Earlier this year, John Anderson bought an exhaust fan at one of a number of hydroponics stores in Nanaimo.
He needed the device because aside from teaching at Vancouver Island University, the criminology professor runs a home business with his partner, producing dried dog treats under the brand name Kali Wags.
“I said to the fellow who ran the store, the proprietor, ‘This is amazing; to whom do you sell?’ ” Anderson recalled for the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “And he said, ‘I would say that 85 percent of our business is to people who use cannabis for medical purposes.’ ”
Anderson cited this conversation to underscore who will likely be impacted heavily by Canada’s intensified war against marijuana.
On November 6, amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences for pot offences came into force. For example, possession of at least six cannabis plants is now punishable with six to nine months of imprisonment. If the same offence was committed for trafficking, the maximum penalty is increased to 14 years.
“Health Canada estimates that there are 400,000 Canadians that are using cannabis for medical purposes, but only 14,000 of them are licensed,” Anderson noted.
On the same day that the legal changes took effect, voters in Colorado approved a law amendment allowing adults to grow up to six plants.
Also on the November 6 American election day, Washington-state voters okayed the licensing of recreational-marijuana growing, processing, and retail sales. And on November 20, researchers at UBC and SFU released a report suggesting that if the cannabis industry was regulated in B.C., it could generate $2.5 billion in tax and licensing revenue over five years.
For Anderson, the new mandatory minimum jail time for pot crimes in Canada is a “retrogressive step”.
Changes to the drug laws are part of the Safe Streets and Communities Act approved by the Conservative majority in Parliament last spring. The omnibus crime measure consolidated a number of bills that previously didn’t pass.
One of these was Bill C-15, which contained mandatory minimums for marijuana offences. Quebec MP Justin Trudeau, now the front-runner in the race for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada, voted in favour of the measure in 2009. For this, Canada’s self-styled Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, blasted Trudeau as a “fuckin’ hypocrite”, claiming that the two of them smoked pot together in the past.
However, in a talk with high-school students in Charlottetown on November 13, Trudeau declared that he is a “huge supporter of decriminalization”. Trudeau needs to convince activists like Steve Finlay of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition Canada. “I do not have faith yet in Justin Trudeau’s understanding or commitment of it,” Finlay told the Straight by phone.
Kirk Tousaw is the executive director of the Beyond Prohibition Foundation. “Whether Mr. Trudeau sincerely believes that cannabis should be legalized because he understands the issue or whether he has been led there as a result of public opinion and the shifting tides in the United States, I don’t know,” Tousaw told the Straight in a phone interview. “I’m not sure that it particularly matters to me, because at the end of the day, what people advocate for is legislative change. And if we get there because politicians want to get elected or if we get there because politicians actually embrace a scientific and rational analysis of the harms and failures of cannabis prohibition, I’m just happy if we get there.”