CULTURE

Canada Legalizes Marijuana to Become World's Largest Pot-Friendly Country

Canada's legalization of recreational marijuana went into effect on Wednesday morning, making it the largest such legislation to date.

The move comes months after the Canadian House of Commons passed the Cannabis Act, a measure to curtail both underage marijuana use and the high profits earned through organized crime. The first retailers opened their doors at midnight in Newfoundland to long lines of eager customers who can now legally possess up to 30 grams in public and can cultivate up to four plants in their homes. Previously, possession of 30 grams was punishable by up to six months in prison.

Christopher Katsarov/AP

In addition to nationwide legalization, Canadian officials also announced plans to eliminate the waiting time and fees required to apply for criminal possession pardons. At a news conference in Ottawa, public safety minister Ralph Goodale called the decision "a matter of basic fairness."

Retailers and dispensaries must be federally licensed, but regulations will be implemented and enforced on a provincial level. Newfoundland and Montreal, for example, will allow operation of dispensaries. Toronto will not. Cannabis will be available for purchase online in all provinces, though the legal age varies from 18 to 19 in different locations.

The news is considered a big victory for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned on the promise of marijuana legalization three years ago and has been working on the legislation since 2016. It's the latest in the notoriously progressive politician's track record: he's championed the Paris environmental accord, welcomed 40,000 Syrian refugees, and has been outspoken about his pro-choice views. According to Trudeau, cannabis legalization is the next natural step to reflect the country's liberal-mindedness and evolving views on a substance already widely used by its populace.

Trudeau tweeted about "promises kept" shortly after legislation was passed in June twitter.com

Canadians celebrated the new legislation from coast to coast, cheering as early sales were made and throwing New Year's Eve-like parties to welcome the new laws. Not everyone was riding the high, however. An op-ed published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal warned against "the known and unknown health hazards" of cannabis use, and expressed concern about how large companies, now able to legally market their products, might target younger audiences.

The op-ed reflected a general suspicion of Big Bud similar to that of Big Pharma, Alcohol, and Tobacco. Legalization is also expected to have a strong impact on the Canadian economy, drawing money from tourists seeking a legal smoking experience on top of an industry already projected to reach an estimated $5 billion by 2020.

Rebecca Linde is a writer and cultural critic in NYC. She tweets about pop culture and television @rklinde.