Written and Fact Checked by S. Zulfiqar
The history of cannabis in Canada is about bans and prohibition. However, even before Canada was a country, the use of cannabis was kinda popular. The plant was used by indigenous communities as a cultural thing. Then it was used for medical and textile purposes. It was considered a cash crop for the people at that time. Apart from that, it is believed that the early settlers of Canada used to grow something that resembles weed. So the use of this plant isn’t something new for the world, especially in Canada.
Do you Know Weed was Once Looked Down Upon Canada?
Throughout most of the past century, the use of cannabis was considered a criminal act. Under the law, the use of this plant was prohibited and it couldn’t be used for any reason, whether for recreational purposes or medical usage. And as far as the plant is concerned, everybody knows that it can be easily grown and cultivated at home.
There were plenty of factors behind this prohibition. Firstly, it was the huge ‘black market’ that was a concern for the government. The market was highly profitable and it attracted all sorts of criminals to be part of it, especially in the selling process. There were also other concerns at the time such as the growing unrest and violence. Also, the drugs that were sold on the streets were not entirely safe. And perhaps the other major reason behind the prohibition was the decreasing respect for the government, police, and other law enforcing agencies.
However, marijuana remained popular among all age groups throughout history. Recently, one recent survey was conducted on Canadians over the age of 14 that showed that 44% of people have at least used cannabis once, at some point in their life. That roughly makes half of the population.
In 1923, the plant was outlawed in the country. This measure was surprising as there was no parliamentary debate held for the matter. Even no public debate could take place and at that time, it was 14 years before the US criminalized cannabis. All cannabis products including Cannabis Indica along with hashish were banned. Alongside heroin and codeine, the cannabis plant was added to the list of banned items of the Opium and Narcotic Control Act.
This surprising rule wasn’t even questioned for long. It was addressed later in 1969 when the Commission of Inquiry was launched. It was popularly known as the ‘Le Dain Commission’ and it was made to examine the issue at hand and provide a suitable issue for it. The commission was supposed to look into the matter as it was formed for exactly looking into the non-medical use of the plant (drug). Under Chairman Gerald Le Dain the commission was looking at whether it was a ‘social concern’ or not. Whether the use of cannabis as a non-medical drug was a social issue or not and how this concern can be expressed in further social policies.
However, later on in 1972, one advice given by the same commission was that polite possession along with the cultivation of the plant for personal use should be decriminalized. Moreover, the commission referred to these penalties as ‘completely unreasonable’, nothing much was changed. The mission still wanted the government to take strict measures so that the use of the drug can be discouraged especially for the young people that can be habitual of using the drug.
The proposal of the commission i.e. the removal of the harsh and criminal penalties for the use and possession of the plant was rejected by the government of Canada. In the following years, the support for cannabis use became stronger and calls were made to the government about reforming the law but all such appeals couldn’t prove fruitful and were rejected.
A similar form of decriminalization is currently being practiced in a lot of countries around the world including some countries of Europe, Australia, and the US. People there are charged (usually fined) as a punishment for cannabis consumers and carriers.
How the Legal Status Changed Over Time
Almost three decades later, there was suddenly a growing pressure on the government to change the legal status of the plant and change the controversial history of cannabis in Canada. All that resulted in the Parliament forming two committees to examine the issue.
In 2002, both the committees: the House of Commons Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs and the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drug Use advised the government that the laws regarding the use and the possession of cannabis should be reformed.
The House Committee recommended that people should be allowed to carry and cultivate little amounts (as much as 30 grams) of cannabis. While the Senate went one step further than that. They recommended that the plant should be legalized in the entire country. It also suggested that the government must keep an eye on the other issues that were involved with the matter and keep criminal penalties for such offenses including the export of the drug. Another suggestion that was made by the Senate was that the sale and the cultivation of cannabis must be licensed.
The history of cannabis in Canada took a few turns and nothing can be said about the future of this plant in the country. With that said, we should also take a look at the other side of the story. We must respect and acknowledge the fact that there are people who enjoy the experience of this wonderful plant. And scientific-based research should continue being carried out so that the world can know more about what the plant is about and to find out all the goodness that it carries.
- Crepault J. Cannabis Legalization in Canada: Reflections on Public Health and the Governance of Legal Psychoactive Substances. Front Public Health. 2018; 6: 220.
- December 21, 2020. Canadian Cannabis Survey 2020: Summary. Government of Canada. https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/drugs-medication/cannabis/research-data/canadian-cannabis-survey-2020-summary.html