Is marijuana legal in Canada? A guide to Medical Marihuana Laws Prevailing In Canada
So Is marijuana legal in Canada?
Due to its controversial medical, legal and political aspects, along with the fear of frequent drug abuse, stringent laws exist regarding the use of marijuana. Some countries such as Argentina, Cambodia, Australia, Colombia and Denmark regard the use and possession of marihuana as illegal, but the drug still remains decriminalized. Albania happens to be one of the major producers of marijuana in Europe, but its cultivation, transportation, possession and use have been completely prohibited.
Under the current medical marihuana laws prevailing in America, the use of marihuana for recreational purposes is deemed illegal in the majority of the states. However, marijuana for medical purposes has been awarded ‘legal’ status in 23 states, despite the ‘Schedule I Substances’ category under which it falls.
Taking into account the situation in Canada, the laws on cultivation, use and production have not been clearly defined. Constant changes and amendments have taken place over the past decade. Limitations at the federal level have prevented the drug from being excluded from the Criminal Code of Canada as well as the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. In order to understand the current status, we must first look into how these laws have evolved over the past decade.
History – The Initial Prohibition of Drugs (1908 – 1923)
Laws concerning drug prohibition in Canada began with the Opium Act of 1908, introduced by the Deputy Minister of Labor, Mackenzie King. This act prohibited the import, manufacture and sale of opium for recreational purposes. Later, the Opium and Drug Act of 1911 was developed, under which the possession of drugs such as cocaine and morphine was outlawed as well. Strict penalties were enforced to punish offenses. This was followed by the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act of 1920, which after being amended in 1921 and 1922, became consolidated in 1923. Punishments were tightened and prison sentences were increased.
The Prohibition of Cannabis (1923)
Cannabis came to be included in the Confidential Restricted List (1923) under the Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill after it was referred to as a ‘new drug’ in a session at the House of Commons on April 23, 1923.
The Medical Marihuana Legislation (2001)
Elaborative and consistent research on medical marihuana established that the drug could possibly be used to treat a variety of health conditions and ailments. Hence, in July 2001, Health Canada approved access to marihuana for medical purposes only. The medical marijuana legislation was passed on the recommendation of the BC College of Physicians and Surgeons, and the stance of the Canadian Medical Protective Association.
The regulation of medical marihuana was announced for the benefit of two predefined categories of patients.
• Patients who may need palliative care or are suffering from a severe medical condition may be given marihuana. These include severe pain in the muscles and unbearable spasms resulting from multiple sclerosis or a disease of the spinal cord.
• Patients suffering from an auto-immune disease such as HIV/AIDS may also be eligible for using marijuana as a treatment for severe pain, rapid weight loss, loss of appetite and cachexia (AIDS wasting syndrome).
• Chemotherapy related nausea and pain may also be treated using medical marihuana.
• Individuals with complaints of joint ailments such as rheumatoid arthritis may also use medical marihuana for treating the debilitating pain that accompanies such conditions.
• Doctors may also prescribe medical marihuana to individuals suffering from frequent epileptic seizures.
• All patients suffering from debilitating pain as a symptom of some health condition other than the ones mentioned in the first category may use medical marijuana as an alternative form of treatment.
According to the laws introduced, the physician was given the approval to prescribe medical marijuana treatment only if the patient fell under the categories mentioned above. The patient would have to fill out an MMAR form before seeking a prescription for the drug. This form would be a private and confidential document between the doctor, patient and Health Canada.
The Failed Decriminalization Bills (2002 – 2004)
During Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s tenure, the liberal government of Canada brought forward a new bill in May 2002. This bill decriminalized the possession of marijuana for medical use. It also allowed the use of the drug for personal use (less than 15 grams only was acceptable). Unlike the stringent laws that banned the use of medical marijuana, this new bill had quite relaxed policies on possession of medical marihuana for personal use.
If an individual was found with less than 15 grams of marihuana under his possession, he would only be charged with a fine, while those who were found with 15-30 grams of marijuana would either face criminal charges or be ticketed as per the discretion of the police officer. As per the bill, cultivating up to seven medical marijuana plants for personal use would count as a summary offence, whereas growing marihuana on a larger scale would be considered a serious offence for which there would be a severe punishment.
This decriminalization bill was not fully accepted by the Drug Enforcement Administration of the US, which consequently threatened to halt cross border travellers along the Canadian-American border to curb marihuana smuggling. The bill was highly likely to pass into law, but parliament prorogued and the bill died out.
Another bill similar to the 2002 Decriminalization Bill was introduced in 2004 during the tenure of Paul Martin. However, a lack of confidence votes caused it to crumble as well.
The Anti-Drug Strategy (2007)
In November 2005, a draft titled ‘Preventing Harm from Psychoactive Drug Use’ was also prepared by the authorities of Vancouver to regulate the sale of marihuana for medical purposes.
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper came into power, he came up with an all-new National Anti-Drug Strategy in October 2007. After the conservatives won the federal elections of 2008, the anti drug policy was re-announced in February 2009. According to this proposed legislation, drug dealers caught selling marihuana would have to face mandatory prison sentences for one year. If the drug dealer was part of an organized crime and violence was found to be involved, then the prison sentence would be raised to two years. Distribution of marihuana to children or drug peddling near the vicinity of a school would also result in imprisonment for two years.
Imprisonment sentences may range from 7 – 15 years if any individual was found to be involved in growing more than 500 medical marijuana plants with the intent of distribution.
Rulings on Growing Marihuana by the Federal Court of Canada (2008)
The federal regulations on growing medical marijuana plants, after acquiring a license, was struck down by Justice Barry Strayer of the Federal Court of Canada on January 10, 2008. Before the ruling, a single producer was permitted to grow medical marihuana plants for one person only.
As per the order of Medical Marijuana Access Regulations, there were certain rules that were to be followed by medical marijuana users. According to these regulations, medical marihuana plants could either be homegrown personally, obtained from a licensed drug dealer or produced by a designated individual for his use only.
During 2008, there was only one drug dealer who possessed a license for growing and producing medical marihuana on a large scale located in Manitoba. This made it difficult for medical patients to reach out for the drug. Several users filed a request for single designates, but all of them were denied except for one. The user argued using a breach of the Section VII of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, in which patients were compelled to adopt illegal methods to acquire medical marijuana to which they were already legally entitled. As a result of this logical reasoning, the court agreed and decided to strike down the subsection 41B (1) for having ‘no force or effect’. This ruling however, did not facilitate the use of anti-medical marijuana.
The Ruling of the Superior Court of Ontario (2011)
It was concluded by Justice Donald Taliano on April 12, 2011 that the prohibitions against the production and possession of marihuana described in the Marijuana Medical Access Regulation’s ‘Controlled Drugs and Substances Act’ (sections 4 and 7) had no force or effect and were constitutionally invalid. The Canadian government was given three months to come up with a new law to fill the void, or the possession and production of marijuana for medical as well as recreational purposes would become completely legal throughout Ontario.
However, the deadline of July 11, 2011 was extended since the federal government’s lawyers argued that the prevailing medical marihuana laws and regulations should not be rendered null and void until the highest court of Ontario could hear an appeal, which took place on May 7 and 8, 2012.
Decision by the Court of Appeal
The Court of Appeal, on granting the extension of the deadline, stated that the suspension of the prevailing laws would take place, and the practical effect of the decision would be to legalize the production of medicated marijuana in Ontario, if not in the whole of Canada.
The decision of the Court of Appeals released in February 2013 overturned the ruling given by the lower judge, on account of the many lapses that were made in the striking down of Canadian medical marihuana laws. It was announced that current medical marijuana laws would still prevail in Canada. This decision was met with utter disappointment and criticism by Canadian citizens who wanted the drug legalized, at least for medical purposes.
The Ruling of Health Canada (April 1, 2014)
Laws pertaining to the medical use of marihuana are in a state of dynamic alterations. The marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) replaced the Medical Access Program (MMAR) on April 1st 2014. It has been declared that as of April 1, 2014, individuals will have to purchase the drug from commercial and licensed producers. Any authorization to possess, personally use or personally produce Marijuana will also expire on the aforementioned date.
To ensure that patients will not suffer, the establishment of a system of licensed producers has been underway. Respective individuals in need of the drug will need a medical document as proof to purchase the drug at set prices. Issuing of licenses to commercial marihuana producers residing within Canada is done according to set government regulations, standards pertaining to sanitation, production equipment, security, record-keeping and quality commitment will be strongly considered.
So Is Marijuana legal in Canada? For medical purposes: Yes! For Recreational: NO! For now.
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