Foreign minister Stephane Dion is taking flak for approving the sale of military light armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia despite that country’s human rights record. Dion’s response implies that Canadian restrictions on arms exports are tough, with an emphasis on ensuring that weapons made in Canada are not be used against civilian populations, and links it to what he calls the guiding principle of his foreign policy: “responsible conviction.”
The debates are evocative of the year that Canada entered the arms export business, 70 years ago. Restrictions on arms exports are not tougher today than they were at the creation of an arms export business. Reflecting on debates over military sales in 1946 and 2016 suggests that human rights are not necessarily becoming more central in policy making over time. If anything, policy makers in 1946 seem to have been more scrupulous on avoiding sales on human rights grounds, and more restrictive about selling arms that might be used, than the policy makers of today.
So how did Canada get into the arms export business, anyway? The tale goes back to the aftermath of the Second World War. Prime Minister Mackenzie King’s government was prepared to allow surplus military equipment to remain with allied governments in Europe, and to provide military goods to the United States and Great Britain. But when it came to selling to less reliable governments, and those who might actually use the weapons, King’s cabinet was more scrupulous. Cabinet approval was needed for any military sale, no matter how small, to any country other than the United States and Great Britain. The minutes of cabinet meetings are full of discussion about possible sales, and always included a question as to whether the arms were likely to be used. Cabinet held to a policy spelled out by Prime Minister Mackenzie King that “great care should be taken with respect to all sales of weapons and supplies of war to foreign governments.” If a country was at war, if it intended to use the weapons for anything other than re-equipping its defensive forces, or if there were questions about human rights, sales tended to be refused or not even submitted for cabinet consideration. Continue reading →
I must say that I feel the whole Canadian policy to be very hypocritical. We talk a good game but then proceed to act inconsistently by promoting trade with the countries whose policies we denounce.
The year was 1974 and the issue of Canadian trade with South Africa was making the headlines, along with concerns over the sale of CANDU reactors to Argentina and India. It reflected the increasing awareness of and support for human rights in Canadian foreign policy during the late 1960s and the early 1970s. As David Forsyth notes, as a general historical trend, more attention is now paid toward humanitarianism in world affairs. In part, this development was due to parliamentarians such as New Democrat Andrew Brewin, who were central in making the issue of human rights more than merely a domestic issue.
Brewin’s statement is as relevant today as it was in 1974. Since its election in October 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government has been dogged by the continuing saga of the sale of armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia. This deal, initially pursued and approved by the previous Conservative government, would see General Dynamics Land Systems sell $15 billion worth of Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to re-equip the Saudi National Guard. These LAVs are to be produced at the General Dynamics production facility in London, Ontario, and were a centrepiece of the previous Conservative government’s plan for bolstering the Canadian arms industry through increased exports. Continue reading →
Judging from recent developments in Canada, Mexico, and the United States it seems we’re on the cusp of a monumental shift in North American drug policy. Indeed, the war on drugs paradigm and its requisite enforcement agencies appear under greater attack than perhaps ever before. This is especially true for marijuana prohibition. In Canada medical marijuana has been widely available for more than a decade, while new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has repeatedly promised to move toward a system of recreational legalization. In Mexico the Supreme Court recently declared that individuals should have the right to grow and distribute marijuana for personal use, potentially paving the way for legal challenges to the nation’s current drug laws. In the United States nearly half the country now allows medical marijuana, with four states also providing a legal market for recreational marijuana and as many as six more primed to follow this year.
The road forward, however, is anything but clear. Indeed, if history is our guide, there’s a great deal of uncertainty ahead for both the medicalization and legalization of marijuana. Continue reading →
It is the moment that scholars fear: the question you cannot answer, in a forum where you’re presented as an expert. Such a case happened at the recent Rise of Big Cannabis symposium held in Saskatoon in March 2016. A cannabis activist asked the panel on legalization which distribution system would be better: the “dispensary” model or the “licensed producer” model. He was looking straight at me, and I had no answer.
Pondering it on the flight home, I began to reconsider the cannabis question. In this essay I (finally) address his question and discuss how it introduces a new complexity to an already complicated issue.
Since I study the histories of alcohol regulation and drug prohibition, Continue reading →
I’m taking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals at their word that they are actually going to get around to legalizing marijuana, so my concern is not that they do it, but how they do it.
I can’t claim to be familiar with all the intricacies surrounding how legalization is going to work up there, but I can say that the way it is developing in some of the US states where it is now legal raises some caution flags. Don’t get me wrong—I support legalization—but I am just a little bit creeped out by the increasing commodification and commercialization of the weed.
Money has always been a factor in the marijuana business, of course, but in those golden days of yore, when people grew and smoked weed because they loved the plant and what it did to them (not to mention sticking it to the man and being rebelliously cool), making money off it was a sort of afterthought. And for those who risked growing commercially, sure, they wanted to make some money, but at least they loved their product.
Now, the scene is increasingly inhabited by men and women in business attire whose intentions are purely driven by the possibility of profit. They aren’t marijuana people; they’re business people. These days, it seems like half the news alerts I get about marijuana are not about busts or moves to legalize it, but about stock offerings, business opportunities, and industry growth profiles. Continue reading →
On February 26th, Brent Zettl (CEO of CanniMed) delivered a free and public lecture at the University of Saskatchewan. In a sweeping and candid address, Zettl traces the recent history of the nascent medical cannabis industry and positions the company he founded in a highly complex regulatory climate. Until recently, Zettl was the sole supplier of medical cannabis to all Canadians. With the enactment of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), however, he became one of 30 or so Licensed Producers (LPs). His talk blends policy and politics, and environmentalism with future developments in marijuana R&D. It adds to the ongoing conversation and evolving history of marijuana regulation in Canada and beyond.
In 2016, opportunities currently exist for eco-friendly, economic innovation to benefit historically disadvantaged citizens in the changing Canadian medical marihuana industry.
Various scholars and commentators in business, public policy, and the media have discussed how the Trudeau government’s marijuana legislation might look. This paper highlights the role of Indigenous communities, civil society, the business community and interested citizens in a process that includes co-developing medicinal marihuana dispensaries. The practical knowledge of dispensary owners and workers can help co-create an innovative, regulated and safe medicinal marihuana industry. An effectively regulated dispensary distribution model can positively impact provincial economies and local communities. Continue reading →
We weren’t left to wait in the B.C. rain. After presenting our IDs at the security station outside Tilray’s medical cannabis facility in Nanaimo, and once we were confirmed as being on the official “list,” it took less than a minute to enter the recently constructed $30 million, 65,000 square-foot facility.
There were four of us taking the tour of Tilray, one of Canada’s licensed producers of medical marijuana. We were part of a SSHRC-funded conference in the history of drugs and alcohol at Vancouver Island University, and this was one of the activities available to us as participants in the event.
Our guide was Philippe Lucas, Vice-President of Patient Services at Tilray. He walked us through the electric gate and led us into a cozy holding room filled with bottles of San Pellegrino, a weigh scale, and a flat screen TV flashing images of the building’s construction. A former city councilor in Victoria, an expert witness on marijuana in Canada, and one-time dispensary owner, Philippe was handsome. He spoke quickly, laughed easily, and possessed an air of mischief, too.
Over the past ten years, Philippe has published peer-reviewed articles on cannabis’s therapeutic effects on patients in top academic journals around the world. Continue reading →
It is a bright Friday afternoon in a Vancouver cannabis lounge. It is busy after lunch and all the coffee tables are occupied by people vaporizing or otherwise imbibing various strains of cannabis. Pink Kush. Sour Diesel. Lemon Haze. The lounge replicates, my guide explains, the Amsterdam model for recreational use: you come to a café, order cannabis off a menu, and consume it on the premises. In this lounge, no one needs a medical authorization, a requirement for legal marijuana purchase. This puts the lounge (and similar ones opening in other Canadian cities) on the frontier, if not beyond it, of the rapidly changing terrain of cannabis in Canada.
I recently visited British Columbia on a multi-purpose curatorial trip: as curator of agriculture and fisheries with the Canada Science and Technology Museums Corp., I was on the west coast to study closed-containment aquaculture. But an opportunity to visit a licensed medical-marijuana grower snowballed into a tour of Vancouver’s cannabis scene. This was a quick orientation to an old yet new agricultural industry, and a chance to collect some of its material culture.
Vancouver is a nexus for cannabis advocacy, production, and consumption in Canada. It is a zone of détente: police do not prioritize the enforcement of federal criminal laws (growing, possessing and selling are still crimes), while city officials regulate cannabis dispensaries—which are technically illegal—through municipal zoning by-laws. The cannabis supply chain is also complicated. Licensed producers may only sell cannabis to registered users with prescriptions via mail-order. Dispensaries, in contrast, obtain cannabis from unlicensed growers and sell to walk-in customers who obtain a “prescription” from the dispensary itself.
Cannabis production and consumption thus occurs in a grey zone where legal and extra-legal markets intersect and overlap. With an established and legal medical-marijuana system, and the federal government promising legalization, the Canadian cannabis industry is now preparing for the opening of a recreational market. But large questions remain: who will be allowed to grow and sell marijuana for this sector? Continue reading →
In 2001 Health Canada approved the use of medical marijuana for a strict list of health complaints ranging from different pain applications to seizures from epilepsy. During the last federal election in 2015, Justin Trudeau boldly promised to go further down the path of legalization, suggesting that he will decriminalize possession for recreational use.
A month after this election promise, The Economist showcased the blurry future of Canadian pot and suggested, “converting a medical-marijuana industry into a recreational one will not be easy.” While legalization is probable under the newly elected Trudeau Liberals, many questions will have to be addressed and the transition could be rocky. As a Colorado marijuana enforcement official told the National Post, “It’s going to be a lot harder to implement than you think. It’s going to take a lot longer to do it. And it’s going to cost more than you think…”
The Liberal campaign promise of legalization has invited a new host of critics. John Ivison has reconceived of Canada Post as Canada Pot, the major domestic system of distribution throughout the country. Sylvain Charlebois deems marijuana a “gateway” drug with high upside. Dan Malleck has argued that liquor control boards should control recreational marijuana, whereas Ronan Levy has suggested that the recent Allard ruling will create regulatory uncertainty at a most inopportune time.
Regulating marijuana use remains highly contested and the path forward is anything but obvious, but historically there are some insights into drug regulation that may prove helpful in informing the public debates over the next chapter of ‘reefer madness’. Historians have a vital role to play in these debates, particularly for their capacity to weave together a big picture narrative amongst the cacophony of players from policymakers, journalists, physicians, researchers, interest groups, recreational users and the pharmaceutical industry, each of whom have been investing in their own particular messages about the pleasures and pitfalls of pot. Continue reading →