Skip to main content
Topical Information for Parliamentarians

Marijuana (Cannabis) Law Reform

TIPS-108E
September 30, 2005


Between 100,000 and 325,000 Canadians are estimated to use marijuana (cannabis) on a daily basis. Possession of marijuana is by far the most common drug-related offence, taking up a great deal of police and court resources. In recent years, cannabis law reform has been implemented or proposed in two key areas: the use of marijuana for medical purposes, and the possession and production of small quantities for personal use.

Medical Marijuana: A Timeline

June 1999 – The federal government begins to issue ministerial exemptions allowing individuals to possess and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes.

July 2000 – The Ontario Court of Appeal decides in R. v. Parker that legislation prohibiting marijuana possession infringes the rights of persons who need it medically; the ministerial exemption scheme is also unconstitutional, as it depends on discretion.

July 2001 – The federal government responds by implementing the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations. They authorize a person meeting medical criteria to possess and have produced the marijuana necessary to alleviate his or her condition.

January 2003 – The Ontario Superior Court concludes in R. v. Hitzig that the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations fall short of constitutional requirements because they fail to provide a legal supply of marijuana to persons entitled to possess it for medical purposes.

July 2003 – Health Canada responds by implementing a policy that makes marijuana seeds and dried marijuana grown for the government available to approved medical users.

October 2003 – The Ontario Court of Appeal upholds R. v. Hitzig and strikes down certain provisions of the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations, including one requiring certain applicants to have the support of a second specialist physician to establish medical need.

December 2003 – The federal government responds by amending the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations. It maintains restrictions by which a licensed producer may grow marijuana for only one person, and no more than three producers may cultivate together.

June 2005 – The federal government publishes further amendments to the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations in the Canada Gazette.

The “Marijuana” Bill: Recent Chronology

September 2002 – The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs issues Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy. It recommends a legalized system under which the production and sale of cannabis would be regulated through licensing.

December 2002 – The House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs issues Policy for the New Millennium: Working Together to Define Canada’s Drug Strategy. It recommends retaining legal prohibitions but removing criminal sanctions for the possession and production of small quantities of marijuana for personal use.

May 2003 – Bill C-38, An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, is introduced in the 2nd Session of the 37th Parliament.

November 2003 – The House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs (Bill C-38) reports Bill C-38 back to the House of Commons with amendments.

February 2004 – The substance of Bill C-38 is reintroduced in the 3rd Session of the 37th Parliament as Bill C-10.

May 2004 – Bill C-10 dies on the Order Paper at the dissolution of the 37th Parliament.

November 2004 – The substance of Bill C-10 is reintroduced in the 1st Session of the 38th Parliament as Bill C-17.

Possession and Production of Cannabis: Current Law

In December 2003, the Supreme Court of Canada concluded that the prohibition on marijuana possession for recreational use, and possible imprisonment for the offence, do not violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For further details, see the Court’s decisions in R. v. Malmo-Levine, R. v. Caine and R. v. Clay.

Table 1 in the Appendix states the offences and maximum punishments for possession and production of cannabis, as currently set out under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

Bill C-17

As part of Canada’s renewed drug strategy, the government has introduced Bill C-17. If passed, it would allow certain offences involving cannabis to be treated as non-criminal infractions under the Contraventions Act. A person would be prosecuted by means of a ticket, and would not be subject to criminal proceedings, fingerprinting, photographs or a criminal record.

Table 2 in the Appendix sets out the types of offences and maximum punishments that would become applicable to the possession of small amounts of cannabis if Bill C-17 is adopted.

The House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs (Bill C-38) added three principal amendments to the “marijuana” bill:

  • To protect Canadians travelling abroad, it would be an offence to release information regarding a person’s minor cannabis-related offences to foreign governments and international organizations.

  • To discourage marijuana-users from buying from criminal organizations, there would be even lighter penalties for cultivating from one to three marijuana plants for personal use.

  • To determine the impact of the alternative penalties on Canadian society, there would be a comprehensive review of the scheme after three years.

Table 3 in the Appendix shows the types of offences and maximum punishments that would become applicable to the production of marijuana if Bill C-17 is adopted.

In summary, Bill C-17 would decriminalize and depenalize minor cannabis-related offences by allowing them to be designated as non-criminal infractions under the Contraventions Act and attaching less severe penalties. It would not legalize the use of hashish or marijuana for non-medical purposes, as such conduct would remain prohibited.


 

Prepared by
Wade Raaflaub, Analyst
with the assistance of Janet Shute-Taylor, Reference Librarian
Parliamentary Information and Research Service

For Further Reference

Raaflaub, Wade. Bill C-17: An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, LS-488E, Parliamentary Research Branch, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 2 November 2004.  See additional information on Bill C-17 at “LEGISINFO”.

Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs. Cannabis: Our Position for a Canadian Public Policy, Ottawa, September 2002.

House of Commons Special Committee on Non-Medical Use of Drugs. Policy for the New Millenium: Working Together to Define Canada’s Drug Strategy, Ottawa, December 2002.

For several background documents, including international perspectives, see the web site of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs.

Web site of Health Canada, Medical Use of Marihuana.

Statistics Canada. Trends in drug offences and the role of alcohol and drugs in crime, 23 February 2004.

Tjepkema, Michael. Use of Cannabis and Other Illicit Drugs, Health Reports, Vol. 15, No. 4, Statistics Canada, July 2004.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Criminal Intelligence Directorate. Marihuana Cultivation in Canada: Evolution and Current Trends, November 2002.

Darryl Plecas, Yvon Dandurand, Vivienne Chin and Tim Segger, Marihuana Growing Operations in British Columbia – An Empirical Survey (1997-2000), Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice – University College of the Fraser Valley and International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, March 2002.

Stephen T. Easton. “Marijuana Growth in British Columbia”, Public Policy Sources, No. 74, The Fraser Institute, Vancouver, May 2004.

For a related bill, also introduced in the 1st Session of the 38th Parliament, see Laura Barnett, Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (Impaired-Driving) and to make Consequential Amendments to Other Acts, LS-489E, Parliamentary Information and Research Service, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, 4 November 2004. See additional information on Bill C-16 at LEGISINFO.


© Library of Parliament