How legalized marijuana could change Canadian cities

Justin Trudeau campaigned on a promise to regulate and legalize marijuana, but how and when that will be done remains unclear. Here's a look at how it could transform Montreal and other cities.

Advocates hopeful prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau will act on vow to make pot legal

Marijuana, seen here growing in the middle of a residential street, could soon be legalized under the Trudeau Liberals. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

For more than two decades, Marc-Boris St-Maurice has been fighting for the legalization of marijuana.

Now, that dream appears closer than ever to becoming a reality, with prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau making a promise to legalize and regulate pot a key tenet in his party platform. 

"I think we've come a long way," said St-Maurice, the founder of the Bloc Pot, a Quebec pro-marijuana party, and a card-carrying Liberal for the past ten years.

"The tipping point has been reached. We've now reached those so-called winning conditions."

Exactly how and when the changes will be put into place, however, remains unclear. St-Maurice said he's "cautiously optimistic" the incoming Liberal government will follow through on its promise.

What would pot stores look like? 

Don Briere is the owner of 15 Weeds Glass & Gifts medical marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver. Such stores could soon be opened up to the wider public. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Trudeau has already said he's not comfortable with marijuana being sold at local corner stores, stressing that any changes would need to make it more difficult for minors to get their hands on the drug.

He insists legalization would make it tougher for minors to buy pot and would also keep the profits away from organized crime.

Adam Greenblatt, co-founder of Santé Cannabis, Quebec's first medical marijuana clinic, envisions a future with regulated outlets set up around Montreal where adults can go in, show ID and "buy any kind of marijuana product they want."

"I think that selling it in stores and dépanneurs actually kind of cheapens what cannabis is," he said. 

"Cannabis is a really diverse and important drug with many benefits."

Provinces to play a role

Adam Greenblatt, co-founder of the medical marijuana clinic Santé Cannabis, says some of the tax revenue from marijuana could go toward awareness campaigns. (Jaela Bernstien/CBC)
Greenblatt said many of the changes will likely vary from province to province, just like the legal drinking age.

Similarly, it will likely be up to the provinces to determine whether the sale of marijuana will be done through a provincial Crown corporation, as is the case for wine and spirits in Quebec, or through private businesses, as is the case for alcohol in Alberta, he said.

Some jurisdictions may even choose to ban the sale of marijuana outright, he said.

One thing is for certain — there will be an added sales tax on marijuana.

"It comes down fundamentally to tax collection," Greenblatt said.

The trick, he said, will be to keep the tax low enough so that marijuana users don't turn to the black market. 

Some of the revenue, he suggested, could be used to raise awareness among teens about some of the risks of using marijuana.

The Colorado model

Marijuana sales generated $60 million in revenue for Colorado in the first year since it was legalized in for recreational use. (Bob Pennell/The Medford Mail Tribune via AP)
The Liberals have said Colorado, which last year became the first U.S. state to legalize marijuana for recreational use, could be used as a model for legislation here in Canada.

In Colorado, an individual over the age of 21 is allowed to possess up to about 28 grams of marijuana for personal use.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has been pushing since 2013 for officers to have the ability to ticket people found with 30 grams of marijuana or less.

Mario Hamel, the association's vice-president and the chief of the Gatineau police, said legalizing marijuana could free up officers to address other issues. But his association has other concerns.

"Organized crime is there to make money," he said.

"The opportunity could shift to other drugs — maybe cheaper drugs, chemical drugs."