Marijuana Policy Primer
The following policy primer
is intended to inform the Canadian public and our political representatives
about the key issues related to marijuana legislation in Canada. This issue has been on the forefront of
Canadian politics for over 30 years and is now understood by Canadians to be an
issue of importance to our social and economic well-being, our health and our
sovereignty. With an informed public and political leadership, we can replace
the failed policy of cannabis prohibition with a policy that meets the needs of
Written by Rielle Capler, 2006 (BC
Compassion Club Society; Canadians for Safe Access)
Download the Federal
Marijuana Policy Primer as a PDF document.
|Create reasonable regulations for the
possession, sale and production of cannabis and an accurate, scientific,
reality-based education program about the safe and effective use of
cannabis. Ensure those in medical need have legal access to high quality
and affordable cannabis.
|Acceptance of Cannabis
- Canadians want, and are ready for, a change in
the country’s marijuana laws. Recent polls demonstrate 83% of Canadian citizens want less
stringent laws. Previous polls show that over half
the population want legalized cannabis, with significantly increased
support in the health/medical context. Notably, the MacLean’s 2006 poll
concluded that acceptance for recreational use is at 63%, and an
overwhelming 93% of Canadians support cannabis for medicinal purposes.
|Cannabis Use in Canada:
- Based on the last census, there are
approximately 20 million Canadians between the ages of 18 and 64. There
are approximately 2 million Canadians over age 18 who have used cannabis
during the preceding 12 months. Other statistics show a 25%
- Teen use rates indicate that education on safe use of cannabis would be useful, and that regulations should ensure that young people are not criminalized. According to the latest census, there are approximately 2.5 millions young persons aged 12 - 17 in Canada. If 40% have used cannabis in the preceding year and 30% in the past month, this means 1 million and 750,000 young users in each category respectively. Approximately 225,000 would make daily use of cannabis.
|Current Status of the
- The law prohibiting cannabis possession is of
questionable constitutional validity.
- The Ontario Court of Appeals decision in R.
v. Parker (2000), 146 C.C.C.
(3d) 193 (Ont. C.A.) found that the law prohibiting cannabis possession
(s. 4 of the Controlled Drug and Substance Act, or CDSA) was
unconstitutional because it forced people to choose between their liberty
and their health. The section 56 (of the CDSA) exemption scheme then in
place was found to be unconstitutional since it gave discretionary power
to the Minister of Health. The law as it applied to cannabis was declared
unconstitutional and the
declaration of invalidity was suspended for a period of one year. 
- Health Canada’s Medical Marijuana Access
Regulations (MMAR) were established in response to the Parker decision. It is still a question in the courts
whether the MMAR could ‘save’ s. 4 re. Cannabis, or whether the law must
be re-enacted.  
- Even if the MMAR were judged sufficient to
‘save’ the cannabis laws without reenacting s. 4, several other medical
cannabis court cases have called into question the validity of the MMAR.
It remains an open question whether the MMAR provides a constitutionally
adequate means for Canadians to access medical cannabis. The last court
case offered specific remedies to the program which have not been
implemented.  This
arguably renders the prohibition on possession of cannabis
unconstitutional and of no force and effect. These propositions are
currently being tested in the lower courts.
|Public Perception of the
- Sentencing is all over the board in the country.
Recent court cases show judges do not feel cultivation should be a
criminal offense, and that the appropriate form of punishment be a
monetary fine (to match the monetary gain of breaking the law), rather
than a jail sentence (which would signify danger to society). 
- Many Canadians believe that cannabis is
generally legal for medicinal purposes, and also believe it is
decriminalized for possession of small amounts. The average Canadian
cannot be expected to know what the law actually is.
- Canadians want to vote for
candidates who will commit to ending cannabis prohibition.   
|Supreme Court Constitutional Challenge:
- In 2003 the prohibition laws were challenged in
the supreme court of Canada – while 3 judges agreed the laws were
unconstitutional, the majority decided that it was up to parliament to
change the legislation.  The Supreme Court, however,
accepted certain critical facts found in the lower courts, including that:
occasional to moderate use of marijuana by a healthy adult is not ordinarily
harmful to health, even if used over a long period of time;
is not addictive;
current rates of consumption remain stable, the health related costs of
marijuana use are very, very small in comparison with those costs associated
with tobacco and alcohol consumption;
- (...) apart
from [risks to others where an intoxicated individual drives, flies aircraft,
or operates complex machinery], there is no evidence to suggest that harm of
any kind will befall individual members of society as a result of any actions
by individual marijuana users.
of cannabis causes harm to society, such as disrespect for the law, lack of
open communication between young people and their parents, the risk that
cannabis users will be exposed to more dangerous drugs sold in black market
situations, the inability to conduct serious research into the effects of
cannabis and the enormous amount of money devoted to enforcing prohibition.
- In 2002, the Special Senate Committee on Illegal
Drugs’ thorough investigation concluded that cannabis should be legalized
- The hypocrisy of alcohol- a much more harmful
substance, and caffeine – a more comparable substance, being legal
brings disrespect for the law.
- The prohibition laws are historically based on
- prohibitionist reasoning is based in false
‘reefer madness’ propaganda – e.g. the “gateway theory”.
- Harms of use are negligible – most harms
are based on prohibition itself, not the plant.
|House of Commons Report
- Thirty years ago, the Le Dain Commission found
that cannabis (use, production, distribution) should not be criminally
- Under the last Liberal government, several
punishment amendment bills (the media mistakenly called these
“decriminalization” bills) were brought forward based on the House of
Commons committee recommendations. The bills proposed fines for possession
of small amounts of cannabis, and increased jail sentences for
cultivation. These bills did not pass all readings in parliament, but chances are if
they had, the Senate, which called this type of policy ‘the worst possible
case scenario’, would not have passed them.
- Canadian cannabis advocacy groups also are
opposed to previous liberal government’s cannabis policy. They believe
these policies will undermine the safety and security of Canadians and
that instead of alleviating the harms of prohibition, would cause a
"net-widening effect", ultimately punishing an increased number
of Canadians and lead to an entrenched illegal market.   
- Incredible resources are being wasted on the war
against marijuana. The financial and personnel
investment in marijuana offenses, at all points in the criminal justice
system, diverts funds away from other crime types, thereby representing a
questionable policy choice.
- The Fraser Institute Report recommends
regulation and taxation, suggesting that (a) the current prohibition
amounts to a “gift of revenue” to organized crime; and (b) that tax
revenues could reach several billion dollars per year.   
- Reasons cited to keep cannabis prohibited
include alleged harms. Much of this is based on ignorance of current
research and reefer madness propaganda.
- Overall, research had found cannabis to be
essentially benign, but with significant medical and therapeutic benefits.
- Some concerns are related to potentially
vulnerable groups, such as those brought up by the Supreme Court (heavy
users, pregnant women, and people with mental illnesses).
- Recent research demonstrates that cannabis smoking does not cause cancer (and in fact may be preventative). Other research finds cannabis
to be helpful for morning sickness (and there is no evidence that it causes developmental problems for the child). The World Health Organization (WHO) report on cannabis was suppressed after it concluded that "there is very little evidence that cannabis is harmful in the long term." The WHO found no mental decline, no emphysema, and no addiction as a result of cannabis use.
- Some studies have shown cannabis can
be helpful for certain mental health conditions, and others show it to be
harmful – in particular there is concern around schizophrenia.
Experience has shown that the helpfulness or harmfulness is related to the
particular strain of cannabis being used. There are many different strains
of cannabis, and in a regulated market it would be much easier for people
to have access to known strains, as well as to be educated about strain
- Concerns around vulnerable groups, as well as
health concerns around quality and strain selection can be addressed
through regulation and education. In the current black market environment,
no controls exist.
- Currently only about 1500 Canadians
have licenses to possess cannabis for medicinal purposes. This is a small
fraction of the total medicinal cannabis using population. That means that
the vast majority of Canadians who use cannabis medicinally are risking
- The prohibition laws affect medical use of
cannabis by restricting research, and by compromising autonomy of the
patient and the patient/doctor relationship.
- The MMAR pander to prohibition rather than
creating an effective and rational program that addresses the needs of
critically and chronically ill Canadians who could benefit from this
- Medical cannabis consumer advocacy groups are
concerned about MMAR program as well as the quality and safety of the
program’s cannabis. These concerns have been ignored by the current and
previous Ministers of Health. The current sole contractor for government
cannabis has threatened legal action against a consumer advocacy group. 
- The Senate Report recognized the deficiencies of
the MMAR and called for measures to be taken to support and encourage the
development of alternative practices, such as the establishment of
compassion clubs. The Senate also called upon Health Canada to undertake a
clinical study in cooperation with Canadian compassion clubs. 
- The Canadian AIDS Society, in comprehensive
report released in 2006, called on the government to legalize compassion
clubs and to conduct an audit of the federal medical cannabis program.
- Community-based medical cannabis dispensaries
(i.e. compassion clubs) across the country supply high quality cannabis to
over 10,000 critically and chronically ill Canadians. Many of these dispensaries are non-profit societies, providing much-needed
services, patient advocacy, and research at no cost to Canadian taxpayers.
Although communities, law enforcement and criminal courts across Canada have
shown their support and tolerance for compassion clubs that self-regulate
to ensure their services are strictly for medical purposes, compassion
clubs do not currently enjoy the full protection of the law. 
- There are international treaties relevant to drug policy law reform. A thorough review of pertinent treaties demonstrates that none preclude Canada from implementing significant law reform. 
- Current student drug educational programs, such as DARE,
are based on reefer madness propaganda. Because this information is patently false regarding cannabis, students
do not believe information about the harms of hard drugs. Students need accurate,
scientific, reality-based information so they can make informed decisions
about their use of drugs.  
|The empirical evidence has
long demonstrated the ineffectiveness of, and harm caused, by cannabis
prohibition. Yet, despite
recommendations dating back to 1971, Canada has not engaged in any cannabis
policy reform. The public is ready
for and supportive of progressive, science-based and compassionate
policies. New research suggests
that the medical uses of cannabis are widespread, yet prohibition blocks
research and creates a difficult environment for sick Canadians. The time for change is now.
Leger Poll, http://juror.ca/article_5.htm
 Maclean's Poll 2006: What We Believe http://www.macleans.ca/article.jsp?content=20060701_130104_130104
 Report of
the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs Cannabis: Our Position for Canadian Public Policy
Research Foundation: Cannabis,
Health and Public Policy
 Report of
the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs Cannabis: Our Position for Canadian Public Policy
 R. v.
Parker  O.J. No. 2787
(Ont. C.A.); http://www.johnconroy.com/parker2.html
 Regina v.
 Stavert http://cannabislink.ca/legal/stavert.htm
v. Canada, (2003-10-07) ONCA C39532;C39738;C39740 http://www.johnconroy.com/Hitzig03-10-07.pdf
 Inconsistent sentences for pot-growing offences
unfair: Some B.C. judges impose jail terms, while others hand down fines,
Ian Mulgrew Vancouver Sun, Wednesday, August 23, 2006
 Canadian Cannabis Coalition Press Release: Canadians
to Vote for an End to Cannabis Prohibition in Upcoming Federal Election
Cannabis Coalition Press Release: Bill C10 is Worst-Case Scenario of
Marijuana Prohibition --Canadians will Register Disapproval in Upcoming Federal
 Canadian Cannabis Coalition Press Release: Canadian Cannabis Coalition Says "NO" to
 R. v.
Malmo-Levine; R. v. Caine,  3 S.C.R.
571, 2003 SCC 74 http://www.canlii.org/ca/cas/scc/2003/2003scc74.html
Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical
Use of Drugs - 1972
 House of
Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v02/n2248/a13.html
 Canadian Cannabis Coalition Press Release: Decriminalization
Of Cannabis Undermines The Safety And Security of Canadians
Cannabis Coalition Press Release: Bill C-38, the so-called "decriminalization"
bill and Bill C-248
 Canadian Cannabis Coalition Press Release: Bill C10 is Worst-Case Scenario
of Marijuana Prohibition --Canadians will Register Disapproval in Upcoming
Federal Election http://cannabiscoalition.ca/html/index.php?name=Content&pa=showpage&pid=8
 Canadians for Safe Access
Press Release: "Canadians for Safe Access" Decry New Cannabis
Reform Bill as Adding to the Harms of Prohibition
 The War
on Marijuana: A transformation of the war on drugs in the 1990’s , Ryan S. King and Marc Mauer, Harm Reduction
Journal Feb, 2006, 3:6,
 Fraser Institute News Release: BC’s Marijuana Crop Worth Over $7
Growth in British Columbia, Stephen T.
Easton, Public Policy Sources, Number 74 May, 2004.
 PDF of
Fraser Institute Report: http://www.prohibitioncosts.org/decrim.pdf
 BC Compassion Club Society research
Finds No Cancer, Marijuana Connection,
Washington Post, May 26, 2006 http://www.mapinc.org/drugnews/v06/n672/a07.html?20763
 Survey of medicinal cannabis use among childbearing women:
Patterns of use in pregnancy and retroactive self-assessment of its efficacy
against 'moring sickness' (Westfall, Janssen,
Lucas, Capler 2006) Complimentary Therapies in Clinical Practice http://bcccs.yvr.thelevel.com/resources/cannabis-nausea%202006%5B1%5D.pdf
 Cannabis 'safer than alcohol and tobacco', BBC News, Thursday, February 19, 1998
Compassion Club Society information on safe and effective use of Cannabis http://www.thecompassionclub.org/medical/safe
 British Columbia’s Compassion Club’s testimony to the
Senate Special Committee.
for Safe Access - http://safeaccess.ca/research/flinflon/index.htm
 For more
information about the MMAR program and responses to it: http://www.thecompassionclub.org/law/government
Report: Chapter 9 Use of
marijuana for therapeutic Purposes
as Therapy for People Living with HIV/AIDS: “Our Right, Our Choice”
 Some of the
more well-established compassion clubs in Canada include the BC Compassion Club
Society (Vancouver), C.A.L.M (Toronto), Montreal Compassion Centre (Montreal)
Toronto Compassion Centre (Toronto), Vancouver Island Compassion Society
(Victoria), links to their website and others can be found here http://www.thecompassionclub.org/law/resources
for the Community-Based Distribution of Medical Cannabis in Canada http://www.thecompassionclub.org/resources/guidelines%20for%20distribution.pdf
 The International Covenants "Prohibiting" Drug Activities http://www.cfdp.ca/gilmour.html
for Sensible Drug Policy http://www.efsdp.org/
for Sensible Drug Policy, which now has chapters on Canadian University
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