The History and Regulations
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One of the oldest and most diversified plants in the world to be cultivated is Cannabis Sativa, dating back to 10,000 BC when China and Taiwan were using it for fibre.(1)
While there are many arguments on who and when was responsible for the first medical use, most give credit to Emperor Shen-Nung, a pharmacologist, who wrote a book on treatment methods in 2737 BCE that included the medical benefits of cannabis. He recommended the substance for many ailments, including constipation, gout, rheumatism, and absent-mindedness. (2)
The Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BC) from Ancient Egypt is considered to be the earliest known complete medical textbook that describes the medicinal use of Cannabis. Many other papyri writings from the time period describe the use of Cannabis in suppositories for relieving the pain of hemorrhoids and preparations for treating eye sores. (3)
Throughout the Middle East, Asia, and Europe, cannabis was used as a medicine to treat a wide range of conditions and afflictions – including being prescribed to Queen Victoria to ease menstrual pain. In the 1850’s, Medical Cannabis was introduced and made available to the West. (4)
By 1937 there were over 2000 medical cannabis medicines manufactured by over 280 companies worldwide. (5)
The fictional works of Canadian Emily Murphy in a book called The Black Candle in 1922 was used extensively as to tool to further prohibition with excerpts being used as fact. “When coming from under the influence of marijuana, the victims present the most horrible condition imaginable. They are dispossessed of their natural and normal willpower, and their mentality is that of idiots. If this drug is indulged to any great extent, it ends in the untimely death of its addict.” (6)
In 1923, without discussion or debate, Cannabis was added to the Schedule of the Opium and Narcotic Control Act to be included with opium, cocaine, and morphine. (7)
In 1969, the Canadian government formed the Royal Commission of Inquiry in the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, known as the Le Dain Commission, to investigate the non-medical uses of cannabis. This, mainly directed at opiates and cannabis, also included alcohol, amphetamines, and others for non-medical use. The Le Dain Commission released a report on cannabis, recommending that the federal government remove criminal penalties for the use and possession of cannabis, although the report did not recommend legalization outright. The report was ignored. (8)
The Shafer Commission also known as the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse was appointed by U.S. President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s. The Chairman was former Pennsylvania Governor Raymond P. Shafer. The Commissions mandate was to prove the dangers of marijuana to the American people, but instead, the report stated the opposite and even suggested that Cannabis may be beneficial for medical purposes and asked for decriminalization. The report was ignored. (9)
In 1996, Terry Parker Jr. was arrested and charged for possession, cultivation and trafficking. In 1997, a judge ruled that Mr. Parker’s Charter Rights were violated, and the Crown responded with an appeal. In 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeals ruled that the law prohibiting marijuana possession was unconstitutional because it did not take users of medicinal marijuana into account. Justice Marc Rosenberg ruled that the prohibition on the cultivation and possession of cannabis was unconstitutional and declared that the possession of cannabis in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be of no force and effect, with a delay of one year to allow the Government to implement a provision for the medicinal use of Cannabis. (10)
The Canadian Government released the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) in 2001, becoming the first country to have a Medical Cannabis program. This program allowed qualified patients to cultivate or purchase from licensed growers. After several court challenges brought on by patients to fix inadequacies in the program, Justice Donald Taliano ruled that the MMAR and the prohibitions against the possession and production of cannabis were constitutionally invalid and ordered that the government fix the program accordingly. (11)
The Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) was enacted in July 2013 concerning the production, distribution, and use of medical cannabis in response to Justice Taliano’s orders. These new regulations removed the ability for patients to produce their own medical cannabis, ordered them to destroy what cannabis they had left by March 2014, and to only purchase their dried cannabis from a small number of authorized Licensed Producers only through the mail. (12)
Neil Allard, Tanya Beemish, David Hebert, and Shawn Davey filed suit on behalf of all Canadian patients and received an interlocutory injunction until the Constitutional Challenge could be heard in 2015.
In 2016, Justice Michael Phelan ruled that the MMPR was unconstitutional and therefore invalid, however, he suspended his declaration of invalidity for six months to allow the government to come up with new regulations. (13)
After being arrested and charged for possession and trafficking for making infused baked goods for patients in 2009, Owen Smith was found not guilty as the prohibition of non-dried cannabis infringes on a person’s Charter Rights. In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the trial judge’s decision with a unanimous decision that Sections 4 and 5 of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) violated a patient’s rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Section 7, which protects Life, Liberty and Security of Person. (14)
The MMPR was replaced by the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) in 2016. This was done by combining aspects of the MMAR and the MMPR to allow patients to grow their own Cannabis, have someone grow it for them, or to purchase it directly from an authorized Licensed Producer through mail order. Our current medical access system still follows this framework.
The Cannabis Act, which allows the recreational use of Cannabis, came into effect in October 2018. The provisions of the ACMPR respecting access to cannabis for medical purposes were largely moulded into the Cannabis Act.
October 2019 brought about amendments to the Cannabis Act and regulations to allow Licensed Producers to produce cannabis derivative products such as edibles, topicals, and concentrates for both the recreational and medical markets. (15)
Under the Cannabis Act, all Canadians have the right to acquire, possess and consume cannabis products as laid out by their provincial authorities. All provinces apart from Alberta and Quebec have designated 19 as the legal age, with the latter opting for 18 in the case of Alberta and 21 in Quebec as of January 1, 2020. All provinces except Manitoba and Quebec allow personal production to a maximum of 4 plants. The maximum amount of 30 grams of dried cannabis (or an equivalent amount in derivative cannabis products) can be carried in public. Medically authorized patients can grow as per the amount listed on their license, with an amount to carry at a maximum of 150 grams or 30 times their daily limit, whichever is less.
(1) Marijuana – The First Twelve Thousand Years “Cannabis in the Ancient World” http://www.druglibrary.org/schaffer/hemp/history/first12000/1.htm
(2) Bloomquist, Edward (1971). Marijuana: The Second Trip
. California: Glencoe Press.
(3) “The Ebers Papyrus The Oldest (confirmed) Written Prescriptions for Medical Marihuana era 1,550 BC”
(4) History of Cannabis http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/panorama/1632726.stm
(5) The Antique Cannabis Book
(6) The Black Candle – Emily Murphy 1922
(7) Marijuana was criminalized in 1923, but why? – CBC.ca
(8) Royal Commission on the Non-medical Use of Drugs https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/royal-commission-on-the-non-medical-use-of-drugs
(9) The first report of the National Commission on marihuana (1972): signal of misunderstanding or exercise in ambiguity. – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1749335/
(10) Canada’s marijuana laws declared unconstitutional https://www.cbc.ca/archives/entry/canadas-marijuana-laws-declared-unconstitutional
(11) Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (repealed 2014)
(12) Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (replealed 2016)
(13) Allard decision sets the stage for the future of legal marijuana – https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/allard-decision-sets-the-stage-for-the-future-of-legal-marijuana/article28902163/
(14) Supreme Court Judgments R vs Smith – https://scc-csc.lexum.com/scc-csc/scc-csc/en/item/15403/index.do
(15) Cannabis Act – https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-24.5/