Cannabis crime statistics in Canada, 2020

June 2022

This fact sheet is based on data from the Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (CCJCSS) Juristat titled Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020.Footnote1 It is an update to a similar JustFacts published in 2019 that was based on 2017 police-reported data. This fact sheet also highlights some of the preliminary impacts of the legalization of cannabisFootnote2 on Canadian crime statistics.

It is important to consider the impact of COVID-19 when interpreting the data presented in this fact sheet as the pandemic brought about different conditions that may have affected trends in cannabis-related offences. For example, cannabis-related impaired driving rates may fluctuate as a result of the reduction in the availability of public transportation and ride share programs, and the increased stress and anxiety experienced among the population, which can lead to an increase in substance use. Alternatively, rates may also fluctuate when public order curfews are in effect and/or because of restaurant and bar closures, resulting in fewer people on the roads.

The Cannabis Act

The Cannabis Act came into force on October 17, 2018 and aims to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, keep profits out of the pockets of criminals, and protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis. The Act provides a legal framework for the legalization and regulation of the production, distribution, sale, possession, importation and exportation of cannabis in Canada. All prior cannabis-related legislation under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) was replaced with the Cannabis Act. Legal changes include allowing adults aged 18 or older to possess and share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults, as well as making it illegal to sell or give cannabis to anyone under the age of 18.Footnote3

Following its legalization, cannabis-related drug offences made up a much smaller proportion of all drug offences; less than one-fifth compared to a little over two-thirds prior to legalizationFootnote4Footnote 5

In 2020, there were just over 66,800 drug offences reported by police, representing a rate of 176 offences per 100,000 population. Cannabis-related drug offences—which include offences related to possession, trafficking, production and import/export—accounted for 19% of all drug offences reported by police, the lowest proportion of cannabis offences relative to all drug-related offences since 1986. From 1986 to 2015, on average, cannabis-related offences accounted for 68% of all drug offences.Footnote6

Specifically, the 2020 rate of cannabis-related offences (per 100,000 population) decreased by 25% from the previous year; rates decreased in all provinces and territories, with the exception of Nunavut (+119%), British Colombia (+30%) and New Brunswick (+7%; see Table 1).

The rates of drug-related offences involving other substances also saw a decrease from 2019 to 2020, including heroin (-15%), ecstasy (-7%), methamphetamine (-5%) and cocaine-related drug offences (-2%). Opioid (+34%)Footnote 7 and other drug-related offences (+4%)Footnote 8 were the only drug types to show an increased rate during this time.

(includes possession, trafficking, production or import/export)
Province or Territory Number Rate per 100,000 population Percent change in rate, 2019 to 2020
Newfoundland and Labrador 93 18 -13%
Prince Edward Island 7 4 -31%
Nova Scotia 182 19 -12%
New Brunswick 182 23 7%
Quebec 3,616 42 -57%
Ontario 2,650 18 -15%
Manitoba 139 10 -5%
Saskatchewan 152 13 -5%
Alberta 263 6 -27%
British Columbia 5,233 102 30%
Yukon 9 21 -11%
Northwest Territories 27 60 -10%
Nunavut 38 97 119%
Canada 12,591 33 -25%
Table 1. Police-reported crime for cannabis-related offences, by province and territory, 2020
Source: Moreau, G. 2021. “Police-reported crime statistics in Canada, 2020.” Table 5, page 51. Canadian Centre for Justice and Community Safety Statistics (CCJCSS). Retrieved from:  https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/85-002-x/2021001/article/00013/tbl/tbl05-eng.htm.

The majority of cannabis-related offences were for importation or exportation

In 2020, police reported 12,591 cannabis-related offences under the Cannabis Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, representing a rate of 33 offences per 100,000 population. The most commonly reported offences were related to importation or exportation (61% of all Cannabis Act offences),Footnote 9 followed by possessionFootnote 10 (11%) and distribution (9%). Comparatively, in 2017, prior to the legalization of cannabis, offences related to possession accounted for a little over three-quarters (78%) of all cannabis-related offences.

Rates of adults and youth charged with cannabis-related offences decreased post-legalizationFootnote 11Footnote12

In 2017 (i.e., pre-legalization), there were 16,697 adults charged with cannabis-related offences, representing a rate of 57 per 100,000 population aged 18 years and over. In 2020 (i.e., two years post-legalization), there were 2,550 adults charged with cannabis-related offences, representing a rate of 8 per 100,000 population. This is an 85% decrease in the rate since before the legalization of cannabis (2017). Adults in 2020 were more commonly charged for cannabis offences related to distribution (33% of all adults charged with cannabis-related offences), followed by those related to production (23%) and sale (22%).

Among youth, there were 1,858 young persons charged with cannabis-related offences in 2017, representing a rate of 78 per 100,000 population aged 12 to 17 years. In 2020, there were 249 youth charged with cannabis-related offences, representing a rate of 10 per 100,000 population. This is an 87% decrease in the rate since before the legalization of cannabis (2017). Youth in 2020 were more commonly charged for cannabis offences related to possession (50% of all youth charged with cannabis-related offences), followed by those related to sale (22%) and distribution (20%).

Drug-impaired driving rates increased following Criminal Code amendments in response to cannabis legalizationFootnote 13Footnote 14Footnote 15

The Act to Amend the Criminal Code (Offences Related to Conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts was implemented in 2018 to modernize, simplify and strengthen impaired driving laws, and to create new and stronger laws to combat drug-impaired driving. In response to the legalization of cannabis, these changes created three new offences for being over a prohibited blood drug concentration level within two hours of driving, and authorized police to use approved oral fluid drug screening equipment at the roadside.

The rate of drug-impaired driving offencesFootnote 16 increased 105% from 2017 to 2020 (9 to 19 offences per 100,000 population, respectively). Due to the new legislation, police have additional means available to them to detect drug-impaired driving, which may in part explain this increase. The rate of drug-impaired driving offences increased in all but two jurisdictions: British Columbia (+212%), Yukon (+163%), Prince Edward Island (+142%), Ontario (+133%), New Brunswick (+130%), Quebec (+88%), Newfoundland and Labrador (+83%), Saskatchewan (+65%), Nova Scotia (+58%), Manitoba (+48%) and Alberta (+47%). The Northwest Territories (-30%), and Nunavut (-11%) recorded the only decreases.