The cannabis plant has a long and complicated history, being both honoured in herbal medicine and religious ceremonies — and outlawed as an illegal substance. This three-part series explores the lows and highs on the long journey toward cannabis legalization in Canada.
Recreational Cannabis Now Popular in the U.S — but Illegal in Canada
Thought to be introduced by migrants from South America, recreational use of cannabis becomes more common in the U.S. In 1923, cannabis is banned in Canada under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, although the historical records do not tell us why; opium and cocaine have already been made illegal, and so it’s added to the roster without much debate. (It’s outlawed in the U.S. in 1937.)
Mainstream Recreational Cannabis Surges in Canada
The number of cannabis convictions in Canada rise from 25 between 1930 and 1946 to 2,300 in the year 1968 alone.
A New Commission Recommends Decriminalization
Due to the growing number of people ignoring the law, enforcement is difficult. The Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, also known as the LeDain Commission, looks at the government’s role in regulating the use and distribution of drugs. After three years of consulting experts, conducting research and holding public hearings across the country, the commission recommends removing criminal penalties for cannabis use and possession but not making cannabis legal — essentially, decriminalization. The government rejects the proposal.
Pro-Cannabis Protestors Peacefully Assemble in Vancouver
The first pro-cannabis-legalization rally in Canada is held in Vancouver, later referred to as the Gastown Riot or the Battle of Maple Tree Square. Hundreds of cannabis-smoking protestors on Water Street have to be forcefully dispersed by police in riot gear on horseback.
Canadian Terry Parker Wins His 23-year Court Battle to Use Medical Cannabis
Terrance Parker, a Toronto man with epileptic seizures, is arrested for possession but acquitted due to “medical necessity,” as cannabis eases his condition (where two brain surgeries and various medications could not). In 1996, Parker is charged with possession, cultivation and trafficking for growing the plant. He appeals to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and a judge rules in his favour. The Crown appeals the decision, but in 2000 the Ontario Court of Appeal finds the current cannabis law unconstitutional because it does not take medical use into account. The federal government must change the cannabis laws within one year — or the courts will begin dismissing possession charges.
Read Part 3: Recreational Cannabis is Legalized, here.