Canada and Marijuana: Two Borders, One Story

Canada and Marijuana: Two Borders, One Story

Izzi Zawartka compares the status of the Mexican and Canadian borders in the wake of the latter’s marijuana legalisation.

The United States, unlike most other countries, has only two land borders, and these borders are also uncharacteristically enormous: the southern border with Mexico is almost 2000 miles long, and that shared with Canada measures over 5500 miles. Despite common attributes, however, the US perception of these international boundaries is vastly different. Unlike the status of the Mexican border, which is a highly contested political issue, the Canadian border seems to be hardly a concern.

This perception could be about to change. Given that the illegal movement of drugs into the US is one of the major contributors to the disparity, the recent legalisation of marijuana in Canada could redefine how both borders are viewed. Or, in greater likelihood, a lack of consideration could highlight the persistent discrimination in how Mexico is portrayed.

Canada’s policy to legalise the recreational use of marijuana went into effect on the 17th of October. Under the legislation, the Canadian federal government has granted power to license and regulate the growers of marijuana, while each province and territory has been made responsible for the logistics behind its distribution. Adults over eighteen years of age will be allowed to purchase and possess up to thirty grams of substance, provided that it is obtained from a licensed provider. As a part of Justin Trudeau’s platform, the legalisation aims to fulfil a promise to discourage consumption among youth and reduce the number of marijuana-related crimes. Trudeau’s plan is rather ambitious; the coming years present great uncertainty.

This policy change comes at a precarious time. Given recent clashes, exacerbated by Donald Trump and his renegotiation of NAFTA, the relationship between Canada and the United States is fraught with great tensions. Previously inconceivable, Trump has begun to wage tirades against the Canadian government, vilifying it for taking advantage of agreements and insulting its incompetence in negotiations.

The combination of a shift in Canadian marijuana policy and Trump’s recent slanders against its leadership highlights important similarities between the US’ relationships with its neighbours, but it also brings out the stark differences in the way that they are handled. Though both have always posed a different threat in terms of illegal drugs entering the US, and it is unlikely that Canada’s recent legalisation will dramatically increase its danger in this respect, there is a new irony in viewing Canadian drugs as a lesser problem. Moreover, despite multiple counts of slander, the lack of the undertone of discrimination regularly directed at Mexico show that these relationships will remain distinctly dissimilar.

In the US, Mexico has a radically different reputation to Canada. Much of President Trump’s initial campaign, which was met with notable popular support, relied on the building of a wall on the southern border. At the time, it would have been absurd to suggest the same for the north. For most people, it probably still would.

Canada and the US share great cultural similarities, which make it easier for their politicians to cooperate. Though Trump has recently provoked Canada, the charges were not of the same discriminatory nature. The character of the Canadian nation never seemed to come into question; it only started to be vilified for its policy towards NAFTA. Unlike Mexico, the quality of its citizens was never in dispute.

This trend is, unfortunately, reflective of continuing racism that permeates American politics. With Trump’s presidency, its normalisation threatens the progress the US should be working to achieve. It is not easy to erase centuries of discriminatory practice, but that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fought against. The new similarities between Mexico and Canada accentuate the need for diplomatic change – but there has to be a change in attitudes too.

Featured image credit: Marcelo Vaz / Andres Sanz