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Sparking up a trend: These nations are following Canada's lead on legal cannabis

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Canada's decision to legalize cannabis seems to be having a global impact; the growing Green Party momentum, Mark Norman affair add to challenges Liberals face heading into the federal election.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

A man smokes a joint during a rally in support of the legalization of marijuana, in Alameda Central Park in Mexico City on May 4. A number of countries around the world are considering legalizing pot, or relaxing rules about recreational cannabis use. (Pedro Pardo/AFP/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


  • Canada's decision to legalize cannabis seems to be having a global impact.
  • Growing Green Party momentum and the Mark Norman affair are adding to the challenges the Liberals face heading towards a federal election.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

Legalized drugs

Canadians appear to be a bit conflicted about cannabis.

A new Dalhousie University study out today suggests that support for legalization has dropped to 50.1 per cent, down 18.5 per cent from their last poll in 2017. And 20.3 per cent of respondents now express ambivalence about last October's change to allow recreational use.

Almost 19 per cent of the 1,051 people surveyed said they would be concerned about being seen purchasing legal pot, with slightly more than a quarter of respondents saying they wouldn't want coworkers to know that they toke.

That caution, however, seems at odds with the figures released by Statistics Canada last week that showed an uptick in cannabis use since legalization, with 18 per cent of those 15 or older — about 5.3 million people — reporting that they had used the drug in the past three months, up from 14 per cent a year ago. And the number of first-time users almost doubled, from 327,000 in 2018 to 646,000 in this survey.

The biggest increases in cannabis use were seen among men, up 6 per cent from a year ago, and people aged 45 to 64, up 5 per cent. Use among women and those in the other age groups was basically unchanged.

A Canadian flag with a cannabis leaf flies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. New figures from Statistics Canada say the biggest increase in cannabis use since it was legalized has been among men, up 6 per cent from a year ago. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Still, there seems little doubt that Canada's decision to legalize, becoming the second nation to do so after Uruguay, has had a global impact.

On Tuesday, New Zealand's justice minister announced that a binding referendum on legalization will be held during the 2020 general election. The series of yes-or-no questions will include options for the commercial sale and home cultivation of pot, although it will be up to whomever forms the next government to make the people's wishes law.

Mexico also appears to be inching towards legalization, with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's newly released five-year National Development Plan calling the country's "prohibitionist" approach to drugs "unsustainable."

Possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis has been decriminalized since 2009, and the country's Supreme Court legalized medical marijuana in 2017. And the right to recreational use has recently been upheld by the courts, setting the stage for a legislative change.

Costa Ricans march during a demonstration to demand the legalization of marijuana and its cultivation for medicinal purposes in San Jose on May 4. (Ezequiel Becerra/AFP/Getty Images)

Last fall, South Africa's Supreme Court legalized cannabis use by adults in private places. It will be up to Cyril Ramaphosa's ANC, which appears to have won a majority in yesterday's election, to enact legislation before the court's 2020 deadline.

Belize, St. Kitts, Georgia, Jamaica, Argentina, Ecuador and Colombia are among the nations that have removed or eased prohibitions on the use of marijuana in recent years.

The United States is rapidly heading the same way.

This past weekend, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced that he has struck a cross-party deal to legalize recreational cannabis use starting next year. If the deal holds, Illinois will become the 11th state with legal weed.

Connecticut may be the 12th, after the last key component of a state legalization bill passed the committee stage last week.

New Jersey and New York are also debating legalization legislation, although both states seem more inclined to kick the can down the road a bit and put it to the public in a referendum.

Thirty-three U.S. states now allow the medicinal use of cannabis. And last month, New Mexico became the 24th state to decriminalize marijuana, signing legislation that makes use and possession punishable by a $50 fine, rather than a prison term.

National polls in the U.S. suggest that more than 60 per cent of Americans now support legalization of cannabis. (David Horemans/CBC)

National polls suggest that more than 60 per cent of Americans now support legalization, and even in the most conservative states like Texas, there is momentum to, at the very least, decriminalize. Although the sale and use of cannabis remains subject to strict federal penalties.

Of course, there's always the question of what to do with other illegal drugs.

Residents of Denver, Colo., narrowly approved a ballot initiative this week to decriminalize magic mushrooms. The measure will prohibit the municipality from spending money to impose criminal penalties on those who consume the hallucinogenic fungus within city limits.

Residents of Denver, Colo., narrowly approved a ballot initiative this week to decriminalize hallucinogenic mushrooms. (Maartje Blijdenstein/AFP/Getty Images)

Denver was the first major American city to similarly decriminalize pot back in 2005.

But such progressive measures pale in comparison to a new drug policy in Berlin, Germany, that has seen authorities set aside designated areas for dealers near the entrance to a popular park.

The zones, marked out with pink spray paint on the pavement, haven't won universal acclaim.

Marlene Mortler, the conservative politician who serves as Germany's national drug commissioner, slammed the initiative today.

"It's a capitulation of the rule of law," she told reporters. "We cannot give the dealers a licence to trade."

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At Issue

Growing Green Party momentum and the Mark Norman affair add to the challenges the Liberals face heading towards a federal election, The National co-host Rosemary Barton writes.

The week started with some history. Elizabeth May finally got some company in the House of Commons with the win of the Green Party's Paul Manly in a B.C. by-election.

Now by-elections are just that, one-offs where people make a decision without all the political noise and party campaigning associated with a wider election. This one is also notable because it is the last before the federal election, and so Manly will be in the Commons for mere weeks.

The Green Party's Paul Manly celebrates with his family in Nanaimo, B.C., on Monday after results come in for the Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

But the win is enough to get people thinking about what could happen if the Greens garner more success.

Chantal Hébert wrote about it in her column this week.

Another At Issue panelist, Shachi Kurl, laid out some thoughts even before this win.

And I also think Éric Grenier had some smart speculation in his piece today, particularly about where that Green vote might go.

So that's how the electoral map could change based on the success of others. Of course, it can also change based on the government and its successes or failures.

The decision yesterday to drop the charges against Vice-Admiral Mark Norman was most certainly a win for the government — if only because it means some of the Prime Minister's own staffers won't be called to testify just months before an election campaign.

Vice-Admiral Mark Norman arrives at the Ottawa courthouse with lawyer Marie Henein on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

While the Crown made it very clear there had been no political involvement in any part of the case, that didn't stop the opposition from trying to make the suggestion.

What is certain is that Vice-Admiral Norman endured these charges for two years, and it is unclear as to why — or why a more thorough investigation was not done before charges were laid.

Andrew Coyne writes about the questions he still has.

So we will cover all of that somehow in one panel tonight … my producer, Arielle, seems confident it can be done.

I've probably left you with too much reading material, but honestly it was also to help me!

Andrew, Chantal and Shachi join us later. Hope you can too.

- Rosemary Barton

  • WATCH: At Issue tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

An act of extreme courage.

Quote of the moment

"Once again. Sincere apologies for the stupid unthinking gag pic earlier. Was supposed to be joke about Royals vs circus animals in posh clothes but interpreted as about monkeys & race, so rightly deleted. Royal watching not my forte. Also, guessing it was my turn in the barrel."

- BBC Radio 5 presenter Danny Baker expresses regret for posting a picture of a couple holding hands with a chimpanzee along with the caption "Royal Baby leaves hospital" on his Twitter feed. He has since been fired from his job.

What The National is reading

  • Pope issues new church law requiring priests, nuns to report sex abuse internally (CBC)
  • A frustrated Trump questions his Venezuela strategy (Washington Post)
  • North Korea stages second missile test in five days (BBC)
  • "Flesh-eating" genital infection linked to certain diabetes drugs (USA Today)
  • Four arrested in connection with murder of Northern Ireland journalist (CBC)
  • Nine killed in Congo as militiamen try to attack Ebola treatment centre (Independent)
  • New study shows that wasps are smarter than we think (CNN)
  • Ancient Britain's equivalent to Tutankhamun found in Southend (Guardian)
  • Typo for the ages printed on 46 million new $50 bills (Sydney Morning Herald)

Today in history

May 9, 1954: Helicopter pilots patrol the Trans Mountain pipeline

A year after oil started flowing through the new Trans Mountain Pipeline, helicopter pilots patrol its 1,160 kilometre length to detect "trouble." It's a three day trip from Vancouver, through the Rockies to Edmonton. Filled, judging by this CBC Newsmagazine report, with waving oil workers, men in bowties and incidental Looney Tunes music.

CBC Newsmagazine tracks the helicopter pilots who patrol the Trans Mountain pipeline. 2:42

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.