A Brief History of Cannabis Law in Canada

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Its June 2018 and Canada has officially legalized adult recreational use of cannabis. It has been a long road since the beginning of cannabis prohibition in the early 1920s. Looking back, great progress has been made for the legal and social acceptance of cannabis in Canadian society.

Here’s a short synopsis of Canada’s evolving attitude and relationship with Cannabis:


1800s – Hemp was seen as a tool to grow and stimulate the Canadian economy.  The Canadian Government incentivised the cultivation and production of hemp and hemp products, purchasing machinery in the early 1800s to process raw hemp.

1922 –  Emily Murphy, the first female magistrate in Canada and one of the first feminists in the country published The Black Candle. In this book she claims that cannabis use promotes homicidal tendencies in its users.

1923 – The Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill added cannabis into the Confidential Restricted List by the House of Commons on April 23, 1923.

The Act to Prohibit Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs was introduced to include cannabis along with codeine and heroin.

Cannabis Convictions in Canada

1932– The first seizure of cannabis by law enforcement in Canada.

1930 to 1940 – 25 cannabis convictions of Canadian citizens.

1960s – Strong cultural movements in North America during the 1960s popularized and supported the use of cannabis and psychedelics in direct response to the beginnings of the Nixon era drug wars.

1962 – 20 cannabis convictions this year.
1968 – 2,300 total Canadian cannabis convictions

1969 – The Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (known as the Le Dain Commission after its chairman, Gerald Le Dain) was created in response to rapid increase of cannabis use and proliferation. The commission was the first of its kind in Canada, built to investigate how governments can regulate the recreational use of drugs.

The Le Dain commission’s findings recommended the government focus on managing medical use of cannabis with lower penalties for recreational usage. No action was taken in response to these findings.

1970s – First protests advocating for the legalization of cannabis occur.

Total of approximately 12,000 cannabis convictions.

1971 – The Gastown Riot in Vancouver was the first protest of its kind for the legalization of cannabis and devolved into a violent event following forceful eviction and arrests of protesters by mounted police and riot control officers.
1972  – First recommendations toward decriminalizing personal cannabis possession and cultivation were made.
1977 – PM Pierre Trudeau states: “If you have a joint and you’re smoking it for your private pleasure, you shouldn’t be hassled.”
1997 – Public opinion in Canada shifts towards cannabis decriminalization according to polls.
1999  – First two Canadians receive federal approval to consume cannabis.
2000 – Cannabis prohibition was ruled as unconstitutional by the Ontario Court of Appeal as it was deemed to infringe on the constitutional right to life, liberty and the security of person. This ruling was the result of the arrest of Terrence Parker. Terrence had used cannabis for epilepsy and was arrested for possession multiple times.

2001 – Canada becomes the first country to legalize marijuana for medical use with the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) act. This act allowed the issuing of licences to possess dried cannabis by individuals with a physician’s note, granting legal access to cannabis. Licencees may obtain cannabis through Health Canada or via home growing.

2003 – Canada takes first steps to decriminalize cannabis on a federal level, attempting to reduce possession penalties of under 15 grams to a civil fine. However, the bill never passed into law due to influence by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. 2004 saw the same effort to decriminalize cannabis in Canada but was shot down by the U.S. DEA again.

2006 – Conservative PM Stephen Harper increased penalties for cannabis users with new mandatory prison sentences for cannabis retailers and producers. The production of 500 or more plants resulted in a two year mandatory minimum sentence. The maximum sentence was doubled from 7 to 14 years.

2013 –  Amendments to the MMAR rules direct the cannabis industry away from home growing and into a more commercial licensed producer system. Approximately 37,800 people were allowed to posess cannabis in this new system.

2014 – Canadian federal government decides that the rapid growth of the MMAR user base had seriously compromised public safety and the program’s focus on medical usage, replacing MMAR with Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). The government license was no longer required and could be prescribed by a physician. Users under the old MMAR regulations were ordered to destroy old stocks of cannabis produced and owned under the past system.

2015 – Liberal PM Justin Trudeau wins a majority government victory with cannabis legalization and regulation as one of his major platforms.

2016 – Canadian national poll conducted by Nanos Research found that 7 out of 10 Canadians favour cannabis legalization.

2017 – Bill C-45 was introduced to parliament on April 13. Bill C-45 would see the legalization of cannabis in Canada by July 1st 2018. Legal retail of cannabis in each province would be allowed and up to 30 grams of cannabis may be in possession for  Canadians over 18 years of age.

2018 – The Canadian Senate passed Bill C-45 on June 19th  with a vote of 52-29, finalizing the legality of recreational use and possession of cannabis in Canada. Fully legal retail of cannabis in each province would likely begin in 8 to 12 weeks of this date depending on provincial level regulations and compliance reporting system setup.

The future is looking bright for the Canadian cannabis industry. As the rules and regulations clear up and finalize in the coming months, Canada is positioned to be the world leader in cannabis policy and a giant in the global cannabis industry.

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