The history of cannabis in Canada includes prohibition and banning. It has been considered a criminal act for most of the past century. However, this plant can be grown and prepared at home with little risk or threat. That is, besides its legal status.
Canada's drug laws have created a profitable black market that invites criminal activity to sell cannabis. Social problems like violence, street drugs and declining respect towards the government and police are also linked to prohibition.
Our relationship with cannabis is shaped by its status as a banned drug. 44% of Canadians over the age of 14 reported using cannabis at least once in their life. Despite a high rate of usage and growing public recognition of problems with the law, marijuana users are considered misfits and are viewed as criminals or deviants.
Cannabis was outlawed in Canada in 1923. This was when only a few people had ever heard of it. Opium and cocaine were outlawed a few years before this, and there was no discussion to include cannabis among narcotics. Almost ten years passed before the first arrests for cannabis possession were reported.
Marijuana use was not regularly encountered in the mainstream before the 60s. It increased popularity among educated, white youth from more affluent backgrounds and social statuses. The law started to pose more of a problem in the 60s when there was a maximum penalty for possessing small amounts of cannabis. It resulted in six months of prison and a $1000 fine for the first offence. The criminal conviction was a severe consequence for otherwise law-abiding citizens.
Enforcing laws that were becoming disregarded became a problem for the government. A government inquiry was commissioned to examine this and bring a solution. Experts recommended removing criminal penalties for possession of cannabis. However, despite cannabis's low toxicity and potential for abuse, the commission still did not recommend it become legalized. They would still prefer measures that discouraged young people from trying it and taking up using it.
One of the most effective, credible uses for cannabis has been as medicine. Since 2001, legal use of cannabis has been granted to those with HIV/AIDS and other severe illnesses under the MEdical Marijuana Acess Regulations.
The government's commitment to this program is suspicious. The application process is arduous and confusing for those who apply for the exemption. Few medical exemptions have been granted when hundreds of thousands of Canadians self-medicate with marijuana.
However, times have changed drastically since then. These days, cannabis has been legal in all of Canada since 2018. This has resulted in a proliferation of cannabis businesses across Canada, providing widespread marijuana access to all Canadians.