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Issue - Decriminalization of Marijuana in Canada
Canadian Government Plans to Ease Marijuana Laws
  Related Resources
• Senate Says Pot is Not a Gateway Drug
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• Report from Commons Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs
• Report on Cannabis from Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs
 
 

Update: 05/26/03

The Issue - Decriminalization of Marijuana in Canada

Canada's Justice Minister Martin Cauchon says that Canadian laws relating to marijuana could do with "modernization." Although the Justice Minister doesn't plan to go so far as to make marijuana legal, he is expected to introduce legislation in 2003 to decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. In other words, the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana would remain illegal, but jail sentences and criminal records would be replaced with fines.

Background on Marijuana Laws in Canada

  • Marijuana was first banned in Canada in 1923 under the Opium and Drug Act. Since 1997 marijuana has been covered by the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.
  • In 2000 over 30,000 Canadians were charged with simple possession of marijuana, according to the Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs.
  • Current laws are enforced unevenly across the country.
  • Most of those convicted of possession of marijuana do not go to jail, but do receive a criminal record.

Status of Decriminalization of Marijuana in Canada

Two committees of parliament have examined Canadian anti-drug policies and legislation in Canada:

  • The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs reviewed Canada's current anti-drug policies and legislation and reported in September 2002. The Committee said that marijuana is not a gateway drug and should be treated more like tobacco or alcohol than like harder drugs.
  • The House of Commons Special Committee on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs looked at an overall drug strategy for Canada and issued their report in December 2002. The House committee said that while marijuana is unhealthy, the current criminal penalties for possession and use of small amounts of cannabis are disproportionately harsh. They recommended that the Canadian Ministers of Justice and of Health come up with a strategy to decriminalize the possession and cultivation of not more than thirty grams (about an ounce) of cannabis for personal use.
What Supporters Say

For many, like supporters of the Marijuana Party of Canada, full legalization of the possession and use of marijuana is the only route to take. That is not likely to happen in Canada. Arguments supporting the more likely alternative of decriminalization of marijuana include:

  • current penalties are too harsh
  • most resources are now directed at law enforcement, when they could be better spent on the public health and education aspects of marijuana use and addiction. In its response to the House of Commons Report on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, the Canadian Medical Association said the decriminalization of the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use should be "tied to a national drug strategy that promotes awareness and prevention, and provides for comprehensive treatment."
  • Most of those convicted of possession of marijuana do not go to jail, but do receive a criminal record. A criminal record causes employment difficulties and problems with international travel.

What Opponents Say

Arguments against decriminalization include:

  • when illicit drugs are legalized, drug use increases
  • marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs
  • decriminalization would send conflicting messages to young people
  • concern expressed by U.S. drug enforcement officials that relaxing Canadian marijuana laws would increase the likelihood of more marijuana flowing south across the border and could make efforts to secure the Canada-U.S. border more difficult.
  • In July 2002, John Walters, director of U.S. drug policy, told a meeting of the College on Problems of Drug Dependence in Quebec City that marijuana is the most heavily abused drug in the United States and addiction rates have risen in recent years.


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