A former deputy Prime Minister of Canada has told a drug policy symposium in Wellington that prohibition doesn't work.
The honourable Anne McLellan is the former head of Canada's task force on cannabis legalisation and regulation. She told the symposium Canada is in the process of legalising cannabis to the "adult recreational user" which is expected to take effect in July 2018.
"Cannabis is the most-used illegal substance in Canada", she said. The illegal cannabis market in Canada is valued at NZD $7.4 billion (C $7 billion).
Ms McLellan said the intention is to create a legal market that gets 80 percent of organised crime out of the cannabis market, "though we're not naive, they will always find a niche market".
She said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau campaigned in 2015 on the legalisation of cannabis, to "legalise, regulate and restrict access".
"So many young people are charged with possession and end up with a criminal record, which affects their ability to get a job, cross the border into the US, etc," Ms McLellan said.
"Law enforcement is already under stress and has bigger issues to deal with," she said.
The government plans to restrict youth access, prohibit "lifestyle" advertising of cannabis, and impose serious penalties for trafficking or using young people to sell it. It will "allow adults to possess regulated, quality-controlled cannabis".
Ms McLellan said under Canada's legislation:
- Eighteen year olds will be able to legally purchase and consume cannabis
- It will be legal to have more than 30g (or 1oz) on your person in public
There'll be no co-location for either the sale or consumption of alcohol.
Ms McLellan said public education is key, "as soon as possible, don't wait for legalisation".
"Keeping it out of young hands and taking organised crime out of it is not an easy balance to strike, but that's not a reason not to try," she said.
As for concerns about drug-impaired driving, she said "we have drug-impaired driving now".
Canada is the first G20 country to go down this road.
"We know all of you are watching and that's okay. We'll share with you what we learn," Ms McLellan said.
Medicinal cannabis has been available in Canada for 17 years. Canada has 50 licensed producers, supplying its 170,000 authorised medicinal patients.