On Friday, Nov. 13, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the first step towards fulfilling one of his most discussed campaign promises: Legalizing marijuana. In a letter to the Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould, Trudeau asked her to begin looking into a “process that will lead to the legalization and regulation of marijuana.” Now that the question of whether or not marijuana should be legalized has been replaced by the question of how it will be legalized, the question must be what marijuana legalization really means from an economic perspective. Canadians have to be wary of the corporatization of marijuana, and the possibility of the profit landing in the hands of a few individuals.
Activists have been protesting against prohibition for years, and have advocated for the legal distribution of the drug in what they deem to be a quest for justice. The criminalization of marijuana possession is seen as a misuse of public tax money. The cause has swept across the nation; according to a 2015 forum poll of a random sampling of Canadian voters, 60 per cent of respondents approve of marijuana legalization. Many assert that Canadians (of legal age) should have the opportunity to safely access the drug. Legalization would ultimately help to regulate underage use of marijuana, and promote awareness about the effects and consequences of the drug, treating it as a health issue rather than a criminal issue.
While the poll is by no means decisive, it indicates that the tide has turned in favour of legalization. Gone are the days of staunch moralism, but in this new context Canadians must maintain focus on the implications of legalization. They must be wary of potential problems relating to the structure of marijuana distribution. In the aforementioned poll, 18 per cent of adults admitted to using marijuana in the past year, and an additional 13 per cent who do not currently use it are now likely to use it legally. The expected market for pot is three out of every 10 adults, which suggests a consumer-base of approximately eight million Canadians. The current worth of the medical marijuana industry is between $80 and $100 million a year, and analysts estimate that the market for legal marijuana could top $5 billion, with $1 billion in government tax revenues. The tremendous size of this emerging industry begs various questions about how marijuana will be regulated, and who will profit from its sales.