A Brief History of Cannabis - Part 2

Cannabis Becomes Prevalent, yet Illegal.

The cannabis plant has a long and complicated history, being both honoured in herbal medicine and religious ceremonies — and outlawed as an illegal substance. This three-part series explores the lows and highs of the long journey toward cannabis legalization in Canada.


The 1900s

Recreational Cannabis is Now Popular in the U.S — but Illegal in Canada.

Thought to be introduced by migrants from South America, the recreational use of cannabis has become more common in the U.S. In 1923, cannabis was banned in Canada under Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. The historical records do not tell us why; opium and cocaine have already been made illegal, so it’s added to the roster without much debate. (It was outlawed in the U.S. in 1937.)


The 1960s

Mainstream Recreational Cannabis surges in Canada Despite the Government’s ratification of the UN’s Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

The number of cannabis convictions in Canada rose from 25 between 1930 and 1946 to 2,300 in 1968 alone.


1971

Pro-Cannabis Protestors Peacefully Assemble in Vancouver.

The first pro-cannabis-legalization rally in Canada was held in Vancouver, later referred to as the Gastown Riot or the Battle of Maple Tree Square. Hundreds of cannabis-smoking protestors on Water Street have to be forcefully dispersed by police in riot gear on horseback.


1979

A New Commission Recommends Decriminalization.

Due to the growing number of people ignoring the law, enforcement of cannabis laws is difficult. The Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs is mandated to look at the government’s role in regulating the use and distribution of drugs, beginning in 1970. After years of consulting experts, conducting research and holding public hearings across the country, the commission recommends removing criminal penalties for cannabis use and possession but not making cannabis legal — essentially, decriminalizing the use of cannabis.

In 1979, under the leadership of then Prime Minister Joe Clark, the Progressive Conservative government of 1979-80 gave notice in its Throne Speech intended to reform the Criminal Code provisions regarding cannabis. Still, the Conservative Government was defeated before making these revisions. The use and distribution of cannabis remain a criminal offence.