Canada's federal government took the first steps to legalize marijuana use across the country on Thursday with the tabling of a bill to do just that. The hope is to have the drug available and legal for recreational use by July 1, 2018. The use of cannabis for medical purposes has been legal in the country since 2001 with nearly 130,000 Canadians registered as medicinal users.

Law could lead to more border arrests for drugs

The bill, as it has been introduced, will allow Canadians to carry up to 30 grams (about 1oz) of weed without facing criminal charges.

Like alcohol, there will be strict rules around the advertisement and sales of the drug, and those under the age of 18 will be unable to purchase, carry, or consume the product. Allowing children to use the drug could result in a 14-year prison term.

Because the distribution of restricted products, (such as alcohol or tobacco products,) falls under provincial jurisdiction, so the price of marijuana and where it is sold will vary throughout the country. It is widely expected that the drug will not be sold in liquor stores, but no provincial government has announced a sales plan at this point. An obvious struggle for most will be finding a balance between creating accessibility for users and ensuring the drug is kept away from kids.

A public awareness campaign will cost the federal government millions and it can be expected that border security will increase for those traveling in and out of the country. U.S. states with legalized recreational marijuana use have all seen a boost in "pot tourism", as smokers travel to the area to test out the laws, but the Canada-U.S.

border obviously has additional challenges around immigration and security. A task force formed to investigate the impact of legal marijuana recommended earlier this year that government officials develop a way to inform tourists of their rights and obligations as a measure to reduce potential border arrests. With Thursday's announcement of the bill, the government has said that tourists will not be able to bring pot across the border, even if it is legal in their home state.

Government has struggled with similar bills in the past

The debate around legal pot has existed in Canada for more than a decade and Thursday's bill is not the first time the government has tried to decriminalize the use of marijuana in the country.

In 2003, the government led by Liberal Jean Chretien attempted to make it legal for anyone to carry up to 15 grams (0.5oz) of marijuana, with those carrying up to 30 grams (1oz) receiving only a fine. That bill did not receive the necessary number of readings before Parliament broke for elections later that same year. News reports at the time suggested that the American Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had threatened to intentionally slow Canada-U.S. border crossings if the bill passed into law, which pressured the government into letting the bill die.

The Liberal government tried to pass a similar law again the following year, but was voted out of office before it could happen.

A major factor aiding the bill this time around is that every major political party in Canada supports either the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana. A recent poll by Nanos Research found 70% of Canadians are in favor of legalization for recreational use. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even campaigned in 2015 on the promise to "legalize, regulate, and restrict" the drug, winning an overwhelming majority in office.

However, perceived public and government support does not mean it will be easy to turn the bill into law. In an effort to undercut illicit drugs sellers, the government would like to allow citizens to grow up to 4 marijuana plants per household.

That idea is opposed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police who feel police resources will be strained as officers will be called upon to keep track of private plant counts.

Some of the country's 42 currently licensed marijuana producers have also raised concern about the bill, particularly around product packaging. Currently, tobacco product packaging must have a health warning covering 75% of its label and Health Canada is in the process of evaluating a "plain package" approach, which would remove all logo and branding from the remainder of the product. Legal pot producers fear the government will impose similar restrictions on their packaging, not just forcing them to redesign their existing labels, but removing the ability to market their brand effectively from the start.

The government has much to do and many questions to answer before Canada becomes one of the few nations with legalized recreational marijuana, but now that the process has officially begun, consumers have high expectations for the summer of 2018.