A brief history of cannabis legalization in Canada


October, 17th, 2018: recreational cannabis legalization in Canada

Since October, 17, 2018, it is legal selling and buying flowers, seeds, plants and oils from cannabis in Canada. It is only necessary being 19 years old. Although in some provinces, such as Quebec, being 18 is enough to buy or sell the same products for recreational purposes. The maximum quantity allowed to posses is 30 grams of dried flowers.

Just 48 hours after being declared legal, Canada faced a curious situation: the dispensaries were running out of weed. There was not enough cannabis to cover the enormous demand of enthusiastic users who were waiting, orderly and patiently, in queue, to buy some grams of their favorite strain for recreational purposes. Medicinal marijuana was already legal since 2001 in Canada.

But the legalization for recreational use has overflowed all logistic forecast. The expected demand was very short compared with reality. Only in Prince Edward Island, the first day of legalization, more than 152 million dollars were sold.

For thousands of people who have suffered the legal and social stigma derived from prohibition, the feeling should be similar to the sensation experienced by those Germans who lived the opening of the Berlin wall, also named the “wall of shame”. It was November, the 9th, 1989 and was unforgettable for those who lived that historic moment.

It had to be surrealistic to see those men who before legalization used to arrest, repress and give fines for crimes related to cannabis, were helping that day to maintain in perfect order the queues of those who wanted to buy cannabis.

Many young Canadians cannot feel the same emotion that the legalization day felt those of certain age who suffered the consequences of prohibition. Especially being born in a society where buying and consuming legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco doesn’t represent any legal or social problem. Not to mention the enormous quantity of synthetic drugs created by the pharmaceutical industry and prescribed by doctor every day.

There are millions of people addicted to benzodiazepines, sleeping pills of different consideration, and many others that, besides being highly addictive, are enormously bad for our health.

Thinking that many of the diseases that supposedly these chemical bombs can cure, could be easily solved with the oldest natural medicine used by mankind, the cannabis, and without side effects, is perverse.

Fortunately, since in 1994, Dr Raphael Mechoulam isolated for the first time the main cannabinoid of cannabis, the THC (Delta 9 tetradydrocannabinol), the door to serious research opened. The door was opened to study all the cannabinoids contained in the plant such as CBD (cannabidiol). This fact itself, recognized by the scientific international community, and the subsequent legalization of cannabis in countries of great reputation such as Canada and USA, means an enormous step for the concept of health and natural medicine, and an immense relief for millions of human being to whom prohibition meant a very negative effect in their lives.

Since Dr Mechoulam started his research, the advances have been unthinkable. But since Uruguay (the first country that legalized cannabis), USA and Canada legalized both recreational and medical use of cannabis, the world started a medical, social and economic revolution of a relevance that the world will appreciate some day.

It has been a tremendous task on which have participated scientists such as Dr Mechoulam and his team, doctors, entrepreneurs, ecologists, lawmakers, economists and activists such as Jack Herer, who dedicated his life to fight against the prohibition and spent some time in jail for it.

They are part of a large list of fighters who, sometimes openly and sometimes underground, fought to get something that for many of us seemed a question of simple common sense, and for others was a crime of ragged people, “niggers”, white trash, junkies and evil people.

It was precisely Jack Herer who during one of the several trials he had to defend his right to use cannabis, answered to the Judge: “ You cannot ban a plant that naturally grows in nature”. Fortunately, as time goes by, more and more people think that it is a question of common sense and even of Natural Right, an important Law course subject. Who is a judge to forbid or allow the type of plant I can cultivate in my garden? Does he think he is God?

Fortunately, common sense and medical evidences are imposing. But there is still a long and wilding road to make people understand that, for example, a little bit of CBD dissolved in hot milk and honey before going to sleep, can solve the insomnia and will help to avoid many chemical sleeping pills with too many adverse effects. Try something: dissolve a flower of our Ketama CBD, for example, and you will realize that you don’t need those disgusting and nocive pills doctors prescribe you. These pills are very addictive and harmful. The list of medical and social benefits is so large that we would need another big article to discuss it.

And if this argument is not enough, dear reader you should know that recent research have demonstrated that cannabis is “super food”; one of the best dietary supplement.

Unfortunately, in this subject, reason has little to do with reality. Because reality goes against the giant: a super powerful monster that is not going to allow seeing how people quit taking its magical pills.

“With the Church we have come across…”

Allow me, dear reader, to include a few lines in this article about the Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of the famous book Don Quixote. Cervantes is known as one of the best writers of the Spanish Golden Century (Century XVII). But he was also a genius ahead of his time. He was a scathing critic of the society on which he lived and he was never understood.

His humor, acid and biting, in a way similar to the British, allowed him to write some phrases that continue being rabid news.

In certain occasion, he and Sancho Panza, who was his loyal squire, got involved in problems with some clerics. I those times, the Church and its Holy Inquisition, had a tremendous power. Sancho Panza was an illiterate man but with a lot of common sense and much pragmatism.

Don Quixote approached Sancho and whispering “sotto voce” told him: “with the Church we have come across, dear Sancho”. With these words Cervantes wanted to say that there was nothing to do against the Church. Well, nowadays, the Church is the Pharmacological Industry. It is very difficult to fight against this giant.

If we consider the economic impact the legalization is having in these countries and the way it has affected the black market, we will begin to peek the reaching this gift that Mother Nature is giving us.

Although the first one to take this step was President Mujica, from Uruguay, the media and financial impact of legalization in countries of great prestige such as Canada and USA, has been much bigger. In Ketama Seeds we wanted to pay homage to President Mujica and from this gratitude our Mujica Gold strain was born. It has been our humble way to thank him for this gesture that opened many minds and triggered an irreversible process.

A little bit of history

The legal history of cannabis in Canada is like in any other place in the world: prohibition, fines, jail and of course, mafia and black market. It is a vicious circle that goes from prohibition to black market and from there to jail. In some places, these mafias can have more power than the state itself. When this happens the country becomes a Narcostate; as it is happening with the cartels in Mexico.

Before legalization, there was an important black market in Canada that got important benefits from the sale of cannabis. Several problems such as the violence in the streets, and its relationship with the black market, plus an exponential loss of respect towards the Government and Police were related to prohibition among people.

Recent studies on the Canadians over 14 have demonstrated that 44% of teenagers have tried cannabis, at least, once on their lifetime. It is a high range. Cannabis users have been catalogued as criminals and trash. Both users and non-users are catalogued according to the legal status of the substance. If it is legal, there is no problem. But being illegal, society stigmatized the citizens, adult or not, who consumed cannabis just because it is a crime. Moreover, it has a perverse connotation because it is a crime against public health.

In 1923, when cannabis was declared illegal in Canada, few people knew anything about it. Only few years before, opium and cocaine were declared illegal and cannabis received the same consideration. But almost 10 years passed before the first arrests for cannabis possession happened. This is the reason why, this early legislation was named by some citizens: “the making of a law without a problem.”

And the situation continued being this way until during the sixties the hippie movement started in the USA. Precisely marijuana was one of the most common factors among those young men and women, most of them of white race and bourgeois class. It was not a substance of the worst neighborhoods at all.

Neil Young, probably the most beloved and respected Canadian Folk/Rock music from those days until today, did not hide his love for the hippie ideology and love for a life in harmony with nature. In addition to his unforgettable solo albums, he used to play with Crosby, Still and Nash. In those endearing concerts, Young and his friends spoke openly about their philosophy of life and, of course, about marijuana. Cannabis went from being a stranger to become a symbol of the era.

In 2012 and after a successful career of more than 40 years, he decided to quit cannabis and music just before writing his memories. In an interview with the New York Times he said: “ I smoked for 40 years. I want to see now how is like not to do it. It is a different perspective…” No doubt he was one of the most important influencer for cannabis legalization.

In the ’60s, the maximum penalty for possessing small amounts of cannabis was six months in prison and a $1,000 fine for a first offence. Criminal conviction was a serious consequence for otherwise conforming, law-abiding young Canadians. Canada is a country with very low rate of criminality. People are very respectful with the law.

Enforcing a law that was mostly disregarded by citizens became a problem. So, a government inquiry was commissioned to study the subject and find a solution. The Le Dain Commission of Inquiry did a great research, consulted the opinion of experts and held public hearings all over the country for a three-year period. A report was published in 1972.

The Le Dain Commission recommended removing criminal penalties for cannabis possession. However, even after consider the drug’s low toxicity and low potential for abuse, the commission did not propose the legalization. They still preferred measures to discourage young people from starting consuming cannabis.

A regular form of ‘decriminalization’ now done in some countries, such as the US, Australia and Europe, is giving fines to users. This way is maintained the presumed advantage of withholding state approval, but it reduces social costs and the legal consequences of criminal convictions.

However, the government refused the Le Dain proposal to remove criminal penalties for cannabis possession. But during the years after Le Dain years, there have been ongoing calls to change the law and started to grow a sense of support for relaxing penalties for marijuana possession. But these appeals have also been refused.

30 years after Le Dain, the pressure to change the legal situation on cannabis ended in Parliament striking two committees to investigate the trouble of illegal drugs in Canada. In 2002, the House of Commons Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs and the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drug Use both released reports. And both committees recommended reforms about cannabis possession.

The House Committee, following the spirit of Le Dain, proposed decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of small amounts (up to 30 grams) of weed. The Senate went even further, and suggested that cannabis should be legalized in Canada. The Senate recommended that the production and sale of marijuana could be licensed, while maintaining penalties for export and trafficking.

The Senate recognizes both the social harms of prohibition and the violation of the user’s rights. That is, the law should not be used to restrict behaviors that are not harmful to other people, as it happens with cannabis consumption.

But the Parliament committee had nothing but the mandate to do more than simple research, consult and recommendations. Therefore, the legislative stalemate on cannabis remains unresolved. The chance to reform has been rejected, and weed use still has criminal consequences in Canada.

Cannabis and medicine

Already in the XXI century, the government begins to recognize the value of cannabis for medical purposes. Since 2001, legal access has been granted to people with HIV/AIDS and other serious illness under the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations

However, the commitment of the Government is suspicious. The permits to use cannabis for medical purposes have been very few; 3000 more or less, while it is well known that thousands of people were using marijuana for this reason.

Moreover, the process to obtain the permit was expensive and complicated. In other words, the program was not going working well.

Finally and after years of debate, activist fight and common sense and respect for the citizens, we arrive to the moment on which the Cannabis Act (C-45) was signed in June, 2018, that paved the path to legalization of cannabis in Canada the last October, 17m 2018: a day to remember.

Canada and the neighbor from the south

That two of the oldest democracies in the world have legalized cannabis and, moreover, being neighbors, is very important in order to take all the advantages of legalization. Advantages for them, Canada and USA, and a model to follow for those countries such as Spain that are considering legalization.

Although it was Uruguay the first country to legalize cannabis, its influence in the rest of the world is not very relevant. Many politicians and citizens see in Uruguay cannabis legalization an example of bad decisions typical of a banana republic. I mean, Uruguay has not important consideration among the western countries.

However, being Canada and USA, the two oldest democracies and having that enormous financial importance, their influence to change the mentalities of westerner countries is very significant. “If countries, such as Canada and USA have said yes to legalization, it must be a good idea..” thinks the common people in countries like Spain. And they are right because the legalization of cannabis has demonstrated to have financial and social advantages. Legalization has created thousands of jobs and it has brought millions dollars for the State.

Canada is the only country of the G-7 group that has legalized recreational cannabis and Uruguay is the second country that did the same although it is not a member of the G-7.

The cannabis industry in Canada has made a financial prediction that foresees to win 22,6 billion dollars and the creation of 150.000 new jobs during the first year.

Legalization has reduced the prison population, with the enormous saving it means for the taxpayer’s pocket, and it has hit severely the black market and the cartels from Mexico.

The US service of customs and borders has declared that they will not restrict the entry in the country to Canadiand citizens who Works in the cannabis sector. However, although the people who work in the cannabis industry haven’t any restriction to enter the USA, the cannabis products do. Probably it is another way to make real what Trump said: “America first”.

Nonetheless, legalization has limits in both countries. It can be legal. However, in certain jobs, the employer has the right to accept a cannabis user. Anyway, it seems normal to restrict cannabis for some jobs. The same way you cannot drive after drinking alcohol, you shouldn’t do some jobs after smoking cannabis.

Anyhow, the restrictive policy in Canada is softer than it is in the USA. For example, policemen in Canada can consume medical marijuana when they are not working. Although, at least in the theory, the police associations are in charge to decide if the officers can or cannot consume.

En la actualidad, se espera que las políticas en relación al uso del cannabis por parte de la Policía sean mejoradas, y las esperanzas están puestas en que los “polis” acaben por tener también el derecho de disfrutar no sólo marihuana medicinal, sino también la recreativa.

Nowadays, it is expected that the policies related to cannabis use by the Police become better and it is hoped that policemen end up having the right to enjoy not only medical marijuana, but recreational weed too.

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