Cannabis in Canada is legal for both recreational and medicinal purposes. Medicinal use of cannabis was legalized nationwide on 30 July 2001 under conditions outlined in the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, later superseded by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations, issued by Health Canada and seed, grain, and fibre production was permitted under licence by Health Canada. The federal Cannabis Act came into effect on 17 October 2018 and made Canada the second country in the world. After Uruguay, to formally legalize the cultivation, possession, acquisition and consumption of cannabis and its by-products. Canada is the first G7 and G20 nation to do so.
Cannabis was banned in Canada from 1923 until regulated medical cannabis became legal on 30 July 2001. In response to popular opinion, the legislation to legalize cannabis for recreational use (Cannabis Act, Bill C-45) was passed by the House of Commons of Canada on 27 November 2017; it passed second reading in the Senate of Canada on 22 March 2018. On 18 June 2018, the House passed the bill with most, but not all, of the Senate’s amendments. The Senate accepted this version of the Act the following day.
The federal government announced that recreational use of cannabis would no longer violate criminal law as of 17 October 2018. This legalization comes with regulation similar to that of alcohol in Canada, limiting home production, distribution, consumption areas and sale times. The process removed cannabis possession for personal consumption from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act; while implementing taxation and strengthen punishment of those convicted of either supplying cannabis to minors, or of impairment while driving a motor vehicle.
As of January 2019, on-line sales of cannabis for recreational use were well underway across Canada, via the provincial or territorial governments. Most provinces also had storefront operations selling cannabis, either operated by the government or private enterprise. The number of retailers is likely to remain limited, largely due to insufficient supply of legal cannabis from licensed producers.
Drug prohibition in Canada began with the Opium Act of 1908. Historians often point to the 1922 publication of Emily Murphy‘s The Black Candle as the catalyst for the addition of the three extra drugs to a list of prohibited substances. Murphy’s anti-drug screeds were widely read and helped spread the drug panic across the country, historian Catharine Carstairs disputes that the 7-page chapter, “Marahuana — a new menace” inspired the inclusion of cannabis as a restricted substance.
Cannabis was made illegal when it was added to the country’s Confidential Restricted List in 1923 under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill after a vague reference to a “new drug” during a late night session of the House of Commons on 23 April 1923. According to one government official, cannabis was outlawed after the Director of the Federal Division of Narcotic Control returned from League of Nations meetings where the international control of cannabis was broached.:49 Cannabis did not begin to attract official attention in Canada until the later 1930s, and even then it was minimal;:51 the first seizure of cannabis by Canadian police was not until 1937.:48 Commercial cultivation of industrial hemp was forbidden in 1938. Between 1946 and 1961, cannabis accounted for only 2% of all drug arrests in Canada.:112
In the 1960s, cannabis began to rapidly increase in Canada. For the entire period of 1930–1946, the RCMP recorded only 25 cannabis arrests, but this rose to 2,300 cases in 1968, and to 12,000 cases in 1972. In response to the increased popularization of marijuana and the increase in criminal charges against middle class citizens. The government formed the Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, usually referred to as the Le Dain Commission, in 1969 to investigate the non-medical cannabis use in Canada. The commission’s 1972 report recommended removing criminal penalties for cannabis possession, though not legalization, per se. While the subsequent two federal governments discussed the recommendation, no steps were actually taken to change legislation.
In 2001, the country started a medical marijuana program, managed by Health Canada. The program originally offered people access to home grown cannabis or sales directly from Health Canada. This was replaced with new regulations that set up a more traditional commercial sector for cannabis cultivation and distribution in 2013.
Steps to legalization
After he was elected Prime Minister in 2015, the first significant step that Justin Trudeau took was the creation of a federal-provincial-territorial task force to discuss a jointly suitable process for the legalization of cannabis possession for casual use. This Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation released a 106-page report to the public on 13 December 2016, with various recommendations. Those were provided for consideration by the federal and provincial governments, but they were not binding. Sales for recreational use were not to commence until 1 July 2018, at the earliest, based on legislation (Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act) passed by the federal government in June 2018.
The substance remains controlled: sold only at government licensed retailers, and grown only by licensed producers. During the federal election campaign, the Liberals had promised “new, stronger laws” against sales to minors, driving while impaired, and sales through channels not specifically authorized to do so.
Until 17 October 2018, cannabis remained illegal (except with a physician’s prescription, for medical purposes), as Trudeau reminded police forces across the country in late 2016. He insisted that they “enforce the law”: criminally charge illegal storefront dispensaries. Trudeau also explained that the intent of the legislation is not to encourage recreational use of cannabis. The intent is “to better protect our kids from the easy access they have right now to marijuana [and] to remove the criminal elements that were profiting from marijuana”, he told the Toronto Star on 2 December 2016.