Cannabis Legalization in Canada

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Cannabis, also known as marijuana (among numerous other names), is a psychoactive drug that was prohibited in Canada from 1923 to 2001. On 17 October 2018, after Parliament passed Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, recreational cannabis use and sale were legalized and regulated across the country. Despite concerns about the drug’s addictiveness and health risks, particularly among youngsters, legalization was backed by a large percentage of Canadians.


Cannabis is a kind of flowering plant that originated in Asia but is grown throughout the world. The plant may be used for a variety of purposes, including as a recreational hallucinogen and as a prescription medication. Cannabis leaves and flower buds can be dried and smoked to create a high (known as marijuana, pot, and weed among other names), consumed as an oil (termed hash oil), resin (termed hash) or concentrated extracts (termed shatter). Cannabis can also be vaporized rather than smoked in these forms to produce a vapour instead of smoke. Cannabis may also be used in food and drink preparations.

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Cannabis plants produce chemicals called cannabinoids, one of which is THC. This chemical, along with a variety of other compounds, gives people a pleasurable high. Some people feel that THC is a relaxing substance, while others get anxious or paranoid as a result of it. THC also enhances the sense of sight, flavor, sound, and smell.

Cannabidiol (or CBD), one of the many organic compounds found in cannabis, does not cause a high. CBD is used to treat a variety of ailments, including seizures, anxiety, and inflammation.

Cannabis stems can be used to extract fibres from the plant, which are then utilized in a variety of ways. Hemp fibres are extracted from cannabis stems and employed to make rope and textiles, among other things.

History of Cannabis Prohibition in Canada

In 1923, “Cannabis Indica (Indian Hemp) or hasheesh” was included to the Prohibition of the Unlawful Use of Opium and Other Drugs Act under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. The new legislation combined numerous drug regulations that had been put in place previously. When cannabis was added to a late draft of the bill — it is unclear why it was included or by whom — it joined opium, heroin, and cocaine on the list of banned substances. Cannabis was not discussed in Parliament, and lawmakers had almost no understanding of the drug. Cannabis was virtually unknown to most Canadians at the time, and it was not addressed in a series of articles published in Maclean’s magazine in 1920 that highlighted the dangers of illicit trade.

According to historian Catherine Carstairs, the prohibition of cannabis was almost certainly triggered by its appearance at international conferences, including the Hague Opium Conference (1911–12). Cannabis had also been prohibited in 10 American states by 1922. According to one government official, “It appears that Col. Sharman [head of the narcotic division] returned from League of Nations meetings convinced that cannabis would soon be controlled internationally. He began preparing for it…to be included on Canada’s list of prohibited drugs.”

The US government’s decision to prohibit cannabis was influenced by the work of suffragist and judge Emily Murphy, the lead plaintiff in the 1929 Person Case. In her book The Black Candle (1922), Murphy describes cannabis as a “new menace,” describing addicts who become “raving maniacs” and are prone to murder or engage in any sort of violence. According to Carstairs, however, there is no clear link between the publication of The Black Candle and the inclusion of cannabis in Canada’s 1923 drug legislation. The book was primarily focused on opium and was not a commercial success, she claims. It also made few comments about cannabis. According to Carstairs, “There were insinuations in the records that the bureaucrats at the division of narcotic control did not think very highly of Emily Murphy… [and] consider her a particularly accurate or valuable source.”

At the time, cannabis was illegal, yet few people had heard of the plant. Police did not record the seizing of cannabis until 1932, and first possession charges didn’t show up until 1937. Between 1923 and 1965, only 270 possessions charges were recorded (whether these were accusations or convictions is unclear).

The federal government established a Royal Commission, known as the Le Dain Commission, in 1969 to investigate cannabis usage after it began to rise in popularity. The commission’s 1972 findings claimed that prohibiting marijuana was costly both to individuals and the nation. For a first offense, the maximum penalty for possessing small amounts of cannabis was $1,000 and six months in jail. The report called for cannabis prohibition to be relaxed.

For years, the government has neglected to address cannabis decriminalization or legislation.

Cannabis prohibitionists, including cannabis producers, vendors, and activists, have long lobbied for the federal government to modify marijuana laws. For many years, Marc Emery, a Vancouver-based activist and founder of Cannabis Culture magazine and retail shops, was at the forefront of this movement. There was also an upswing in public support for legalization in Canada.Between 40 and 70 percent of Canadians wanted recreational cannabis use legalized in the years leading to legalization, according to polls. Most individuals, on the other hand, desired government restrictions on how the drug is sold or dispensed. The majority also believed that legalizing cannabis would most likely raise usage among persons under the age of 21.

From Prohibition to Cannabis Legalization

In 2000, Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional because it did not provide a medical use exception. In response to this decision, Health Canada established regulations for legal patients to access cannabis, who could produce their own or obtain it from authorized manufacturers.

In 2003 and 2004, the Liberal regimes of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin tried to legalize cannabis through legislation — both bills were unsuccessful.

Under the Conservative administration of Stephen Harper, Canada’s approach to cannabis changed dramatically, with mandatory jail terms for dealers and minimal sentences for illicit producers. This government shift triggered an increase in city arrests for minor possession.

The government stated that cannabis prohibition had failed, that it did not deter young people from using it, putting their health at risk, and that it created many Canadians with criminal records. The Liberal Party previously argued that criminal prosecutions relating to cannabis are costly and contribute to the coffers of organized crime.

The Canadian government announced in 2015 that it intended to legalize cannabis consumption and regulate its trade. In June 2016, the Trudeau administration established the Task Force on Marijuana Regulation and Legalization, which was headed by Anne McLellan, a former health and justice minister. Canada’s federal government held public hearings and met with provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments.

The government said that cannabis prohibition had failed, that it did not prevent youngsters from using it, and that this put their health at risk. Many Canadians are affected by criminal records as a result of cannabis prohibition.

The British government rejected the idea of decriminalizing cannabis. That method would have meant keeping cannabis illegal while replacing criminal penalties with fines or other lesser punishments. It also ruled out decriminalizing cannabis before legalization, stating that doing so would “present a green light” to black market sellers to sell it openly.

Cannabis was classified as a controlled substance in Schedule II of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act until October 17, 2018. People discovered in unlawful possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis (without a medical exemption) were fined between $1,000 and $10,000 and imprisoned for up to six months. Trafficking and producing cannabis were considered more serious criminal offenses. In 2017, almost 48,000 drug infractions involving the possession and/or trafficking, production and distribution of cannabis were reported in Canada.

The value of the cannabis trade in Canada has been a source of controversy since its beginnings. The Task Force on Marijuana Regulation and Legalization, for example, estimated it to be worth $7 billion in annual revenue to organized crime.

Cannabis Prohibition and Race

“One of the major flaws in our society is the disparity and disproportionality of enforcement of these laws, their impact on minority communities, Aboriginal communities, and those living in our most vulnerable neighborhoods.” Bill Blair, a former Toronto Police Chief (2005–15) and a Liberal MP since 2015 , said this in February 2016 while explaining part of the reason why the federal government wanted to legalize cannabis.

Although police do not keep track of race in the same manner, several studies have revealed that Indigenous, Black, and Asian Canadians are overrepresented when it comes to drug charges and arrests. The Toronto Star reviewed ten years (2003–13) of Toronto Police data in 2017 and discovered that black people with no criminal history were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people with no prior charges. (Cannabis usage rates were about equal for both blacks and whites.)

While the law did not provide amnesty for prior cannabis possession or trafficking convictions when cannabis was legalized in 2018, the Canadian government announced on the day of legalization that it would introduce new legislation allowing persons convicted of “simple possession” to apply for a pardon without paying a fee or waiting period. Pardons are generally time-consuming and require many years to complete. It’s difficult to obtain employment and travel internationally due to a criminal record. A pardon is an official document that erases a crime from someone’s criminal record with the Canadian Police Information Centre. The government, on the other hand, did not promise to expunge marijuana-related convictions, which would delete any involvement in cannabis crimes from their records.

Cannabis Legalization in Canada

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On April 13, 2017, Canada’s House of Commons passed Bill C-45 to legalize and regulate cannabis production and trade. On June 21, 2018, the Act was given royal assent by Her Majesty the Queen. The new legislation made Canada the second nation in the world to legalize cannabis after Uruguay. By 2018, recreational marijuana was legal for adults in nine US states as well as Washington DC, while 30 states had authorized medical marijuana programs.

The Cannabis Act, which came into force on October 17th, 2018, allows Canadians aged 18 and older to purchase cannabis through mail order or provincially authorized retailers. Adults are also permitted to cultivate up to four marijuana plants at home under the law, as well as possess 30 grams of dried cannabis (or the equivalent amount in non-dried form) in public. The sale of cannabis to persons under the age of 19 is now considered a crime with penalties ranging from 14 years imprisonment to life imprisonment. It also prohibits unlicensed producers, sellers, and distributors from selling “illicit” cannabis.

The sale of edible forms of cannabis, such as baked goods or alcoholic beverages, and cannabis concentrates was not permitted by the Act. On October 17, 2019, regulations governing the selling of edibles, extracts, and topicals took effect. They will be available before the end of December. Cannabis products that contain alcohol, tobacco, or nicotine will be prohibited.

Labeling and packaging requirements for cannabis are determined by government regulations. Every package must be unadorned, with the brand name and logo being the only additional images. A prescribed cannabis symbol, a health warning, and THC concentration levels must also be included in each box.

The government also established the tax rate for cannabis, which will be shared by the federal and provincial governments (see Taxation in Canada).

In April 2017, the government also introduced Bill C-46, which was given royal assent on June 21, 2018. The bill updated the Criminal Code to allow police to conduct random roadside Breathalyzer tests for alcohol and give saliva tests to check for drugs, including THC. It also established THC blood concentration limits for drivers.

Medical Cannabis

The recreational cannabis laws in Canada did not interfere with the country’s medical marijuana system. Canadians can lawfully get pot under Health Canada rules that were established in 2001. Cannabis has a variety of medicinal purposes, including nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy, as well as pain alleviation.

As of 2016, approximately 70,000 Canadians were registered as medical-marijuana users with their doctor. Card-carrying users can produce marijuana for personal medical use or purchase it from one of about 116 licensed producers and have it delivered to them for medicinal purposes.

Risks and Regulation

The federal government established a legal framework for the sale and consumption of cannabis in 2018, establish product safety and quality standards, and discourage illicit trade. The system was based on existing alcohol and tobacco regulations, which are designed to lessen or eradicate cigarette use among Canadians while also encouraging responsible alcohol usage among adults. In both situations, the government is also trying to prevent young people from using drugs.

Cannabis is illegal in the United States. This has resulted in a lot of tension between states and their respective cannabis industries, as well as with the federal government. The Controlled Substances Act prohibits sale and possession of marijuana by persons under 18 years old in “high-risk” circumstances (such as driving) and also sets a suggested minimum age for possession at 18 years — allowing states to raise that age if they wish.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which represents Canada’s doctors, called for the prohibition of cannabis for individuals under the age of 21, as well as its restriction to those under the age of 25. The CMA also asked that any legal framework be phased in gradually, perhaps with pilot projects conducted in certain regions of the country.

Adolescents have rapidly growing brains that may be damaged by cannabis use on a regular basis. Chronic cannabis use (especially if begun in adolescence) has been linked to memory, thinking, and attention problems according to research conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. It might also raise the risk of schizophrenia, sadness, anxiety, and lung cancer if smoked.

The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a United States federal legislation that protects the privacy of children on the internet. It does not allow for the advertising or marketing of cannabis, and it prohibits anything that may target minors particularly. Cannabis and its associated products can’t be marketed in ways that appeal to “glamour, fun, excitement, vitality, risk, or daring,” and celebrities cannot promote them. Cannabis companies are also not allowed to fund projects or activities.

However, the Cannabis Act does not establish maximum THC potency levels. According to research, present THC concentrations are about 12 to 15 percent—up from 3% in the 1980s. Some cannabis-based goods, such as shatter, can reach 80 to 90 per cent THC concentration. The changing pattern of cannabis use, including its addictiveness due to the quick rising potency of modern products, poses a health danger for users according to a 2016 US Surgeon General’s report.

Pardons for Past Convictions

There have been calls for the government, as well as cannabis legalization, to pardon or suspend the records of Canadians with prior convictions for cannabis offenses. These convictions restrict their mobility, employment opportunities, and volunteerism. According to one research, as many as 500,000 Canadians may have a criminal record for cannabis possession. The administration has stated that it is examining options for “less serious” violations in general amnesty.

The government announced in October 2018 that it would bring forth new legislation allowing individuals previously charged with “simple possession” to apply for a pardon without charge or delay. Pardons are usually costly and can take years to complete. A pardon expunges an offense from a person’s criminal record with the Canadian Police Information Centre. Only an expungement can fully remove a past conviction from one’s record. The government did not offer to wipe away old cannabis convictions.

International Drug Treaties and Conventions

Canada has joined the United Nations in signing three intergovernmental treaties on narcotic drug abuse: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 Convention Against Illicit Trafficking In Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances.

The court’s findings have had a significant influence on the international drug policy. Canada is required by these conventions to criminalize the substances mentioned above, including cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific uses. Cannabis’ prohibition goes against the drug treaties, which prohibit signatory nations from requesting a narcotic be removed from the banned list.

A handful of countries with legal marijuana have been labeled by the UN International Control Board as violating international agreements.

The Canadian government has stated that it will not withdraw from these agreements.

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