As of today, the use and sale of recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada.

Rather than an encouragement to consume, today represents a fundamental shift from the failed war-on-drugs to a public health approach to cannabis in Canada and it should be considered a public health decision.

It is also a social experiment on an unprecedented scale as Canada will become the first G7 country to legalize cannabis and we need to thread carefully if this is to be successful.

This is a major change for our society and it will take us some time to get used to but we have every reason to believe it was an inevitable decision for three reasons:

1. Time and again, the war on drug has proved inefficient.

2. By investing our money in repression, we’re diverting resources that could be invested in education, prevention and other public health initiatives.

3. When the transactions take place on the black market, it funnels billions of dollars to organized crime and we have no control over the toxicity of the product, the information customers get or who is able to buy it.

The problem is not the decision but how it was implemented.

The provinces and the municipalities should have been involved from the get go and, along with local police forces, should have been given all the tools they asked for to get ready for today.

An estimated 500 000 people in Canada have a criminal record for cannabis possession. These criminal records affect their lives and our communities by creating additional barriers to employment, housing, volunteer work and travel.

Among those are a disproportionate number of racialized and otherwise marginalized Canadians. While rich people can hire lawyers to avoid the consequences, we put additional obstacles on the way of our most challenged fellow citizens.

The liberals have had three years to work on this. During those three years, more people have been arrested and now have a criminal record for something that is absolutely legal, clogging up our judicial system and wasting valuable police work.

Two weeks ago, my colleague Murray Rankin introduced a comprehensive bill that would allow us to expunge these records. We need to move forward on this issue because every day counts for those thousands of people.

We have an amazing opportunity to improve the lives of thousands of Canadians if legalization is managed properly. We should be cautious, and I assure you my colleagues and I will be there to hold the government accountable, but also open-minded to work together toward that goal.