The fact that cigarettes were legal but caused cancer and cannabis was illegal but hadn’t been proven to cause cancer struck us as grimly ironic in the 1970’s. We quipped: “They’re waiting to find that cannabis causes cancer before they legalize it.”
When we organized the lobby group, Alberta Legalization of Cannabis Committee (ALCC) in 1977, we thought legalization would be a romp.
After all, the injustice of criminalization was evident to everyone.
Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau wrote ALCC:
“Thank you for your January 6 letter. In 1974 we initiated in the Senate a cannabis bill, Bill S-19. The Senate passed it in June of 1975, and after that the House of Commons gave it first reading. The Commons, however, was unable to find the time to give the bill further attention; so it died on the order paper when the last session of Parliament ended (January 17, 1978).”
The leader of the opposition, Joe Clark wrote us:
“With respect to this issue, I feel strongly that the present law is not serving as a deterrent to the use of marijuana and is resulting in many young people carrying criminal records for what amounts to a social practice among their generation. (May 17, 1978).”
Regrettably, politicians of the day lacked the courage of their convictions.
It took 41 years before our vision of legal cannabis was realized. In 2015, the leader of a third-place party in 2015, Justin Trudeau, campaigned for the legalization of cannabis and won the election.
On October 17, 2018, Canada became the second country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis nationwide after Uruguay.
After waiting four decades, we didn’t celebrate much. Decriminalization seemed inevitable and the day was anticlimactic.
Kamloops was the first place in B.C. to have a government-run cannabis store. It was more glamorous than I had imagined. I thought of a more utilitarian store, not a place with posters telling of the various strains and stations where you could see and smell the product.
Kamloops’ first cannabis store is located in the Columbia Place Shopping Centre. It opened its doors at 10 a.m. with about 100 people waiting in line. Some people arrived as early as 2 a.m. “I’m just excited that we have a store finally,” the first person in line told Global News (Oct 17, 2018).
The sale of legal cannabis has increased slowly since legalization. According to the National Cannabis Survey in 2019, 47 per cent of respondents said they got their cannabis from a legal source. That figure rose to 68 per cent by 2020.
The number of users has not increased dramatically but the average age of first users increased, perhaps because older Canadians were curious to try it now that cannabis was legal.
Importantly, arrests for possession have decreased dramatically.
And, despite concerns from advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving who suggested that cannabis legalization would result in more traffic injuries and deaths, that hasn’t happened.
There is more to be done. Pardons for past cannabis arrests are slow and bureaucratic. Prohibition and criminalization of other drugs has been a disaster.
My blog with newspaper clippings and other documents of ALCC can be found at alccblog.wordpress.com.