Where Does Canada’s Effort To Legalize Marijuana Stand?
New Frontier Releases Timeline of Events
Canada’s efforts to legalize marijuana across the entire nation represent a significant policy shift, and potential test case for how the United States could adopt federal decriminalization in the future.
Here is a timeline of some significant events to get an idea of where Canada has been and where legalization stands:
OCTOBER 2015 – Dispensaries Grow and Cities Start To Issue Regulations
Despite no change in Canadian federal laws outlawing marijuana, dispensaries are being approved in different Canadian provinces. The City of Vancouver created a system for dispensary registration. However, by October, on 11 marijuana dispensaries out of 176 that applied for business licenses, have been approved. New regulations require that dispensaries be 300 meters from a school, recreation center, or another dispensary. The regulations and lack of license approvals force businesses to seek out city zoning or variance boards to get exceptions to the regulations and obtain approval.
OCTOBER 19, 2015 – Canada Elects Liberal Party and Trudeau
A back-and-forth election ends with Justin Trudeau’s centrist Liberal Party winning a majority of seats in Canada’s Parliament. Trudeau became popular in the media with his position in favor of legalizing marijuana. However, it was the slow economy and overall voter desire for change that propelled the Liberal Party to win 184 of 338 districts. Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, announces he will resign. Justin Trudeau officially assumed the position of Prime Minister a few weeks following the election.
NOVEMBER 2015 – Canada Takes First Step To Marijuana Legalization
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau writes a letter asking Canada’s newly appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould to examine and outline ways to implement marijuana legalization in Canada.
FALL AND WINTER 2015 – Canadian Labs Report Harmful Contaminants In Marijuana Samples
Vancouver marijuana dispensaries had samples tested by accredited labs. Results indicated that 13 of the 22 samples submitted contained harmful contaminants. In some cases, the contaminants were a chemical, dodemorph, that was not approved for human consumption, and a pesticide, carbamate, which is not authorized for cannabis cultivation. Apart from the contaminated samples, the information was not reported for nearly a year, causing concern and outrage that the government did not act quickly to better regulate dispensaries or close those with contaminated samples.
FEBRUARY 2016 – Court Restores Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients
In 2013, the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper passed legislation that removed patients of the right to grow their own medical marijuana in 2013. The law centralized production and distribution through a few licensed companies. However, a popular legal case helped to change that. In February of 2016, a Canadian federal court reinstated the rights of patients to growing marijuana. The rules would go in effect in August of 2016.
SPRING 2016 – Royal Canadian Police Issue Cease-And-Desist Letters To Dispensaries
Since federal had not been changed, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of Nanaimo (British Columbia) send marijuana dispensary owners, operators, and employees cease-and-desist letters. The dispensaries are told they are “currently trafficking in substance (cannabis) contrary to Sec. 5 (1) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act” and also “operating outside of any Health Canada marijuana regulation.”
APRIL 20, 2016 – Canada Announces To UN That Legalization Legislation To Be Proposed In Spring of 2017
Health Minister Jane Philpott tells the UN special session on drugs that the country would introduce legislation for legalization in the Spring of 2017. Canada also used to meeting to encourage the UN to adopt a more favorable stance towards marijuana legalization.
APRIL 2016 – Deadline For Unlicensed Vancouver Marijuana Dispensaries Passes
The deadline passes for unlicensed marijuana dispensaries in Vancouver to either obtain licenses or close their business. Reports indicate that city bylaw inspectors issued a total of $11,000 in fines to 44 dispensaries. Twenty-two others respected the city’s zoning bylaws and closed their doors. Over 100 dispensaries remained open despite a threat of a fine of $250 a day.
MAY 2016 – Health Canada Reports The Number of Medical Marijuana Patients Increased By 23,733 In 4 Months
Health Canada reports that there were 67,075 patients registered to use medical marijuana at the end of May. This number is up from 43,342 at the end of January 2016.
JUNE 30, 2016 – Task Force For Marijuana Legalization Process Launched
Justice Minister Wilson-Raybould announces the launch of a task force to advise the Canadian government on how to proceed with marijuana legalization. The group will be led by Anne McLellan, who is a former deputy prime minister. It is to consist of nine members. The goal of the group is to guide the government’s design of legislation, and regulations for the sale and distribution of marijuana.
JUNE 30 – AUGUST 29, 2016 – Government Survey On Marijuana Legalization
The Canadian government issues a survey to the public on the question of marijuana legalization. Respondents are allowed up to 1,500 words per answer. The survey lasts from June 30 to August 29, 2016, and receives over 30,000 responses. The information will be analyzed and used by the the task force on marijuana legalization. No results were shared publically. The results will be included in the task force’s final report to the Trudeau government in November.
JULY, AUGUST and SEPTEMBER 2016 – Task Force Conducts Meetings Across Canada and With Officials In Colorado and Washington
The task force starts to meet with various groups in Canada on the issue of legalizing marijuana. Reports indicate that task force officials did travel to Colorado and Washington, where pot is already legal, to find out more about how systems work in those states. According to a spokesperson, “the task force has also visited several Canadian facilities licensed to grow medical marijuana. It has also held eight invitation-only roundtable discussion across the country, with experts recommended by various levels of government. There were two days of discussion in both Toronto and Vancouver along one with roundtable each in Edmonton, Montreal, Ottawa and Halifax.”
JULY 2016 – City of Victoria Proposes New Regulations On Marijuana Dispensaries
City officials in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, propose new regulations on marijuana dispensaries. The city has approximately 30 dispensaries. Government officials have said that all will be able to remain open provided they abide by the new regulations.
AUGUST 11, 2016 – National Medical Marijuana Regulations Amended
Medical marijuana regulations are amended to require patients who use medical marijuana to be registered, have a prescription and obtain their supplies only by mail from a government-licensed producer or by growing a limited amount privately. The new rules are a response to a court decision in February which restored growing rights to medical marijuana patients.
AUGUST 24, 2016 – Medical Access Regulations Go Into Effect
Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations go into effect nationwide.
AUGUST 24, 2016 – Canadian Medical Association Offers Challenges To Legalization Effort
At the annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) in Vancouver, doctors issue statements of concern about legalization. The concerns later are added to a document submitted to the marijuana task force. The CMA expressed concern that marijuana, which is a psychoactive drug, was being legitimized and projected as a benign substance. The CMA said that marijuana does affect brain development, “not just in the young” but also for people into their 60s. They further warned that since there is “no solid evidence it is safe and effective as a medical treatment” that “using the term medical marijuana is a misnomer.” The CMA recommends the legal limit be 25, because the brain is still developing until that age. But the group said legal availability starting at 21 (with restrictions on quantity and potency) should be allowed to prevent younger Canadians from going to criminals to purchase the drug.
AUGUST 29, 2016 – Safety Association For Canada’s Oil and Gas Industry Issue Warning About Marijuana Legalization
In an Aug. 29 letter to the government’s Task Force on Marijuana Legalization, Regulation and Restriction, oil and gas industry safety association said that alcohol and drug use is already causing safety concerns within the industry. Enform said marijuana legalization could have “an adverse impact on workplace safety and on an employer’s ability to ensure a safe work environment.”
SEPTEMBER 20, 2016 – Independent Labs Offer To Test Marijuana For Contaminants
New report that nearly 20 laboratories across Canada have come forward to offer independent testing of marijuana after the federal government changed its laws last month, allowing consumers to screen the product – which is often sold as medicine – for contaminants and potency.
OCTOBER 2016 – Vancouver Government Officials Complain About Lack of Federal Oversight
Vancouver Mayor, Gregor Robertson, says in an interview that “the lack of federal regulation and oversight has made the marijuana issue a city problem.” He said that cities, such as Vancouver, “don’t have the capacity or expertise to deal with it.” He called on more federal oversight and action in advance of any legislation proposed for the Spring of 2017.
NOVEMBER 2016 – Marijuana Legalization Panel To Release Report
The panel will have to report back to the government by November before legislation is introduced in spring 2017.