Tuesday's vote saw more U.S. states legalize pot: Why Canada could benefit

There could be an upside for Canada now that several U.S. states have decided to legalize marijuana, according to one of the architects of Canada's pot policy.

Trump's election win casts doubt over future of legal pot in the U.S. and impact on Canada

After Tuesday's vote, which saw pot legalization on the ballot in many states, more than one in five Americans live in a state where marijuana has been legalized. (David McNew/Reuters)

There could be an upside for Canada now that several U.S. states have decided to legalize marijuana, according to one of the architects of Canada's pot policy.

On Tuesday night while Americans were electing Donald J. Trump as their next president, several states also had ballot questions about whether to legalize pot for recreational use. California, Nevada and Massachusetts all said yes. 

All three states plan to have possession of small quantities of marijuana legalized by Jan. 1, 2017. That means by early next year, more than one in five Americans will live in a state where marijuana is legal for adult use. 

So what does it mean for Canada? Bill Blair, parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and former Toronto police chief, told CBC News he sees a couple of benefits. 

"I think we will have an opportunity to learn from them and I think there's also some encouraging signs that they'll be more investment in research and more information about how this can be safely and healthfully regulated," said Blair.

Canadian officials have already taken a look at how legalization has worked in Colorado and Washington state as the Trudeau government prepares to table its own legislation in spring of 2017.  Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., have also already legalized the drug.

With 97 per cent of the vote in, Maine voters were separated by less than a percentage point, leaning towards legalization.

California's move is significant because it's the most populous U.S. state, clocking in at around 39 million people.

Fifty six per cent of voters there supported the marijuana legislation, Proposition 64. It means those 21 and over can now legally grow and use small quantities marijuana. California will also set up industry standards and a licensing system.

A lot is going to depend on what the Trump administration does and who is going to be chosen to be attorney general- Beau Kilmer

California and Canada have similar plans when it comes to pot profits — reinvesting profits to fight the problems associated with drug use.

California's Proposition 64 says tax revenues from pot sales could range "from high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion" annually. That money would be put towards dedicated purposes such as youth programs, environmental protection and law enforcement. Advocates of the proposal say scientific research would also be on the list.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Blair have talked about the need for federal tax revenue from the sale of pot to go towards addictions treatment and education campaigns. It's not clear how much of the revenues would go to provincial and territorial governments and whether they would have similar objectives.

'Uncertainty' in medical community

As Canada moves forward with legalization, Blair said more scientific research on marijuana's effects are needed and noted that his team is still hearing questions about medicinal marijuana.

Bill Blair says Canada has the 'opportunity to learn' from U.S. states legalizing marijuana. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

"In the conversations we've had with the medical community I know there's a certain uncertainty, even anxiety among professionals about looking for the evidence of that therapeutic value."

"There are many that believe there is value there but in order to determine the right dosages, those things which work and what they work for, I think there needs to be some scientific research behind that."

Despite the growing list of states legalizing pot, marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law.

As more states pass legislation making marijuana use legal at a state level, some wonder whether there will be pushback on the federal level. That uncertainty could be amplified under the new Trump administration.

"A lot is going to depend on what the Trump administration does and who is going to be chosen to be attorney general," said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and co-author of  Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.

Trump impact on pot legalization unknown

Kilmer points out that after Colorado and Washington state legalized, the U.S. Department of Justice said it wouldn't stop them as long as there was a strong regulatory system in place and prosecutors continued to enforce the rules such as cracking down on those who are dealing with organized crime or selling the drug to minors.

A new attorney general could follow that hands-off model or decide to crack down and enforcing federal law, said Kilmer.

"That person is going to have a lot of power," he added.

Both Blair and Kilmer said it was too early to say what Tuesday night's results meant for the American government's attitudes towards Canada's legalization plans.

"I would be reluctant to speculate on the impact that that might have," said Blair. 

Though Blair said Canada is working "very collaboratively" with international partners, including the U.S. on issues such as border controls.


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