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All across Canada, the cannabis industry has been ramping up in expectation of bringing legal adult-use marijuana to the country this summer, but legalization could be put on hold for another year if some lawmakers get their way. Last week, members of the Canadian Senate's Aboriginal Peoples Committee proposed that the government should back off on legal weed until its impact on the country’s native communities can be fully evaluated.
Sen. Lillian Dyck, chair of the committee, said that government officials did not sufficiently consult with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities to understand how legalization could affect these communities. "Many communities are really worried about the potential adverse effects on their members, and especially on their youth, and it may be even worse because of the trauma in their communities," said Dyck according to CBC News.
Other committee members argued that not enough thought had been put into how First Nations' individual governments would be able to tax legal cannabis. "The way the bill has been crafted shows there was very little consultation," said Sen. Scott Tannas. "There was no thought given to the [tax issues], and there are First Nations that are keen on economic opportunities that would come from the legitimate production of cannabis and they feel that they're behind. There are Indigenous governments that want to see economic development and get revenue... None of that appears to have been considered."
The committee also asserted that the government had not prepared “culturally appropriate” educational material to teach indigenous peoples about the changes in the country's cannabis laws. Although cannabis use will now be legal, the legal penalties for certain offenses — such as driving while stoned or giving pot to a minor — have actually increased, with the committee contending that First Nations police have not undergone necessary training to deal with these new issues.
The Senate committee offered an amendment that would delay the start date for legalization for a full year in order to resolve these issues, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is remaining adamant that plans to legalize pot this year will not be delayed. Trudeau told reporters at a press conference last week that “We're going to continue to move forward. We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule,” the Huffington Post reports.
Trudeau said that he expected the nationwide legalization of cannabis to put an end to the country's thriving black market. "Right now young people have far too easy access in Canada to marijuana. Criminal organizations make billions of dollars a year in profits on the sale of marijuana," he told the press. "We need to move forward on a system that controls and regulates while protecting our kids and our communities." The prime minister added that legislators should commit to legalizing this year, and then adjust specific regulations as necessary.
Postponing the rollout of legal weed would be a financial disaster for companies investing in getting their cannabis operations ready for this summer, but a year's delay could actually unravel the entire process of legalization. If a Conservative majority were to win the next round of elections, the new government could choose to vote against the legalization bill, destroying prospects for legal pot in the Great White North.