Canada Approves the Cannabis Act: What Now?
Well, there you go. Cannabis legalization in Canada is currently big news, and not just locally. The Canucks are one tick away from being allowed to use marijuana medically and recreationally, without any fear of federal prosecution. This is a second in the world—next to Canada, the Netherlands is the only other country to put such progressive marijuana legislation in place.
At the time of writing, the Cannabis Act still needed Royal Assent, which is the final step in the process to make it legal for Canadian adults to possess and use marijuana. It is expected to happen very soon. An article in the Rolling Stone states that after a buffer period of eight to 12 weeks, in place so the market can prepare itself for selling marijuana for recreational use, Justin Trudeau’s cabinet will announce the official date on which the Cannabis Law will go into effect. 
So, broadly speaking, what are the policy and regulation specifics regarding cannabis in Canada?
Medical Cannabis Legalization in Canada
Taking cannabis for medical purposes has been legal in Canada since 2001. This took effect after a landmark court case when a provincial court ruled that prohibition of medicinal cannabis use “deprives an individual of their constitutional right to make decisions regarding their healthcare interventions.” Federal regulations were developed and implemented over time despite the government’s role steadily decreasing, especially within the medical community.
Since 2014, the government no longer acts as strict regulatory gatekeeper—pricing and product distribution are left in the hands of the private sector, and physicians have a lot more freedom to prescribe as they see fit. In 2017, over 200,000 Canadians have been granted legal access to medicinal cannabis.
Recreational Cannabis—A Change of Status
Illegal consumption was a problem, as it still is for most countries around the world, and almost half the Canadian population has admitted to using it recreationally.
In 2015, the Trudeau-led government announced its intention to legalize marijuana possession completely.
In 2017, the Prime Minister tweeted famously: "It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize and regulate marijuana just passed the Senate."
How is Canada different from progressive states in the U.S., where recreational use is allowed? The answer appears to lie in this legislation’s federal status and government’s bold plans for regulatory reform. This means that this is not just provincial law; it’s the law of the land, and marijuana gets to have the reputation it deserves.
In this, the Canadian government, according to a 2018 Dalhousie University paper discussing the key aspects of this process, aims to focus on:
- harm minimization;
- restricting youth access;
- social education; and
- maintaining public health and safety.
The bill will devise national regulations for how the market will work, but each province will be expected to set up its own licensing and regulation system. It will be legal for any person over 18 years of age to possess no more than 30 grams of marijuana. At home, adults will be allowed to legally grow up to four cannabis plants.
At a glance, it appears the Canadian Cannabis Act still needs to clarify the following regulatory aspects:
- What would be the legal cut-off age for recreational use?
- Driving under the influence of any drug is illegal everywhere, but marijuana’s effects are highly individual. What tests will be implemented to determine whether a person is incapable of driving after using marijuana?
- Policy regarding marketing and sales of recreational marijuana is still under construction. One recommendation is that it not be sold together with alcohol or tobacco; close to schools, community centers or parks; and only by well-trained and knowledgeable staff. Also, stores will need to allow for a mail order system, but with a “limit on store density.” Different market models, including both federal and private institutions, are still under review.
- Two distinctly different systems will serve the two types of buyer populations—those who buy for medicinal purposes, and those who buy for recreation. 
Why is Cannabis Canada’s Next Big Thing?
Humans have been using marijuana for both recreational and medical purposes for thousands of years. Only in modern times, from around the early 1900s, has this venerable plant been demonized; even its mere possession can land you in jail in most countries around the world. Fortunately, its status is slowly changing, as demonstrated in this groundbreaking legislative move by the Canadian government.
Millions around the world will attest to the plant’s healing properties; even as a recreational substance, marijuana is much less harmful and toxic than alcohol, for instance. For the majority of users, it gives a sense of calm, euphoria, and deep relaxation, with none of the adverse and harmful side effects associated with alcohol, opioids, and other drugs.
Unless taken excessively or in Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-rich preparations, marijuana is mostly harmless, even healthful. It is criminalized for its psychotropic effects and has been touted a “gateway drug” that leads a user to take other hard, more harmful drugs. Studies have even shown that it “primes” the user’s brain for other drugs in an effect called “cross-sensitization.”
However, the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse puts things nicely in perspective:
“...the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, "harder" substances. Also, cross-sensitization is not unique to marijuana. Alcohol and nicotine also prime the brain for a heightened response to other drugs and are, like marijuana, also typically used before a person progresses to other, more harmful substances.” Responsible use, like with alcohol, is key. 
That said, taking any marijuana preparation with high THC content is contraindicated for people diagnosed with schizophrenia, and it should be consumed with care alongside pharmaceuticals such as antihypertensives, anticoagulants, and even anti-depressants. If you are on any chronic medication, you would be best advised to consult with your prescribing doctor before using weed recreationally.
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This doesn’t take away from what research has been—and is still—uncovering regarding cannabis and its derivatives, such as cannabidiol (CBD) and even the much-vilified THC. So far, evidence strongly suggests that these two, as well as the 100+ other cannabinoids in cannabis, possess the following health properties:
- Management of chronic pain and inflammation 
- Combating insomnia 
- CBD can treat epilepsy, dementia-related illness, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, muscle pain, joint pain and arthritic conditions, and many more 
- Soothe skin conditions such as skin cancer, psoriasis, and related inflammatory skin diseases 
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The research is ongoing—some are only in its nascent stages, but it is nevertheless promising. Yet regarding cannabis, Canada is realizing that “joining them” might be a much more conducive course of action than “beating them.” Hopefully, the rest of America—even the world—will follow suit soon.