New Zealand may be the next country to legalize recreational marijuana. Wellington holds a referendum in 2020.
In October, Canada became the second country to take that step. CGTN’s Dan Williams visited the province of Ontario to see what has changed since then
The town of Smiths Falls, about an hour’s drive from Ottawa, was left devastated a decade ago, when a Hershey chocolate factory closed its doors throwing more than 500 people out of work.
Smiths Falls is now enjoying an unexpected resurgence and all because of cannabis. The chocolate factory has been converted into the headquarters for Canopy Growth Corporation.
In just a few years, thanks to the legalization of both medical and recreational cannabis use in Canada, the workforce has grown to almost one thousand. “They were looking for a community that would allow them to grow massive amounts of cannabis. In 2013, we really had to make the sales pitch of coming here, taking over this flagship building and using it to grow narcotics,” Jordan Sinclair, the company’s vice president, said.
Underlining how big the cannabis business has become in Canada, Canopy uses a room known as the vault. Inside was around $120 million worth of cannabis products. That equated to around six months’ worth of sales for the company.
Constellation Brands, a U.S. liquor and beer company, recently invested three-point-eight billion dollars into the company. Next year, the company hoped to sell foods and drinks spiked with the active ingredients of marijuana.
Yet, concerns remained over the negative aspects of cannabis, with fears legalization will promote usage.
See how a legal marijuana operation works
Canada’s Psychiatric Association was among those stressing that cannabis can increase the risk of developing a primary psychotic disorder and compound other mental health issues such as depression.
Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) believed that marijuana’s benefits far outweigh its negatives.
“Canada’s cannabis policy was not effective and was problematic in terms of its not really achieving any kind of health-related goals and not really controlling cannabis use. So if we are interested in controlling the negative effects of harmful use, the tobacco model which is a public health model seems to be working better than prohibition,” explained Robert Mann, Senior Scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research.
The center is also focusing on other social concerns not least the impact cannabis has on driving.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. He believes that whatever the concern over cannabis, the existing laws simply weren’t working. “It has devastating health impacts because people are being criminalized for some serious problems that they might have, instead of helping them with the issues that led them to their drug use, we are criminalizing them which makes them worse off,” Owusu-Bempah said.
Canada became just the second country to legalize cannabis after Uruguay. It was estimated the market is worth around $5 billion.
Like a giant social experiment, the world will be watching the impact of Canada’s decision very closely.