Canada made history last week, and it was a long time coming

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Legal pot is one promise with benefits. Communities and government coffers will both prosper as a result of this world-breaking government decision.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on October 22, 2018.

OTTAWA—Canada made history last week, becoming only the second country in the world to sell legal cannabis.

And judging by long lineups on the first day of sale, the decision was a long time coming.

Marijuana distributers are predicting shortages for several months as product has been flying off the shelves in provinces with storefront points of sale.

In others, like Canada’s largest province of Ontario, the internet was deluged with orders. Shopify Inc. reported it had sold millions of units in the first 12 hours.

Government revenues will be robust from this new source of taxation and international business consortiums are already eying the export market.

All in all, the first day of legal pot sales could be qualified as a success.

So why were some politicians jumping over each other to stir the pot, as it were?

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, the only leader who is alleged to have peddled weed in his past life, took a huge public dump on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a policing conference.

Ford got a round of tepid applause when he accused the prime minister of going into the witness protection program when it came to the launch.

Newly-minted Quebec Premier François Legault is sticking to his promise to hike the legal consumption age to 21.

Surveys show that, surprisingly, Quebec is the most conservative province when it comes to support for the legalization process.

Nova Scotia and British Columbia were vying for top pot consumption spot with the East Coast slightly edging out the West Coast in the score on regular use.

The figures, released on the eve of legalization, claim that almost one-quarter of Canadians in those two provinces are already regular consumers of the drug.

The province with the lowest level of regular consumption is Quebec. But judging by the lineups at the provincial pot stores, maybe they just don’t like to answer national surveys.

The most controversial future issues will be who gets to sell, rather than who gets to buy.

With players like former prime minister Brian Mulroney serving on cannabis corporate boards, the little weed has indeed arrived.

Notwithstanding Ford’s initial blowback, the financial benefits of legal pot will soon have him changing his tune.

With such a large portion of the population already engaged in cannabis consumption, legalization will get the drug out of the shadows.

No longer will buyers have to come up with medical reasons to avoid getting their recreational drug of choice from the local schoolyard pusher. The medical profession will be largely relieved of its dispensary responsibility.

The long arm of organized crime is about to be amputated, and that is a good thing. We can finally have a logical discussion in this country about how to manage the multiple challenges of drug use.

The opioid crisis, largely driven by the sale of illegal pills to unsuspecting young party-goers could be a thing of the past as consumers can now go to a legal distribution centre to purchase their regulated drug of choice.

Of course, we will now witness a spate of stories about the impacts of marijuana when consumed by young people whose brains are still being formed.

While that is undoubtedly a medical fact, the same statement could be made about alcohol consumption.

Any substance that alters your metaphysical state runs certain risks. But those risks can be mitigated by public information, discussion, and education.

It was pretty hard to have an informed classroom drug discussion when we were dealing with an illegal substance.

Canadian legalization will also unleash a vigorous international debate about new approaches to the failed war on drugs.

Warlords in Latin America and opioid manufacturers in Asia depend on clients in North America.

As long as weed was illegal, the lucrative business of importing and distributing was financially beneficial to crime syndicates.

Now Canada can be an incubator for a new approach to substitute for interdiction. We will witness firsthand whether legal sales can undercut the underground.

With the initial rollout behind us, the federal Liberals can also breathe a little easier.

The promise of legalized cannabis was one of the factors that encouraged droves of young people to get out and vote for Trudeau in the last campaign.

His success or failure in the next campaign will depend on just how many promises have been kept or broken.

Legal pot is one promise with benefits. Communities and government coffers will both prosper as a result of this world-breaking government decision.

Toke on, Canada.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.