Now that Health Minister Jane Philpott has announced that the Liberal government will introduce legislation next spring to legalize and regulate marijuana, we have a question: What happens until then?
Under Canadian law, a person can be arrested and charged with a criminal offence for possessing a small amount of pot. It is also a serious crime to traffic in marijuana, or to grow it for the purpose of trafficking it.
And yet a person could leave the offices of The Globe and Mail, walk a few blocks, enter a well-marked storefront and purchase some lovingly displayed marijuana for their personal consumption. No need to have a marijuana prescription from a doctor; just tell the proprietor you have a prescription for an anxiety medication, or a sleeping pill, or suffer from any disorder that marijuana is reputed to be beneficial in the treatment thereof, and you'll be puffing away on Spadina Avenue a few minutes later.
This weird state of affairs wasn't created by the Liberal government. Pot-law enforcement has been operating in a grey zone for years. The Health Canada regulations allowing people to possess, consume and grow marijuana for medical purposes have been on the books since 2001. The public acceptance of pot has grown dramatically since then. Even the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has called for slacker laws that would allow officers to ticket offenders rather than arrest and charge them with a criminal offence.
But with the election of the Liberals and their explicit promise to legalize pot, the grey zone has become even more nebulous. The laws against the possession and sale of pot have seemingly been washed away, and few in authority appear concerned about it.
This cries out for clarity. A new poll shows that 70 per cent of Canadians are in favour of legalization. But those same Canadians are probably not enamoured of the idea that this country's laws can be cavalierly ignored in the interim before the pot law is changed.
We need a statement from the government on what it expects to happen in this limbo period. Should police crack down, or should they continue to let the laws slide? If so, what is the purpose of having laws if they are not enforced? Good questions, for which the Liberals do not seem to have any answers.