The federal government will introduce a bill to legalize marijuana for recreational use in spring 2017, Health Minister Jane Philpott said Wednesday.
The announcement, made at a special meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, came on the same day as the annual cannabis culture holiday, “4/20.”
However, a bill isn’t the only way marijuana could be made legal in Canada. Here’s three paths the Trudeau government’s legalization effort – led by Liberal MP and former Toronto police chief Bill Blair – could follow:
1. Immediate removal from the Criminal Code.
If the current government wanted to, it could effectively legalize marijuana today.
To do so, Governor General David Johnston would have to issue an Order-in-Council removing marijuana products from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This, in turn, would eliminate the drug from the Criminal Code.
Such an order doesn’t have to go through the House of Commons.
However, there’s a good reason why no government has made an attempt to use this method. Legalizing marijuana before a system of regulated production and distribution is ready would leave gaps in the system, says Eugene Oscapella, a University of Ottawa criminal justice professor and drug policy expert.
“It’s a hugely complex thing,” Oscapella said.
“You can flip a switch and legalize, but that’s going to lead to a bit of a calamitous situation.”
2. Halt the prosecution of marijuana offences.
Another immediate option would be to stop prosecuting for marijuana-related crimes, effectively decriminalizing the drug.
In this scenario, Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould would need to send a letter to the Public Prosecution Service of Canada – the government agency in charge of federal prosecutions – requesting that it stand down on marijuana offences.
According to legalization advocates, this may be the best solution until long-term frameworks are ready.
“In a perfect world, [we would] like to see cannabis legal and regulated completely across the board,” said Craig Jones, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws in Canada.
“But it’s not the Canadian way for that to happen with the snap of a finger.”
Photo gallery: Marijuana legalization supporters celebrate 4/20 in Toronto
Though this is the method the government has indicated they’ll use, specifics are still very much up in the air.
According to Oscapella, the examples set by Washington state and Colorado, which voted to legalize marijuana in 2012 and have reported mostly positive results, could be helpful.
“Prohibition is definitely not the best way to manage it, so what other models will be best able to replace it?” Oscapella said.
Guidance could also come from Canada’s medical marijuana industry, which already has production and distribution structures in place.
However, medical growers and sellers have not been consulted in the process so far, according to Jamie Shaw, interim president of the Canadian Association of Medical Cannabis Dispensaries.
“[We have] done a lot of the work already,” Shaw said.
“That’s a lot of knowledge and expertise that is continually being shut out of the legal system.”
Many of those celebrating both 4/20 and the announcement on Wednesday, however, said they hope the law is finalized quickly above all else.
“A flower is illegal? You can go to jail for growing a plant?” said 20-year-old Mike Rotil, a medical marijuana user.
“That shouldn’t be.”