The Canadian government has taken steps to legalize recreational marijuana as part of a larger effort to decriminalize cannabis and "make Canada safer," Bill Blair, a former police chief shaping the legislation, said.
On Thursday, the government released a plan to "legalize [and] strictly regulate" marijuana.
"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.
That is why the Government of Canada, after extensive consultation with law enforcement, health and safety experts, and the hard work of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, today introduced legislation to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis."
The plan represents progress for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who promised to legalize marijuana during his campaign. If approved by Parliament and Royal Assent, the law would be enacted by July 2018.
Although the bill would legalize possession across Canada and, in the government's words, "prevent profits from going into the pockets of criminal organizations and street gangs," individual provinces would still determine whether marijuana will be sold commercially. Citizens in places where dispensaries are not set up would have the option of purchasing marijuana online from federally licensed distributors.
Unlike in the United States, the age limit to purchase marijuana in Canada will be 18. Adults will be allowed to carry 30 grams in public and grow up to four marijuana plants per household.
One major focus of the plan is to create harsher punishments for driving under the influence.
"Under the Government’s proposed legislation, new offenses would be added to the Criminal Code to enforce a zero tolerance approach for those driving under the influence of cannabis and other drugs. Additionally, the proposed legislation would authorize new tools for police to better detect drivers who have drugs in their body."
If the law succeeds, Canada will be the second country in the world to legalize marijuana.
As a neighbor and ally, Canada's legalization has the potential to influence future legislation in the United States — marijuana is already legal in eight states but subjected to federal restrictions and interference.
However, the Trump administration has shown little empathy for marijuana businesses or for opening a path to nationwide legalization. Additionally, Attorney General Jeff Sessions seems intent on reviving the war on drugs.