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cannabis prohibition in canada 32 Cannabis Prohibition in Canada

Cannabis Prohibition in Canada

Like many other places, Canada’s early drug laws were motivated by bias and wound up primarily effecting Indigenous, Black, Asian, Latinx and vulnerable communities the most.

The initial prohibition in Canada was largely motivated by anti-Chinese racism that had become increasingly common in British Columbia during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The influx of Chinese immigrants to Vancouver led to The Opium and Drug Act of 1908, which made it illegal for Canadians to import or sell opiates and cocaine for non-medical purposes. However, this law specifically targeted Chinese Canadians, resulting in higher arrest rates and more severe legal penalties for them.

The Black Candle, written by Emily Murphy, is a novel that gives readers great insight into Canadian social attitudes surrounding race and drug use during that time period. The book was critical in shaping the negative public perception of drug users which sadly still continues today.

In 1922, Murphy’s book “Addiction and the Law” was published, which Some people see addiction as a legal issue while others see it defined addiction primarily as a public health concern. By publishing the book in 1922, Murphy inspired readers to demand stricter drug laws from lawmakers, which soon came into effect.

The 1908 Act was the world’s first legislation that prohibited drugs. Cannabis became a scheduled substance in 1923 under this act, which is known as the Act to Prohibit t he Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs. However, there is no record or indication that members of Parliament ever debated or discussed this topic prior to enacting this law.

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The Opium and Narcotic Act of 1929 was created to) catch and punish those observed dealing or consuming illegal substances. This act would end up being the main policy in Canadian drug use for 40 years that followed. However, as drugs became more popular among young people in the oncoming 1960s, legislation had to adapt accordingly. In 1961, The Narcotic Control Act was put into place which made possession of cannabis a criminal offence with a sentence twice as long imprisonment – increasing it from 7 to 14 years.

After the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, which Canada was a signatory of, The Act came into place. This treaty would be updated with later legislation controlling activities related to psychotropic substances like MDMA and LSD Later on. Regardless, amid continuous arrests of Canadians who had no other criminal records, the government launched the Le Dain Commission to further explore drug use and their suggestions were leaning more towards leniency when it came to punishment but nothing changed in regards to prohibition.

The Narcotic Control Act wasDecriminalized in 1996 and replaced by the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, which lessened penalties for cannabis possession. Although there have been amendments made to the act over time, it is still largely in effect today.

Indigenous cannabis remains in federal vs provincial law limbo

The Cannabis Act was intended to legalize weed country-wide, but it v neglected Indigenous peoples’ concerns about sovereignty. When the legislation was being developed, groups were upset that there wasn’t any consultation included; and upon release, they saw that the law made no provisions to guarantee Indigenous sovereign, inherent, and treaty rights as they connect to cannabis.

The National Indigenous Medical Cannabis Association (NIMCA) released a harsh evaluation of Bill C-45, claiming the government established the legal framework without taking into account the specific circumstances of Indigenous people.

This once again displays that the current Liberal government in Canada does not honour First Nation and Indigenous peoples, as well as our sovereign and Inherent rights. The statement goes on to say: ‘They promised to respect our Inherent, treaty and land rights and to establish a nation-to-nation relationship,’

“It seems as if the government has lied to us and does not care about our opinion. They promised to consult with Indigenous peoples regarding Bill C-45 but have failed dismally in that area. The complete lack of communication is an act of disrespect towards our sovereignty and shows that the government is unwilling to work together peacefully.” Since legalization, law enforcement has raided unlicensed dispensarieson Indigenous treaty and unceded lands.

Terry Parker and the first medical cannabis exception

R. v. Parker was a legal case in 2000 that sparked the beginning of the end for Canada’s cannabis prohibition laws. Many people saw this as an eventual step towards federal legalization of cannabis because prior to this, Terry Parker–a medical consumer–had been arrested in 1996 after police raided his home and found he had cultivated and possessed Cannabis plants, which violated the Narcotics Control Act .

Even after Parker was caught and charged with cannabis cultivation and possession, he still cultivated his crop to give to other patients who needed it. In court, he argued that consuming cannabis helped him manage his illness better than any other medication. The charges against him were eventually dropped because of this exemption in the law.

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Parker’s case went to the Ontario Court of Appeal, where it was decided in her favor. The ruling stated that “liberty includes the right to make decisions of fundamental personal importance- like what medication to take in order alleviate life-threatening illness.”

The court case concluded that criminals should have the same access to medical care and treatment as non-criminals, thus ensuring their right to security. As a direct response, the government established the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations in 2001 which allowed some people with specific conditions legal permission to use cannabis. However, it would be another seventeen years before legislation making cannabis use lawful for all adults took effect.

Much like the United States, cannabis prohibition in Canada has racist roots

Not only is the roots of Canada’s prohibition based on racism, but people of colour currently suffer discrimination from the justice system. To date, arrests for cannabis-related convictons have had a significant impact on Black, Indigenous, Asian and Latinx communities – despite there being few race-based crime data resources available in Canada.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission did a study in 2020 which discovered some startling information. The data revealed that before cannabis was legalized, Black people in Toronto were 3.9 times more likely to be charged with possession than members of other racial minority groups, though they only represented 8.8% of the population. What this suggests is that police are targeting Blacks disproportionately compared to Whites and/or other minorities.

The International Journal of Drug Policy published a study in 2021 that analyzed five major Canadian cities’ arrest rates for cannabis possession. The findings showed that, “with one exception… both Black and Indigenous people are arrested for cannabis possession at higher rates than their representation in the population.”

The University of Toronto conducted a study which found this idea is prominent across Canada’s justice system. The researchers discovered that black youths are almost twice as likely to be stopped by cops, and post-arrest, black people were 50% more apt to be taken prisoner than their white counterparts – even after taking age and criminal history into account. In addition, the black population in federal penitentiaries was “more than 300%” greater than their percentage of representation in society at large, according to the report. The Indigenous population was similarly overrepresented by nearly 500%.

The data might be from recent years, but the patterns they expose are nothing new. Data from older documents, such as the 1995 Report of the Commission on Systemic Racism in the Ontario Criminal Justice System and 1991 Report on Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, demonstrate comparable trends regarding how BIPOC are dealt with by Canada’s justice system.

cannabis prohibition in canada 31 Cannabis Prohibition in Canada

Weed won but the work isn’t done: Mitigating the damage of prohibition

Although cannabis is now legal in Canada, many people are unaware that there are still consequences for its use. An estimated 500,000 Canadians were convicted of simple pot possession before October 2018. According to the Department of Justice, in 2017 – the year before cannabis became legal – over half of all police-reported Controlled Drugs and Substances Act offences were “cannabis-related”, with 74% being possession charges.

The Canadian government’s Cannabis Record Suspension program was designed to pardon those with past cannabis-related charges. However, many people have criticized the initiative as being too complicated and difficult to navigate. To be eligible for a suspension, applicants must submit an application to the Parole Board of Canada. The program is only available to those charged with simple possession offenses.

The government said that 10,000 Canadians would be eligible for a record suspension. However, as of October 2021, the Parole Board of Canada stated that only 484 applications had been submitted since the program began in 2019.

The recent prohibition of cannabis has caused extensive, irreparable damage. However, groups such as NORML Canada, Medical Cannabis of Canada, and Cannabis Amnesty are working to ameliorate the negative consequences for those with non-violent cannabis convictions.

On top of that, various lobbying groups are fighting for different legal changes, like the removal of excise tax on medical cannabis users, being able to smoke in designated areas, and permitting people to grow weed in every Canadian province.

Did the Cannabis Act legalize weed for everyone?

While cannabis is now legal in Canada, consumers still face difficulty accessing and consuming it because of provincial regulations. For example, landlords are allowed to ban or restrict smoking or vaping, which affects tenants’ ability to consume cannabis at home. So, only wealthier consumers who own their residences can guarantee themselves the right to consume cannabis how they want.

In most provinces, smoking and vaping are banned or restricted in public places such as sidewalks, streets, and parks. As a result, people who consume medical marijuana—such as the homeless, renters, and those with limited mobility—risk being penalized for consuming the drug legally.

While it may seem like buying cannabis from a legal retailer is the safest option, there are still some risks involved. For example, liquor stores will let minors enter if they’re accompanied by their parents, but dispensaries only allow people of age to enter. This creates difficulties for single parents who want to purchase weed products from the legal market.

Although growing cannabis at home is cheaper and can make it more affordable, residents of Quebec and Manitoba are not legally allowed to grow the four plants that other province’s residents are entitled to. This places these two provinces at a significant disadvantage compared to others.

The Québec Superior Court is currently adjudicating a legal battle to allow home cannabis cultivation that begun in September 2022. The final verdict has not yet been released to the public, but even if the justices rule in favour of permitting home growth, those who rent their homes may not be able to grow cannabis. This is because provincial legislation allows landlords (and some condo associations) veto any type of Cannabis growth in rental units.

Advocacy is just as important now as it was pre-legalization

Health Canada is requesting feedback from the public on areas of improvement for legalization, such as consumption lounges, medical access pardons, and creating an equitable industry. This anniversary marks 4 years since legalization; however, we cannot forget that 100 years of prohibition cannot be undone overnight. There are systematic barriers in place that need to be addressed.

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