Trudeau’s lengthy legislation, which was signed by the Queen’s representative last week, fulfills a campaign pledge by the prime minister that began life as an impromptu quip when his party was languishing in third place. That the headline bait was beneficial to building Trudeau’s appeal, especially among young voters, is beyond dispute; whether the prime minister has ever truly believed in what he’s now imposed on the country is another matter.
The Cannabis Act is a sprawling, defensive piece of legislation that seems to exist mostly so Trudeau can say it does. Its 152 pages attempt to balance what Trudeau’s marijuana czar promises will be a “diverse, competitive and legal industry” of commercial pot with a statutory vow of “serious criminal penalties” for those who endanger the public health by operating outside it. Of these competing goals, virtually all political pressure on Trudeau exists in favor of the former — which should cast doubt on the degree the latter will be pursued at all.
Canada’s larger cities already barely enforce federal marijuana prohibitions. Buoyed by the settled wisdom among progressives that regards the selling and consumption of pot more as a matter of civil liberty than one of public interest, governments have explicitly instructed police to treat cannabis-related offenses as their lowest priority. Illegal pot dispensaries brazenly, and happily, operate in the vacuum.
In Vancouver, for instance, the epicenter of Canadian pot culture, federal authority is absent and municipal government plays a silly, paradoxical game of attempting to regulate illegal dispensaries, largely to raise revenue. Compliance seems entirely voluntary. According to the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., of the city’s 100-plus pot shops, only 15 have bothered to pay the city’s licensing fee; and of 2,916 fines levied, only 436 have been paid.
With the passage of the Cannabis Act, such complacent merchants must now, in theory, obey the hundreds of clauses and subclauses that abruptly prohibit much of what this 5.7 billion Canadian-dollar industry (or nearly $4.3 billion in U.S. dollars) has grown wealthy doing.
Henceforth, there must be no colorful or creative packaging, no exaggerations of their products’ powers, no marketing evoking “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” In-store displays must be hidden and signage must be drab. Advertising is limited to tobacco-style “informational promotion or brand-preference promotion” targeted to adults. There can be no sport or cultural sponsorships, no branded merchandise that may appeal to youth. In fact, nothing about the industry must be appealing — or even visible — to youth. Shops must submit to government registration and monitoring, and the prime minister will enjoy broad power to decree any further regulations he deems appropriate. And that’s before we even get to the authority of the provinces.
Canada’s pot consumers are given fresh burdens as well. A person cannot possess more than 30 grams in any public place, and one can’t possess any amount of illicit cannabis, which is to say, cannabis obtained someplace other than a government-approved store. The Non-smokers’ Health Act has been updated to ban smoking pot in all the same places as tobacco — i.e., basically everywhere.
Depending on the offense, the cost for breaking these rules can rise as high as 5 million Canadian dollars (around $3.7 million in U.S. dollars) or 14 years in prison for vendors, and 5,000 Canadian dollars or “five years less a day” in prison for individuals.
To prove he’s serious about enforcement, Trudeau has authorized 526 million Canadian dollars over the course of five years to various federal agencies, with Ottawa predicting that a “cost-recovery scheme” of taxes and regulatory fees will eventually help the system pay for itself. (Vancouver might be able to share some insights as far as that goes.)
Yet questions of enforcement have always revolved less around money than around political will. Trudeau has spoken, on occasion, of pot’s pernicious health effects, and the bossiness of the Cannabis Act begins from that premise. At the same time, his administration has been an equal font of progressive shibboleths about how the “current system” wastes resources and punishes too many — logic that would make a new era of crackdowns in the name of enforced legalization appear deeply regressive.
It is possible to imagine a government that takes seriously the documented dangers of consuming marijuana using the powers of the Cannabis Act as a legal framework with which to smother Canada’s steadily-growing marijuana industry. It could be a project akin to how politicians of a previous era worked within the confines of legality to reduce the country’s tobacco presence to a shadow of its former self.
But did Trudeau’s progressive base believe themselves to be electing a government eager to exert time, energy and resources to reduce pot’s entrenched presence in Canada’s cities? Will they be eager to reward him with a second term if he does?
The questions answer themselves, and reveal what a colossal fraud has just been perpetrated.