It was a crisp October day in 2018 when the Cannabis Act took effect in Canada. After decades of heated discussion, under the Trudeau government, weed was made legal at the national level. The journey to legalization has been a long and winding one – how did we get here?
Early Cannabis Regulation
The temperance movement affected not just alcohol but weed as well. History has shown time and again that total abstinence rarely works; prohibition fell apart due to a combination of inconsistent enforcement and poor communication between levels of government. Nevertheless – and regardless of its centuries of past use – marijuana cultivation was made illegal in the early 1900s.
Throughout the past century, as the governing party of Canada switched back and forth, those in charge have held conflicting stances on how weed should be regulated. Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin, both of the Liberal party, proposed bills attempting to decriminalize marijuana possession and failed. Afterwards, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives attempted to enforce a mandatory one-year prison sentence for dealers.
We would not have recognized the medical potential of cannabis were it not for trailblazers in other parts of the world, namely in the United States. In 1978, the state of New Mexico formally recognized the medical potential of marijuana. It would take nearly 2 decades for California to become the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Medical cannabis finally became legal in our home and native land in July of 2001.
Popular opinion was ultimately what led to the legalization of recreational pot. In spite of the Harper government’s tight stance against the distribution of marijuana, during his time as Prime Minister, a poll was conducted where 75 percent of Conservative voters were found to be in favour of softer marijuana laws. Harper’s opponents heard the nation’s voice and made decriminalization part of their platforms.
Canada has the distinction of being the second country to legalize recreational cannabis after the South American nation of Uruguay. The full title of the Cannabis Act of 2017 is “An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.” The keyword is “respect” – by fully acknowledging its uses and capabilities, many more efficient laws and rules have been enacted.
We’ve come a long way since the days of prohibition. The next time you visit your favourite dispensary, take a moment to appreciate the long road it took to get here.