Even though marijuana is strictly a federal issue in Canada, the state of marijuana reform varies from province to province, and from city to city. While the Liberal government has vowed to fully legalize the plant sometime during the spring of 2017, current prohibition has created several obstacles, which means consumer participation is now more crucial than ever.
Country-wide raids and arrests: a background
This past spring, numerous raids targeted medicinal dispensaries throughout Toronto. Police arrested 90 employees, and seized more than 250 kilograms of marijuana and its derivatives. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Vancouver also underwent its own crackdown on the unlicensed shops that were operating in the city. Instead of raiding them, the city issued fines, before finally seeking injunctions to force the dispensaries to shut down.
Similar acts have also occurred in smaller communities (such as Sidney and Saskatoon) across the country. It's understandable that municipalities want to exercise some control over the increasing number of storefronts in operation, but the results are still the same.
Since 2014, two-thirds of drug-related arrests were for marijuana possession. The fact that decriminalization will not be established to prevent further convictions seems at odds with a government that ran on a platform of legalization. In fact, Members of Parliament from both the government and NDP opposition have been pushing for decriminalization before legalization since the Liberals announced their timeline.
What can you do?
Under the previous conservative government, attempts at advocacy seemed futile. While large yearly demonstrations like 4/20 and Cannabis Day (the latter is held on Canada Day) were still permitted, the increasingly restrictive laws seemed to indicate that the nation was moving away from the reform that many Canadians desired.
The new Liberal government has given some hope that things are changing. We've heard announcements about a planned timeline, and the government has assembled a task force to study the best path to legalization. If you want to do your part, you have several options.
Find an organization
Provide support to one of the established groups working for marijuana reform like NORML Canada, an offshoot of the group founded in America in 1970, or Canadian groups like Canadians for Safe Access and Sensible BC. You can sign petitions created by these non-profit organizations, or volunteer; they often have open calls around election time, and you can help organize campaigns, make phone calls, and collect vote pledges. Because of the costs involved in campaigning for legalization, these groups also accept donations. Besides that, you can participate in cannabis events and conferences.
Write your representative
An easy way to make your voice heard is to write your representative in Ottawa or one of the members of the task force: Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, former Deputy Prime Minister and task force chair Anne McLellan, and vice chair Dr. Mark Ware. You can contact the whole team and let them know you're in favour of legalization.
If you have the time and resources, you might want to organize a local rally. It requires a lot of effort, but with careful planning ahead of time, you can draw more people to the cause. Here are a few tips to consider:
- Determine how many people you expect to attend before you choose a location: choose one that's accessible via many routes and can accommodate your numbers
- Decide what date and time is most convenient for participants: the weekend, in the evening, a meaningful holiday?
- Build publicity well in advance both online (social media, email newsletters, posts on cannabis-related sites, etc.) and offline (flyers and press releases, outreach tables outside any areas where your intended audience will visit)
This is an important time to get involved and share your input on marijuana reform in Canada. Whether through existing organizations or independent action, there are a number of responsible and effective ways to make your voice heard.
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