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.
Medical Use Becomes Legal in Parts of the U.S.
California becomes the first U.S. state to legalize medical cannabis (as of 2019 it’s legal in 33, with 10 states allowing recreational use).
Canadian Terry Parker Wins His 23-year Court Battle to Use Medical Cannabis
Terrance Parker, a Toronto man with epileptic seizures, was first arrested in 1987 for cannabis possession but was 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.
Canada’s First Medical Cannabis Laws Allows Patients to Grow Their Own
The Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) allows licensed patients (fewer than 100 to start) to grow their own cannabis or access it through Health Canada. The federal government sets up the House of Commons Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs and the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drug Use, both of which recommend reforming cannabis possession and supply laws. Senate suggests going one step further and legalizing the production and sale of cannabis.
Prime Minister Chretien Introduces Bill that Would Decriminalize — The Bill Dies
Under Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the first federal cannabis decriminalization Bill (C‑38) is introduced, reducing the penalty for possession of up to 15 grams of cannabis to a civil fine, but the bill dies when government is halted. A similar Bill (C‑10) is introduced a year later with the same result.
Prohibitions Against the Possession and Production of Cannabis Ruled to be Invalid and a Licensed Producer System is Created
Ontario Superior Court Justice Donald Taliano rules the MMAR is constitutionally invalid because medical users who cannot access cannabis legally (and do so illegally) can be charged. The program is replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which creates a system of licensed cannabis producers. Medical patients (about 37,800 at this point) cannot grow their own plants and must register with a Licensed Producer.
Canadian Supreme Court Rules: Cannabis Restrictions Violate Freedom of Choice
After reviewing the 2009 case of B.C. baker Owen Smith, who was charged for possessing cannabis-infused cookies, massage oils and lip balms, the Supreme Court of Canada rules that restricting medical patients’ legal access to only dried cannabis flower violates their rights to consume cannabis in the form they choose. This decision opens the door for Licensed Producers to now be able to produce oils and other forms of cannabis.
Canadian Neil Allard Wins Patients the Right to Grow Their Own Cannabis Plants
Neil Allard and three other people from B.C. challenge the MMPR as violating their rights because patients cannot produce cannabis themselves, which is affordable to everyone. The Federal Court of Canada rules in Allard’s favour, and the law is revised once again, becoming the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR).
The Government Moves to Legalization
The Government of Canada proposes Bill C-45, or the Cannabis Act, which would legalize the possession, use, cultivation and purchase of limited amounts of cannabis by adults 18 years of age and older.
Recreational Cannabis Is Legalized in Canada
The Cannabis Act goes into effect in Canada. Each province and territory sets its own rules around how and where cannabis can be sold, and is allowed to lower possession limits, increase the minimum age, and restrict where cannabis can be used in public or set added requirements on personal cultivation. Although provincial legislation is subject to change, as of October 17th, 2018 in Alberta and Quebec, you had to be 18 years of age or older to purchase and consume cannabis (in the rest of Canada, it was 19); Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Saskatchewan had privately run stores, while the remainder of the country’s retailers were government-operated. All had online shops, but in Nunavut, you could also order it by phone.