Questions and Answers
- What was the mandate of the Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation?
The Task Force engaged with provincial, territorial and municipal governments, Indigenous governments and national organizations, youth, and experts in relevant fields, including but not limited to: public health, substance abuse, criminal justice, law enforcement, economics, and industry and those groups with expertise in sales, production, and distribution. All Canadians had an opportunity to share their views through a consultation portal and to provide written submissions.
The work of the Task Force, including the public consultations, was guided by the issues set out the Discussion Paper.
The Task Force finished its work on November 30th and made the report available for the Government and all Canadians on December 13th, 2016.
This report describes what the Task Force heard during its consultations, and provides advice to the Government on the design of a new framework that legalizes, strictly regulates and restricts access to marijuana. This advice will be considered by the Ministers of Justice, Health, and Public Safety as they develop the new framework.
- How were the Task Force members selected?
The Task Force Chair was selected because of her involvement in the fields of justice, health and law enforcement, as well as her experience leading on issues of national significance.
With respect to other Task Force members, Ministers considered many experts from across the country from the fields of public health, substance abuse, law enforcement and justice. The members were chosen based on a variety of criteria, taking into consideration their experience and expertise, as well as recommendations from provinces and territories.
- How were provinces and territories engaged by the Task Force?
The Task Force consulted extensively with provincial and territorial governments to seek their views on how to design a system that legalizes, strictly regulates and restricts access to marijuana, and on which experts should be consulted. The Task Force sought their views on key issues, such as controlling distribution and sale. As well, a senior-level working group helped support the initiative.
- What is the role of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada?
Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair plays a leading role in the Government's commitment to create a new system to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to marijuana, working closely with the three departments with shared responsibility for this file: Justice Canada, Public Safety Canada and Health Canada. He acts as a primary government spokesperson on the work of the Task Force and of the Government and serve as a liaison between the Ministers and the Task Force.
- What was the Discussion Paper for and how did the Task Force use it?
The work of the Task Force, including the public consultations, was guided by the issues set out in a Discussion Paper.
The Discussion Paper sets out objectives for a new regime, and identifies specific issues and options on which the Government sought advice and input, most notably:
- minimizing harms of use (e.g., minimum age, advertising restrictions);
- establishing a safe and responsible production system (e.g., good production practices, packaging and labelling);
- designing a distribution system (i.e., where marijuana can be sold);
- enforcing public safety and protection (e.g., tools to address marijuana-impaired driving, limiting where marijuana can be consumed); and
- accessing marijuana for medical purposes.
- When do you anticipate that the Government will introduce legislation to legalize marijuana?
The Task Force finished its work on November 30th and made its final report available to the Ministers of Justice, Health, and Public Safety and all Canadians on December 13, 2016. The Government will consider the advice of the Task Force in developing the new legal framework.
The Government of Canada has committed to introducing legislation on the legalization and strict regulation of marijuana in spring 2017.
The new legislation would come into force after being passed by Parliament and once regulations have been developed. These regulations would set out the details of a new system for access to marijuana. For example, they would define who could produce and distribute marijuana, standards for labeling and packaging, and important safeguards to restrict access to keep it out of the hands of children
- How will marijuana be taxed? How much tax revenue is expected? How will taxation revenue be used?
The Task Force fully examined issues related to the legalization, regulation and restricting access to marijuana.
It is too early to speculate on the taxation of marijuana for non-medical purposes in a legalized environment and what revenue it may generate.
Current Legal Status and Access
- What is the current legal status of marijuana in Canada?
The possession, production and trafficking of marijuana are currently prohibited under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, except where authorized by exemptions or regulations, such as those for medical marijuana. Simple possession of up to 30 grams is an offence with a possible fine of up to $1000 and up to six months in jail.
- How many people are charged with marijuana possession each year?
More than half of all drug offences reported by police are for marijuana possession.
In 2014, this amounted to nearly 60,000 offences reported. Of these, just over 22,000 resulted in charges.
The criminal records that result from these charges have serious implications for the individuals involved. People with criminal records may have difficulty finding employment and housing, and may be prevented from travelling outside of Canada.
- Is the Government of Canada planning to grant pardons/record suspensions to Canadians who have a criminal record for less serious marijuana offences, as part of its commitment to legalize the drug?
This is one of the many issues that will be examined by the Government in the course of its work on the legalization, strict regulation and restriction of access to marijuana. Pardons/record suspensions facilitate the successful reintegration of offenders into society by reducing the barriers posed by having a criminal record, such as being unable to secure housing or employment, and assist them in becoming fully-contributing members of society. The Government will look at options for how best to deal with the large number of Canadians with less serious marijuana convictions.
Until Parliament has enacted new legislation and new regulations are in place to ensure that marijuana is carefully regulated, current laws remain in force.
- Why should marijuana not be decriminalized prior to the legalization process?
The legalization, strict regulation and restricting access to marijuana is a serious, complex matter that will take time. Decriminalizing possession of marijuana without ensuring that controls are in place for its access would be giving the green light to dealers and criminal organizations to sell unregulated marijuana to anyone, including our children and youth. There are public health and safety issues associated with marijuana use to be considered, including its effects on the development of young people, and illicit profits that support criminal organizations. There may be further health risks from illegally supplied marijuana products that are untested and unregulated. Decriminalization does not meet the Government’s objective of legalizing, strictly regulating and restricting access to marijuana to keep it out of the hands of children and the illicit profits from criminal organizations.
- Are compassion clubs and storefronts that are selling marijuana operating illegally?
The possession, production and trafficking of marijuana are illegal. This includes storefronts selling marijuana, commonly known as “dispensaries” and “compassion clubs.” These operations are illegally supplied, and provide products that are untested, unregulated and may be unsafe. The Government of Canada supports federal, provincial and municipal enforcement actions to address illegal storefront distribution and sale of marijuana in Canada.
Drug Impaired Driving
- What measures will be in place to address the issue of driving while impaired by marijuana?
Road safety is a serious public safety concern. The Government of Canada is committed to strengthen, where appropriate, laws and enforcement measures that deter and punish serious marijuana offences, including driving under the influence of marijuana.
There has been a drug driving offence in the Criminal Code since 1921. Since 2008, police in Canada can, under the Criminal Code, demand roadside sobriety tests on suspicion of a drug in a driver’s body. If the driver fails, police have grounds to believe drug-impaired driving has occurred and may demand the driver submit to a drug recognition evaluation by a drug recognition officer at the police station. If that drug recognition officer identifies a particular class of drug as causing impairment, a demand will be made for a bodily fluid sample for analysis (typically urine). Criminal Code penalties for first offences for drug-impaired driving include: a minimum fine of $1,000 and a one-year prohibition from driving anywhere in Canada.
The Government recognizes the need to work with provinces and territories to ensure that Canadian law enforcement officers have the right training, tools and technology to address drug-impaired drivers.
Work is currently underway to examine ways to improve the ability to detect and prosecute drug impaired driving. The Drugs and Driving Committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science is providing scientific advice to the federal government related to a review of the scientific literature on legal limits for various impairing drugs, including THC (marijuana). The Government, in collaboration with the RCMP, is leading research that will help guide the use of roadside screening devices that test oral fluid to detect drug impaired drivers.
- How will the international community react to the legalization, strict regulation and restricting access to marijuana in Canada?
The Government of Canada will continue to work closely with its international partners throughout this process.
In moving forward, the Government is committed to an evidence-based approach to drug policy grounded in public health, harm reduction, proportional criminal justice sanctions and human rights.
The Government will be examining a range of issues, including its international commitments, as it decides on how to implement the legalized, regulated and restricted access to marijuana in Canada. It would be premature to speculate or comment on specifics at this time.
- What lessons have we learned from other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana?
Some of the key lessons that should be considered from the Colorado and Washington State experiences include:
- preventing widespread use – or “normalization”;
- taking sufficient time to consult;
- implementing a public education campaign to inform the public of the details of the new regime and the health effects of marijuana; and
- collecting evidence prior to implementation, so as to form an evidence base and monitor any impacts of the new regulatory framework.
- How many people use marijuana?
Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in Canada. Use among Canadian youth is particularly high. In fact, a World Health Organization (WHO) report from 2014 ranked Canada second highest amongst 40 nations in terms of 15-year-olds who had used marijuana within the past 30 days.
According to a Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drug Survey published in 2013, 11% of Canadians aged 15 or older reported having used marijuana at least once in 2013. When examined more closely, the data reveals that 8% of adults over the age of 25 reported past-year use of marijuana in 2013, whereas 25% of youth aged 15-24 reported past-year use.
- What is the state of research on the effects of marijuana use?
There is a strong body of research that tells us that like all other psychoactive substances, marijuana use can harm health.
It is linked with serious long-term effects such as addiction, earlier onset or worsening of some mental illnesses in vulnerable individuals, and cognitive difficulties. Regular smoking can also harm the lungs.
The most important risk factors are age at which use begins, and frequency of use.
Youth are particularly at risk. There is strong evidence that regular marijuana use that begins in early adolescence can harm scholastic achievement, and increase the risk of dropping out of school.
Most of the research on marijuana over the past five decades has focused on harms, with much less attention placed on potential therapeutic benefits. The illegal status of marijuana has made it difficult to draw a complete picture of the harms of its use compared to those associated with alcohol or tobacco use, or other psychoactive substances.
- Why is marijuana harmful to youth in particular?
The health risks associated with marijuana use during adolescence and young adulthood, when brains are still developing, mean that the drug can pose greater long-term harm to young people than its use during adulthood.
This can include the potential for addiction, long-lasting negative effects on proper cognitive and intellectual development, harms to mental health, poor educational outcomes, and reduced life satisfaction and achievement.
There is evidence that regular marijuana use that begins in early adolescence can harm scholastic achievement, and increase the risk of dropping out of school.
- Are there any specific risks for other vulnerable populations?
Besides youth, other people who are more vulnerable to the risks and harms of marijuana include those with a history of drug abuse/addiction, childhood abuse, trauma or neglect, people with certain mental illnesses and mood disorders, and children whose mothers used marijuana during pregnancy.
Early and regular marijuana use has been associated with an increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, especially in those who have a personal or family history of such mental illnesses. In individuals with a history of psychiatric illness, use of marijuana can worsen the illness and complicate treatment.
- Is marijuana addictive?
Contrary to popular belief, marijuana can be addictive. It is estimated that one in 11 users of marijuana will develop an addiction at some point in their life. For those who start using marijuana in adolescence the risk of addiction increases to one in six.
The risk of marijuana addiction is lower than the risk of addiction to alcohol, tobacco or opioids.
Medical Marijuana Regime
- How can people access marijuana under the current medical regime?
Canadians who have the support of their health care practitioner can register with a medical marijuana producer licensed by Health Canada. Once registered, an individual can order marijuana from one of the 32 licensed producers and this order is shipped by mail or courier to the individual. There are currently more than 60,000 Canadians registered to access marijuana for medical purposes.
- Will a medical marijuana program be needed once marijuana is legalized?
Courts have found that Canadians have a constitutional right to reasonable access to a legal source of supply of marijuana for medical purposes.
As the Government of Canada moves forward with legalization, it will consider if appropriate access for medically authorized persons is sufficiently provided through the new system.
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