The legal status of marijuana in Canada is still under stalemate, even after several attempts through history to prompt the government to legalize the substance. This paper looks into the legal history of the substance in Canada, the problem that has been brought by the law, the current legislation, and argues for the legalization of the substance. Studies have shown there are strong reasons to justify legalization of marijuana, some of which overshadow the negative reasons associated with marijuana, like medical and economical reasons, as well as helping in the prevention of excessive consumption of the substance due to its prohibition.
Legal History of Marijuana in Canada
The legal status of marijuana in Canada has been under contention for the past century, owing to the superior and law courts in Ontario that have repetitively asserted that Canada’s marijuana laws to be neither of force nor effect if one acquired a prescription. This is a plant that can be cultivated and prepared for home utilization, with almost no risks or threats, except for its legal status (Adlaf & Sawka n.p.).
Drug ban in Canada started with the Opium Act of 1908 that was initiated as a result of a report presented by Mackenzie King, who was the Deputy Minister of Labour by then. The report gave a summary of the anti-opium campaign in other countries like China, the USA, England and Japan to bring out the point Canada was the only country that seemed not serious enough in the international movement. He provided recommendations that outlawed the production, sale and importation of opium, other than for prescription purpose and was soon trailed by the Opium and Drug Act of 1911.
Cannabis was later included in the Confidential Restricted List in 1923 and this is thought by historians to have been inspired by the writings of Emily Murphy’s publication ‘The black candle. ’ The publication dedicated one chapter to “Marahuana – A New Menace“, which claimed that the only means out of marijuana dependence are madness, death, or desertion. More likely, cannabis might have been included in the list given the Canadian participation in international meetings where the discussions on the case were conducted. Some other sources also cite that cannabis was prohibited following the return of the Director of the Federal Division of Narcotic Control from the League of Nations meetings that held discussions about the introduction of international drug control. Cannabis started to attract official, but minimal attention in the late 1930s. The very first documentation of seizure of cannabis by the Canadian authorities was in 1937. Reports also indicate that the period between 1946 and 1961, arrests for cannabis were around 2 percent of all the drug apprehensions in Canada.
The Canadian drug laws have created a large, profitable ‘black market’ that has invited criminal involvement in the production and distribution of Cannabis. The prohibition of marijuana has resulted in social problems such as the use of unsafe street drugs that have lethal effects, unnecessary violence, and the declining of respect for the government and the law enforcement agencies among other problems (Giffen, Endicott & Lambert n.p.). A recent survey carried out on Canadians above fourteen years of age revealed that 44 percent reported using marijuana at least once in their existence (Adlaf & Sawka n.p.). Even with such high rates, the use and the increased public awareness on the consequences of marijuana use with the law, the users are considerably unconventional and are perceived as criminals or deviants. Randomly, whether a Canadian is a user, or never smoked it, the relationship between the people and the plant is shaped by its status as a prohibited substance.
The Problem of the Law
In 1923 when Canada illegalized Cannabis, not many people in the country had knowledge about marijuana because the majority had neither seen nor heard of it (Giffen, Endicott & Lambert n.p.). After opium and cocaine were illegalized about a decade before, there seemed to be no further debate required in order to include cannabis amongst the outlawed narcotics. Alarmingly, nearly a decade had passed since the first apprehensions for cannabis possession were reported; therefore, this implies that the earlier legislation was made without a problem.
It was not until the 1960s that the use of marijuana was seen in the conventional population, but its popularity and utilization started to increase amongst the educated, white youth of greater means and social status (Giffen, Endicott & Lambert n.p.). The law started to pose a problem with huge penalties for the possession of small quantities of cannabis, which were 6 months imprisonment and a $1,000 fine for a first offence. Criminal conviction was a grave consequence of the otherwise law conforming Canadian youths. Enforcement of a law that was increasingly being disregarded became a problem; therefore, a government inquiry was set up and commissioned to analyze the case and draft a solution. The Le Dain Commission of Inquiry conducted extensive research through public hearings across Canada and expert consultations in a 3-year period and came up with a report that was published in 1972 (Fischer 267).
The Le Dain Commission of Inquiry recommended the removal of the criminal penalties for cannabis possession. However, in spite of the knowledge about the drug’s low toxicity and low potential for abuse, the Le Dain Commission did not propose the legalization of marijuana (Fischer 267). The commission still showed a preference for measures that aided in discouraging young people from adopting the habit. A widespread type of decriminalization now practiced in some states in the USA and Europe is punishment using fines. This maintains the supposed notion of the advantages accrued from withholding state approval, while minimizing social costs and the legal repercussions of criminal convictions.
The Canadian government rejected the Le Dain Commission proposal on the removal of criminal penalties for the possession of cannabis, but in the recent years, there have been increasing and ongoing calls for legislation reform and increasing public support for the relaxation of the penalties for cannabis possession (Fischer 268). Apparently, the appeals are still being neglected.
Current Legislation and Any Changes
The challenges posed to the marijuana laws have not led to the change of the necessary articles of the Criminal Code of Canada and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The law enforcement and the legal system in other jurisdictions in Canada are still pursuing incrimination for the possession of marijuana.
The farming of the hemp crop is presently legalized in Canada for the production of seed, grain and fibre, but only under licenses given out by the Health Canada. Different polls have been carried out and since 2003; the majority of the Canadians has supported the legalization of Marijuana. For instance, a poll carried out by Forum Research Inc suggests that 36% of Canadians back the idea of absolute legalization and 34% back up the idea of decriminalization (Fischer 265).
It has been over three decades after the Le Dain commission, but the pressure for reforms in the legal status have been undivided. This prompted the Canadian parliament to strike two committees tasked with the responsibility of studying the problem of illicit drugs in the country. Separate reports released by the House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs and the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drug Use in 2002 recommended reforms in the laws that governed cannabis possession and distribution (Information Canada n.p.).
The House Committee recommended legalization the possession and farming of minute quantities (up to 30 grams) of marijuana, while the senate went much further and suggested the complete legalization of cannabis in the country (Information Canada n.p.). The senate also recommended that, the manufacture and sale of marijuana be licensed and also keeping the criminal penalties with regards to export trafficking and other activities away from the regulations. The senate’s position departs from the views of the Le Dain and the House committees as the senate identifies both the social harms that come with prohibition and the violation of the user’s rights (Fischer 265). In other words, the legislation ought not to bar behaviors that do not harm other individuals as in the case of cannabis use.
The Parliamentary Committee did not have the mandate to carry on further than the research, consultations and the recommendations for the problem. Therefore, the legislative stalemate regarding the issue remains unresolved. The opportunities for reform have been denied and the use of cannabis still attracts criminal consequences in Canada (Information Canada n.p.).
Marijuana as Medicine
The most significant of the century developments may be the governments begrudging acknowledgment of the value of using cannabis for medical conditions (Hathaway and Patricia 465). Since 2001, the government has granted legal access to individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases, which are characterized by stress, pain, and fatigue under the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations. Very few medical exemptions have been arranged in the past ranging to about 3,000 cases, but there are many Canadians who are suspected to be self-medicating with cannabis (Hathaway and Patricia 465). The application process, for the majority of the individuals who apply for exemptions, has been tiring, baffling and not supported by physicians, and has generally failed to guarantee a safe and cost effective supply.
The Economic Benefits of Marijuana
Marijuana is very costly to the legal system and should instead be put through taxation in order to give support to other beneficial government programs (Hightimes n.p.). This would evidently direct the law enforcers towards more imperative responsibilities other the apprehension of many individuals annually for the possession of marijuana, especially putting into consideration the extra expenses of disposing the cases (Hightimes n.p.). For instance, the USA terms marijuana as a costly affair considering the misuse of jail rooms, time wastage by the attorneys, judges and police as well as the corrections officers.
Legalization of marijuana in Canada would create an authentic economic stimulus package. For instance, it would make hemp a precious and varied plant in the country and could be used as a bio-fuel to minimize reliance on oil and lessen carbon emissions (Hightimes n.p.). Even though the country has not legalized marijuana, it supports the legal hemp cultivation. The legalization would also lead to the reduction in the sales and use of marijuana amongst the youth and curb the exposure to hard drugs. Consequently, street integrity and social order would be restored.
The historical perspective on the legality of marijuana over the next century is a tale yet to be drafted in the Canadian experience. Without question, the experiences of cannabis users ought to be acknowledged and appreciated. The authentic and significant reform with regards to harmful drug laws should be implemented on the basis of both scientific knowledge and concern for human rights, democratic organization and justice.
Adlaf, E., Begin, P., and Sawka, E (Eds.), Canadian addiction survey (CAS): A national survey of Canadians’ use of alcohol and other drugs: Prevalence of use and related harms: Detailed report, Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse., 2005.
Fischer, Benedikt, et al. “Cannabis Law Reform in Canada: Is the” Saga of Promise, Hesitation and Retreat” Coming to an End? 1.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice/La Revue canadienne de criminologie et de justice pénale 45.3(2003): 265-298.
Giffen, P., Endicott, S. and Lambert, S., Panic and indifference: The politics of Canada’s drug laws, Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 1991.
Hathaway, Andrew D., and Patricia G. Erickson. “Drug reform principles and policy debates: harm reduction prospects for cannabis in Canada.” Journal of drug issues 33.2 (2003): 465-495.
Hightimes, 420 Campaign – Top Ten Reasons Marijuana should be Legal. 2007.
House of Commons Report of the Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs. Policy for the new millennium: Working together to redefine Canada’s drug strategy. Ottawa: Information Canada, 2002.