Legalizing Marijuana Is Step One. Then What?

Legalizing Marijuana Is Step One. Then What?

The current global trend toward legalizing marijuana is a great thing. Increased access to legal marijuana can help slow drug trafficking, reduce drug-related crime, help people deal with illness, and boost economies around the world.

Those are the goals, anyway.

While increased legalization is great, it’s only one factor contributing to the expanding marijuana market. Legislators and citizens might happen to agree that legalizing marijuana is a good thing, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll agree on much else — or anything else, for that matter — when it comes to details like pricing, taxation, distribution, possession limits, or enforcement. Both sides love to haggle about those things, and the longer they do, the longer the positive effects of increased legalization are delayed.

Take Massachusetts, for example.

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Massachusetts making a slow go with marijuana details

As USA Today reports, after a long period of “red tape, delays and legislative infighting as Massachusetts lawmakers fiddled with the state’s cannabis legalization plan,” adults in Massachusetts will finally be able to buy, sell, and smoke pot legally in July of next year.

Well, in theory they will.

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker has filled the final five slots on the state’s Cannabis Advisory Board, the board that will be responsible for helping to oversee the state’s recreational marijuana industry.

The 25-person advisory board is made up of five appointees each from the governor, attorney general, and state treasurer, as well as 10 additional members with expertise specific to the marijuana industry. The board will work in conjunction with a five-member Cannabis Control Commission to help the Commission develop regulations and oversee marijuana production and trade in the state.

How well will they work together? Who knows.

If the board and commission take as long to iron out all the details regarding implementation as lawmakers took to pass legalization measures in the first place, July 2018 will wind up being more of a joke than a realistic street date for those looking to buy marijuana.

And things are starting to look dicey north of the border, too.

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Will Canada be canna-ready by mid-2018?

Canadians are supposed to be able to legally buy marijuana by this time next year, but, as The Globe and Mail reports, few have any idea what the country’s new recreational pot industry will actually look like.

While Canada’s proposed federal Cannabis Act designates that government as being ultimately responsible for all aspects of the country’s marijuana trade, the finer implementation and regulatory details of the legislation are very much up in the air.   

According to noted Queen’s University economist Allan Gregory, the legislation contains no rules for creating “a fair and orderly market.” As a result, Health Canada will be tasked with creating that framework, and while the agency is adept at regulating medicines and overseeing food safety measures, it’s not quite as well versed in implementing large-scale commerce efforts.

Not only is it unknown how much medical cannabis producers can grow, some would-be producers have been denied licenses with little explanation as to why. Even if grow limits and licensing requirements were set in stone, however, some provinces say they will be unable to set up retail distribution networks in before the scheduled launch date.

On top of all that, Canadians are widely divided on where marijuana should be sold — in a government outlet, pharmacy, or someplace else — as well as whether the legal age to buy pot should be 18 or 21.

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Mexico's murky marijuana legalization

For all of the roadblocks legalization faces in the United States and Canada, however, progress is happening even more slowly south of the border. While you can now buy pot in drug stores in Uruguay, that accessibility is not the norm for the rest of Latin America.

As Minnesota Public Radio reports, spurred by tens of thousands of deaths in its war against drug traffickers, Mexico, for example, is taking steps — very, very slow steps — to legalizing marijuana (medically first).

While marijuana cultivation and consumption was once banned in Mexico, the country’s Supreme Court has ruled that the ban violated fundamental human rights. Later, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto spoke at the United Nations about the nation’s bloody fight against drug traffickers, and in June, he approved a law calling on the country’s Health Ministry to devise rules for the use of medical marijuana.

Despite the president’s long-term optimism, however, given Mexico’s prohibitionist, tough-on-crime past, experts say that, for now, his efforts will likely result in little more than increased access to hemp oil.

Until then, many of those who need medical marijuana will likely risk going to the black market to get it.  And everyone in Mexico will continue to go about their lives in the middle of drug war.

Legalizing marijuana is a great step forward. But as we can see, there are usually many more steps needed.