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CANADIAN CANNABIS POLICY:

THE IMPACT OF CRIMINALIZATION, THE CURRENT REALITY AND FUTURE POLICY OPTIONS

Patricia G. Erickson and Benedikt Fischer 

Addiction Research Foundation and University of Toronto

Toronto, Canada


Paper presented at the International Symposium on Cannabis Policy, Criminal Law and Human Rights, Bremen, Germany, October 5-7, 1995 

The views expressed in this paper are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the institutions with which they are affiliated.


Canadian Cannabis Policy

Canada has been a world record holder in drug criminalization with about 260 recorded offences per 100,000 population in 1981. Throughout the 1980's, this ongoing effort was maintained with 50,000 to 60,000 offences per year, the large majority of them for cannabis (CCSA, 1995). By 1991, the overall drug crime rate was 200 per 100,000 population with cannabis alone accounting for a rate of 115 in that year. Since this active enforcement is accompanied by severe maximum penalties in federal drug law -- life for trafficking and importing, seven years for possession and cultivation -- the Canadian experience should be able to tell us something about the impacts of criminalization policies.

Cannabis policy reform efforts in Canada, although initiated by the Le Dain Commission in the early 1970's, have been marked by a period of "malign neglect" up to the recent past. In 1993 and 1994, even more repressive bills were introduced. These events offered insights about the tenacity of cannabis prohibition when supported by repressive anti-drug ideology and rewards for the vested interests of drug control in criminal justice institutions (Fischer, 1995). Much of the earlier development of Canadian drug policy has been well documented in research and writing (Blackwell & Erickson, 1988; Giffen, Endicott & Lambert, 1991).

In short, Canada offers a case study of cannabis law inertia.

This argument will be pursued in three sections of the paper. First, the impact of criminalization will be described in cost-benefit terms, drawing on the available empirical research. Second, the current reality of existing and proposed laws will be assessed in relation to the official harm reduction goals of Canada's Drug Strategy. Third, possible alternative policies and the future prospects for reform will be considered.

 

The Impact of Criminalization on Use and Users

By way of introduction to the issue of criminalization, a brief profile of cannabis use trends is relevant. Like most developed countries, Canada experienced a sharp upswing in the number of cannabis users in the late 1960's, steadily increasing rates of use throughout the 1970's, followed by a gradual but persistent decline from about 1980 onwards. Recent surveys indicate that by 1993, 20% of adult Canadians had used cannabis at some time in their lives, reflecting 4 1/4 million individuals. Those who had used cannabis in the past year numbered one in every 25 adults (4.2%) in 1993 (CCSA, 1995). Of these current users, only 10% report consuming cannabis once a week or more often. Among students, the latest of the surveys conducted by ARF every two years in the province of Ontario has shown the first increase in use for 15 years. Between 1993 and 1995, the proportion of cannabis users in grade 11 doubled (Kendall, 1995). Nevertheless, the figures are still considerably lower than the peak year of 1979 when one quarter of all students were current users.

The issue of the "impact of criminal conviction on young lives," as the Le Dain Commission expressed it, was salient in the early 1970's as part of the overall impetus to reform. Yet little actual research had been done at that time on how the experience of criminal labelling affected young cannabis users. The potential negative effects of a criminal record are many and serious. Some are automatic, some are subject to administrative discretion, but all pose a source of anxiety and possible deprivation to the cannabis offender throughout his or her subsequent life course (Damaska, 1968; Leon, 1979). By the early 1990's, over half a million Canadians had criminal records for cannabis offences.

My [Erickson's] research, begun in the wake of the Le Dain Commission, investigated the actual effects of punishment on criminalized cannabis users during the different phases of their contact with the criminal justice system. I called them the "cannabis criminals," and carried out in-depth interviews with them immediately after their court appearance and conviction for simple possession. I studied two different groups of first offenders, one contacted in 1974, the second recruited in 1981 (Erickson, 1980; Erickson & Murray, 1986). Both were followed up in the one year post court period. We will emphasize the major findings of the first study in this presentation.

The impact of criminalization on users will be considered in relation to two aspects or dimensions of the concept: the official effects and the social effects. Official criminalization reflects the period from detection of the criminal act (cannabis use) to court disposition. It is conventionally measured by statistics of arrest and conviction. Thus, for example, the total of 43,880 cannabis convictions in 1981, of which 85% were for simple possession, is an indicator of official criminalization. Charges laid for specific drug offences, seizures, offence rates and numbers incarcerated are also examples of the official response to cannabis use and sale.

In my studies (Erickson, 1980; Erickson & Murray, 1986), I also examined the personal experiences and subjective responses of detected cannabis users in this pre-disposition period. Some of these related to loss of liberty when arrested and taken into custody, being held at the police station, being fingerprinted and photographed, taking time off to go to court, and worrying about who would find out. It is important to note that these individual aspects of official criminalization are independent of being found guilty at the court hearing. In this phase of criminalization, "the process is the punishment" (Feeley, 1980).

The social dimension of criminalization is expressed in the post-disposition period. This is the aftermath of sentencing, when stigma can be socially transmitted through a variety of channels. These may take the form of limiting employment opportunities, presenting barriers to obtaining passports or entering other countries, and/or parents (when offenders are young) taking action to limit their resources or activities. Some consequences follow from the sentence itself, so that a term of imprisonment or even probation infringes liberty, while a fine imposes a monetary loss. It is evident that every convicted offender does not experience an identical impact of social criminalization. The consequences may vary according to individual characteristics (age,sex, socio- economic status), geographical location (rural vs. urban), and the passage of time.

Is this distinction between official and social criminalization relevant to policy? The focus of the legal debate on cannabis, in the political arena, has been on what the penalties should be, rather than on whether there should be any. Hence in Canada, the only actual changes in laws pertaining to the cannabis user (permitting a fine only in 1969 and a discharge in 1972) were predicated in part on the assumption that the severity of individual consequences would be reduced. This is likely justified when a custodial vs. a non-custodial sentence is being considered, but after 1969, this was a relatively rare outcome. It seemed that the most relevant question for policy makers was whether some modest form of penalty reduction could be accomplished without generating significant public and institutional resistance. From an empirical standpoint, it was of importance to determine, does it matter whether an offender receives an fine, probation or absolute discharge? This was the principal question my study was designed to answer.

Of the 95 first offenders in the initial 1974 study, 24% received a fine, 34% probation and 42% an absolute discharge (imposing a finding of guilt but no other penalty). Thus, there was sufficient variation in sentencing outcome to permit examination of the relative impact. Moreover, since outcome was not significantly correlated with any individual or case characteristics, these sentences were an approximation of random assignment. Of course, sentence was irrelevant to the pre-adjudication consequences for the period of official criminalization. The hypothesis was that variation in the impact of social criminalization would be related to the sentence received, with the most serious consequences experienced by those convicted and fined, and the least serious by those receiving an absolute discharge.

Costs of criminalization were examined in six main areas: personal identity, social relationships, economic disadvantage, loss of rights and privileges, disrespect for the law and the subjective sense of injury. In brief, the sense of having a spoiled personal identity -- feeling or being perceived as a criminal -- was not pronounced in most respondents. Over 90% rejected the label and also viewed their peers and family as continuing to have a non-criminal view of them. For those more socially isolated and infrequently cannabis using individuals who seemed most vulnerable to feeling criminally stigmatized up to or after their court experience, the impact was quite devastating. Their response was not related to sentence.

For such a youthful group of offenders (2/3 were aged 21 or less) negative effects on social relationships were more likely to emerge in context of their parents than with friends or co-workers. Concern with secrecy was a major issue. Some parents knew of the cannabis use but not the criminal charge; others were ignorant of both. A minority of parents learned in some unplanned or expected way (eg. a letter from the lawyer); the most upsetting outbursts, for both parents and child, occurred in these situations. On the whole, because of the large city and the impersonal nature of the court, most respondents who wished to keep their contact with the law a secret from their families or co-workers seemed successful in doing so. This was confirmed in the followup one year after court. Again, there was no mitigation of the social impact by sentence received.

Economic consequences were documented in relation to both current employment situtations or prospects. Five job casualties were traceable to the police conduct of arrest (eg. at workplace) or to the necessity of taking time off to attend court, before any adjudication of the case had occurred. No further job losses were unquivocally due to the criminal record in the post court year, but respondents were uneasy that it might have negatively affected their applications for new positions. This was impossible to verify, but a separate study conducted as a field experiment demonstrated that, indeed, a favourable response from employers was adversely affected by the existence and seriousness of a criminal record for cannabis possession (Erickson & Goodstadt, 1979). Overall, the cannabis criminals' economic position had declined in the year after criminalization, and this was unrelated to the sentence awarded. An extended period of followup would be needed to establish the long term impact of their criminal record history.

Another set of potential costs, the loss of rights and privileges, can occur when the criminal status of the offender comes to the attention of an official bureaucracy. At time of adjudication, three respondents were concerned about their landed immigrant status, but none had been deported one year later. None of the offenders reported any problems with obtaining passports or travelling outside Canada, unless they admitted to their record when asked, but again it may have been too early to assess the full implications.

In contrast, one cost area was affected markedly by sentence, namely, disrespect for the law. This was directed at court practices and manifested as a perception of unfairness in sentencing. It will be recalled that considerable variation in sentencing occurred, attributable only to the preference of the judge hearing the case (Erickson, 1975). Offenders who went to court more than once, or who "compared notes" with fellow cannabis criminals, were aware of this inconsistency between judges and considered it unjust. This assessment was even more pronounced one year later than at the time of sentence, and especially among those who had been fined rather than discharged.

The subjective sense of loss or injury was elicited by a question about "the worst thing about the whole experience." For one third of respondents, the worst part was identified as prior to the court appearance on the charge, and usually related to the conduct of the police during the arrest or at the station. A number of examples were provided of threats or intimidation, derogatory comments, and in a few instances, actual use of force. For the rest of the offenders, the time spent at court or the severity of the sentence itself (eg. a heavy fine or long probation), or the concern for the aftermath were identified. Again, sentence received was immaterial to most of the respondents. After one year, a majority of respondents reported that they still thought about their experience at least "occasionally," but only three individuals continued to dwell on it. One person had been jailed for non-payment of his fine, but no one on probation had received further sanctions, despite almost univeral breach of its conditions.

In sum, individual costs of criminalization did occur, both in the pre and post court interval, and with a wide range of seriousness. Most personal, social and economic costs were not related to sentence received. Feelings of injustice were, however, related to awareness of sentence disparity for essentially the same offence. Many felt that the worst part was the leadup to court, and others were anxious about the long term impact of having a criminal record. Legal knowledge was generally inaccurate, with many of those receiving an absolute discharge thinking they had "got off" and had no criminal record; thus more awareness of the actual implications of their sentence might have further increased the sense of stigma.

When this study was repeated in 1981, the findings with respect to the adverse impact of criminalization were very similar (Erickson & Murray, 1986). What had changed was an even more efficient and streamlined court processing: the time from arrest to court disposition had been halved; fewer offenders were represented by legal counsel; a greater proportion received discharges. It was concluded that one pressure for cannabis policy reform, the drain on police and court resources, had been substantially reduced, while the "impact of criminal conviction on young lives" was not, but had become tolerated as an acceptable cost of the overall policy.

An assessment of the costs of criminalization would be incomplete without a consideration of benefits. These are couched in terms of general and specific deterrence. My research address the specific deterrent effects, and can be easily summarized: 92% of cannabis criminals were still using one year after criminalization in the first study, and a similar large majority remained unrepentant in the second. No relation between actual and perceived severity of sentence, or perceived certainty of re-arrest, and either the intention or behaviour of continued use, was found. These findings, presented more fully in Erickson (1976; 1980) did suggest that a long term career of fairly frequent cannabis use (as was typical of the offender group) was unlikely to be halted by one experience of criminalization.

General deterrence, or the impact of the threat of legal sanction on the cannabis use of the population at large, has been assessed in large scale surveys (Single, 1989; Donnelly, Hall & Christie, 1995). These studies have compared jurisdictions in the USA and Australia where penalties have been reduced with those where they have not, and rates of use have been unaffected. In Canada, there is further, reverse illustration of this point by the fluctuations in cannabis use over time, and between provinces, without any change in the legal penalty structure (CCSA, 1995). In sum, little evidence in support of deterrent benefits has emerged in over 25 years of fairly widespread cannabis use and criminalization.

The implications of these studies for the policy debate can be considered. Many of the negative impacts occurred in the period of official criminalization, before any finding of guilt. Variation in non-custodial penalties had little or no impact in mitigating adverse consequences in the period of social criminalization. Since no deterrent impact was found, this research illustrates a high-cost, low-benefit policy in action. Therefore, if any penalty is awarded, it should be a consistent minimum one, i.e. the least costly alternative. The greatest impact on reducing the harmful individual consequences of criminalization would be achieved by eliminating or greatly reducing the numbers of cannabis criminals processed in the first place. This evidence draws attention to the ineffectualness of penalty manipulation in achieving significant policy reform. Let us now consider what the architects of Canadian drug policy have been doing in the past and most recent year.

 

 

Current Policy Reality

Since the first wave of cannabis offenders began appearing in Canadian courts in the mid-1960's, the Canadian political process around drug policy and its prohibitionist legal core have met and withstood a number of challenges. This recurring theme of Canadian drug policy has been characterized by Giffen et al.(1991) as "the eternal saga of promise, hesitation and retreat." Based on a model of rational pharmacology and a cost-benefit analysis of the application of criminal sanctions, the Le Dain Commission argued for decriminalization of simple possession of cannabis (Le Dain, 1972). The Commission's recommendations had no direct legal impact, and even a very modest reform bill (S-19) of the Trudeau government in 1974 failed to pass Parliament (Bryan, 1979). There was even evidence of a tougher response to cannabis offenders, in terms of enforcement and sentence severity, after the Commission concluded (Fischer, 1994b).

In the post Le Dain period, Canada periodically displayed a rather quiet but persistent voice for drug law reform. These challenges or promises have mostly been raised by political voices in opposition or seeking power. As soon as real political "windows of opportunity" (DiChiari & Galliher, 1994) opened up, the reserves of resistance were activated and prevailed; the overly `hot iron' of drug law reform obviously had to be cooled off or disappear totally from the agenda. The Canadian Conservatives, in opposition in the late 1970s, had alluded to the possibility of cautious decriminalization, but avoided the issue in their following terms of office (Giffen & Lambert 1988). This point is further illustrated by the recent introduction of new, repressive drug bills by both the Conservatives and the Liberals. What led up to this?

The "politics of symbolism" is highly relevant to understanding the events over the last ten years. After Prime Minister Brian Mulroney `discovered' Canada's "drug epidemic" in 1986, coincidentally two days after Ronald Reagan declared the American `War on Drugs', subsequent government action seemed to indicate that the country was heading for change (Erickson, 1992; Single, Skirrow, Erickson & Solomon, 1991). The proposed comprehensive policy program of Canada's Drug Strategy -- launched in 1987 with a $210 million budget over five years -- announced the principles of "harm reduction to individuals and communities" as well as a "balanced approach to supply and demand reduction" (Fischer, 1994a). The initiative thus raised hopes that Canada was finally following the call for more rationality in drug policy. Perhaps also the slowly emerging trends towards harm reduction paradigms in other systems, opposite to the US style drug war approach, were finding a foothold in Canadian policy and action (Nadelmann et al., 1994). The policy program of Canada's Drug Strategy [CDS] earmarked more than 70% of its budget for demand reduction components in education, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. New legislation was to replace the Narcotic Control Act as the legal framework for the principles expressed in the CDS (Government of Canada, 1991).

During the course of the CDS, Canada's stance as a strong supporter of a repressive, prohibitionist drug control system has not changed. That this apparatus continues to target the user, and especially cannabis, is striking. Two thirds of all drug possession offences under the Narcotic Control Act have consistly been for cannabis. Unlike local police forces, the RCMP is expected to focus on large scale trafficking and more "serious" drugs (i.e. cocaine and heroin), yet almost two thirds of their cannabis charges laid are for simple cannabis possession. On the overall enforcement level, cannabis possession offenses and charges made up half of all drug-related criminal incidents in Canada in 1993 (Moreau, 1995; RCMP, 1993). Canada's substantial `drug problem' in recorded crime statistics is an institutionally maintained cannabis problem. It is one manufactured by the enormous persistance of criminal justice agencies to enforce the drug law against people indulging in cannabis use habits. 

A closer look at the remaining prominent details of the CDS underscores the theme of superficial reform symbolism. Of the $100 million earmarked for the expansion of drug treatment programs through transfer funding from the federal level to the provincial health authorities, only 50% were actually transferred and invested in additional treatment services. Thus, some $50 million, reserved and available for drug treatment in Canada, remained unallocated. Most of the several million dollars that were assigned to education and prevention actually was granted to police drug education programs; a whole squad of drug education specialists were created in the RCMP. Moreover, the budgets of police institutions dedicated to drug enforcement were never made the target of any restructuring but actually expanded (Fischer, 1994a; Erickson, 1992).

Canada's "real", i.e. pro-prohibitionist and anti-reform, drug policy agenda was finally `debunked' with the proposal of new drug legislation by the Conservative government in 1992, and then by its Liberal successor in 1993 (Boyd, 1994). To the shock of policy analysts, public health representatives and some of the Canadian public, the basically identical proposed statutes of C-85 (Conservative) and C-7 (Liberal) constituted modernized and enhanced prohibition bills (Erickson, 1993; Usprich & Solomon, 1993). Presented under the umbrella of legitimation that Canada was under strong pressure to "fulfill its obligation as a signatory nation of the UN narcotics conventions", the legacy of moralistic, pharmacologically irrational drug, and especially drug user, repression was to continue according to the traditional patterns. The maximum criminal sentences for drug offenses remained severe or were even increased. Schedule 1 drug possession remained a highly criminalized offense, with fine penalties doubled for first and subsequent summary offences and the 7 years maximum jail sentence was retained. Life terms for trafficking and importing stayed in force. Cannabis remained in this category with the cocaine and the opiates (Usprich & Solomon, 1993).

In the subsequent committee hearings on both pieces of draft legislation, literally all of the many external witness groups rejected the bills as generally being outdated, irrational and counterproductive to contemporary principles of `public health' informed drug policy (Fralick in: Fischer 1994a). Exceptions were the police chief representatives and an organization of moralistic citizen crusaders who objected even to no THC hemp. The law-makers and their bureaucratic experts, present and charged with the modernization of Canadian drug law, seemed to be oblivious to the critical nexus between between the drafted piece of law, the suggested drug policy framework, and the practical impacts of the current law and its enforcement.

Government caucus Liberal MPs, like their Conservative predecessors for C-85, argued that the proposed law, C-7, "is not a policy bill, and should not be confused with policy". They, in almost Kafkaesque proceedings, acknowledged their willingness to look at "alternate forms of sentencing and dealing with the user, but this is not what this bill is about" (Fischer, forthcoming). The health bureaucracy, then, maintained that the bill was not to serve reform at all, but just to consolidate the existing prohibition legislation. While the Canadian Police Association, representing the rank and file officers, had supported a ticketing style offence for cannabis possession and more rational drug scheduling, the RCMP assured the government that the `public health approach' to drug control was taken into account by "creating a hybrid offense for trafficking" of cannabis. Nevertheless, the government MP's tried to argue that the criminalization of drug users was not an issue in drug enforcement practice any longer, as supposedly "the enforcement agencies are faced with priorities ... and deal with the real criminal element, not with these charged with simple possession" (Fischer, forthcoming).

As Bill C-7 is currently pending in Parliament's Standing Subcommittee of Health, the discussed amendments introduced for third reading of the bill seem most likely to reinforce the saga of "promise and retreat," more symbolism without substance. The government, as very recently stated by a Liberal MP in public on September 23, 1995, will improve the bill by incorporating a summary conviction only option for cannabis possession, with a small fine option, for first time offenders (Barnes, 1995). This `amendment', however, is ambiguous and practically irrelevant at the same time, as the indictment option for cannabis possession is almost never been used in prosecution practice. More critically, the real harm from user criminalization, the ensuing criminal record even for discharged offenders, will not be removed. The government has promised to introduce treatment alternatives for sentencing, but with that, atavistically falls back behind the relatively enlightened period of the 1970s, when cannabis was not seen to pose a pressing need for the medicalization or rehabilitation of users.  

 

Policy Options and Future Prospects

While the amendments suggested might legitimate superficially the government's rhetorical claim for `reform action', the changes are irrelevant to the prohibitionist ideology of the law as well as the repressive law enforcement practices predominantly against the cannabis user. To the contrary, the lighter sentences for cannabis possession might even lower the threshold for enforcement action, and thus widen the grip of criminal repression in that direction. In any case, regardless of the detailed scope of reform within the legal drafts discussed, the passing of the C-7 prohibition bill constitutes a fundamental confirmation and reinforcement of the criminal status of drug use and users. This perspective seems to be strongly entrenched with the current government's central philosophy as well as the crucial policy implementation agents, the criminal justice system and especially the police agencies (Erickson, 1992).

So what are the possible cannabis policy options and scenarios in the Candian context? A recent Australian cannabis policy task force report argued for the policy objective that the "harms caused by the drug control regime themselves should not outweigh the harms prevented by them" (McDonald et al., no date). This report proposed five basic options for cannabis policy which are potentially relevant to the Canadian context. Canadian authors have in fact outlined similar possibilities in the past (Solomon, Single & Erickson, 1983). The Australians suggest total prohibition, prohibition with civil penalties, partial prohibition, regulation and free availability (McDonald et al., no date) Most of the Western democracies feature a control system within the first three categories or some modification of them.

How do they relate to the Canadian situation, and how will these models realistically inform or impact Canadian cannabis policy in the future? Current Canadian cannabis policy, de facto as well as de jure, as defined by the law and decribed by given criminal justice practice, falls into the first category of total prohibition; the criminal law prohibits substance demand (use) as well as its supply under the threat of severe criminal sanctions. The critical question seems realistically, and to what extent, the totality and the severity of this prohibitionist regime can be changed.

The option of prohibition with civil penalties features the same scope in regard to the targets of prohibition, but through the selective severity of its measures, distinguishes between different forms of drug-related behavior. The example as it is practiced in South Australia is to continue to apply severe criminal punishments against the traditional supply offenses but to respond to the demand offenses with a fine through an expiation notice for cannabis possession (Donnelly et al., 1995). A similar model - suggesting some form of a `ticketing offense' for first time cannabis offenders was brought into the political discussion in the Canadian context by police as well as policy makers (Fischer, forthcoming). The absolute discharge, if universally applied and "deemed" not to create a criminal record, might also be an option for Canada.

However, a few critical questions remained undiscussed: what would distinguish `possession for personal use' from `possession for the purpose of trafficking', and whose discretion would form the basis for such a distinction? Would the possibility of such a civil sanction as a method of `harm reduction' only apply to first time offenders? Would such a civil penalty still entail some form of criminal record, a consequence imposed by state control that has identified as the primary origin of cost and damage with cannabis users (Erickson, 1980)? Given the current discussions around C-7 and its pending amendments, the formal introduction of civil penalties for cannabis possession offenses seems rather unlikely. Nevertheless, current court practice in reality has `civilized' sanctions for cannabis possession offenders to a certain degree (especially in contrast to the harsh possible maximum sentences), as most of them leave court with a fine or a discharge.

The third model of partial prohibition limits the prohibitionary scope in terms of drug-related behavior. This model would eliminate the possession offence, but continue the punitive sanctioning of all commercial activities in regard to cannabis supply. The main feature is that behavior related to use, possession or acquisition for personal purposes would not be punished. Spain has introduced such a model, and the changes of law enforcement practice in some German regions and municipalities have produced a similar effect (Fischer, 1995). Again, the Canadian political situation makes the partial retreat of prohibition from drug use-related behavior unlikely, given that this was the primary recommendation of the Le Dain Commission (1972). More recently, a report on increased opiate-related mortality by the Coroner's Office in the Canadian province of British Columbia has argued for such a move for all substances governed under the NCA (Cain, 1994). At minimum, it would require an explicit change of the drug control statute, and challenges from international drug control treaties (Malkovich, 1995).

In a regulation approach, the criminal justice system with its principle of deterrence would lose its main responsibility of control for cannabis demand as well as distribution. The substances targeted would be governed by regulatory statutes and agencies - primarily located in the area of health, commercial regulation and civil safety. It is the underlying (though unofficial) rationale with Dutch coffee-shops as well as the pending proposal to distribute cannabis through designated outlets in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein. The state itself or umbrella agencies themselves would regulate the availability and quality of the product as is the case for alcohol in most countries (Scheerer, 1995). Regulation seems unlikely for the near future of Canadian drug policy.

The last model of free availability for cannabis presumes the absence of all regulatory legal mechanisms, other those of the free market and associated food purity requirements. The most prevalent model for psychoactive substances in the last century, and the beginning of this one, it is now perhaps most analagous to tobacco or coffee markets. This is the least likely future of Canadian policy. Even if progressive policy makers suggested that cannabis does not belong in the most criminalized schedule of psychoactive substances in drug control law, it is highly likely that the criminal law will maintain some grip at least on distributory, supply-related activities.

While this brief analysis might sound rather disenchanting from the perspective of a reform agenda, the discussion has implicitly presumed one common feature with all the alternative policy models discussed. Though differing in the objectives and programmatics of reform, all options presented build on the assumption that respective change will happen through a `top-down' scale of dynamics. This means that the change of the scope and provisions of the law, the main political instrument of control, will eventually transform the reality of cannabis as dealt with and responded to on the street and in private homes. This assumption that law and politics will lead and guide that way to reform has been disappointed numerous times, and seem quite unlikely in light of drug policy's lack of evolution over the last three decades (Giffen et al., 1991; Solomon & Green, 1979).

It has been demonstrated as a historical fact that drug law is a rather lame follower of social, ethical and institutional realities, and often has to be `coerced' or even ignored in order to make way for processes of reform. The Dutch model of decriminalization and regulation of cannabis became possible and has existed for more than twenty years with a full prohibition statute in place. Similarly, the decriminalization of cannabis in select German regions has been facilitated through practices of enforcement and criminal courts against the substantial resistance of law and politics (Scheerer, 1995, Kreuzer, 1994).

Cannabis policy reform thus in many instances presents itself as the child of a bottom-up or a strongly populistic-democratic movement. Here, real actors or agents, including ordinary citizens and drug users, gradually foster the seed of change which eventually fells the old tree of prohibition. It is in this area and direction where probably Canada's best and most promising potential for drug policy reform are (thusfar) buried. The resistance of formal law and its enforcers on the abstract level seems enormous. Active agents for reform could include: some local police chiefs and officers (in today's context of `community policing'), judges and lawyers, public health advocates, academic researchers, public budget-makers and, last but not least, public opinion. These combined approaches might offer the potential for gradual change through fundamental social and de facto dynamics.

Thus, the imagined scenario of a de facto policy reform in the Canadian context somehow recalls the well-known imagery of the 1970s: Can you imagine a country where there is a Bill C-7, and nobody wants or needs to use it?

 

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