The Trudeau government has promised to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana, and Eugene Oscapella intends to teach the public what this means, and why it's important.
The Ottawa lawyer, law professor and public policy consultant will team up with the Humanist Association of Ottawa to state his case for ending pot prohibition in a public lecture on March 24.
“I’m going to be talking about … where we’ve been, where we’re going and what’s wrong with the current system,” Oscapella said, "and what we need to look for in changes that are actually going to promote public health and address some of the very serious harms associated with the current system.”
Regulating the production, sale and use of cannabis, Oscapella argues, will foster more honest and informative discourse around the safety and health implications of using marijuana, and result in fewer people entering the criminal system for non-violent acts.
Changing the way they deal with cannabis, however, won’t be a simple task for the federal and provincial governments.
Oscapella, a former chair and member of the policy committee of the Canadian Criminal Justice Association, has a lot to say about the organizational implications of flipping Canada’s current cannabis law on its head.
During their 2015 election campaign, the federal Liberals pledged to introduce legislation that would give the government the power to more effectively control cannabis by way of regulation.
Oscapella said that if the federal government no longer uses criminal law address the growth, sale and use of cannabis – for example, someone selling it outside of the established system might be fined, but not criminally charged – the responsibility for regulating it will fall to individual provinces.
“It’s a very significant and challenging exercise because you have to get 14 jurisdictions involved,” he said. “You’ve got the federal government, 10 provinces and three territories all involved in trying to sort out their respective responsibilities.”
So he wants to prepare the public – including law, healthcare and public policymakers – for the complex set of changes that could come.
“There are a lot of constitutional issues, a lot of organizational issues,” he said, "because we’re going from a system where there’s no control over cannabis … to one where we have to set standards, quality controls, determine potency levels, places of consumption, who can consume it at what age.”
NOT JUST FOR POLICE AND POLICYMAKERS
J.P. Westlund is president of the Humanist Association of Ottawa.
He said the matter of cannabis law reform is particularly important to humanists, who follow a secular philosophy emphasizing the value and agency of human beings.
“As humanists we believe that reason and compassion and human rights should guide public policy,” he said. “The link between humanism and this event is that as humanists we want to engage with political issues and we want to use reason and try to make up our own minds about legal propositions.”
Because cannabis law reform has implications for all Canadians, Westlund is encouraging anyone who can get to the March 24 lecture to attend.
“I think marijuana use is something that affects everybody. I think everybody has either used marijuana or knows somebody who has,” he said.
“It will be an opportunity for them to hear an expert speak and then ask him some questions, and then come up with their own conclusions about it.”
Oscapella’s lecture will begin at 7:30 p.m. at Ben Franklin Place, 101 Centrepointe Dr. Admission is $5 at the door or online. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit ottawa.humanists.net/pot.