On Thursday, the Government O’Canada started the wheels in motion to legalize the possession and consumption of recreational quantities of cannabis. The anticipated date of the law being changed is July 1, 2018, a little over a year from now. The ostensible reason is harm-reduction and adding controls to the cultivation, distribution and consumption of weed.
The real reason is taxes. (For our American readers, taxes are how Canadians pay for Universal Health Care. We pay more Federal and Provincial income tax that you do, so if I break my ankle tripping over my own two feet, I don’t have to sell my house and move into a cardboard box down by the river to pay my medical bills. Canada took that decision first in 1954 in Saskatchewan and it spread country-wide by 1966.)
Will the legalization of cannabis generate tax income for the Feds and the Provinces? Does the Pope shit in the woods? Does a bear wear a funny hat? Did I get those analogies wrong?
What the Feds are doing is establishing a network of growers, licensed, certified, legal farmers and distributors of cannabis at a known strength, without additives (like fentanyl, horse tranquilizers or insecticides) in regulated quantities. Just like tobacco, beer, wine, or spirits. Then they’ll tax the crap out of it.
The Feds are being wise, leaving it up to the Provinces to decide who gets to retail the end product and what other rules will have to be applied. As with beer, wine and spirits, you’ll have to show ID if you look too young and of course, there will be serious penalties and jail time for those who don’t choose to come under the taxation umbrella.
Where to sell? Since the government doesn’t like street-corner retail, the likely outlets will be provincial liquor stores, as they have the security and expertise in place for retail alcohol sales, which would be more or less the same protocols for cannabis. The Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) could have a kiosk next to the Vintages section, in the same stores, right next to the wine coolers and growlers of local brew.
Being pragmatic, legalizing recreational-use quantities and taxing it, is sensible. It generates legit income for producers and has the potential to generate a lot of tax revenue, perhaps even more than lotteries or other vice taxes. Colorado has seen no real increase in the numbers of citizens who smoke weed, the number bumped for a month or two, then settled back down. Colorado suspected it was actually pot tourists that accounted for the blip, not locals losing their minds, switching from Coors Banquet to Aspen Bud.
We’ve had medical cannabis up here for several years, with store-front dispensaries in most provinces, generally sitting right on the edge of legal, depending on the attitude of the police on any given day. There has been no increase in the number of cannabis consumers walking around dazed and confused. There have been no reports of crazed dopers running rampant looking for human sacrifices because we have medical cannabis up here. No bus loads of American tourists crossing at Prescott, ON, to blaze up and eat all the Doritos. Note to American stoners: Get Cheezies if you get the munchies. Much better than Doritos, or Cheetos and they’re made in Belleville, Ontario with actual cheese from Canadian milk.
We have no great issue with adults smoking cannabis. The usual effects are not unlike that perfect two-drink moment when one is relaxed, happy and calm. One more drink and you start to get a little sloppy, so one aims for that golden spot of contentedness and peace. Much like alcohol, some folks go giddy, some get hyper, others get sleepy, or chatty, with the slight lowering of social inhibitions from weed. Not everyone reacts well, some people feel ill, or wobbly, or not fully in control, which is upsetting. Like alcohol, not everybody drinks, and not everybody will ingest cannabis.
Where the problem lies is in operation of a motor vehicle while under the influence of a substance that affects your judgement. For booze, the standard is .08 milligrams of alcohol will impair your operation of said motor vehicle. The science on .08 is long and it has withstood legal challenges over the years. How much cannabis causes impairment is not fully understood. If the standard is One Joint, then I’ll contend that I only smoked one joint, except is was made Jamaican-style with a page from the Racing News as a paper and close to four ounces of high-potency BC bud that would drop a quarter-horse to her knees.
Our solution is simple: Do away with the blood-alcohol level number or its equivalent for cannabis and change the various provincial laws to Impaired Operation of a Motor Vehicle, boat, snowmobile, aircraft or other type of conveyance. Impaired means you’re not on your game, not coordinated enough, or lacking in judgement to safely do it. How you got there isn’t the issue, the fact that you’re a danger to the rest of us is the issue.
A Field Sobriety Test is a well-understood test administered by police to determine if you’re not in complete control of your faculties to safely operate said conveyance. That’s the real determination: Are you safe to drive, boat, snowmobile or control that vehicle?
If I take a common over-the-counter cold medication, I don’t drive, at all. Why? Because Contac-C makes me hallucinate like the great old days of 1974 when I would see my grandma climbing up my leg with a knife in her teeth, cursing in Swedish. Grandma wasn’t Swedish. In aviation, using Benylin cough syrup with Codeine is an immediate medical disqualification for at least 12 hours: You can’t fly as the standards for aviation are significantly higher than for driving or boating, but the end result is the same: You are not in full command of your faculties.
Using a Field Sobriety Test to determine judgement for the safe operation of a vehicle would catch those who are not paying attention due to other reasons. One alcoholic drink and one Ativan (lorazepan) should most emphatically disqualify you from driving, except you would blow a low number on a field breathalyzer and technically, be fine to drive. Chemo-fog for cancer patients is another one, as well as side-effects from blood pressure medication. You’re messed up, but not in a way that the police can legally intervene. For that matter, one could argue that texting and driving is Impaired Operation of a Motor Vehicle. There are enough studies out there that suggest that texting and driving is roughly the same as driving while drunk.
There are always outlier examples. One person I know used to grow a couple of acres of high-count, winter-hardy weed for personal consumption and would blaze up several times a day, over 30 years. Did he get ‘high’ in the conventional sense? Not really, but when he dies it might take a few days for the flames to go out when they cremate him, as the resins in his lungs will keep burning. Other outliers include a former co-worker who could drink a half-bottle of vodka for lunch and still be fully functional, or the other guy who’s motto was “24 hours in a day, 24 beer in a case. Coincidence?” Both worked in jobs that needed your full attention and due care and both were usually significantly over the legal limit but you wouldn’t know it.
To follow on, if you pass the Field Sobriety Test, you’re likely good to go, but we would give the officer administering a bit of leeway. Let the officer decide to ground you for 12 hours if he or she is not fully certain that you’re on your game. Or, arrest you, impound the car and take you to the crowbar hotel for a blood test to determine your level of impairment. It’s a judgement call, yes, but an important one. Make the penalty for a 12-hour suspension three points off your license, a $300 fine, plus the tow and impound fees and you will see a very rapid decrease in the number of people driving while impaired.
We have no issue with people getting relaxed, however they get there, but we have a significant problem with people operating boats, cars, snowmobiles, trucks or aircraft when they are not in full command of their faculties.