Senate Committee Recommends Legalization of Cannabis (Government press release)

By: 
The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs

OTTAWA, September 4, 2002 - The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs today released its final report on cannabis.  In an exhaustive and comprehensive two-year study of public policy related to marijuana, the Special Committee found that the drug should be legalized.  The 600 plus page Senate report is a result of rigorous research, analysis and extensive public hearings in Ottawa and communities throughout Canada with experts and citizens.   

“Scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicates that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue”, said Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, Chair of the Special Committee, in a news conference today in Ottawa.  “Indeed, domestic and international experts and Canadians from every walk of life told us loud and clear that we should not be imposing criminal records on users or unduly prohibiting personal use of cannabis.  At the same time, make no mistake, we are not endorsing cannabis use for recreational consumption.  Whether or not an individual uses marijuana should be a personal choice that is not subject to criminal penalties.  But we have come to the conclusion that, as a drug, it should be regulated by the State much as we do for wine and beer, hence our preference for legalization over decriminalization.”

Among many observations, the Senate Report concludes that:

  • The Government of Canada should adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful effects of psychoactive substances covering the whole range of substances including cannabis, medications, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, focussing on educating users, detecting and preventing at-risk use and treating excessive use.
  • As far as cannabis is concerned, only behaviour causing demonstrable harm to others should be prohibited: illegal trafficking, selling to young people under the age of sixteen and impaired driving.
  • Legislation for a cannabis exemption scheme should be introduced stipulating conditions for obtaining licences, producing and selling cannabis; criminal penalties for illegal trafficking and export; and the preservation of criminal penalties for all activities falling outside the scope of the exemption scheme.
  • Present medicinal marijuana provisions are not effective and must be revised to provide greater access for those in need.
  • Amnesty should be provided for any person convicted of possession of cannabis under current or past legislation.

In its extensive report, the Special Committee suggests a number of specific initiatives for implementing its recommendations such as:

  • creation of a National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency within the Privy Council Office;
  • a high-level conference of key stakeholders from the provinces, territories, municipalities and associations in 2003 to set goals and priorities for action;
  • creation of a Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency with a strong, clear mandate, adequately funded and reporting to Parliament and with a Monitoring Agency on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to conduct studies with the provinces and territories and table a bi-annual report on drug-use trends and emerging problems;
  • amendments to the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations to provide new rules regarding eligibility, availability, production and distribution with respect to cannabis for therapeutic purposes;
  • amendment to the Criminal Code to lower permitted alcohol levels to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood in the presence of other drugs, especially, but not exclusively cannabis; and
  • Canada seeking amendments to United Nations conventions and treaties governing illegal drugs and supporting the development of a Drugs and Dependency Monitoring Agency for the Americas.

The Committee also examined the international obligations and repercussions of Canada’s cannabis policies as well as approaches taken by other countries.  It studied the impact of more liberal policy approaches to cannabis in countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland and Spain along with more restrictive policies such as Sweden, France or the United States.  There is a clear international trend to reassessing domestic drug policy such as recent initiatives toward decriminalization in the United Kingdom.  Deputy Chair Senator Colin Kenny points out that “though what we are recommending for our country has an impact on our friends and neighbours, Canada must make its own decisions in the best interests of its citizens.”

The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs is chaired by Senator Pierre Claude Nolin with Senator Colin Kenny as deputy-chair.  Also serving on the Committee are Senators Tommy Banks, Shirley Maheu and Eileen Rossiter.  The Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs maintains an Internet web site at http://www.parl.gc.ca/illegal-drugs.asp. where proceedings, testimony, research, general information and its report can be found.

For further information:

David Newman    
Phone: (613) 836-6039
Mobile: (613) 795-1739
E-mail: dnewman [at] sympatico [dot] ca    

Jean-Guy Desgagné 
Phone: (613) 791-7936
Fax: (613) 836-5370

Recommendations

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the position of National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency be created within the Privy Council Office; that the Advisor be supported by a small secretariat and that the necessary staff be assigned by federal departments and agencies involved with psychoactive substances on request.

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada mandate the National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to call a high-level conference of key stakeholders from the provinces, territories, municipalities and associations in 2003, to set goals and priorities for action on psychoactive substances over a five-year period.

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada amend the enabling legislation of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse to change the Centre’s name to the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency ; make the Centre accountable to Parliament; provide the Centre with an annual basic operating budget of $15 million to be increased annually; require the Centre to table an annual report on actions taken, key issues, research and trends in Parliament and in the provincial and territorial legislatures; mandate the Centre to ensure national coordination of research on psychoactive substances and dependency and to conduct studies into specific issues; and mandate the Centre to undertake an assessment of the national strategy on psychoactive substance and dependency every five years.

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that, in the legislation creating the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency, the Government of Canada specifically include provision for the setting up of a Monitoring Agency on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency within the Centre; provide that the Monitoring Agency be mandated to conduct studies every two years, in cooperation with relevant bodies, on drug-use trends and dependency problems in the adult population; work with the provinces and territories towards increased harmonization of studies of the student population and to ensure they are carried out every two years; conduct ad hoc studies on specific issues; and table a bi-annual report on drug-use trends and emerging problems.  

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful effects of psychoactive substances covering the whole range of substances (medication, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs).  With respect to cannabis, this policy should focus on educating users, detecting and preventing at-risk use and treating excessive use.

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to create a criminal exemption scheme.  This legislation should stipulate the conditions for obtaining licences as well as for producing and selling cannabis; criminal penalties for illegal trafficking and export; and the preservation of criminal penalties for all activities falling outside the scope of the exemption scheme.

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada declare an amnesty for any person convicted of possession of cannabis under current or past legislation.

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations be amended to provide new rules regarding eligibility, production and distribution with respect to cannabis for therapeutic purposes. In addition, research on cannabis for therapeutic purposes is essential.

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the Criminal Code be amended to lower permitted alcohol levels to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, in the presence of other drugs, especially, but not exclusively cannabis; and to admit evidence from expert police officers trained in detecting persons operating vehicles under the influence of drugs.

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada create a national fund for research on psychoactive substances and dependency to fund research on key issues, more particularly on various types of use, on the therapeutic applications of cannabis, on tools for detecting persons operating vehicles under the influence of drugs and on effective prevention and treatment programs; that the Government of Canada mandate the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to co-ordinate national research and serve as a resource centre.

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada instruct the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to inform the appropriate United Nations authorities that Canada is requesting an amendment to the conventions and treaties governing illegal drugs; and that the development of a Drugs and Dependency Monitoring Agency for the Americas be supported by the Government of Canada.