Exclusive: A timeline of cannabis legalization in Canada

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It’s a very exciting year for Canada as the country is gearing toward legalization, set for the summer of 2018. Canada is already a major player on the world cannabis stage and rightly so, being the first country to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 2001. Other countries and advocates around the world are looking to Canada as a beacon for the acceptance and destigmatizing of recreational cannabis.

Canada has come a long way in its attitude towards marijuana, and it certainly hasn’t always been so accepting. The following is a timeline of the history of cannabis in Canada:

1800s – At this time, the Canadian Government used hemp to help stimulate the economy and would hand out hemp seeds to farmers with hopes that they would cultivate the plant for its many uses. The provincial parliament of Upper Canada began to set money aside to incentivize hemp cultivation and purchase machinery for its processing by 1822.

1923 – Cannabis was added to the Confidential Restricted List under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill following a reference to a “new drug” during session of the House of Commons late on April 23, 1923. The Government also introduced the Act to Prohibit Improper Use of Opium and other Drugs, a consolidation of previous legislation with three new drugs, including cannabis. Initially, the only drugs on the list were opium, morphine, cocaine and eucaine. Cannabis was added along with the likes of heroin and codeine.

1932– This year marks the first time law enforcement every seized any marijuana.

1960s – The 1960s was an era when counterculture movements were a strong force in both Canada and the U.S. and brought psychedelic drugs and cannabis into popular use. At this time, anti-cannabis laws were enforced strongly and there was a dramatic increase in arrests and convictions. Canada had only seen 25 convictions between 1930 and 1940 but in 1962, there were 20 convictions alone, and 2,300 by 1968. There were about 12,000 cannabis related convictions by 1972.

1969 – The Canadian Government formed the Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Non-Medical Use of Drugs to respond to the increasing interest and use in Cannabis. This commission would investigate non-medical uses of drugs and determine how the government could play a role in regulating these substances. Their final report recommended that penalties for users should be scaled back and that the government’s focus should be more on treatment and medical management, but none of these suggestions were enacted.

1970s – Protests began in favour of legalizing marijuana. 1971 saw the Gastown Riot in Vancouver. This was the first “smoke-in’ to protest Canada’s strict anti-cannabis laws. Protesters were met by Canadian police on horseback wearing riot gear with violent force. Many protesters were beaten by police with batons. It was a dark age for pro-cannabis users and remains a scar on Canada’s law enforcement history.

1997 – Public opinion polls have found that an increasing majority of Canadians agree with the statement, “smoking marijuana should not be a criminal offence”.

2000 – The new millennium brought with it new attitudes toward the use of marijuana. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional. The appeal came after Terrance Parker, who suffered from epilepsy, was arrested for possessing cannabis. It was the only thing Parker could find that would ease his seizures but because of the laws, he was arrested on multiple occasions. The argument was that limiting Parker’s use of this medicine was a violation of his right to life, liberty and the security of his person.

2001 – Canada became the first country to legalize marijuana for medical use after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared that prohibiting its use as medicine was unconstitutional. The act was called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) and allowed patients to possess dried flowers/bud with a government issued license that could be signed off by a physician.

2003 – Canada introduced its first measure to decriminalize cannabis across the country. It would reduce the penalties for possession for up to 15 grams to a civil fine but the bill died thanks to pressure from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. The same thing happened in 2004.

2006 – Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced new mandatory prison sentences for marijuana dealers and growers. A mandatory, two year prison sentence was given to anyone convicted of growing 500 or more plants. The maximum sentence was increased to 14 years, double from the previous maximum prison sentence of seven years.

2014 – The MMAR was replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). The government license was no longer required. Marijuana could simply be prescribed by a physician.

2015 – Current Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau lead the Liberal Party to a majority government victory. A major point of his platform was to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide and that it would happen as soon as possible. Trudeau’s victory was a victory for marijuana advocates everywhere.

2016 – The Canadian Government was working on legislation to legalize recreational cannabis with the final wording still under discussion in late March of 2017. A national poll was conducted in June by Nanos Research and found that 7 out of 10 Canadians are in favour of legalizing marijuana.

2017 – On April 13, 2017, a bill to legalize cannabis by July 1, 2018, Bill C-45, was introduced to parliament. It would allow use for people aged 18 and older and possession of up to 30 grams. Provisions were not made for legal sales and the bill would allow provinces to further restrict possession, sale and use.

2018 – On March 22, 2018, Bill C-45 was approved by the Senate in principal, meaning recreational marijuana will be legal nationwide. The Bill is currently being reviewed by several other committees before legalization will be enacted.

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