OTTAWA — Will Canada be known for another kind of leaf — other than its iconic maple?
On Thursday, the Canadian government under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau unveiled its plans to legalize recreational marijuana.
If the Cannabis Act passes Parliament, Canada would become the second nation in the world, after Uruguay, to regulate a legal marijuana market.
The government’s new policy had been expected for some time as Trudeau had endorsed legalizing marijuana on the campaign trail.
“It’s too easy for our kids to get marijuana. We’re going to change that,” according to a tweet from his official account.
The legislation “seeks to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis, and it will make Canada safer,” said Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, on Thursday.
Canada’s proposed marijuana policy is expected to be in place by July 2018.
The Canadian government would create a system to regulate marijuana production, distribution and sale. It would also collect licensing fees and taxes on marijuana sales, which officials say takes profits away from criminals and organized crime.
“Criminals pocket between $7 billion and $8 billion in illicit proceeds. We simply have to do better,” said Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.
Producing or distributing marijuana outside the government regulation would be considered serious offenses, officials said.
The federal government will provide minimum conditions, but the provinces could set more rules about distribution and sale on top of those.
But many issues remain for government officials to figure out, including how much to charge for marijuana, CBC reported.
Adults would be able to have up to 30 grams of legal marijuana in public and be permitted to grow up to four plants per household.
Under the Cannabis Act, Canadians would be able to buy marijuana at legal retail outlets or receive them through a licensed producer in the mail.
However, marijuana will remain illegal until the new law is approved and goes into effect.
Teens and minors younger than the age of 18 would be prohibited from having or buying marijuana. Canadian provinces can raise that minimum age higher if they’d like.
Authorities envision regulating marijuana like alcohol.
“By providing a highly regulated system of distribution, we can be much more successful as we have been with alcohol,” Blair said. “It’s not an absolute guarantee that kids won’t get access to it, but it will be far more difficult for kids to get access to it when this new regime is in place than it is today.”
Officials lamented that the current policy of banning marijuana hasn’t deterred kids from drug use. Despite about $2 billion to $6 billion spent by the Canadian police to deal with marijuana use, Canadian teens are among “the heaviest users in the Western world,” Goodale said.
“If your objective is to protect public health and safety, and keep cannabis out of the hands of minors and stop the flow of illegal profits to organized crime, the law as it stands today, has been an abject failure,” Goodale said.
The new policy would create tougher criminal offenses for selling marijuana to a minor — punishable by as much as 14 years in prison.
The bill would add new offenses prohibiting people from driving while they’re drunk or impaired by marijuana and other drugs.
It would create three new offenses and allow police to require saliva tests for drivers whom they suspect of being high, reported the CBC. A positive test could result to more testing including a blood test.
Bringing marijuana across borders would remain a serious criminal offense — especially as marijuana laws differ depending on countries.
“Each country establishes its own rules,” Goodale said.
“The laws of the United States are the responsibilities of the United States. The laws of Canada are the responsibility of Canada.”