There are more questions than answers now that pot is legal
Pop a champagne cork. Or spark up a joint.
As of Wednesday smoking cannabis is legal in Canada. And despite the many difficult issues that will come along with this historic move, that’s something to celebrate.
Criminalizing pot-smoking was a costly and dangerous mistake that gave an estimated 500,000 Canadians criminal records while lining the pockets of criminal enterprises to the tune of about $6.2 billion a year.
That said, today marks the beginning, not the end, of a long process that raises a lot more questions to which there are so far no clear answers. Among them:
- How will it affect the workplace? Employers are struggling with what type of guidelines should be set to prevent workers from coming to work stoned.
The problem is the science on how long cannabis stays in the system is all over the map. That’s partly because it depends on the amount of the psychoactive chemical, THC, in the cannabis and how it was consumed (smoking pot provides a faster high and a quicker come down than ingesting it). Even then, employers — even those in the same field — differ sharply as to how long it takes for the “high” to wear off.
Nowhere is that more evident than in policing. Ottawa and Vancouver police officers need only be “fit for duty” when they arrive at work. But Toronto police and RCMP officers will be prohibited from using recreational marijuana within 28 days of reporting for duty. That effectively amounts to a ban on using it.
It’s understandable that employers in areas where safety is paramount — such as policing, public transit and health care — want to be cautious. But they must also respect their employees’ rights and be realistic about what is enforceable. Cannabis is now legal, after all. There’s no point in setting unreasonable standards that will be successfully challenged in court.
Health Canada says the psychoactive effects of cannabis generally last six hours; likewise, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommends waiting six hours before driving or operating machinery. Those guidelines are a sensible starting point for most employers.
- When is it safe to drive? There’s a lot of confusion here. One in six Canadians think that it’s safe to drive three hours after smoking or ingesting pot, but a study released this week by McGill University found younger drivers are more at risk of crashing a vehicle for up to five hours after they consume cannabis. And even that study didn’t measure participants after five hours, so no one really knows where the safe driving point is.
At the same time, almost half of drivers who use cannabis reported they had tried to drive after ingesting or smoking the drug. Some actually thought it made them better drivers. Indeed, the percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now exceeds the number who test positive for alcohol.
It’s appalling that more research wasn’t done in this crucial field before legalization, and it’s urgent to fill the knowledge gaps as quickly as possible. Until it is, the best advice is from Public Safety Canada: “If you are using cannabis, do not drive.”
- Where can I buy cannabis? Ironically, it may be more difficult to access pot in Ontario now than before legalization. That’s because illegal pot shops are closing down so they can qualify for provincial licences and legal outlets won’t open until April 1. Until then weed can only be bought online through the Ontario Cannabis Store. (That means if you’re smoking weed in Ontario today — before it could possibly have been delivered from the cannabis store — it’s a legal act with an illegally sourced product.)
This situation is only going to get more complicated since the province has given municipalities the power to opt out of having any legal stores within their boundaries.
This is a foolish policy that will encourage the growth of the very black market that legalization is aimed at stamping out. The province should reverse course.
Where can I smoke pot? In Ontario, generally in public places where you can legally smoke tobacco. Even that can be confusing; smoking is legal in parks, but not near playgrounds. It could get more complicated if municipalities enact legislation, as they can under the provincial law, to ban marijuana from certain areas such as — yes — parks.
This is a bad idea that will lead to a confusing patchwork of different laws.
It’s not even necessarily legal to light up in your own home. Some condo boards and apartment managers have banned it in their buildings.
Expect this to lead to battles in courts and human rights tribunals between those who want a smoke- and odour-free environment and those who smoke cannabis for medical reasons.
- Does legalization mean pot possession convictions disappear? Not right away, but federal officials said Tuesday it will soon become easier for those convicted of simple possession to obtain a pardon. People with convictions could soon be asked to fill out a simple form to speed up the process.
Many thousands of Canadians have criminal records hanging over their heads as a result of convictions under the cannabis laws. That makes no sense now that possessing and using pot is legal. The government is absolutely right to take this step.