Four years have now passed since cannabis was first legalized in Canada. At the time, the country became the second in the world to fully regulate its recreational cannabis supply chain, after Uruguay. Building on the Uruguayan and Canadian experiences, along with those across a number of U.S. states, several other countries are now moving toward some form of cannabis regulation, including Malta, Luxembourg, Germany, Morocco, South Africa, Thailand, Jamaica, Mexico and the United States.
Yet, the legal cannabis experience has been far from straightforward and homogenous so far, and there’s still a lot we don’t know as to the effects of regulation. Canada is now embarking on a long-overdue review of its 2018 Cannabis Act, which could add some clarity to debates over how to improve regulatory frameworks moving forward. What we already know, however, is that across the board, legalization has presented policymakers with five persistent dilemmas.
Social Justice vs. Commercial Pressures
Many advocates of cannabis legalization around the world have focused their arguments on the need to move beyond the “War on Drugs” framework and its repressive policies. Racial minority and otherwise marginalized communities around the world have indeed been disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Yet, as we have seen in the past few years, legalization does not necessarily mean decriminalization or reparations. The International Drug Policy Consortium points out that “legal markets can … fail to include comprehensive measures to redress the harms brought by the ‘war on drugs’, and further criminalise people that remain in the illegal spaces inevitably persisting outside any regulated market.”