Decade in review: The selling out of legalization

An industry-friendly approach to legalization made millionaires out of wandering entrepreneurs and corporate cannabis icons out of drug war generals

For many, legalization changed nothing.


It was 2011, and after years of unsuccessfully fighting the country’s medical marijuana regime in court, Stephen Harper’s reefer-mad government doubled mandatory minimum sentences for producing and trafficking marijuana.

A few days later, the whole medpot system was privatized. Then came the charismatic Justin Trudeau in 2015, promising to legalize it all. Remember that moment of hope? Even the self-described Prince of Pot, Marc Emery, encouraged his stoner disciples to vote for Trudeau. Billions flowed into the country’s weed industry as huge grow ops sprang up across the country.

The economy boomed for potheads willing to don a suit and play the game. Never before had any country pursued such an industry-friendly approach to legalization, which made millionaires out of wandering entrepreneurs and corporate cannabis icons out of drug war generals.

Hope metastasized into broad cynicism about how quickly an outlaw culture can be brought to heel by a well-written set of rules. Canada’s first summer of legalization was a shitshow in Toronto, with the city siccing cops and bylaw enforcement officers on grey-market dispensaries.

Those that wouldn’t comply had their entrances blocked with huge concrete blocks. But at least we had legal weed. Canadians responded with enthusiasm to new freedoms, turning their balconies and backyards into marijuana grows.

We’re probably no more or less stoned as a nation than we were a decade ago. But hundreds of thousands of Canadians still have criminal records.

For many, legalization changed nothing. The drug dealer economy is as healthy as it has ever been. But beyond that, legalization looks a lot like familiar consumerism. Canada may have changed its laws, but in the end, legalization was just one more thing to be sold. The good news is that Legalization 2.0 is just around the corner.

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