THE HONOURABLE LARRY W. CAMPBELL

CANNABIS LAW REFORM IN CANADA 2002-2006

NOTE: In January 2006, a federal election was called. Because the election was called before either of the proposed laws described below (Bill C-16 on drug-impaired driving, and Bill C-17, which would reduce penalties for possession and production of small quantities of cannabis) was enacted, those bills "died." The next government will need to introduce new bills if it intends to change the law. For historical purposes we are retaining the description of the legislation proposed by previous governments.

Cannabis legislation update (November 1, 2004): The Government introduced Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This bill appears to be identical or almost identical to the bill introduced by the last government on February 12, 2004 (see below.) Here are the Department of Justice press release and backgrounder about the cannabis bill. Also on November 1, the Government introduced legislation to modify current laws against drug-impaired driving: Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (impaired driving) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts. Here are the Department of Justice press release and backgrounder about the impaired driving bill. (Click here to see a call by the Canada Safety Council for administrative licence suspensions in lieu of the impaired driving legislation (Bill C-16)).

Legislative origins of Bill C-17 (the cannabis bill introduced on November 1, 2004): On May 27, 2003, the then Minister of Justice introduced Bill C-38, An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The original Bill would have reduced penalties for possession of small quantities of cannabis (up to 15 grams) and cannabis resin (It would have given the police the discretion to charge possession of between 15 and 30 grams under this same reduced penality scheme, or they could choose to prosecute it as a criminal offence.) Originally, it appeared that this was a measure to decriminalize simple possession, so that offenders would not receive a criminal record or face jail time. However, in a television interview on October 7, 2003, the then Minister of Justice stated that possession would still be criminal, but the penalties would be less harsh than under the current law. (In fact, the penalties might even be higher than under the current law, since many courts have been very lenient in sentencing for possession under the current law.) There is therefore some uncertainty about the impact of the bill. According to the Bill as orginally introduced, offenders wouldbe fined between $100 and $400, depending on the age of the offender, the circumstances of the offence, and the amount involved. The Bill toughened criminal penalties for "larger" grow operations, doubling the current possible maximum penalty to 14 years. Penalties for producing cannabis would be as follows:

  • growing from 1-3 plants: summary conviction (criminal) offence with maximum penalty of $5000 fine, 12 months in jail, or both; (NOTE: the House of Commons committee that reviewed Bill C-38 amended this provision so that producing up to three plants would be punishable only by a fine ($500 for adults, $250 for young persons)).

  • growing 4-25 plants: summary conviction or indictable offence (depending on what the Crown attorney decides) with maximum penalty of $25000 fine, 18 months, or both (if tried by summary conviction) and five years less a day (if tried on indictment);

  • 26-50 plants: up to 10 years prison

  • more than 50 plants, up to 14 years prison.

The version of the Bill as revised by the Commons committee that reviewed it in November 2003, can be found here. This Bill then died on the Order Paper when Parliament prorogued. When Parliament reconvened, the government under Prime Minister Martin reintroduced an identical bill (on February 12, 2004). Click here for details. This bill also died, in this case because a federal election was called in May 2004. The newly elected government promised to reintroduce it or a similar bill.) On November 1, 2004, a bill that appears to be virtually identical was introduced as Bill C-17, An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. Several founding members of the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy testified before the committee that examined the bill in 2003.

October 28, 2003, Line Beauchesne (also Associate Professor, Department of Criminology, University of Ottawa)
November 3, 2003, Eugene Oscapella
November 3, 2003, Patricia Erickson (beginning at 16:20)
November 4, 2003, Neil Boyd (also Professor of Criminology, Simon Fraser University) (beginning at 9:15).
Testimony of other individuals before the committee can be found here.

  • March 1, 2004: Canada's federal New Democratic Party issues policy statement criticizing proposed changes to cannabis laws (Bill C-10) and criticizing drug prohibition generally. To see statement, click here. To see other NDP statements relating to drug policy, click here and look under the title "Modernizing Marijuana Laws."

  • February 12, 2004: Government reintroduces cannabis law reform bill: Bill C-10, An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. To see the bill as it stood at First Reading (check for later amendments on the Parliamentary web site), click here.

  • Impaired driving and cannabis. In a November 3, 2004, letter to Canada's Minister of Justice, the Canada Safety Council proposes administrative licence suspensions as an alternative to the provisions in Bill C-16 (the drug-impaired driving bill introduced by the federal government on November 1, 2004): "The Canada Safety Council has urged provincial and territorial governments to consider imposing administrative licence suspensions on drivers who have been using cannabis. Police with reason to believe a driver's ability is being adversely affected by any drug (legal or illegal) have authority to suspend that driver's licence under provincial highway traffic safety acts." To see the full text of the letter, click here. To read a background document on cannabis and driving prepared by the Canada Safety Council, click here.

  • December 23, 2003: Supreme Court of Canada rules that Parliament has the constitutional right to prohibit cannabis possession using the criminal law. See judgments in R. v. Malmo-Levine; R. v. Caine and R. v. Clay. To see the extensive Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) reports archive on cannabis issues, as well as links to other cannabis sites, click here.

  • October 7, 2003: Ontario Court of Appeal issues judgments in Hitzig et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen and R. v. P., J. Together, these two decisions:

    1. ease access to medical marijuana

    2. declare that (in Ontario), there was no law prohibiting possession of cannabis between July 31, 2001 and October 7, 2003

    3. declare that, as of October 7, 2003, cannabis possession for non-medical purposes is again prohibited under section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

To see a summary of the Court of Appeal judgments, click here. To see the full judgment in Hitzig et al. v. Her Majesty the Queen (October 7, 2003), click here. To see the full judgment in R. v. P., J. (October 7, 2003), click here.

  • May 16, 2003: Ontario Superior Court confirms earlier lower court judgments that no law exists in Canada banning possession of cannabis. For story, click here. (Note that this decision was reviewed by the Ontario Court of Appeal in R. v. P., J. (October 7, 2003). (See discussion of the October 7 Court of Appeal judgments above.)

  • Canadian cannabis exports to the United States: Why this is an issue in changing Canada's cannabis laws (updated to October 2004)

  • History of Canada's cannabis laws

  • Canada's current laws on cannabis

  • September 4, 2002: The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs releases its report on cannabis. Among other recommendations, the report calls for cannabis to be legalized and regulated, and for criminal records of those convicted of cannabis possession in the past to be erased. The report and summary are on the Committee web site. The committee news conference can be found here. For various Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio and television reports, including interviews with advocates, click here. To see testimony and briefs by Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy founding members before the committee, click here.

  • December 9, 2002: House of Commons Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs releases two reports -- the first on Monday, December 9, 2002 and the second (dealing exclusively with cannabis) on Thursday, December 12. The reports are available through the committee's web site. To see television reports by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) about the report released on December 9, click here.

  • August 9, 2002: International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy releases two May 2002 studies on marijuana in British Columbia: Marihuana Growing Operations in British Columbia (click here for the executive summary). The report includes a description of: (1) The incidents of marihuana cultivation that came to the attention of the police; (2) The characteristics of marihuana cultivation operations; (3) The characteristics of the suspects involved and their criminal history (4) The action taken at various stages of the criminal justice process; and, (5) The patterns of sentencing in such cases. The second report is Marihuana Trafficking Incidents in British Columbia. It gives a very complete analysis of the charging practices, the amounts involved and the sentences received for trafficking offences. All files are in .pdf format.

  • Excerpts about cannabis from December 2001 report of the Auditor General of Canada

© Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, 2006.

 

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