OTTAWA – Nearly a century of marijuana prohibition came to an end Wednesday as Canada became the first major Western nation to legalise and regulate its sale and recreational use.
The change was praised by pot enthusiasts and investors in a budding industry that has seen pot stocks soar on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges, but sharply questioned by some health professionals and opposition politicians.
“We’re not legalising cannabis because we think it’s good for our health. We’re doing it because we know it’s not good for our children,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on the eve of the reform.
“We know we need to do a better job to protect our children and to eliminate or massively reduce the profits that go to organized crime.”
The Cannabis Act, which fulfils a promise Trudeau made in the 2015 election campaign, makes Canada only the second nation after Uruguay to legalize the drug.
Its implementation will be scrutinised and dissected by Canadians ahead of the next election in 2019, as well as other nations that the prime minister has said may follow suit if the measure proves a success.
In total, Statistics Canada says 5.4 million Canadians will buy cannabis from legal dispensaries in 2018 — about 15 percent of the population. Around 4.9 million already smoke.
Under the new regulations, Canadians at least 18 or 19 years old (soon to be 21 in Quebec) will be allowed to buy up to 30 grams of cannabis, and grow up to four plants at home.
A patchwork of private and public cannabis retail stores and online sales have been set up across the 13 provinces and territories, ramping up to 300 storefronts by year’s end, the government predicts.
Sales of derivatives like edibles will be legalised next year.
To meet demand, hundreds of growers have been licensed, some taking over horticulture and floriculture greenhouses.