Canada’s Legalization Timeline: Past to Present


Jason Mueller

August 9th, 2017

Policy, Top News


Made in Canada Marijuana Sign, Green and White Trans-Canada Highway Sign with Marijuana leaf in place of Maple leaf with text Made in Canada with sky background

Canada’s path to legalization truly began April 23, 1923, when the House of Commons held a late night session to add cannabis to the country’s Confidential Restricted List under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill after vague mentions of a “new drug”.  Adjusting to the change in law took time: the first seizure of cannabis by Canadian police wasn’t until 1937. Between 1946 – 1961, cannabis arrests only accounted for 2% of all arrests in Canada.  As the US pushed reefer madness, Canada took a more measured approach to assessing cannabis’ risk.

On May 29th 1969, the Le Dain Commission was formed by the government, formally titled, “the Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Non-Medical Use of Drugs”.  Their purpose was to assess the non-medical cannabis use in Canada. On January 26th,1972, the commission issued their report, encouraging the removal of criminal penalties concerning cannabis possession or use, though they would not endorse de facto legalization.  Despite talking about the commission’s report, the two federal governments took no action to remove criminal penalties for cannabis.

For the first time in Canadian history, legal access to cured cannabis for medical reasons was allowed under a unique section 56 exemptions under the CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act) on June 9th, 1999. Not even a year later on July 31st, 2000, the R. v. Parker decision established that individuals with a medical need had the right to posses cannabis for medical reasons.  This led to the institution of the MMAR.

The MMAR (Marijuana Medical Access Regulations) was enacted in July, 2001, slated to end on March, 31st, 2014.  It was enacted to outlay the means and reasons that medical marijuana would be allowed.  It consisted of three main parts:  allowances to possess cured cannabis, license issuances to produce cannabis (including personal-use licenses as well as designated-person production licenses), and lastly, access to cannabis seeds or cured cannabis flower.

Before the MMAR’s termination date, on July 2013, the MMPR (Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations) was enacted to address the growing, sale and use of medical cannabis.  Portions of the law went into effect progressively: first some changes on Oct. 1st, 2013, then more on March 31st, 2014, and the final elements of the change in legislation went into effect on March 31st, 2015.

The Supreme Court of Canada, in R. v. Smith set a precedent on June 11th, 2015, that limiting or infringing patient access to cannabis by only permitting dry cannabis is unconstitutional.  Patients with need have the right to use and process cannabis products in Canada. A month later on July 8th, 2015, The Minister of Health issued exemptions on section 56 under the CDSA to allow producers with a license to process and sell cannabis oils as well as fresh buds and leaves, beyond just the dry cannabis product that the MMPR permitted.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced that the ministers of Health and Public Safety were sorting out specifics concerning the legislation that would remove personal consumption of cannabis from the CDSA (Controlled Drugs and Substances Act), but, harsher penalties would be put into effect for dealers selling to children and individuals found to be driving under the influence of cannabis.  This announcement came on November 26th, 2015.

Precedent was set by the decision in Allard v. Canada on February 24th, 2016: it found that mandating that patients get cannabis only from licensed producers infringed on the liberty and security rights of Canadian citizens established in section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  This boiled out to the court determining that patients that needed cannabis for medical reasons didn’t have “reasonable access”.

On August 24, 2016,  The ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations) replaced the previous (MMPR) law. The law contains four parts:  1) Similar framework to the MMPR allowing for commercial growth of cannabis products in a quality-controlled environment.   2) Sets provisions for individuals to produce a set amount of cannabis for their own medical reasons, or, to select someone to grow it for them.   3+4) Transitional provisions that cover the continuation of MMPR practices by licensed producers, amendments to other regulations that referenced the MMPR, and lastly, provisions that enact the repeal of the MMPR and set the date of the ACMPR coming into force.

Final wording of the removal of cannabis consumption from the CDSA was reportedly “under discussion” as of March, 2017.  The expected date that has been widely publicized as probable for when the new legislation will take effect is July 1st, 2018.  This new legislation has been reported to give provinces the power to set the legal age for use, as well as regulate the methods of sales and distribution.  When Canada legalizes cannabis, it will join only one other country in the world with federal level cannabis protections for consumption and growth: Uruguay.

Jason Mueller

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