It was recently reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that full legalization of cannabis in Canada could be realized as early as July 1, 2018. For people from other countries, this might seem like a sudden development, but this movement has been a long time coming, and its roots stretch back many decades.
Back in 1969, the Canadian government commissioned its first comprehensive study into the possible legalization of recreational drugs. On completion in 1972, the Le Dain Commission formally recommended that the government should repeal prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use. Although the government failed to heed these recommendations at the time, in the years that followed, the Le Dain Commission proved to be a valuable tool for activists and drug policy reformers.
It was during the late 1990s that Canada began to see its first illegal medical cannabis dispensaries—notably the British Columbia Compassion Club Society in Vancouver, and the Victoria Cannabis Buyers’ Club on neighboring Vancouver Island (both of which still exist today). Though these organizations had problems with law enforcement, time and again their actions were validated by the courts.
The first real sign that Canadian cannabis prohibition was in trouble happened in the Provincial Court of Ontario in 2000. A man named Terry Parker successfully argued that cannabis was the only effective treatment for his severe epilepsy. The court ruled that, because there was no clause in the prohibition of cannabis to allow for medical use, the law was invalid (pending new regulations, with a one year grace period for those regulations to be implemented).
This lead to the implementation of the first broad Canadian medical marijuana regime, the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR), in 2001. The MMAR allowed patients to, for personal use, legally possess a quantity of cannabis, grow (or have grown) cannabis, or purchase dried cannabis or cannabis seeds from Prairie Plant Systems (at the time, the only legal commercial producer of cannabis in Canada).
Though the MMAR met the requirements of the judge’s ruling in the Parker case, there was increasing concern that the provisions for growing—especially those that allowed patients to contract a third party to grow their cannabis for them—were being abused, and that surplus medical cannabis was being diverted to the black market. This lead to the MMAR being replaced with the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) in 2013. Under the MMPR, personal cultivation was phased out in favour of a new system of licensed producers (LPs): large scale industrial cannabis cultivators.
But then in 2015, the MMPR ran into some trouble, again from the courts, which ruled in the case of a man named Neil Allard that the right to personal production of medical cannabis is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and as such, ordered the government to again revise their medical cannabis regime to meet this requirement.
And so in 2016 the current Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) were introduced, which combined the MMPR’s system of LPs with a toned down version of the personal cultivation rules from the MMAR.
Which brings us to the current state of impending recreational legalization, which one might say is only possible because of the regulatory and agricultural infrastructure that has been built up under the auspices of the preceding medical regime. The number of LPs in Canada is now in the 30’s and steadily growing, and most are ready and willing to tackle the upcoming legal recreational market. It seems that by the time legalization is a reality, Canada will have a robust national cannabis industry unlike anything the world has ever seen.
Ryan Fink is an Editor and Writer with Lift, Canada’s most recognized cannabis media and technology company.