Cannabis in Canada Pt 1

Cannabis in Canada: A Primer. Part One.

The Road to Legalization: Why Canada and Why Now?

Canada is on the road to legalizing the recreational use and simple possession of cannabis. The Government of Canada released Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drug and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, in the spring of 2017. It received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018. Canada will be the only member country of the Organisation of Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) to legalize cannabis. The Prime Minister recently announced that cannabis will be legalized by October 17, 2018. So why Canada? And why now? These are questions that will likely be written about extensively in years to come, however there are a number of factors that may have been influential in this context.

First, the history of cannabis in the country clearly demonstrates a decades-long interest by Canadians in decriminalization of simple possession of the drug. Through its history there has been a recognition that prohibition is not achieving its aims around protecting youth, safety, and reducing overall use. In a poll taken by Forum Poll in 2015, it was found that the majority (close to 6-in-10) Canadian voters approved of the Liberal Party’s promise to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana.  In 2016, another poll published that nearly 70% of Canadians were either “in favour” or “somewhat in favour” of marijuana legalization. Finally, in 2018, a poll was released which reported that support for cannabis legalization was strong in all age groups of Canadians, mostly by those under 35 with 82.1% in support, 67.6% of those 35-54 and 64.2% of those 55 and over.

However, it is not only the increasing public support for legalization in the country that is cause for legalization. The high rates of cannabis use in the country are also likely a factor. In a report UNICEF, it was found that Canadian adolescents (ages 11-15) were found to have the highest rate of cannabis use among the OECD, where an estimated 28% had used cannabis at least once in the past year. In 2015, one source reported that nearly 5 million Canadians used cannabis.

This all came together in the Liberal Party of Canada’s 2015 election campaign platform on cannabis legalization. The platform was premised on the idea that current systems of prohibition do not work as “it does not prevent young people from using marijuana” and too many “Canadians end up with criminal records”, and that prosecution of these offences is expensive for the criminal justice system”.

The purpose of this series of articles on cannabis is to chronicle the wide range of issues and discussions that have arisen in Canada’s legalization process. The aim is to provide comprehensive coverage of terms in a digestible manner.  

Next article.


Links to articles in this series:

Photo credit: Justin Aikin from Unsplash.

- By Heather Webster