Regulation vs. Criminalization- The Case of Drug Control
Cannabis law reform in Canada: Is the „sage of promise, hesitation and retreat‟ coming to an
As of now, cannabis (plant used to make weed) is prohibited in Canada under the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA), heavily debated subject as to whether or
not it should be a criminal drug or not.
There have been legitimate claims arguing that cannabis law violates constitutional
1920-1960: solution without a problem
Drug prohibition started because of the Opium Act of 1908 which focuses on the
criminalization of opium and its Chinese users and suppliers. Canada banned opium in
order to regulate social control rather than focusing on drug use.
“solution without a problem” because there is no evidence that there are any problems
with cannabis usage. Researchers till now could not give a explanation of why cannabis
usage was added to the Opium and Drug Act.
The only reason was because it got so popular, government was afraid it would turn out
like opium (problems with importers) so they created a new act, Marijuana Tax Act,
making marijuana federally prohibited across the US.
Then articles were written explaining how after taking cannabis, people turned mental
and have side effects. Known as “reefer madness”
Cannabis use was still largely neglected in Canada, only focused in the US
1960-1980: Controversy, “promise, hesitation and retreat”
Cannabis use was added in the Narcotic Control Act in 1961, 7 years of prison for simple
possession and life sentence for having a supply of them. That‟s when conflict started to
happen. People didn‟t care, the continued to consume it visibly. Courts took on
repressive and punitive approach
“addiction science” was a new wave experiments done to explore the harms of cannabis
and how it will produce personality, mental harm and lead to crimes and other drug use.
This fuelled a renewed “reefer madness” which depended on science. Focused in Canada
More people were arrested for cannabis offences. Most users were white, well educated
and came from wealthy backgrounds, usually under 25 years old
Most people appealed their convictions but the sanctions only got worse. “intended to
demand jail terms for first offenders”
This new act created social and political tensions for government The Le Dain Commission
Le Dain Commission is a study of different aspects of drug use, treatment and control in
order to make recommendations regarding policy reform. It concluded that the
prohibition was too excessive, ineffective and costly.
The government promised to reform the act but it never came into action. The closest
Canada got to decriminalizing cannabis was through Bill S-19 which proposed to limit
penalties to a fine of $100 (no imprisonment) and eliminate criminal records. It was
approved by the senate but didn‟t go through the House of Commons
The mass of “cannabis criminals” still continued to exist, Le Dain Commission was not
too effective. However, sentencing patterns were a bit more lenient as well as when
police lay charges.
1980-1990: reinforcing the status quo of criminalization
Rising of neo-conservatism, made prospects of cannabis decriminalization in Canada
vanish for good. But people did not stop using it, still a lot of arrests for possession
Then Narcotic Control Act was revised. First draft stated that max penalties for first
offence of simple possession was $2,000 or 12 months in prison. Again, it was argued
that it is too punitive. Then it was lowered to $1,000 or 6 months and offenders are not
subjected to fingerprinting. This was viewed as a “revised and more current
understanding of how Canadians want to deal with cannabis”
Still a lot of people arrested for possession of cannabis
21 century: old suggestions but new forces for reform
Focused on economics costs, diseases and mortality of injection drug use. Debate of
cannabis use faded but use of it increased for medical purposes.
700,000 Canadians charged with cannabis possession
Pressure from the courts
Pressures for cannabis law reform upraised when no precedents existed. High profile
cases like R v. Parker used cannabis for illness, they claimed violation of their rights to
life, liberty and security, s.7.
Other young men who use it for recreation argued that it violated their right to privacy
and freedom of choice.
Public is also supportive with the cannabis reform. Strong number of Canadians oppose
use of jail sentence for cannabis use and favour limited fine
Recent federal inquiries on drug policy
Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drug as created in 2001 and argued that cannabis
itself present little danger to users and society, instead the costly criminalization leads to