Cannabis, more formally known as marijuana (among other names), is a psychoactive substance that was banned in Canada from 1923 to 2001. After the Cannabis Act became law on 17 October 2018, recreational cannabis use and sale were made legal and controlled across the country. Despite concerns about the drug’s addictiveness and health risks, particularly among kids, legalization was supported by a significant number of Canadians.
Cannabis is a type of flowering plant indigenous to Asia that is cultivated worldwide. The plant may be used for a variety of purposes, including as a recreational hallucinogen and as a prescription medicine, among other things. Cannabis leaves and flower buds may be dried and smoked to produce THC (known as marijuana, pot, and weed among other names) which can then be ingested in the form of oil (termed hash oil), resin (termed hash), or concentrated extracts (termed shatter). Cannabis can be consumed in a variety of ways. It’s possible to vaporize cannabis instead of burning it, which produces a vapour rather than smoke. Cannabis may also be used in recipes for food and beverages.
Cannabis plants create cannabinoids, one of which is THC. This chemical, along with a slew of other compounds, gives people a delightful high. Some feel that THC is a relaxing substance, while others become nervous or paranoid as a consequence of it. THC also enhances sight, taste, sound, and smell perception.
CBD (cannabidiol), one of the many organic compounds found in cannabis, does not make people feel high. CBD is used to cure a variety of ailments, including epilepsy, anxiety, and pain.
Cannabis stems may be utilized to remove fibres from the plant, which are then used for a variety of purposes. Cannabis stem fibers are extracted and used in a range of applications, including rope and textiles.
History of Cannabis Prohibition in Canada
In 1923, under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, “Cannabis Indica (Indian Hemp) or hasheesh” was added to the Prohibition of the Unlawful Use of Opium and Other Drugs Act. The revised legislation combined several prior drug rules. When cannabis was included in a late draft of the bill — it’s unclear why it was included or by whom — it joined opium, heroin, and cocaine on the list of prohibited substances. Cannabis was not mentioned in Parliament, and few members of Parliament knew anything about it. When it came to cannabis, most Canadians were completely ignorant. In 1920, Maclean’s magazine ran a series of articles emphasizing the risks associated with illicit commerce, but cannabis was virtually unknown to most Canadians at the time.
Cannabis was almost certainly prohibited as a result of its appearance at international conferences, particularly the Hague Opium Conference (1911–12), according to historian Catherine Carstairs. Cannabis had also been banned in 10 US states by 1922. It appears that Col. Sharman, the head of narcotics enforcement for the League of Nations, came back from meetings believing that cannabis would be regulated worldwide in the near future. He began working on it… to have it added to Canada’s list of prohibited substances.”
The work of suffragist and judge Emily Murphy, the lead plaintiff in the 1929 Person Case, was instrumental in influencing the US government’s decision to prohibit cannabis. According to Murphy, cannabis is a “new danger,” with users becoming “raving maniacs” who are prone to murder or engage in any sort of violence. However, according to Carstairs, there is no direct connection between The Black Candle’s publication and cannabis’ inclusion in Canada’s 1923 drug legislation. According to Carstairs, the book was mostly about opium and was not a commercial success. It also made only a few remarks about cannabis. “There were insinuations in the records that the officials at the division of narcotic control did not think very highly of Emily Murphy… and considered her a particularly accurate or valuable source,” she wrote.
At the time, cannabis was illegal, but few people had heard of it. The first cannabis possession charges didn’t appear until 1937, and police didn’t keep track of marijuana seizures until 1932. Between 1923 and 1965, just 270 possession charges were documented (whether they were allegations or convictions is unclear).
After cannabis use began to grow in popularity, the federal government set up a Royal Commission, also known as the Le Dain Commission, in 1969 to look into it. The commission’s 1972 conclusions stated that prohibiting marijuana was both costly for individuals and expensive for society. For a first offense involving small amounts of cannabis, the maximum penalty was $1,000 and six months in jail. Cannabis prohibition should be relaxed according to the report.
For years, the government has failed to act on cannabis decriminalization or reform.
Cannabis prohibitionists, such as cannabis growers, vendors, and activists, have long advocated for federal government change in marijuana laws. For many years, Marc Emery, a Vancouver-based activist and the creator of Cannabis Culture magazine and retail outlets, was at the forefront of this movement. In Canada, there was also an increase in public support for legalization. According to polls, around 40 and 70 percent of Canadians favoured the legalization of recreational cannabis use in the years leading up to it. The majority, on the other hand, supported government limitations on how the drug is sold or distributed. Most people also thought that legalizing cannabis would most likely result in an increase in usage among those under the age of 21.
From Prohibition to Cannabis Legalization
In 2000, Canada’s highest court ruled that cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional because it lacked a medical use exemption. In response to this decision, Health Canada created regulations for legal patients to purchase marijuana from licensed producers or produce their own.
The Liberal regimes of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin attempted to legalize cannabis through legislation in 2003 and 2004, but both bills were defeated.
Under the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, Canada’s cannabis policy underwent a significant shift, with dealers facing stiff penalties and illicit producers receiving modest sentences. This administration turnaround has caused an increase in city arrests for low-level drug possession.
The Liberal Party has argued that criminal charges for cannabis are ineffective, that they endanger youths’ health, and that they create many Canadians with criminal records. The government claims that prohibition of marijuana has failed, stating that it does not deter young people from using it, putting their health at risk, and creating many Canadians with criminal records. Previously, the Liberal Party maintained that criminal penalties for cannabis created a financial drain on law enforcement and allowed organized crime to profit.
In 2015, the Canadian government announced its intention to legalize cannabis use and regulate the industry. In June 2016, Canada’s federal government established the Task Force on Marijuana Regulation and Legalization, which was led by Anne McLellan, a former health and justice minister. The national administration met with provincial, territorial, municipal, and Indigenous governments in Canada.
The government declared that cannabis prohibition had failed, that it did not prevent kids from using it, and that this put their health at risk. Many Canadians have been negatively impacted by cannabis banning.
The British government rejected the notion of decriminalizing cannabis. This plan would have kept cannabis illegal while replacing criminal penalties with fines or other less severe penalties. It also ruled out decriminalizing cannabis before legalization, saying that doing so would “give a green light” to black market dealers to sell it openly.
Individuals who were discovered in unlawful possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis (with or without a medical exemption) were fined between $1,000 and $10,000 and imprisoned for up to six months as of October 17, 2018. Cannabis trafficking and production have been reclassified as more serious offenses. In Canada in 2017, over 48,000 drug infringements involving the possession and/or trafficking, production, and distribution of cannabis were recorded.
Since its inception, the cannabis trade in Canada has been a point of contention. The Task Force on Marijuana Regulation and Legalization predicted it might generate $7 billion per year for organized crime.
Cannabis Prohibition and Race
The enforcement of these statutes is uneven and out of proportion, with a disparate and disproportionate impact on minorities, Aboriginal people, and those who reside in our most vulnerable communities.” Bill Blair, a former Toronto Police Chief (2005–2015) and Liberal MP since 2015, said this in February 2016 while describing one aspect of the federal government’s motivation to legalize cannabis.
Although police do not examine race in the same way, many studies have shown that Indigenous, Black, and Asian individuals are overrepresented among those arrested for drug charges. In 2017, the Toronto Star examined ten years of Toronto Police data (2003–13) and discovered that black people with no prior criminal records were three times more likely to be arrested for cannabis possession than white people without any prior allegations. Cannabis usage rates appeared to be roughly comparable between blacks and whites.
Since the government has not yet introduced new legislation allowing people convicted of “simple possession” to apply for a pardon without paying a fee or waiting period, those with prior cannabis convictions may seek pardons for their past convictions. Pardons are time-consuming, and completing them takes years. It’s tough to get work and go abroad because of a criminal record. A pardon is an official paper from the Canadian Police Information Centre that removes a crime from someone’s criminal record. The government, on the other hand, has not guaranteed that marijuana-related convictions will be expunged, which would remove any involvement in cannabis offenses from one’s record.
Cannabis Legalization in Canada
On April 13, 2017, Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act, was passed by Canada’s House of Commons. On June 21, 2018, Her Majesty the Queen gave royal assent to the Act. The new legislation made Canada the second country in the world to legalize cannabis after Uruguay. By 2018, marijuana was permissible for adults in nine US states and Washington DC, while 30 states had established medical marijuana programs.
Canadians aged 18 and older may now purchase cannabis through mail order or provincially authorized stores, according to the Cannabis Act, which came into effect on October 17th, 2018. Adults are permitted to grow up to four marijuana plants at home under the law and possess 30 grams of dried cannabis (or the equivalent amount in non-dried form) in public. Cannabis may not be sold to anyone under the age of 19, and doing so is now a crime with penalties ranging from 14 years in jail to life imprisonment. It also bans unlicensed cultivators, vendors, and distributors from selling “illegal” cannabis.
The Act did not permit the marketing of edible cannabis products, such as baked foods or alcoholic beverages. On October 17, 2019, new rules went into effect that regulate the selling of edibles, extracts, and topicals. They will be available before the end of December. Cannabis products containing alcohol, tobacco, or nicotine will be prohibited under the new rules.
The government rules on cannabis labeling and packaging. Every box must be plain, with the company name and logo being the only other decorations. Each box must also include a specific cannabis sign, a health warning, and THC concentration levels.
The government also set the tax rate for cannabis, which will be divided between the federal and provincial governments (see Taxation in Canada).
In April 2017, the government unveiled Bill C-46, which was given royal assent on June 21, 2018. The bill expanded the Criminal Code to allow police to conduct random breathalyzer tests for alcohol and saliva testing for drugs, including THC. It also established THC blood concentration standards for drivers.
Canada’s recreational marijuana laws did not jeopardize the country’s medical marijuana program. In 2001, Health Canada rules came into place to allow Canadians to use cannabis legally. Cannabis has a variety of medicinal purposes, including nausea and vomiting during chemotherapy and pain relief.
As of 2016, over 70,000 Canadians were registered as medical-marijuana patients with their doctor. Card-carrying users can produce marijuana for personal use or purchase it from one of approximately 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 marijuana in 2018, establish product safety and quality standards, and discourage black market activity. The system was based on existing alcohol and tobacco laws, which are intended to decrease or eliminate cigarette use among Canadians while also encouraging adult responsible drinking. In both cases, the government is attempting to prevent youngsters from using illegal drugs.
In the United States, cannabis is illegal. As a result, there has been much tension between states and their respective cannabis industries as well as the federal government. In “high-risk” situations (such as driving), the Controlled Substances Act bans sale and possession of marijuana by people under the age of 18, but allows states to do so if they wish.
The Canadian Medical Association (CMA), which represents Canada’s doctors, called for the restriction of cannabis to those under the age of 25 and its prohibition for those under the age of 21. The CMA also recommended that any legal framework be phased in gradually, perhaps with small pilot projects in specific areas throughout the country.
Cannabis use by adolescents has been linked to brain damage. According to study done by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, chronic cannabis usage (especially if begun in adolescence) has been linked to memory, thinking, and attention problems. If smoked regularly, it might also raise the risk of schizophrenia, sadness, anxiety disorders, and lung cancer.
The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 (COPPA) is a United States federal law that protects the privacy of youngsters on the internet. It does not allow for the promotion or advertising of cannabis and prohibits anything that targets minors above all else. Cannabis and its associated products may not be marketed in such a manner as to appeal to “glamour, excitement, vitality, risk, or daring,” nor can celebrities promote them. Cannabis firms are also prohibited from funding projects or activities.
However, the Cannabis Act does not specify maximum THC potency levels. According to studies, present THC concentrations range between 12 and 15 percent—up from 3% in the 1980s. Some cannabis-based products, such as shatter, may contain up to 80 or 90 percent THC concentration. According to a 2016 US Surgeon General’s report, the changing pattern of cannabis use, including its addictiveness owing to increasing product potency over time, presents a public health concern for consumers.
Pardons for Past Convictions
There have been calls for the government, as well as marijuana legalization, to pardon or suspend the records of Canadians with prior convictions for cannabis-related offenses. These convictions limit their mobility and employment prospects. According to one research, as many as 500,000 Canadians might have a criminal record for cannabis possession. In general amnesty, the administration has said it is studying options for “lesser” violations.
The government stated in October 2018 that it would introduce new legislation to allow people who have been previously charged with “simple possession” to apply for a pardon without cost or delay. Pardons are usually expensive and might take years to complete. A pardon removes an offense from a person’s criminal record with the Canadian Police Information Center. Only an expungement can fully remove an old conviction from one’s record. The government did not propose erasing old cannabis convictions as part of its proposal.
International Drug Treaties and Conventions
Canada has signed three multilateral treaties with the United Nations on narcotic drug abuse: the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 UN Illicit Drug Trade (CIT) Convention.
The court’s findings have had a major influence on worldwide drug policy, as Canada is required to penalize the substances mentioned above, including cannabis for non-medical and non-scientific purposes, as per these treaties. Cannabis’ ban violates the drug accords, which prohibit signatory countries from requesting that a narcotic be deleted from the blacklist.
Three nations, including Mexico and the Philippines, have been labeled by the UN International Control Board as violating international accords because of their legal marijuana laws.
The federal government of Canada has declared that it will not withdraw from these agreements.