“There were a lot of people that may have been cannabis consumers 15, 20, 30 years ago and decided, ‘Well, now that it’s legal and I can actually understand what I’m buying and I can talk to people about effects; I’m interested in trying it again,’” he says.
Legalization may have eased the taboo surrounding cannabis for some, but the stigma is a long way from dissipating completely.
“I think the law was one component of the stigma, but there’s a lot more of an informal stigma that tends to be what gets (users) into problems with those who are less approving of it,” Hathaway says.
“It’s still associated with certain stereotypes. You know, lower-class individuals, ‘dirty hippies,’ that kind of stuff and, to a certain degree, I think that’s been maintained.”
Given the presumption that legalization would translate to more users, it’s no surprise that before it happened, much of the discussion was focused on the expectation of an increase in stoned drivers.
It’s difficult to determine whether the worry was justified, since federal crime statistics don’t distinguish cannabis-impaired driving from other drug-impaired driving. Police reports of driving impaired by any drug did increase by 25 per cent between 2017 and 2018 in Canada, to 4,423 offences. But the rate of police-reported drug-impaired driving cases in 2018 (12 per 100,000 Canadians) remained a small fraction of the number of alcohol-impaired driving cases (177 per 100,000).
started their push for weed legalization. Regardless, Ottawa packaged its legislation with another new law that overhauled the way police approach impaired driving. Bill C-46 established new criminal offences for drivers exceeding specific blood-drug concentrations, allowing police to charge drivers for having certain amounts of various Liberals drugs in their bloodstream.
Police need reasonable grounds to demand a driver’s blood, so new roadside cannabis saliva-testing devices were rolled out to help officers quickly establish those grounds before conducting blood tests or performing a formal evaluation of whether a driver is impaired.
But Lee, whose firm has obtained and tested the two federally approved roadside saliva testers currently available in Canada, says the gadgets simply don’t perform as advertised. She’s representing a Nova Scotia driver who’s currently challenging the devices in court after testing positive for cannabis at a police checkpoint.
Complicating matters further, the cannabis blood-drug concentrations established by Ottawa have not been scientifically proven to correspond to a certain level of intoxication, unlike blood-alcohol concentrations. Lee suspects government prosecutors have been hesitant to rely on them for that reason.
“Very few charges are being laid in relation to any blood-drug concentration provisions,” she says.
“I think the rationale behind that being that as soon as they go heavy on those charges, they’re going to get people challenging those regulations. They don’t accord with any scientific
research, and I think the government knows that they’re vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, and they don’t want to risk having that law struck down before they need to use it in a serious case involving a death or very serious bodily harm.”
“Very few charges are being laid in relation to any blood-drug concentration provisions.”
– Vancouver criminal lawyer, Kyla Lee
Gould says he can’t speak to prosecutors’ intentions, but notes that the blood-drug concentration law failed to secure a conviction in the sole cannabis-impaired driving case he’s handled, and it took nine months to resolve.
“What I suspect strongly, is that if people were getting charged (with cannabis-impaired driving), regardless of where it ended up, I would be getting those phone calls, which I’m not,” he says. “So it gives the impression, from my end, that people are not getting charged in the first place.”
The pre-legalization panic around weed-impaired drivers, Gould adds, reminds him of the Y2K computer-bug scare at the turn of the millennium:
“A whole bunch of hype that nothing came of,” he says.
Marijuana advocates and law-reform activists have tried to focus the legalization conversation away from business, and towards achieving justice for people who paid a hefty personal cost for using and selling the drug before last Oct. 17.
Ottawa recently introduced an expedited pardons process for people convicted of possession for personal use only; anyone with a past conviction for growing or selling is out of luck, even if those offences were non-violent and not connected to organized crime.
The special cannabis pardons program waives the regular waiting period and $631 application fee for the pardons, which are formally called “cannabis record suspensions.” Applicants must obtain and provide legal documents such as their criminal records and proof of conviction. If successful, the record of their offence will be set aside, but not permanently erased.
in Richmond, Va.
No one knows how many Canadians could be eligible for possession pardons, although Justice Minister David Lametti said his government hopes the figure will “reach into the thousands.”
That means there’s plenty of pardoning left to do: the Parole Board of Canada says it received 129 applications for record suspensions between the program’s Aug. 1 debut and Sept. 30. The board approved 61 of them, 19 were still being screened, 47 were “returned to the applicant as incomplete or ineligible” and two were discontinued for other reasons.
“I mean, it’s good
news for those 61 people,” says Toronto attorney Caryma Sa’d, who practises criminal and housing law as it relates to cannabis.
“But I think that number seems small considering the amount of Canadians who have cannabis-related charges. So what that tells me is that not many people actually affected by (cannabis) criminalization have been either able, or willing, to access this regime.”
in public, knowingly possessing illegal black-market weed or growing more than four plants at home.
Federal criminal penalties for Cannabis Act offences range from tickets for minor versions of some offences, to fines and prison terms. Provincial laws also include some offences that correspond to federal offences, but with lesser provincial penalties.
The Public Prosecution Service of Canada declined to share the number of charges laid so far under the act, saying its internal data is unsuitable for statistical purposes.
But police-reported crime data gathered by the Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and reported by Statistics Canada shows 1,454 violations of the act in 2018. That’s four per cent of all police-reported cannabis offences in 2018, even though the law was in effect for roughly 20 per cent of the year.
Even before the new law took effect, Statistics Canada says police-reported marijuana offences had been declining for years. The 2018 statistics don’t say whether the violations resulted in criminal charges, or how any charges were resolved.
Illegal imports or exports were the most common Cannabis Act violation in the final months of 2018, comprising nearly 21 per cent of incidents. The next most common weed crime involved adults caught with more than 30 grams of dried
flower in public, which made up about 18 per cent of incidents. Another 12 per cent of offences in the period involved youths possessing more than five grams. About ten per cent involved possession for the purpose of selling.
Nearly 1,500 offences in the months following legalization might not jibe with what Canadians imagine when they hear the government “legalized” marijuana. But Trudeau never promised to simply legalize weed and leave it at that; the exact commitment in the 2015 Liberal party platform was, “We will legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana.”
However, the platform also said it was too costly to arrest and prosecute cannabis laws that “(trap) too many Canadians in the criminal justice system for minor, non-violent offences.”
But when the act received royal assent and became law in June 2018 the language in the preamble had changed direction from the civil liberties perspective to a focus on
public health and the safety of children, Sa’d says.
“More lower-case ‘c’ conservative talking points,” she says.
“I think this is a continuation of prohibition, in some ways. And this isn’t to say that there need to be no regulations or rules whatsoever — but I think that we are repeating some of the same mistakes, in terms of getting people caught up in charges that are effectively victimless crimes.”
From a consumer’s perspective, legalization has more to deliver. Government-regulated versions of cannabis-infused foods could be in stores by mid-December, a few months after new federal regulations take effect Thursday. Potent concentrates called “
shatter” and hash, along with topical salves and oil- vaping pens, are part of that second wave of products, which the industry has dubbed Cannabis 2.0.
Organigram’s Engel hopes those new products will help licensed producers capture more market share from the illicit market. He says his company should have
vape pens ready to launch in December, but will hold off on releasing some other new products, such as edibles and a powder meant for mixing into beverages, until the first quarter of 2020 in order to ensure a steady supply and avoid the product shortages common after stores opened their doors last fall.
“If you really look about building a brand and building consumer loyalty and looking to have return-purchase consumers, you’ve got to have your product out consistently,” he says.
The pens, which vaporize concentrated
cannabis oil similar to the way e-cigarettes vaporize liquid nicotine solutions, are currently implicated in a U.S. public- health crisis in which, as of two days ago, more than two dozen confirmed deaths from lung injuries have been linked to liquid cannabis and nicotine vaping products.
“If you really look about building a brand and building consumer loyalty and looking to have return-purchase consumers, you’ve got to have your product out consistently.”
– Greg Engel, Organigram CEO
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified 1,080 probable cases of the injuries in 48 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands territory. Only
Alaska and New Hampshire have yet to report cases.
On October 4th, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned consumers not to use THC vapes.
Engel says he doesn’t expect those health risks from government-regulated
vape pens in Canada.
Back at Delta 9, two 19-year-old university students are walking out with a bottle of
cannabis oil gel capsules — essentially the same as upcoming legal cannabis edibles, minus the food. The duo were too young to vote in favour of legalization in the 2015 federal election, but now they’re just old enough to buy marijuana in Manitoba. They’re part of the first Canadian generation to grow up with legal cannabis.