Recreational marijuana has been legal in Canada for just over one month, but the process has been marred with obstacles and controversy.
TL;DR Listed below are just some of the major shortcomings of marijuana legalization that, in a few years, could jeopardize it.
Part of this awkwardness has to do with the lack of real precedent. Legalization has been a grand experiment in Canada. It is only the second country and first major economy to permit widespread cannabis sales. As such, it has had to forge its own rules largely from scratch.
But there are greater, more longstanding problems, too. In fact, as it stands, the new, legal status of marijuana may be in jeopardy if some of these issues are not resolved within its first few years.
Listed below are just some of the early signs that, right now, indicate marijuana legalization is not working in Canada.
Major supply problems will last years
In just the first week after legalization, customers noticed that shelves began to empty. After two weeks, it was clear that there were major supply issues.
In Quebec, the société québécoise du cannabis (SQDC) has had to close its stores three days per week in order to prolong its operating ability and manage its dwindling stock.
Now, it seems like these shortages will last years. According to Global News, it will be a long time before corporate suppliers are able to produce another viable crop.
The lack of legal cannabis undermines the principles at the very core of legalization. The drug may be legal, but now it's simply unavailable.
People are still driving high
Despite the government's efforts to educate the public of the dangers of marijuana ahead of legalization, too many Canadians are still getting behind the wheel while high.
According to the results of the 2018 Cannabis Survey, which Statistics Canada released yesterday, November 19th, the number of people who admit to driving high is unchanged from last year.
The stats are truly alarming: "among people who had used cannabis in the past 12 months, 39% reported that they have ever driven within two hours of using cannabis, and of those who had driven after using cannabis, 43% did so within the past 30 days, 27% within the past 12 months, and 31% more than 12 months ago."
While it may be too early to draw conclusions about the effect of the government's campaign to educate the public on cannabis, these early results are not encouraging.
Recall that public safety was one of the central arguments behind legalization efforts. Legal cannabis, proponents argued, would remove the gag on public instutitions and allow for more widespread discussion about the drug and lead to more responsible consumption. So far, that is not the case.
There is too much bureaucracy
Bureaucratic impediments are a major contributor to the nationwide cannabis shortage. According to the federal Cannabis Act, cannabis producers must apply for permits from Health Canada. Unfortunately, however, the agency has been slow to issue licenses.
Supply has also so far been determined by Statistics Canada estimates for demand. But a government survey on the subject is bound to yield skewed results. The fear of admitting marijuana consumption to a government agency is an uncontrollable variable.
Strict regulations also control every aspect of cannabis packaging and sales. In provinces where the government has a monopoly on marijuana distribution, such obstacles multiply. In Quebec's SQDC locations, customers must pass through at least two employees before they are able to access any product.
If these issues persist, marijuana legalization will render itself futile.
Customers are unhappy
– particularly in Ontario, where, according to an Ipsos/Global News poll, 40% of people who have ordered through the Ontatio Cannabis Store reported less than satisfactory service.
Hours-long wait times outside government-run stores and short supplies have also frustrated customers.
In most provinces, only a handful of legal dispensaries opened. In Ontario, there are none. This scarcity creates a huge accessibility problem, discouraging legal cannabis consumption.
Some also report that dispensaries are riping off customers. There is sometimes a discrepency between the amount of cannabis that product packages advertise and the amount they actually contains. This often has to do with leaf dehydration between packaging and sale, but it's nonetheless aggravating.
Law enforcement was unprepared
Ambiguity in the text of cannabis laws has posed challenges to law enforcement.
Police in Quebec, for example, have admitted that they're not exactly sure how to enforce one provision that strictly regulates the transportation of cannabis in a vehicle. The result is that some drivers have been arrested despite claiming to have followed the law.
There is further no definite roadside test to catch high motorists. Fines are issued and arrests are made solely at the discretion of individual officers. That method, of course, leaves room for error and misdiagnosis. In extreme cases, police may force drivers to undergo a blood test at the local police station, but this practice is not sustainable; such tests involve too much time and too many resources to be useful in every case.
Without the proper tools and training to enforce the law after legalization, police have been left to their own devices. These problems will likely persist for years.
The black market is actually growing
According to a report from The Globe and Mail earlier this month, legalization has actually led to a spike in black market marijuana sales.
The reasons for this increase in illegal sales are outlined previously in this list: customer disatisfaction, lack of accessibility, and supply shortages.
If legalization is going to work, governments and cannabis suppliers will need to adapt to suit the needs of marijuana consumers.
Right now, they are unable and unwilling to do so. For this reason especially, marijuana legalization appears to not be working in Canada.