• Niche Canada

The Path Pavers: A Look Back at the Road to Legalization

1923. The year cannabis was deemed illegal in Canada. The year cannabis was added to the list of controlled substances, along with opium, cocaine and morphine. 95 years later, we are finally seeing a real shift and putting an end to cannabis prohibition.

The path to legalization has been complex and convoluted. And, as we make history in our country this year, it’s important to remember the significant milestones that led us to this point, the people who paved the path forward, and the fundamental reasons why people fought to end prohibition.

Although cannabis became illegal in 1923, it wasn’t until the late 1960s and early 1970s that the mindset shifted and the law was really enforced. In 1962, there were 20 convictions. By 1972, that number had skyrocketed to 12,000.

It wasn’t until the new millennium that the legal tide began to change. And, this change was made possible in 2000 by Terrance Parker, an epileptic cannabis patient who had been arrested for cannabis possession, cultivation and trafficking in 1996. He appealed his case under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And, in 2000, an Ontario Court of Appeal judge ruled that cannabis prohibition was unconstitutional, stating that limiting his rights to use this medicine was a violation of his right to life, liberty and the security of his person.

With this ruling, the Canadian government was given a strong mandate to reform their current cannabis laws. And, in 2001, they enacted the first rendition of the country’s medical marijuana law, the Marihuana for Medical Access Regulations, allowing licensed patients to grow their own cannabis or access it from licensed growers.

Seventeen years later, and countless important steps forward, and there are now close to 90 licensed producers of cannabis in the country. These businesses are ramping up production to get ready for legalization, cannabis companies are lighting up the stock market and the world is paying attention.

But, the hard work is far from over. And, the people who have been part of the grassroots movement to effect change and end prohibition are still on the battle lines. Many argue that in order for legalization to be a success, we need them to fight for the pieces that aren’t yet part of the puzzle. We need the grassroots community to continue to fight for change and shape policies related to things such as craft growing, edible products and safe public spaces for cannabis consumption.

And, perhaps most importantly, we need strong voices to protect the interest of patients after legalization. We need to ensure our governments and regulators continue to examine health outcomes and ensure the focus doesn’t shift entirely to the commercial market.

Legalization is inevitably leading to a corporate influx, and there are big benefits to have big dollars invested into the industry. However, there is also a big benefit in allowing the grassroots community to help shape the future of the industry. These small businesses, entrepreneurs and passionate advocates got us to this point and they have important knowledge and expertise that can help ensure our country gets it right.

We can do better than our neighbours to the south when it comes to cannabis reform and new public policy. But, the made-in-Canada approach needs to include those that paved the path forward.