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Decriminalization: The Legal Battle over Pot
Liberalize Canadian Marijuana Laws
This section examines events in the movement to liberalize Canadian marijuana
laws. In particular, this section will examine:
- The legalization of marijuana for medical purposes
- The Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
- The Report of House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use
- The response of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs to the
House of Commons Special Report.
- Important links for further information.
Marijuana for Medical Purposes
In July 2001, Health Canada implemented the Marijuana Medical Access
Regulations, which provided for access to marijuana for medical purposes.
The Regulations allows people to access to marijuana who are suffering
from grave and debilitating illnesses. However, while permitting marijuana's
medical use, the Regulations do not legalize the drug for general use.
The Regulations contain two main components: (1) authorizations to possess
marijuana and (2) licences to produce marijuana.
- Authorization to Possess Marijuana – Applicants must
provide a medical declaration that states that all conventional treatments
have been reasonably tried or considered, and that the benefits of using
marijuana outweigh the risks. The Regulations describe three categories
of individuals who can apply to possess marijuana for medical purposes:
(1) persons who have a terminal illness and who are expected to pass
away within 12 months, (2) persons who suffer from specific symptoms
associated with medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis, spinal
cord injury, spinal cord disease, cancer, AIDS/HIV infection, severe
arthritis and epilepsy, and (3) persons who have symptoms associated
with a serious medical condition or conditions, other than those described
in categories (1) and (2).
- Licences to Produce Marijuana – In December 2000,
Health Canada contracted Prairie Plant Systems Inc. to cultivate and
produce a safe, standardized, homogeneous supply of marijuana. Although
developmental plant material has been harvested, no final approved packaged
product is available at this time.
Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
In September 2002, the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs released
its final report on cannabis. Following a two-year study, the Special
Committee reported that marijuana should be legalized. The Special Committee
concluded that the scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicated that cannabis
is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated, not
as a criminal issue, but as a social and public health issue.
The Special Committee made the following recommendations:
- Present medicinal marijuana provisions are not effective and must
be revised to provide greater access for those in need.
- Canada should adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful
effects of psychoactive substances, focusing on educating users, detecting
and preventing at-risk use, and treating excessive use.
- As far as cannabis is concerned, only behaviour causing demonstrable
harm to others should be prohibited. This would include illegal trafficking,
selling to people under the age of sixteen, and impaired driving.
- Amnesty should be provided for any person convicted of possession
of cannabis under current or past legislation.
The Special Committee also suggested the following initiatives:
- Creation of a National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency
within the Privy Council Office.
- A high-level conference of key stakeholders from the provinces, territories,
municipalities and associations to set goals and priorities for action
- Creation of a Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency
with a strong, clear mandate, adequately funded and reporting to Parliament,
with a Monitoring Agency on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to
conduct studies with the provinces and territories.
- Amendments to the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations to provide
new rules regarding eligibility, availability, production and distribution
with respect to cannabis for therapeutic purposes.
- Amendment to the Criminal Code to lower permitted alcohol levels
to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in the presence
of other drugs (including cannabis).
House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Drug Use
In December 2002, the House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical
Use of Drugs released a report on general drug use and policy in Canada.
The Report was not restricted to just marijuana, but covered a wide range
of drugs. Important recommendations made by the Special Committee include:
- Decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of not more than 30
grams of cannabis for personal use.
- Clinical heroin maintenance pilot projects in Vancouver, Toronto
and Montreal to test the effectiveness of heroin-assisted treatment
for drug-dependent individuals.
- Needle exchange programs that incorporate primary health care services
as well as prevention and education, counseling, treatment and rehabilitation
- The removal of federal regulatory or legislative barriers to the
implementation of safe-injection room pilot projects to determine the
effectiveness of safe injection facilities in reducing the social and
health problems related to injection drug use.
Response of the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs
The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs has released a response to
the recommendations of the House of Commons Special Committee. With respect
to marijuana's decriminalization, the Association asserted the following:
- The possession, cultivation, and trafficking of marijuana must remain
offences under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
- However, the Association of Police Chiefs would support alternative
measures for possession that would instill meaningful, appropriate and
graduated consequences, focused on preventing and deterring drug use
- In the context of possession of marijuana under 30 grams, these alternative measure
may include pre-charge and post-charge diversion, the option of ticketing under the
Contraventions Act, and referral counseling or treatment.
Health Canada Office
of Cannabis Medical Access
of the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs
of the House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs
Canadian Association of Police Chiefs