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The Legalization of Cannabis in Canada & Personal Injury Law: A Crossroads

October 17, 2018 will go down in history as the day which Canada legalized recreational cannabis (and mark the beginning of the Kwahi Leonard era began for the Toronto Raptors).

Some cheered. Some geered. Many were indifferent.

There is certainly a strong case to be made for the decriminalization of recreational cannabis when looking at our criminal justice system.

What does that mean? It means that your average Joe/Jane won’t get charged or risk having a criminal record for smoking a joint or having a few grams of marijuana on his/her person. It means that our criminal Courts and valuable judicial resources won’t be clogged up hearing smaller marijuana cases, so they can focus on more pressing matters. It means that organized gangs which control the underground cannabis and drug market won’t have as much power peddling their products (or perhaps they will have more power depending on who you ask. Looking at Ontario Cannabis Store prices and selection, you can see why…).

There is also a strong case to be made when looking at the tax revenues generated by the regulation of recreational marijuana.

What does that mean? It means that now that the government controls the sale of cannabis, they can tax the hell out of the product. There are high sin taxes for alcohol and cigarettes. The same sin taxes apply to recreational marijuana. Those taxes will generate millions and millions in revenues for the government to use one way or another to presumably benefit the Canadian people (let’s hope).

There are very traditional pro-cannabis legalization arguments. There are certainly anti-cannabis arguments which won’t be explored at great lengths in this edition of the Toronto Injury Lawyer Blog because I don’t want to get off topic. These arguments include but aren’t limited to:

  • Cannabis is gateway drug which will lead to other bad drugs!
  • Drugs are bad!
  • Don’t do drugs!
  • Not enough study on the long term health impacts of cannabis consumption!
  • Consuming drugs causes serious health risks!
  • Making cannabis legal will increase overall cannabis usage

Just because cannabis is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe. Alcohol is legal. Cigarettes are legal. Guns and bullets can be legal in the right circumstances as well. All of these products need to be consumed/used responsibly. The same goes for cannabis.

One article caught my eye on “Weed Day 2018”. It was an article from the CBC. The headline read “Winnipeg’s 1st ticket for toking in a car issued 1 hour in to legalization“. Not a good look. Within an hour of legalization, some suspected illegal activity was afoot.

But this was likely a one off. After all, this cannabis legalization thing is all brand new to Canadians. In fact, it’s new to most of the developed world. Canada is just the second developed country behind Uruguay to legalize recreational cannabis. This feels like a giant social experiment which we all hope turns out the right way. Examples of American States where cannabis has been legalized on a state level (Colorado, Alaska, Oregon and Washington State) have been have been promising thus far, so there’s hope. Keep in mind that cannabis is illegal on a federal level in the United States.Goldfinger_300x250_Sep_2017_Update

You can now smoke cannabis, but where is it legal to do so? Everywhere? Nope. In any circumstances? Nope. When is a socially acceptable time to get high? Not sure. How long to do you need to wait before it’s safe to operate a motor vehicle after consuming an edible or smoking cannabis? Not sure. Is having a burnt out joint or roach visible in my car the equivalent of having an open container of alcohol in my car and carry the same consequences? How can the police detect that I’m high while driving? Is there a cannabis equivalent to the breathalyzer which is being used by the police?

These are all questions which will be answered as time goes on. But these are all questions our personal injury lawyers have been asking ourselves since it was announced years ago that cannabis was being legalized.

Our law firm sees a lot of serious car accident cases. We also see a lot of cases where pedestrians aren’t paying attention to where they’re walking because they’re glued to their smartphones.

A growing trend we have seen for motor vehicle accidents in Ontario has been the lack of mindfulness and awareness of the parties involved in these serious collisions.

Alcohol, smartphones and now cannabis are vices which take away from our mindfulness and awareness on the road, and add a layer of risk each time you get behind the wheel.

I know what you’re saying. I would never drink and drive. I would never text and drive. I would never toke and drive. It would never be me.

That’s right. It’s not you. It’s never you.

But can the same be said for the other driver….

One final note. Our personal injury clients suffer significant pain. For many of them, pain pills don’t help. They are expensive, cause upset stomachs, and result in dependency and side effects. For some clients, medical cannabis has been the only thing which has helped them manage their day to day pain and suffering.

Medical cannabis has been legal since around 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of medical cannabis. There have been a variety of decisions since which have expanded on the medical usage of cannabis (oils, etc. ).

Our clients have been able to fill prescriptions for medical cannabis for years through traditional avenues for years. Some drug plans even pay for the cost of medical marijuana. Where there was a medical need for medical marijuana; that need was filled.

There is a difference between a “medical need” and a “want“. If people want to get high; so be it. But it’s this is a big difference between a “need” and a “want“.

Whether or not the legalization of recreational cannabis will succeed will depend on the effects it has on the younger generations which won’t be seen for years to come. It will also be dependent on usage numbers. The intention of legalization is NOT to increase recreational usage or to make cannabis more accessible to people who wouldn’t have otherwise considered accessing it.


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