Canada is the first large country to legalize marijuana

Today's expression: Ramp up
Explore more: Lesson #98
October 29, 2018:

Canadians can now buy recreational marijuana and grow four plants at home. As the first large country to legalize marijuana, Canada is beginning a national experiment that could become an example to other countries looking to follow suit. Will the experiment be a success? A lot depends on how the individual Canadian provinces regulate the new industry. Plus, learn the English phrasal verb "ramp up."

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Marijuana is now legal in Canada

Canada became just the second country in the world, and the first big country, to legalize marijuana. The drug was available in licensed retail shops across the broad northern country starting October 17.

Hi everyone, I’m Jeff, and you are listening to Plain English, the best podcast for practicing English online. JR is the producer in Mexico, and this is episode number 98 for Monday, October 29, 2018. You can read a transcript of this program at PlainEnglish.com/98. As always, those transcripts include instant translations of about 100 words and phrases from English to Portuguese, Spanish, French, Chinese, Japanese, and Italian.

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Canada in national experiment to legalize marijuana

When the clock struck midnight on October 17, adults across Canada were for the first time legally allowed to buy and possess up to 30 grams of marijuana.

When the moment arrived, many Canadians were out celebrating. In Toronto, they celebrated with a “bud drop,” similar to the famous ball drop in New York on Times Square; this time, a green bud of a cannabis plant dropped down instead. Radio stations aired countdowns, and people lined up for hours outside marijuana shops before they opened their doors.

And with that, Canada became the world’s first large economy to legalize marijuana, joining only tiny Uruguay, which legalized the drug in 2013. That is likely to come as good news for the approximately five million Canadians who used cannabis last year. That’s about one in six adults in Canada, and they averaged about 20 grams each per year. The legalization is expected to be a boon for tourism, especially from visitors from Canada’s southern neighbor, where cannabis is still broadly illegal.

The new law says that adults can possess and share with others up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, which is about equal to 60 regular-size joints. The individual provinces set the legal age: in Alberta and Quebec, the legal age is 18; in the rest of the country, you have to be 19.

Marijuana will be legally available in licensed retail shops or through official government distributors. No licensed retailer near you? No problem: you will be permitted to grow up to four plants at home. You can also order it online from a government store.

Stores can sell pre-rolled joints (like cigarettes) and cannabis oil. Cannabis oil is a liquid extract that comes from steaming cannabis plants; the oil is said to promote sleep and reduce anxiety and depression. However, other products, like edibles, will have to wait a year. Products like pot-infused candy, peanut butter, and chocolate will be legal starting next year.

Local police will have to bear the burden of enforcing the new laws. Sure, marijuana use is now legal–but it’s legal in a regulated industry. So local authorities now have to deal with issues like zoning, business licensing, and making rules around when and where it can be consumed in public. Some cities have chosen not to allow any legal pot shops within their borders. In Ontario, which includes the largest city, Toronto, you can generally smoke it wherever you can already smoke a cigarette. But in other provinces, public consumption will not be allowed. Ontario, by the way, is dragging its feet: that is the only province without any retail shops open yet.

Now that marijuana is legalized, what will happen to the illegal trade–that underground business that served the 5 million Canadians before legalization? It will probably take a while for the black market to die down. One reason Canada legalized marijuana is to tamp down the illegal market, keep marijuana out of the hands of minors, and curb marijuana-related crime. But the black market is large and stabilized. The supply chains and distribution are already in place, if imperfect, and the risk to consumers of buying in the black market is relatively low, especially now that they can’t be punished for possession. So for those reasons, it will probably take years for the network of legal shops to ramp up to a size that can actually serve the market. Over time, the government hopes that the higher quality and lower risk of legal marijuana will win over consumers who had been getting their fix in the illegal market before.

The legal industry is expected to be worth about $6.5 billion Canadian dollars after it ramps up. Big corporations are hoping to get in on the action. Coca-Cola and Constellation Brands, which owns beer, wine, and spirits brands, including Corona, have all started exploring the idea of selling beverages infused with marijuana or extracts.

Here’s one potential additional benefit: research. Since marijuana is illegal almost everywhere in the world, it’s been hard for researchers to study its effects on the human body. Now that it’s legal, researchers will have a broader pool of people to study for things like the drug’s effect on mental health, pregnancy, pain, even impairment while driving.

Though the Canadian public is broadly supportive of legalization, it does not come without concerns. The Canadian Medical Association Journal said that this was an “uncontrolled experiment” that put the profits of marijuana producers ahead of the health of Canadians. Even some advocates of legalization want to make sure that all adult users understand the risks: specifically, that there is the risk of addiction and that it could aggravate existing mental health conditions.

There is also the sticky legal issue of people who are in jail for possessing cannabis back when it was illegal. The Canadian government is allowing people to apply for pardons if they were sentenced to jail for having possessed marijuana in the past.

Will Canada be the leader among large economies, or will the rest of the world maintain its prohibition on marijuana? It might depend on the implementation. If Canada can show that it can establish an orderly set of regulations, and if society doesn’t totally collapse, then perhaps other countries might follow suit.


So what do you guys think? I’d love to hear your opinions and share them on a future episode. Send me an email to [email protected] or send me a note on Facebook or Twitter under the user name PlainEnglishPod.

Time to say hello and thank you to a few listeners. Marcos from Brazil is in the audience; he’s living in Connecticut now and he says he starts his day listening to Plain English. We had a nice chat by email—I grew up in the small northeastern state of Connecticut, so our chat by email brought back some good memories of where I grew up.

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JR and I both love hearing from listeners, so don’t be shy about getting in touch. PlainEnglishPod on Facebook and Twitter.

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Expression: Ramp up