Canadian adult respondents who answered an online survey from Sept. 4 to 7. Lawyers who spoke with Legal Feeds say they aren’t surprised by the results.
“I think there's just a general, old-fashioned, negative attitude toward the legalization of marijuana,” says Daniel Jardine, a lawyer at Jardine Law in Miramichi, N.B. “It’s a big change for Canada.”
While 62 per cent of respondents say they support legalization, they’re skeptical that the government will be able to crack down on keeping financial earnings of cannabis sales out of the hands of organized crime.
Victor Liu, a partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto, says people have valid concerns about fighting off the illegal market. One reason people may still turn to the illegal market is because of accessibility issues — legal dispensaries won’t suddenly be available across the country by Oct. 17.
“People like to have access to products for convenience,” he says.
For instance, British Columbia has received hundreds of applications for privately owned cannabis retail shops through a portal that launched Aug. 10, and since then, only one application has been given the green light, says James Munro, partner at McMillan LLP in Vancouver.
Munro says the process might be moving slowly, but the benefit is that it gives the government time to properly vet each application and get it right.
Cost of product is also a factor in keeping business out of the black market. Liu says that, due to taxes, the potential for additional provincial fees and producer licensing fees, prices won’t be “super low.” High-priced cannabis could potentially drive consumers back to the black market.
“One can quickly see that the numbers add up and become non-competitive with the price that people can get on the streets,” he says.
Jardine says Canadians should understand the positive impact legalization will have on the criminal courts.
“If [people] understood how much time is wasted in court, policing small quantities of marijuana possession — just simple possession, not trafficking — and the tax savings, I think they’d [understand] the burden it has on the court system is incredible,” he says. “I don't think people should be so concerned.”
He also says that the fines handed out for simple possession were so small it was not deterring people from obtaining cannabis.
Munro says that although he is not a criminal lawyer, he sees the potential for considerable litigation in the future with respect to roadside screening that may ultimately need to be settled by the Supreme Court of Canada.
“We have to make sure that when we're testing drivers, we do that in a fair manner and the test that the federal government has approved is a saliva test, which is much different than the current roadside screening tests for alcohol,” he says.
While the provinces have been updating criminal laws for impaired driving prior to legalization, Jardine says that the laws aren’t necessarily worrisome. Rather, what is concerning are the measures to effectively police it.
“Drug recognition experts are few and far between in most police forces and that's going to be the biggest issue in policing the individuals that are driving while impaired,” he says.
Looking ahead, cannabis-infused foods and drinks will remain illegal until 2019.
“The road to legalizing recreational cannabis is going to be a long one. There's going to certainly be twists and turns the road from now to Oct. 17 and beyond,” says Munro.