A Brief History of Canadian Cannabis Law Reform

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A brief history of Canadian cannabis law reform With legalization likely to occur early next summer, here's a very brief overview of how we got where we are today

It was recently reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that full legalization of cannabis in Canada could be realized as early as July 1st of 2018. For people from other countries, this might might seem like a sudden development, but this movement has been a long time coming, and its roots stretch back many decades.

Back in 1969, the Canadian government commissioned its first comprehensive study into the possible legalization of recreational drugs. On completion in 1972, the Le Dain Commission formally recommended that the government should repeal prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use. Although the government failed to heed these recommendations at the time, in the years that followed, the Le Dain Commission proved to be a valuable tool for activists and drug policy reformers.

It was during the late 1990’s that Canada began to see its first illegal medical cannabis dispensaries— notably the British Columbia Compassion Club Society in Vancouver, and the Victoria Cannabis Buyers’ Club on neighboring Vancouver Island (both of which still exist today). Though these organizations had problems with law enforcement, time and again their actions were validated by the courts.

The first real sign that Canadian cannabis prohibition was in trouble happened in the Provincial Court of Ontario in 2000. A man named Terry Parker successfully argued that cannabis was the only effective treatment for his severe epilepsy. The court ruled that, because there was no clause in the prohibition of cannabis to allow for medical use, the law was invalid (pending new regulations, with a one year grace period for those regulations to be implemented).

This lead to the implementation of the first broad Canadian medical marijuana regime, the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), in 2001. The MMAR allowed patients to, for personal use, legally possess a quantity of cannabis, grow (or have grown) cannabis, or purchase dried cannabis or cannabis seeds from Prairie Plant Systems (at the time, the only legal commercial producer of cannabis in Canada).

Though the MMAR met the requirements of the judge’s ruling in the Parker case, there was growing concern that the provisions for growing—especially those that allowed patients to contract a third party to grow their cannabis for them—were being abused, and that surplus medical cannabis was being diverted to the black market. This lead to the MMAR being replaced with the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2013. Under the MMPR, personal cultivation was phased out in favour of a new system of licensed producers (LPs): large scale industrial cannabis cultivators.

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