More nations seen legalizing pot
MONTREAL/SEATTLE — Jubilant customers stood in long lines for hours, then lit up and celebrated on sidewalks as Canada became the world’s largest legal marijuana marketplace on Wednesday.
In Toronto, people smoked joints as soon as they rolled out of bed in a big “wake and bake” celebration.
In Alberta, a government website that sells pot crashed when too many people tried to place orders.
And in Montreal, Graeme Campbell welcomed the day he could easily buy all the pot he wanted.
In the past, it was “hard to find people to sell to me because I look like a cop,” the clean-cut, 43-year-old computer programmer said outside a newly opened pot store.
Campbell and his friend Alex Lacrosse were smoking when two police officers walked by. “I passed you a joint right in front of them and they didn’t even bat an eye,” Lacrosse told his friend.
Festivities erupted throughout the nation as Canada became the largest country on the planet with legal marijuana sales.
At least 111 pot shops were expected to open on Wednesday across the nation of 37 million people, with many more to come, according to an Associated Press (AP) survey of the provinces.
During the past five years, more than two dozen countries have relaxed their marijuana or other drug laws, and a number may consider legalizing pot in the not-too-distant future.
Uruguay was the first country to legalize marijuana in 2013. Canada became the second on Wednesday, and its size and global standing likely will encourage others to follow.
Here’s a look at other nations that could be influenced by Canada’s legalization:
The government announced late last year that medical marijuana would be allowed, and the country is due to hold a national referendum by 2020 on whether to legalize and regulate adult use of marijuana.
“That they’ve agreed to have a referendum shows how far the debate has come in New Zealand,” says Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst at Transform, a global drug law reform organization based in England.
“And the fact they have a model in Canada—a country they have good relations with, that they’re quite similar to culturally—can only help the reform cause,” Rolles adds.
For now, recreational cannabis remains illegal, with possible penalties ranging from a $500 fine for possession to a 14-year jail term for its growth or distribution.
Ravaged by drug war violence and corruption, Mexico decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana and other drugs in 2009.
A series of rulings by Mexico’s Supreme Court beginning in 2015 began laying the groundwork for marijuana legalization by holding that people should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for personal use.
The country’s incoming interior minister, Olga Sanchez Cordero, participated in some of those rulings as a Supreme Court justice and has said she will push for broad marijuana legalization.
Cordero has the blessing of incoming President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won office in July and whose party controls both houses of Mexico’s Congress.
“Mexico is really the significant comer in this debate,” says John Walsh, of the advocacy group Washington Office on Latin America. “It’s likely they’ll be debating legislation to regulate their national cannabis market next year.”
Former President Vicente Fox, who calls himself a soldier in the global campaign to legalize marijuana, earlier this year joined the board of directors of High Times, a venerable cannabis publication.
Hoping to keep pot users away from dealers of harder drugs, the Netherlands in the late 1970s began allowing “coffee shops” to sell marijuana.
The shops remain a popular attraction, especially in Amsterdam, but the drug remains illegal elsewhere in the country.
Purveyors have long complained about having to resort to the black market to obtain weed since its cultivation is outlawed.
Critics say the system has allowed criminal organizations and money laundering to persist.
That could be changing. The new Dutch government has committed to a trial program by which it will license a producer to provide marijuana in six to 10 cities.
South Africa’s Supreme Court ruled last month that adults can use marijuana and grow it for personal consumption—in private.
Rolles says the ruling, combined with Canada’s move, has “opened the door for a more serious debate about how legalization might proceed in South Africa.”
Reform advocates have been promoting marijuana legalization in Italy for years, without success.
But in late 2016, a law legalizing the production of hemp—a very low-THC version of cannabis favored for myriad industrial uses—took effect.
Since then, the dried flowers of those plants have been sold in some shops, giving supporters new hope for future legalization efforts.
A marijuana regulation measure has been making its way through Italy’s parliament and still needs support from more legislators.
Italy could be a “dark horse in the race to be the first country to legalize in Europe,” Rolles says.
With its northern neighbor legalizing pot and its southern neighbor mulling it, can the world’s most influential proponent of the drug war be far behind?
“I don’t think Canada legalizing is going to move the ball with regard to legalization in the US, especially with this administration,” says Hannah Hetzer, who tracks international marijuana policy for the New York-based Drug Policy Alliance.
While US President Donald Trump has said he would likely support a congressional effort to ease the federal prohibition, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a marijuana critic and legalization opponent.
For decades, the United States required other nations to cooperate in the drug war or risk losing foreign aid, even as some Latin American countries wracked by violence criticized America for failing to curb its appetite for cocaine, marijuana and other drugs.
Now, more than 30 states have approved the medical use of marijuana, and nine have approved recreational use by adults. Two more states—North Dakota and Michigan—have ballot measures on recreational legalization next month.
Canada’s legalization has left proponents in the United States calling for Congress to act. Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat who represents Oregon, one of the legal marijuana states, called prohibition a “failed policy that wastes resources and destroys lives.”
“Now that our neighbor to the north is opening its legal cannabis market, the longer we delay, the longer we miss out on potentially significant economic opportunities for Oregon and other states across the country,” Wyden said in a written statement. — AP
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