The Canadian government announced Thursday new legislation to legalize marijuana for recreational use, a move that could lure American visitors but create legal headaches when they return home.
Possession of small amounts of pot will be legal throughout the country on July 1, 2018, if the legislation passes. The federal government set the minimum age at 18, but will allow each province to determine if it should be higher. The provinces also will decide how the drug will be sold and distributed. Those under 18 found with small amounts of marijuana would not face criminal charges.
Canada legalized marijuana for some medicinal uses in 2001.
In the United States, voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada decided last year to approve the use of recreational marijuana, joining Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, Alaska and Washington, D.C.
James Phillips, CEO of the Canadian/American Border Trade Alliance, said the Canadian move could cause problems along the border because marijuana possession is still illegal under U.S. law.
Bringing marijuana products across the border could cause confusion for citizens of both countries: Americans who may cross back into the U.S. still under the influence, and Canadians who enter the U.S. unwittingly in possession of marijuana.
Phillips pointed to the prospect of longer wait times and traffic backups at border crossings, as inspections for marijuana products become more intense.
“If you add 10 or 15 seconds to every car inspection on average at the border, you’re going to back up the cars a significant amount of distance,” he said.
Buying marijuana would be legal for travelers over 18 visiting Canada.
Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale defended the legalization, saying current laws have been “an abject failure” at keeping minors from using marijuana and organized crime from profiting.
The measure would legalize possession of up to 30 grams of certain marijuana products and place harsher penalties on selling pot to minors and for driving under the influence.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, which backs legalization, holds a majority of seats in the Canadian Parliament, which means passage is all but assured.
One leading marijuana activist said she doubts the new legislation will result in a full-fledged tourism industry springing up around pot in Canada.
“The Liberals said their intent is to restrict and limit access to marijuana and introduce tougher penalties, to not normalize the use of it and not promote it with any packaging or advertising,” said Jodie Emery, a long-time advocate for legalization. “This will make it very hard for Canadian entrepreneurs to get involved in this industry.”
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