What's Legal

A Brief History of Cannabis - Part 2

Cannabis Becomes Prevalent, yet Illegal

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.

Image of Prime minister Mackenzie King and an old paper clipping about cannabis


1900s

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.)

1960s 

Mainstream Recreational Cannabis Surges in Canada Despite the Government’s Ratification of the UN’s Convention on Narcotic Drugs
The number of cannabis convictions in Canada rise from 25 between 1930 and 1946 to 2,300 in the year 1968 alone.

 

Image of the LeDain Commission in session

1971 

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.

1979

A New Commission Recommends Decriminalization
Due to the growing number of people ignoring the law, enforcement of cannabis laws is difficult. The Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, also known as the LeDain Commission, is mandated to look at the government’s role in regulating the use and distribution of drugs, beginning in 1970. After 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, decriminalizing the use of cannabis. In 1979, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Joe Clark, the Progressive Conservative government of 1979-80 gave notice in its Throne Speech that it intended to reform the Criminal Code provisions regarding cannabis, but the Conservative Government was defeated before making these revisions. The use and distribution of cannabis remains a criminal offence.

 

Image of dried cannabis and a prescription slip 

Read Part 3: Recreational Cannabis is Legalized, here.
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A Brief History of Cannabis - Part 1
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A Brief History of Cannabis - Part 3