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What Pot Legalization in Canada Means for the U.S.

Canada is the first G-20 country to legalize weed. Could the United States be close behind?

canada marijuana legalization

Canada is the first G-20 nation to legalize marijuana.

Chris Roussakis/AFP/Getty Images

With Donald Trump subverting America’s global standing – feuding with allies, palling around with dictators, snatching toddlers from migrant mothers – Justin Trudeau just may be the leader of the Free World. Starting this week, the prime minister’s youthful, forward-looking Canada is now also the leader of the weed world.

By a nearly two-to-one margin on Tuesday, the Canadian Senate voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Canada has become the first member of the G-20 group of industrialized nations to end prohibition of pot – joining tiny global pioneer Uruguay. Canadians 18 years and older (19-plus in select provinces) will now be able to possess an ounce of weed in public and up to four plants at home. The nation’s retail markets should be in operation by September; regulation of edibles will be sorted within the year.

This is a major political victory for Trudeau, who campaigned on the issue marijuana legalization:

Canada’s reform is also a grave blow to the War on Drugs. It may be tempting the lump Canada in with states that have legalized; California has roughly the same population, for example. But legalizing states in America don’t have international obligations. Canada’s move flouts treaties (to which the U.S. is also a party) that bar legalization, making the country a proud renegade under international law.

The notion that a world power has just legalized the world’s most popular illicit substance, is to cop a phrase from Joe Biden, “a big fucking deal”; its stable, legal pot marketplace could destabilize prohibition regimes from Europe to Asia. Closer to home, Canada’s legalization might even provide cover for Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to release his federal decriminalization bill, and for a number of other marijuana bills currently in the legislature to be taken more seriously. “Canada’s progress will galvanize support for drug policy reforms around the world,” says Hannah Hetzer, Senior International Policy Manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Geopolitically, Canada’s legal pot could further strain relations between Trudeau and his new nemesis, Trump. The president’s trade advisor, Peter Navarro, channeled Trump just days ago declaring that “bad-faith Justin” deserves “a special place in hell” after the countries locked horns over trade policy at the G7 Summit, and Trudeau vowed that Canada would “not be pushed around.” We can now add marijuana to the growing list of trade irritants that includes everything from maple syrup to – as the president remarked oddly on Tuesday – smuggled sneakers.

Trump himself has sent mixed signals on pot, appointing prohibitionist gremlin Jeff Sessions as his attorney general, but recently saying he’ll “probably” back legislation to safeguard pot-legal states like Colorado. There’s a new risk that the bumptious president’s posture on pot will fall victim to his beef with the suave Canadian leader. But any crackdown would be unpopular. A poll finds that more than two thirds of American voters – and even 57 percent of Republicans – support full legalization.

Canada’s pot market is already huge; by one estimate Canadians spend more money on weed than wine – an estimated U.S. $4.5 billion in 2015. And stocks in cannabis businesses have been booming on Canadian stock exchanges. This rich new industry – and the proliferation of legal marijuana shops from British Columbia to Nova Scotia – will challenge American border states, of all political stripes, where pot is prohibited – including Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, New York and New Hampshire.

The impact could be greatest in Michigan, where the Detroit metro area includes a swath of Canada. Detroiters who have long flocked to Windsor for its under-age drinking, Cuban cigars and nudie bars, will soon frequent its dispensaries. Michigan is already flirting with legalization; and the reality of legal pot across the river may send a message to opponents of a ballot initiative in November that resistance is futile.

America’s southern neighbor is also taking an interest in Canada’s bold experiment. And with weed now legal up and down the West Coast, from Alaska to San Diego, Mexico could be the next country to embrace taxed and regulated marijuana. As Rep. Earl Blumenauer, cofounder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Mother Jones in a recent interview: “There is serious reappraisal of what Mexico’s going to do. The prospect of a North American market is quite exciting.”

In This Article: Canada, War on Drugs

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