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Chapter 21

Public policy options

Public policy is not just a matter of enabling legislation, in this case criminal legislation. Nonetheless, when it comes to illegal drugs, criminal legislation occupies a symbolic and determinative place in public policy. It is as if this legislation is the backbone of our public policy. Public discussions of cannabis do not deal so much with such matters as public health, user health, prevention of at-risk or excessive use, but with such questions as the pros and cons of decriminalization, establishing a civil offence or maintaining a criminal offence, or possible legalization and the extent thereof. As we complete our report, the Minister of Justice is releasing trial balloons in relation to decriminalization. Apart from the merits of this approach–to be discussed at length in this chapter – it is clear that tinkering with the criminal legislation is not indicative of an authentic public policy. In this Committee’s view, a public policy on cannabis must be, first and foremost and essentially, a public health policy based on encouraging government and users to assume more responsibility.

On a general level, the tendency to reduce drug issues to the legal framework fits neatly into the increasing juridicization of social relations, a situation in which legislation is the central, sometimes the only, tool of government policy. However, in the matter of illegal drugs, other factors are also at work.

On the one hand, this attitude has been at the very heart of the approaches to drugs throughout the twentieth century, approaches in which criminal prohibition guides - and restricts - public policy. It is only because of the AIDS crisis that the merits of harm-reduction approaches have been “discovered.” Even then, decision-makers were often preoccupied more with protecting non-user members of society than with improving the health of drug users. When governments decided to tackle the criminal behaviour of drug users deriving from the criminalization of drugs (we do not mean organized crime and drug traffickers), the aim was not so much to improve drug users’ living conditions but to protect non-users from drug-related “mischief.”

On the other hand, criminal prohibition is often thought of as the “ultimate stronghold” against uncontrolled proliferation of drug use. Without criminal prohibition, we were told, cannabis consumption might well explode out of control. The underlying hypothesis, rarely stated explicitly, that criminalizing drugs contributes effectively to reducing their use, has never been demonstrated, however. Quite the contrary, as this chapter will show, available data tend to demonstrate that prohibitionist policies have little impact on levels of use or availability of drugs.

Public policy cannot be reduced to adopting legislation, the more so since laws rarely contain clearly stated guiding principles setting out aims and objectives. In respect of illegal drugs, where the key issues are, first and foremost, matters of public health and culture (including education and research), and where criminal law should be used only as a last resort, public policy must be based primarily on clear principles and objectives. For this to come about, public policy must be equipped with a set of tools designed to deal with the various issues that drugs represent to societies. Legislation is only one such tool.

The social and economic costs of illegal drugs affect many aspects of society through lower productivity and business loss, hours of hospitalization and medical treatment of all kinds, police time and prison time, and broken or lost lives. Even if no one can pinpoint the exact figures, a portion of these costs arise, not from the substances themselves, but from the fact that they are criminalized. The drug most frequently associated with violence and criminal offences, including impaired driving, is in fact legal, alcohol.[1]  Cannabis, the criminal organizations that control part of the production and distribution chain aside, neither leads to crime nor compromises safety. Even its social and health costs are relatively small compared to those of alcohol and tobacco. In fact, more than for any other illegal drug, we can safely state that its criminalization is the principal source of social and economic costs.

However, in spite of the fact that the principal social costs of drugs affect business, health and family, the emphasis on the legal debate tips the scales of public action in favour of law enforcement agencies. No one can deny that their work is necessary to ensure public order and peace and to fight organized crime. At the same time, over 90% of resources are spent on enforcing the law, the most visible actions with respect to drugs in the public sphere are police operations and court decisions and, at least in the case of cannabis, the law lags behind individual attitudes and opinions, thus creating a huge gap between needs and practice.

Most national strategies display a similar imbalance. The national strategies that appear to have the greatest chance of success, however, are those that strive to correct the imbalance. These strategies have introduced knowledge and observation tools, identified indicators of success with respect to their objectives, and established a veritable nerve centre for implementing and monitoring public policy. The law, criminal law especially, is put in its proper place, that of one method among many of reaching the defined objectives, not an aim in itself.

This chapter is divided into three sections. The first examines the effectiveness of legal measures for fighting drugs and shows that legal systems have little effect on consumption or supply. The second section describes the various components of a public policy. The third considers the direction of criminal policy, and defines the main terms used: decriminalization, depenalization, diversion, legalization, and regulation.

 

 

ineffectiveness of criminal policies

 

Two key indicators are usually applied to measure the effectiveness of drug-related criminal policy: reduced demand and reduced supply. Some authors attempt to measure the economic efficiency of various control options[2]; we do not address this aspect as the data are incomplete.

The methods of measuring the impact of public policy on supply and demand are faced with a series of methodological pitfalls. Firstly, the two indicators are relatively artificial and not easily distinguished from one another. In other words, a given measure impacts both indicators simultaneously and are often accomplished by the same institution For example, a police officer conducting drug “education” in schools, theoretically for the purpose of affecting demand, also works to reduce supply.  Secondly, the capacity of agencies responsible for affecting one or the other depends on a series of factors relating to their means and resources, their practices and skills, and their competence. For the police, the number of officers per capita and the general thrust of law enforcement services (community police, traditional more reactive police) as well as the priority given to drug-related offences, can influence the volume of reported incidents as well as the decision to lay a charge. Generally speaking, the total resources allocated by a government to its drug policy may affect one or both of these indicators. In short, effectiveness cannot be measured directly.

It is even more difficult to assess, even indirectly, the impact of action taken, when clear objectives, ideally associated with indicators, are not defined, as is the case in Canada at this time, as was seen in Chapter 11. This being the case, and because we are in no position to make a rigorous assessment of public policy on drugs, we will examine the question on the basis of a series of indirect indicators.

 

Impact on consumption

 
General policy direction

 

At the most general level, national governments (see preceding chapter) define a general direction for their policies on drugs. Some are more tolerant or permissive (e.g., the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Germany); others stress prohibition and abstention (e.g., the United States, Sweden, France). Admittedly, these are crude categories, ignoring the complexity of each country’s policy. Even in the U.S.A. with its “war on drugs”, individual cities and states may implement widely different measures. Furthermore, there is often a huge gap between public policy statement and concrete action. For example, in France, a tough stance on use is accompanied by limited user-related police activity. In Canada, as a number of witnesses told us, enforcement by police is often at odds with “lenient” court decisions. In other words, there is no direct relationship between political statements and concrete action.

Some comparative studies have attempted to determine whether or not public policy influences use levels. A study by Reuband compares “tolerant” European countries (the Netherlands, Spain, Denmark, and Italy) and restrictive countries (Germany, France, Norway, United Kingdom, and Sweden). The study found no significant differences between consumption levels, regardless of public policy direction.[3]

The “Message” of the Conseil fédéral suisse sur la révision de la loi sur les stupéfiants reports the results of a comparative study on seven European countries by Cesoni, which reached the conclusion that the legal regime had no influence on the frequency of consumption.[4]

Another study carried out for the Office fédéral suisse de la Santé publique classifies the policies of European countries on a line from “very liberal” to “very restrictive”, relating them to the lifetime prevalence of cannabis consumption. The study shows no relation between severity of legislation and level of use.[5]

We have drawn up two similar charts, classifying the policies of the various countries and adding Canada, Australia, and the United States. We used the Chapter 6 data on lifetime prevalence of consumption in the general population (Chart 1) and in the past month among 15-16 year olds (Chart 2).


 

 


 

The charts show no direct relationship between consumption levels and public policy direction. Very liberal countries show low rates (Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal), whereas countries that have very restrictive policies show high rates (USA, Canada, France). Of course this may be explained by the fact that these are static statistical data not a  time series, and are thus little influenced by variations from year to year. Another possible explanation is that, as few users are arrested, there is a strong inconsistency between words and action. The following section looks at this issue.

 

Cannabis consumption and arrests

A number of authors have looked at the relationship between arrest levels and delinquent behaviour in general, and in drug consumption in particular. One recent study was conducted by Kilmer[6] within the context of the International Scientific Conference on Cannabis. The following graph is from that study.

 


 

The graph shows that, in all countries, the number of arrests per inhabitant for simple possession of cannabis increased during the 1990s, with Australia the only exception. Switzerland, currently considered relatively moderate, has the highest level of arrests per inhabitant, followed by the USA, Austria, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.

Here again there appears to be no direct relationship between direction of public policy and arrests. Switzerland and Australia, both of which have far more moderate policies than the USA, arrest proportionally larger numbers of people than that country, although Switzerland’s consumption rate is far lower than that of the USA, and Australia’s is virtually the same. 

The variation in rates of arrest cannot be explained by the number of police officers per inhabitant. France has far more officers than does the USA or England, but arrests far fewer people than the USA and fewer than the UK for simple possession.

We created a graph charting the relationship between the number of users among high school youth in Ontario in the past twelve months and incidents declared by the police of cannabis-related offences in the same year in Ontario. We chose Ontario because it is the only province that produces continuous time series on consumption levels, and the Ontario figures are almost identical to the Canadian mean (Chapter 14). The results are shown below.

 

 

 

Number of users

 

Declared incidents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The graph shows a very weak statistical relationship (0.15) between police activity and cannabis use. In other words, police activity has no dissuasive effect on cannabis experimentation by young students.

Criminology teaches that probability of arrest carries far more dissuasive weight than severity of sentence. As the following table shows, the probability of arrest is very low for cannabis possession offences.

 

 

Probability of being arrested for cannabis possession[7]

 

1995

1996

1997

1998

1999

Germany

Australia

Austria

Canada

United States

France

United Kingdom

Sweden

 

3.7%

1.7%

1.8%

2.8%

 

 

 

 

3.0%

 

2.1%

2.7%

 

1.7%

 

3.1%

 

 

 

2.4%

 

2.1%

 

 

3.2%

 

 

 

2.9%

 

 

2.0%

 

3.2%

2.0%

 

 

Public spending

While none of the preceding factors appears related to consumption levels, can a case be made for public spending?

There is danger in trying to estimate the overall cost of public policy on drugs. Even for a budget item as seemingly well-defined as law enforcement, estimates are unreliable. As we saw in Chapter 14, the cost of law enforcement ranges from $700 million to $1 billion. Figures on public expenditure related to treatment and prevention, even if we know that they are much smaller than those for law enforcement, are equally unreliable.[8]

Making international comparisons is even riskier. Services are organized differently, costs are not accounted for in the same way, and service orientation and overall government direction vary widely.

With these reservations, we will attempt the exercise based on data from a number of sources. To make the results a little more comparable, we restrict the comparison to law enforcement expenditures which, in any case, account for between 70% and 90% of public spending relating to illegal drugs. The following table summarizes the data. (Note that, for Canada, we have used the data from the CCSA study rather than our own estimates from Chapter 14. Our data show a cost estimate of law enforcement (police, courts, prisons) of approximately $1.5 billion or $50 per capita).

 

 


 
Costs of enforcing legislation in various countries

 

Cost of enforcing legislation

Per capita costs

Germany, 1992 [9]

 

Australia, 1992 [10]

 

Canada, 1992 [11]

 

United States [12]

 

France, 1998 [13]

 

The Netherlands [14]

DM 6.3 billion

 

A$450 million

 

US$300 million

 

US$12.3 billion

 

US$500 million

 

US$230 million

 

 

 

 

US$10 

 

US$40 

 

US$8

 

US$15

 

 

We note that countries in which consumption levels are average (Germany, the Netherlands) spend less than the USA, which has a high consumption rate; in addition, these countries, specifically, show law enforcement expenditures above those of two far more restrictive countries (France and Canada).

In short, here again cannabis consumption levels appear unaffected by public policy that aims to reduce demand by cracking down on use.

 

Impact on supply

Does public policy affect drug availability or price? The available data suggest not.

In spite of sustained efforts to exert national and international control, battle drug trafficking (macro and micro, local and international), the availability of drugs, and cannabis in particular, has not fallen. Price has fallen significantly (e.g., heroin, cocaine) or remained relatively stable (e.g., cannabis and derivatives).[15]  The relative price increase for some grades of cannabis is at least as closely linked to attempts to improve “quality” (e.g., THC content, organic cultivation) and the large profit margin earned by producers and traffickers, as it is to the efforts of law enforcement agencies.

 

Conclusion

The title of this section includes our conclusion: if the aim of public policy is to diminish consumption and supply of drugs, specifically cannabis, all signs indicate complete failure. We agree with the conclusions from the Swiss studies that prohibiting cannabis use through the application of criminal law appears to have little, if any, influence on levels of use.

One may think the situation would be worse if not for current anti-drug action. This may be so. Conversely, one may also think that the negative impact of anti-drug programs that are currently centre stage are greater than the positive effect, specifically non-compliance with laws inconsistent with majority attitudes and behaviour.

One of the reasons for this failure is the excessive emphasis placed on criminal law in a context where prohibition of use and a drug-free society appear to remain the omnipresent and determining direction of current public policies.

Does this mean nothing can be done? We do not believe so. Does it mean market forces should be allowed to rule as if drugs were goods like any other commodity, a solution suggested by some free-market advocates?[16] Certainly not. Psychoactive substances, including cannabis, alcohol, and medications, are not ordinary commodities. Although cannabis (see Chapter 7) does not have the deleterious effects that some people claim and is in some respects a less harmful substance than tobacco, it must be the subject of regulation and government intervention. 

 The question raised by the patent and costly failure in human, social, and economic terms of Canada’s public policy direction to date, is what should be the direction and components of public policy on cannabis and, as a corollary, the role and direction of legislation. This is what is discussed in the following sections.

 

General economy of a public policy on cannabis

 

We are fully aware of the somewhat artificial distinction imposed by our mandate between cannabis and its derivatives and other psychoactive substances. Different substances lead to different types of uses. This is as true of cannabis as it is of alcohol, medications, cocaine, or ecstasy. The uses differ with the substance - cannabis consumption differs from consumption of medications or even alcohol. There is nonetheless a common basis to the non-medical uses of psychoactive substances, which are primarily seen as a source of pleasure, even a method of enhancing awareness and the senses. There are of course other forms of use: abuse, for example, is not based on pleasure but rather a physiological and psychological mechanism symptomatic of loss of control, even distress. Nevertheless, throughout history human beings have consumed psychoactive substances for reasons relating to self-liberation.

Uses also differ for a given substance. Cannabis use, originally associated with self-medication and religious rites, in twentieth century western societies became an expression of a counter culture and the hippie movement, before becoming a recreational drug. Although most cannabis use is self-regulated, in some cases, when associated with at-risk behaviour, use can lead to abuse.

For public policy on psychoactive substances to adequately encompass the common dimensions of substance use, it must be integrated, yet flexible enough to allow for approaches that are adapted to different substances.

An integrated public policy on drugs would be administered by a decision-making body capable of making links between the substances and their uses so as to propose a meaning to different drug uses. A public policy on drugs revolves around the varying uses made of drugs and not on the substances themselves. In other words, an approach more like that taken by France’s Mission interministérielle instead of an approach by multiple decision-making bodies, each one operating in a functional silo, in competition with the others as in the States, or for that matter in Canada, where illegal drugs, tobacco and alcohol are handled by different agencies.

An adaptable  policy would be able to propose, define  and develop tools suited to the various substances. Abuse of cigarettes causes lung cancer, not death due to impaired driving. Some medications, however, do lead to fatal accidents. Cannabis may be associated with both problems: cancer related to combustion, and highway accidents related to psychomotor effects. We must be in the position to understand what is specific to a given substance and what is common to a variety of  substances.

A public policy, both integrated and adaptable must aim for knowledge of the relationship between substances and methods and contexts of use,  in order to define the determining factors that separate non-problematic self-regulated consumption, from at-risk behaviour, and excessive use and related problems. There are two broad types of problems: the first affect user health, the second the health and safety of others; they must be dealt with in different ways. Certain measures must be preventive - inform users of risks and, specifically, help individuals recognize the signs of at-risk behaviour that can lead to problems. Those who consistently smoke between three and five cigarettes a day, something very few tobacco consumers may be able to do, are probably at no greater risk of lung cancer than non-smokers. Learning to manage consumption, recognizing the dangers, and having the means and the tools to do so are key. Other methods are dissuasive in nature: where drinking and driving are involved for example. Finally, some measures are curative: whatever the substance, from simple aspirin to heroin, for all kinds of reasons that pre-date consumption of the substance itself, some individuals consume abusively in a way that leads to health problems. The tools for treatment and cure must be available.

Thus, and this is the third criterion, a public policy on psychoactive substances must primarily be a public health policy: prevention, abuse deterrence, and treatment are the three prongs of public health intervention. A public health policy does not attempt to oblige people to live healthy lives or to have the community decide individual behaviour for some elusive public good. What we envision is a public health policy that contributes to reducing the risks relating to the different uses of different substances. A public health policy on psychoactive substances is thus a risk reduction policy.

Harm reduction approaches have been associated with needle exchange or the prescription of methadone or heroin. Some think that harm reduction policies rely too heavily on a medical model, simply softening the negative effects of an otherwise prohibitionist regime.[17] Harm reduction has been described as a “transition doctrine, contradictory and ambiguous, with the ambiguity enabling unlimited adaption.” [Translation][18] Even worse, according to American psychiatrist Thomas Szasz, it is a morally repugnant position reflecting government therapeutic paternalism.[19]

We believe that what is essential is recognition that (1) use of psychoactive substances cannot be eliminated, it is part of the human experience and not all use is abuse - whatever the substance - and (2) all substances can have negative consequences for both the user and society, making it advisable to contribute to individual and community well-being by providing information, abuse prevention tools and a treatment infrastructure. Recognition  that an individual is no less a citizen, indeed no less a good citizen, because he chooses to smoke cannabis rather than drink alcohol, or chooses to use rather than abstain, but that individuals and societies, according to the circumstances and method of consumption, will have different needs is the key .

A public policy on drugs does not target users: its implementation embraces them. For too long, in any discussion of illegal drugs, including cannabis, the focus has been on understanding the characteristics specific to consumers, as if they had some feature distinguishing them fundamentally from users of tobacco, alcohol, or psychotropic medications for non-medical use. Although problem users may indeed have common characteristics, it is neither the substance nor being a user that is the question: other factors underlying development of at-risk behaviour should be given more attention.

Some people told us that harm and risk reduction policies, or for that matter decriminalizing cannabis, would “trivialize” its use. On the contrary, this is normalization, not trivialization. Excessive use of any substance is harmful: all substances may endanger user health, even coffee. Normalizing the use and the user does not mean trivializing them. A public policy on drugs aims to normalize uses of psychoactive substances: that implies not marginalizing users, while at the same time not trivializing use and shrugging our shoulders, ignoring the dangers specific to various substances.

To summarize: a public policy on psychoactive substances must be both integrated and adaptable, target at-risk uses and behaviours and abuses taking a public health approach that neither trivializes nor marginalizes users. Implementation of such a policy must be multifaceted, as we will see now.

 

 

Components of a public policy

 

The public policies described in the preceding chapter, as well as the policies of Denmark, Portugal, and Mexico, have a number of elements in common: they rely on a strong decision-making body, promote interconnection and multiple viewpoints, aim at national consensus on clear and measurable objectives, and rely on independent knowledge and assessment tools.

 

Strong decision-making body

One may disagree with the political orientation of the American Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); but no one can deny the office gives strong direction to American national policy on drugs. Although one may be critical of the structural rigidity of the French Mission interministérielle (MILDT), or its timidity with respect to legislative debate, however, one cannot help but agree that the MILDT has strongly influenced French policy and practice in the past five years. Each country covered in the preceding chapter has a highly visible, well-known decision-making body that has undeniable legitimacy and methods of action that meet expectations.

In our opinion, the question of drugs, inasmuch as it is broader than the jurisdiction of a single government department or level of government, inasmuch as it refers to our collective ways of relating to society and others, and especially inasmuch as it demands both integration and differentiation, must be governed by an agency that is not accountable to a particular department and can define direction for (not enforce diktats on) all players.

 

Interconnection

The policies on psychoactive substances are the concern of educators and therapists, police officers and anthropologists, diplomats and local associations and, of course, users. The ability to tie things together for knowledge and comprehension purposes supposes an ability to link specialties, administrations, individuals. This is the meaning of interconnection that a public policy must be capable of  making.

 

A shared definition of shared objectives

In Chapters 11 and 18, we saw that federal policy on drugs, in addition to lacking rigour and clarity, means and infrastructures, is not a national policy. This does not mean there is no place for specific approaches by the provinces and territories that make up the Canadian mosaic. However, if a common culture on drugs is to emerge, if we are to better understand behaviours of use through geographic comparison, if players are to benefit from the experience of others, tools must be developed for the joint definition of shared objectives.

Moreover, the ability - and the will - to define objectives is the foundation of any future evaluation to determine whether or not the action taken is in sync with the objectives and is effective; in short, defining objectives is necessary because we must be able to assess the impact of what we do.

 

Information tools

A public policy must also rest on knowledge. Many witnesses, from all over, told us this. European Union member countries, the United States and Australia have developed powerful knowledge tools, specifically agencies that monitor drugs and drug addictions. These monitoring agencies, most of them independent of the government and political influence, are capable of measuring changing trends and forms of use of various substances, understanding emerging trends and new products, even assessing public policies. We are unable to see how Canada can fail to develop a national knowledge tool on psychoactive substance use.

 

Legislative options 

 

So what do we do with the legislation? Legislation stems from public policy direction, which it supports and completes; it is a means, not an end.

Cannabis debates are highly contaminated by discussions on decriminalization, depenalization, legalization. The terms are frequently poorly understood, especially as they are not necessarily clear. This section defines each key term in the debate and suggests indicators that can be used to assess each option.

 


 

Clarification of terminology

 

Decriminalization or depenalization

The United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP) glossary of terms on drugs gives the following definitions of the two terms.

 

Decriminalization or depenalization

Removal of penal controls and criminal sanctions in relation to an activity, which however remains prohibited and subject to non-penal regulations and sanctions (e.g., administrative sanctions such as the removal of driving licence).

Under the “prohibition with civil penalties” option, the penalties for the possession of amounts of drugs deemed in law as being for personal use are still illegal but are dealt with by civil sanctions such as infringement notices which attract a monetary penalty, rather than by criminal sanctions such as a criminal record or imprisonment. Typically, the harsher criminal penalties still apply to the more serious offences of possession, supply, manufacture or cultivation of amounts of the drug deemed in law to be for trafficking or commercial purposes. [20]

 

For Caballero and Bisiou, depenalization means essentially removing drugs from the field of criminal law. They distinguish between total depenalization and depenalization of use.[21]  The first removes all control except free-market forces. This is a far cry from the UNDCP definition. Depenalization of use corresponds more closely to decriminalization as defined by UNDCP. It is also the definition given by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction.

Possessing or holding cannabis for personal use has been decriminalized in Germany, Australia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands, and some American states. The resemblance ends there because each country has slightly different way of reaching the goal. In Australia and the American states where possession of cannabis has been decriminalized, possession remains illegal and subject to a fine. In Germany, the constitutional court has ruled that prosecution for possession of small quantities of cannabis contravenes basic rights and is unjustified. In Spain and Italy, possession of small amounts of cannabis is not an offence and consumption is authorized except in public places. However, as in Portugal, individual possession of cannabis is subject to an administrative penalty (fine in Spain and Portugal; suspended licence in Italy).[22] In the Netherlands, the possession offence has never been repealed, although use and certain types of sale (coffee shops) are tolerated.

In all cases, decriminalization is partial. It is sometimes de jure (Spain, Italy, Portugal) and sometimes de facto (the Netherlands, Denmark).

In Canada, some authors have written in favour of decriminalizing cannabis. One of the best known papers on this option may be that published by the policy committee of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.[23]  The authors identify four options for decriminalization:

·        Fines under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) excluding incarceration as a possible sanction. The option retains the illegality of cannabis possession and related criminal record consequences.

·        Civil offence: here again the sanction is a fine, although the option differs from the first in that cannabis possession is no longer sanctioned under the CDSA, but subject to a sanction under the Contraventions Act.

·        Alternative measures (or diversion): under this option, possession remains a punishable criminal offence, but sanctions are suspended if the offender agrees to another form of “treatment” or community service. Drug treatment courts are a form of alternative measure.

·        Transfer to the provinces: under this approach, the provinces would be free to adopt the control measures they deem necessary (with the exception of criminal measures which are exclusively federal). However, it is difficult to understand the reasoning of the authors on this approach as it is more a form of legalization than decriminalization.

 

In Quebec, the Comité permanent de lutte à la toxicomanie (CPLT) has made a recommendation proposing diversion measures when deemed appropriate by the authorities.[24] The CPLT defines diversion as the “exercise, by the Crown prosecutor, of a discretionary power enabling him to desist from prosecuting the offender and instead apply alternate measures” [Translation].[25] However, diversion may be given a broader definition, in which the discretionary power is exercised by the police prior to a charge, giving a consumer a simple warning. The CPLT opinion notes the following.

·      Cannabis related offences account for at least 60% of offences under the CDSA, with possession the most frequent.

·      The number of offences for possession of cannabis is rising, whereas the proportion that lead to prosecution is falling, even though such prosecution remains in a majority (approximately 60% of 1997 cases).

·      The practice of laying charges and applying alternative measures varies among regions of Canada and within Quebec.

·      Most sentences handed down by the courts are fines.

 

This timid recommendation refuses to take a systematic approach and even links cannabis consumption to delinquent or criminal activities, relating risk to consumption of products with a high THC concentration, as if consuming spirits should be subject to stronger measures than drinking wine.

The term “decriminalization” is obviously loaded with contradictions. Even though the term purports to remove it from the ambit of criminal law, cannabis consumption remains illegal. The sanction may be less severe, but a sanction still applies, one that, in some cases, can have the same impact as a criminal sanction and entail even greater discrimination: a young or disadvantaged person unable to pay the fine faces a far greater risk of ending up in prison than an adult or socially secure individual. As explained to the Committee by Dr. Kendall:

 

However, a cautionary note should be sounded. If Canada did adopt this recommendation, we should be concerned and thus take steps to avoid the situation in Australia, or to repeat that situation, where the imposition of a cannabis expiation program actually led to a net widening effect, because the police now ticketed  individuals that they had previously ignored. Many of those so ticketed failed to appear to pay their fines, and subsequent numbers entered the criminal justice system for non-payment of fines and subsequently received criminal convictions. There was an unintended result in that the number of persons criminalized is as large, or perhaps larger, than before the measure was implemented. [26]

 

In spite of its merits and success, the Dutch system of controlled cannabis sale, a form of de facto decriminalization, has no way of regulating production and distribution, which is still controlled at least in part by organized crime, or exercising quality control, specifically the concentration of THC.

In the opinion of some authors, decriminalization is in fact simply less severe prohibition.[27] In other words, in the guise of a socially responsible and rational measure, decriminalization in fact furthers a prohibitionist logic. Same grounds, different form. This model has no greater capacity for prevention or education than a strict prohibition model. Even worse, the prohibition model is based on clear and consistent theory, whereas the same cannot be said of decriminalization as an approach.

Some will say that decriminalization is a step in the right direction, one that gives society time to become accustomed to cannabis, to convince opponents that chaos will not result, to adopt effective preventive measures. We believe however that this approach is in fact the worst-case scenario, depriving the State of a regulatory tool needed in dealing with the entire production, distribution, and consumption network, and delivering a rather hypocritical message at the same time.

 

Legalization

The United Nations glossary of terms defines this term as follows.

 

Legalization

Removal of the prohibition over a previously illicit activity, e.g., non-medical trade or consumption of psychoactive substances. It does not necessarily imply the removal of all controls over such activity (e.g. restriction on sale to minors).  [28]

 

The term “legalization” is equivalent to Caballero and Bisiou’s concept of depenalization, although it does not rely solely on market forces but includes a form of regulation entailing some restrictions.  To quote:

 

Controlled legalization is a system that aims to replace existing prohibition of drugs by regulation of their production, trade, and use with a view to restricting abuse that can damage society (…) unlike depenalization, penal law retains its role in preventing damage to third parties by users (drunkenness) or producers (contraband). [Translation] [29]

 

No system for controlled legalization of cannabis currently exists. Switzerland comes close with its bill to amend the Loi sur les stupéfiants. This type of regulation is nothing new: colonial opium and kif regulatory bodies operated well into the first half of the twentieth century.

Conversely, legalized systems exist for the manufacture, distribution, sale and production of such products as alcohol, tobacco, and psychotropic medications. These could be used as a model for regulating the cannabis production chain.

 

 

Regulation

The United Nations glossary of terms defines regulation as follows:

 

Regulation

The rules governing all aspects of drug control promulgated pursuant to legislation. Violation of these rules may attract criminal or non-criminal penalties, such as fines and license suspension, depending on the seriousness and the intentional nature of the violation. [30]

 

Although one may play with words, regulation is in fact a necessary application of any form of control, whether within a system of prohibition or a system of legalisation. All consumer products, from the automobiles we drive to the food we eat, are subject to some form of regulation. Quality control, environmental standards, compliance with industrial standards, regulations on accessibility—all are forms of regulation essential for ensuring no one is poisoned by the food they eat, drives a defective vehicle, or plugs in a dangerous appliance.

Regulation is the most current form of government control; criminal law usually intervenes when the controls fail or mandatory standards are not met.

The same is true of the current international system for controlling narcotics. Canadian legislation deals with “controlled” substances. The control system may range from prohibition of all non-medical and non-scientific use (e.g., opium, cocaine, cannabis), to less severe control measures that allow accessibility to products deemed dangerous, under specific conditions.

 

Classification of legal policy systems

MacCoun, Reuter and Schilling examine various systems of legal policy, which they divide into three main types: prohibitionist, controlled access, and regulated access, each of which can be broken down further. Their classification system is reproduced below.[31]

Prohibitionist systems vary along a number of lines: based on the nature of prohibited activity (e.g., possession, use, use in public); based on the severity of sanctions (civil penalty, criminal penalty, imprisonment); based on the severity of enforcement (resources, priorities); and based on the capacity to exercise discretionary power (diversion, alternative measures). This makes it clearer why decriminalization remains in essence a prohibitionist approach, albeit a less severe one.

Controlled access systems are in a grey area somewhere between prohibition and regulation. In some ways, they are more like prohibition models, particularly by giving  powers of decision to a physician or pharmacist rather than promoting individual user responsibility. This is the medical model criticized by Szasz, Caballero and, closer to home, Malherbe, in his discussion paper on the role of ethics and public health. One can see why harm reduction approaches belong in this grey area, somewhere between prohibition and regulation, with the prescription of methadone or heroine for treating addiction the perfect example of medical power.

The third type is the regulatory model that exercises various types of control on who (who may purchase, restrictions on minors), what (different accessibility levels for different substances), how (point of sale, location, requirement for producers and vendors) and when (time of day, days of the week).

 


 

 

                                                                                                   Prohibitionnist

 

 

                                                                   Controlled access

 

 

                                      Regulatory     

                

 

Pure prohibition : no use possible (i.e., cannabis)

 

 

 

 

                              Decreasing restriction

 

Prohibitionist prescription : medical and scientific purposes only

 

 

Treatment : prescription for the treatment of dependency (i.e., methadone)

 

 

Regulated prescription : auto administration under prescription to treat medical conditions (i.e, Valium)

 

 

Positive licensing : available to any adult with a licence to demonstrate his capacity to make responsible use

 

 

Negative licensing : accessible to any adult who has not violated some condition (i.e., criminal behaviour)

 

 

Free market for adults : similar to alcohol

 

 

Free market : no regulation (i.e., coffee).

 

 

 

In our opinion, there are basically only two systems: a prohibition system and a legalization system. Both rest on regulation, and the nature and direction of this regulation determines their specific features.

Prohibitionist systems may be subdivided into criminal and medical prohibition. In the first case, sometimes referred to as outright prohibition, the justice system (police and the courts) is central. In the second, the physician is the key player. In both cases, the user is considered a “minor”, a person in danger who must be protected from himself. Some call this legal paternalism. Both variations can be more or less strict, more or less severe, but rest on the concept that all use that poses a danger to the user and society and must be strictly controlled. In this scenario, decriminalization of use is a weak variation of prohibition, in the long run entailing more disadvantages than advantages. In addition to failing to affect the production chain and retaining the illegal aspect, it leaves no room for dispensing information to and promoting responsible behaviour by users, or for strong preventive measures. Conversely, the harm reduction approach is a strong variation of a prohibition system. While this approach recognizes the impossibility of eliminating the damage done by market criminalization, it seeks nonetheless to reduce the negative effects of prohibition on users, who are the focus of its main thrust, by introducing education on drug content (for example, analysis of ecstasy consumed at raves).

 

Prohibition System

 

Main player

Degree of prohibition

Severity

Criminal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medical

Police / Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Physician

Prohibition of fabrication, cultivation, production, sale, trafficking, use and consumption

 

Decriminalization of use with criminal process / diversion

 

Civil offences

 

 

Recognized therapeutic uses only

 

Treatment for dependency

 

General prescription by a physician

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A prohibition system, whether criminal or medical, calls for regulation derived from criminal law: any interaction with drugs that is not authorized under the medical model is punished by a criminal or quasi-criminal penalty.

The other type of system rests on legalization of cannabis. It can also take various forms.

 

 

Legalization System

 

Main player

Accessibility level

Degree of control

State

 

 

 

 

 

Market

Community

 

 

 

 

 

User

User licences

 

Licence for production / distribution / sale

 

 

Free market

 

+

 

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

Legalization systems range from issuing a user licence under certain conditions (e.g., no criminal record, no dependency problems), to permitting a completely uncontrolled free market.

 

Criteria for a legal policy on cannabis

Some studies have explored the question of the comparative effectiveness of public policy systems in cost/benefit terms, others in terms of social costs. The first type of analysis is impossible simply because no two strategies are different enough for purposes of comparison: there is no cannabis regulation model that can be compared to a prohibition model. The other approach is to consider the social costs incurred by drugs based on a “cost of illness” model in a “counter-factual” scenario: what would happen if there were no consumption of this drug? However, as we saw in Chapter 18, it is difficult to establish the real costs related to cannabis and the response of public policy to it, and impossible to determine real social costs.

 

The question is whether or not society would be better off if the use of one or more currently illegal drugs was authorized. The answer is only if public well-being is enhanced (or the social cost of drugs is reduced).  No one knows the impact on social costs of legalization of illicit drugs. It is impossible to predict the impact of increased consumption, substitution of tobacco and alcohol for currently illegal drugs, the lower current negative impact attributable to drug illegality and, moreover, the combined impact of all these factors.  The superiority of neither prohibition nor legalization is provable. [Translation] [32]

 

The counter-factual scenario used in studies of the social costs of drugs is itself a formidable challenge, as it rests on the unproven concept of eradicating consumption of a drug. The model is drawn from the field of health, in which a counter-factual model may be legitimate because, in some cases, a disease can be completely or almost completely eradicated (e.g., childhood diseases). It does not apply to drugs, as the process is necessarily so hypothetical that one wonders if it is worth the effort. It is one thing to try and identify as accurately as possible the diversity of social and economic costs incurred by drugs and then reflect on public policy options; it is another to claim they can actually be measured.

MacCoun, Reuter, and Schelling propose two series of criteria, the first considering different applications to different substances, the second based on acceptable costs and consequences. Using a four-axis matrix, they distinguish:

·      scope of consequences: community and user health; community and individual performance; public order and security;

·      potential damage to each of the above;

·      those affected by the damage (users, traffickers, family members, employers, neighbours, society); and

·      primary source of the damage (substance, legal status, legal intervention).

 

How do we make a choice? At the outset, it must be understood that, at the end of the line, the decision is necessarily a political one. Epidemiological data on levels of use and empirical data on effects and consequences are clear: cannabis is not as dangerous a substance as interdiction policies would like us to believe. Comparative data on public policies, although more limited, also make it clear that measures undertaken under prohibitionist regimes have not been effective. This much said, no one can predict what will happen under an alternative regime, such as the regulated access model we are proposing. This is why we insist that any comprehensive strategy on cannabis must be based on a public health model and involve tools to evaluate its implementation and effects.

 

Application to cannabis

We do not have all the empirical data required to make a decision with respect to all the potential consequences of different  control systems. To produce such data, one would have to have experienced the different regimes of cannabis control. Since the early twentieth century, various degrees of prohibition are all there has been, however.

Be that as it may, we would hazard a guess that, even if we did have empirical data, in the final analysis the decisions would still be political in nature because they are basically public policy decisions which, as discussed in our chapter on guiding principles, are not defined on the basis of scientific knowledge alone.

Nonetheless, if we attempt to apply these criteria to cannabis, we believe that a system of regulated access is most likely to reduce the negative consequences for both users and society.

 

 

 

Prohibition

Regulation

Consequences on:

 

Health

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conduct of individuals and society

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Public order and safety

 

 

 

 

-          Use denied therefore no possible distinction between forms of use (use, at-risk use, abuse)

-          Difficulties adapting prevention to reality due to predominance of abstinence

-          Health costs due to lack of knowledge of forms of use

-          Absence of quality control may bring about problems

-          Difficult for users to recognize at-risk use and acknowledge possible dependency

 

 

-          Enhanced individual performance (e.g., school, professional) if  prohibition totally successful and no substitute exists

-          Users potentially dealing with criminal networks

-          Human rights infringements 

-          Theoretical decrease in availability of substance

-          Theoretical increase in price of substance

 

 

 

-          Increased organized crime

-          Significant illegal trafficking

-          Decreased respect for the law

-          Violence in criminal organizations

 

 

-          Possible increase in number of users

-          Enhanced recognition of use and ability to distinguish between forms of use

-          Ability to promote prevention not based on abstinence

-          Possible increase in health care for abusive users resulting from increase in number of users

-          Opportunity to control quality and THC content

-          Monitoring of at-risk behaviour and forms of non-penal treatment

 

-          Possibility of increased negative impact on users and their families if consumption increases

-          Legal access leading to normalizing and demystifying

-          Control over price and availability

-          Elimination of the negative consequences of criminalization and marginalization of users

-          Need to control impaired driving

-          Need to maintain restrictions regarding sale to minors

 

 

-          Decrease in —not elimination of—organized crime

-          Increased control over illegal trafficking

-          Possible increase in the insecurity of people residing near points of sale

 

 

We are fully aware that our statements with respect to a regulatory system are wholly theoretical. We do think, however, that all the data we have collected on cannabis and its derivatives provide sufficient ground for our general conclusion that the regulation of the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis, as part of an integrated and adaptable public policy, best responds to the principles of autonomy and governance that foster human responsibility and of the limitation of penal law to situations where there is demonstrable harm to others. A regulatory system for cannabis should permit, in particular, :

·        more effective targeting of illegal traffic and a reduction in the role played by organized crime;

·        prevention programs better adapted to the real world and better able to prevent and detect at-risk behaviour;

·        enhanced monitoring of products, quality and properties;

·        better user information and education;

·        respect for individual and collective freedoms, and legislation more in tune with the behaviour of Canadians.

 

In our opinion, Canadian society is ready for a responsible policy of cannabis regulation that honours these basic principles.


 

 

 

 


 

[1]  Please refer to the recent CCSA study: Permanen, K., et. al., op. cit.

[2]  See Jackson, A.Y. (2002) op. cit., and our discussion in Chapter 18. 

[3]  Reuband, K., (1995) “Drug use and drug policy in Western Europe.” European Addiction Research, vol. 1, 32-41.

[4]  Cesoni, L.L. (1999) Usage et actes préparatoires de l’usage des drogues illicites : les choix en matière d’ncrimination.  Analyse comparative de l’usage de drogues illicites de sept législations européennes.  In Conseil fédéral suisse, op.cit., page 3560.

[5]  Conseil fédéral Suisse (2001) Message concernant la révision de la loi sur les stupéfiants, page 3560.

[6]  Kilmer, B., (2002) “Do cannabis possession laws influence cannabis use?” in Pelc, I. (dir.) International Scientific Conference on Cannabis. Brussels.

[7]  Table reproduced from Kilmer, B., op.cit, page 108.

[8]  See Kopp, P. and Fenoglio (2000) Le coûts social des drogues licites (alcool et tabac) et illicites en France.  Paris: OFDT.

[9]  Source: Rehm, J., (2001) The Costs of public policies to fight illegal drugs. Brief presented to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs,  page 13.

[10]  Source: Rehm, J., (2001) The Costs of public policies to fight illegal drugs. Brief presented to the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs,  page 13.

[11] Single, E., et. al., op. cit.

[12] Source: Kopp, P. and C. Palle (1999) ²Économistes cherchent politique publique efficace.² in Faugeron, C., (ed.) Les drogues en France.  Paris: Georg, page 261.

[13] Source: Kopp, P. and C. Palle (1999) ²Économistes cherchent politique publique efficace.² in Faugeron, C., (ed.) Les drogues en France.  Paris: Georg, page 261.

[14] Source: Kopp, P. and C. Palle (1999) ²Économistes cherchent politique publique efficace.² in Faugeron, C., (ed.) Les drogues en France.  Paris: Georg, page 261.

[15]  See above, in the United States, one of the most complete studies on the question: Abt Associates (2001) The price of illicit drugs: 1981 through the second quarter of 2000. Washington, DC: Office of National Drug Control Policy.

[16]  For example, economist Milton Friedman.

[17]  For example, critical assessment in Caballero and Bisiou, pages 114-115.

[18]  Ibid., page 116.

[19]  Ibid., page 120

[20]  UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (2000)  Demand Reduction. A Glossary of Terms. Vienna: author, page 18.

[21]  Caballero and Bisiou, op.cit, page 117.

[22]  See EMCDDA (2001) Decriminalisation in Europe? Recent Developments in Legal Approaches to Drug Use. Lisbon: author, available on line at www.emcdda.org 

[23] Fischer et al., (1998) “Cannabis Use in Canada: Policy Options For Control.’ Policy Options. October.

[24]  Comité permanent de lutte à la toxicomanie (1999) Avis sur la déjudiciarisation de la possession simple de cannabis.  Montreal: CPLT.

[25] Ibid., page 2.

[26]  Dr. Perry Kendall, Medical Health Officer for the Government of British Columbia, testimony before the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, September 17, 2001, Issue 6, page: 40.

[27]  MacCoun, R., Reuter, P. and T. Schelling (1996) “Assessing alternative drug control regimes.” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Vol 15, no 3, page 332.

[28] UNDCP (2000) op.cit, page 41.

[29]  Caballero and Bisiou, op.cit, page 132.

[30]  UNDCP (2000) op.cit, page 63

[31]  MacCoun and coll., op. cit, page 333. [1996 issue vol.15 not available]

[32]  Kopp, P., and P. Fenoglio (2000) op.cit, page 12.


CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

The Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs’ mandate was to examine Canada’s public policy approach in relation to cannabis and assess its effectiveness and impact in light of the knowledge of the social and health-related effects of cannabis and the international context. Over the past two years, the Committee has heard from Canadian and foreign experts and reviewed an enormous amount of scientific research. The Committee has endeavoured to take the pulse of Canadian public opinion and attitudes and to consider the guiding principles that are likely to shape public policy on illegal drugs, particularly cannabis. Our report attempted to provide an update of the state of knowledge and of the key issues, and sets out a number of conclusions in each chapter.

This final section sets out the main conclusions that emerge from all this information and presents the resulting recommendations that derive from the thesis we have developed namely: in a free and democratic society, which recognizes fundamentally but not exclusively the rule of law as the source of normative rules and in which government must promote autonomy insofar as possible and therefore make only sparing use of the instruments of constraint, public policy on psychoactive substances must be structured around guiding principles respecting the life, health, security and rights and freedoms of individuals, who, naturally and legitimately, seek their own well-being and development and can recognize the presence, difference and equivalence of others.

 

 

 

Le Dain – Already thirty years ago

 

Thirty years ago, the Le Dain Commission released its report on cannabis. This Commission had far greater resources than did we. However, we had the benefit of a much more highly developed knowledge base and of thirty years' historical perspective.

The Commission concluded that the criminalization of cannabis had no scientific basis. Thirty years later, we can confirm this conclusion and add that continued criminalization of cannabis remains unjustified based on scientific data on the danger it poses.

The Commission heard and considered the same arguments on the dangers of using cannabis: apathy, loss of interest and concentration, learning difficulties. A majority of the Commissioners concluded that these concerns, while unsubstantiated, warranted a restrictive policy. Thirty years later, we can assert that the studies done in the meantime have not confirmed the existence of the so-called amotivational syndrome and add that most studies rule out this syndrome as a consequence of the use of cannabis.

The Commission concluded that not enough was known about the long-term and excessive use of cannabis. We can assert that these types of use exist and may present some health risks; excessive use, however, is limited to a minority of users. Public policy, we would add, must provide ways to prevent and screen for at-risk behaviour, something our policies have yet to do.

The Commission concluded that the effects of long-term use of cannabis on brain function, while largely exaggerated, could affect adolescent development. We concur, but point out that the long-term effects of cannabis use appear reversible in most cases. We not also that adolescents who are excessive users or become long-term users are a tiny minority of all users of cannabis. Once again, we would add that a public policy must prevent use at an early age and at-risk behaviour.

The Commission was concerned that the use of cannabis would lead to the use of other drugs. Thirty years' experience in the Netherlands disproves this very clearly, as do the liberal policies of Spain, Italy and Portugal. And here in Canada, despite the growing increase in cannabis users, we have not had a proportionate increase in users of hard drugs.

The Commission was also concerned that legalization would mean increased use, among the young, in particular. We have not legalized cannabis, and we have one of the highest rates in the world. Countries adopting a more liberal policy have, for the most part, rates of usage lower than ours, which stabilized after a short period of growth.

Thirty years later, we note that:

 

Ø            Billions of dollars have been sunk into enforcement without any greater effect: there are more consumers, more regular users and more regular adolescent users;

Ø            Billions of dollars have been poured into enforcement in an effort to reduce supply, without any greater effect: cannabis is more available than ever, it is cultivated on a large scale, even exported, swelling coffers and making organized crime more powerful; and

Ø            There have been tens of thousands of arrests and convictions for the possession of cannabis and thousands of people have been incarcerated; however, use trends remain totally unaffected and the gap the Commission noted between the law and public compliance continues to widen.

 

It is time to recognize what is patently obvious: our policies have been ineffective, because they are poor policies.

 

Ineffectiveness of the current approach

 

No clearly defined federal or national strategy exists. Some provinces have developed strategies while others have not. There has been a lot of talk but little significant action. In the absence of clear indicators accepted by all stakeholders to assess the effectiveness of Canadian public policy, it is difficult to determine whether action that has been taken is effective. Given that policy is geared to reducing demand (i.e. drug-use rates) and supply (by reducing the availability of drugs and pushing up drug prices), both these indicators may be used.

A look at trends in cannabis use, both among adults and young people, forces us to admit that current policies are ineffective. In chapter 6, we saw that trends in drug-use are on the increase. If our estimates do indeed reflect reality, no fewer that 2 million Canadians aged between 18 and 65 have used cannabis at least once over the past 12 months, while at least 750,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 17 use cannabis at least once per month; one third of them on a daily basis. This proportion appears, at least in the four most highly-populated provinces, to be increasing. Statistics suggest that both use and at-risk use is increasing.

Of course, we must clearly establish whether the ultimate objective is a drug-free society, at least one free of cannabis, or whether the goal is to reduce at-risk behaviour and abuse. This is an area of great confusion, since Canadian public policy continues to use vague terminology and has failed to establish whether it focuses on substance abuse as the English terminology used in several documents seems to suggest or on drug-addiction as indicated by the French terminology.

It is all very well to criticize the “trivialization” of cannabis in Canada to “explain” increases in use but it must also be established why, if this is indeed the case, this trivialization has occurred. It is also important to identify the root cause of this trivialization against a backdrop of mainly anti-drug statements. The courts and their lenient attitude might be blamed for this. Perhaps the judiciary is at the forefront of those responsible for cannabis policies and the enforcement of the law. It must also be determined whether sentences are really as lenient as some maintain. A major issue to be addressed is whether harsher sentences would indeed be an effective deterrent given that the possibility of being caught by the police is known to be a much greater deterrent. Every year, over 20,000 Canadians are arrested for cannabis possession. This figure might be as high as 50,000 depending on how the statistics are interpreted. This is too high a number for this type of conduct. However, it is laughable number when compared to the three million people who have used cannabis over the past 12 months. We should not think that the number of arrests might be significantly increased even if billions of extra dollars were allocated to police enforcement. Indeed, such a move should not even be considered.

A look at the availability and price of drugs, forces us to admit that supply-reduction policies are ineffective. Throughout Canada, above all in British Columbia and Québec, the cannabis industry is growing, flooding local markets, irritating the United States and lining the pockets of criminal society. Drug prices have not fallen but quality has improved, especially in terms of THC content – even if we are sceptical of the reported scale of this improvement. Yet, police organizations already have greater powers and latitude – especially since the September 11, 2001 tragedy – in relation to drugs than in any other criminal matter. In addition, enforcement now accounts for over 90% of all illegal drug-related spending. To what extent do we want to go further down this road?

Clearly, current approaches are ineffective and inefficient – it is throwing taxpayers’ money down the drain on a crusade that is not warranted by the danger posed by the substance. It has been maintained that drugs, including cannabis, are not dangerous because they are illegal but rather illegal because they are dangerous. This is perhaps true of other types of drugs, but not cannabis. We should state this clearly once and for all, for public good, stop our crusade.

 

 

Public policy based on guiding principles

 

However much we might wish good health and happiness for everyone, we all know how fragile both are. Above all, we realize that health and happiness cannot be forced on a person, especially not by criminal law based on a specific concept of what is morally right. No matter how attractive calls for a drug-free society might be, and even if some people might want others to stop smoking, drinking alcohol, or smoking joints, we all realize that these activities are well and truly part of social reality and the history of humankind.

Consequently, what role should the State play? It should neither abdicate responsibility and allow drug markets to run rife, nor should it impose a particular way of life on people. Instead, we have opted for a concept whereby public policy promotes and supports freedom for individuals and society as a whole. For some, this would undoubtedly mean avoiding drug use. However, for others, the road to freedom might be via drug use. For society as a whole, this concept means a State that does not dictate what should be consumed and under what form. Support for freedom necessarily means flexibility and adaptability. It is for this reason that public policy on cannabis has to be clear while at the same time tolerant, to serve as a guide while at the same time avoiding imposing a single standard. This concept of the role of the State is based on the principle of autonomy and individual and societal responsibility. Indeed, it is much more difficult to allow people to make their own decisions because there is less of an illusion of control. It is just that: an illusion. We are all aware of that. It is perhaps sometimes comforting, but is likely to lead to abuse and unnecessary suffering. An ethic of responsibility teaches social expectations (not to use drugs in public or sell to children), responsible behaviour (recognizing at-risk behaviour and being able to use moderately) and supports people facing hardship (providing a range of treatment).

From this concept of government action ensues a limited role for criminal law. As far as cannabis is concerned, only behaviour causing demonstrable harm to others shall be prohibited: illegal trafficking, selling to minors, impaired driving.

Public policy shall also draw on available knowledge and scientific research but without expecting science to provide the answers to political issues. Indeed, scientific knowledge does have a major role to play as a support tool in decision-making, at both an individual and government level. Indeed, science should play no greater role. It is for this reason that the Committee considers that a drug and dependency observatory and a research program should be set up: to help those decision makers that will come after us.

 

 

A Clear and coherent federal strategy

 

Although the Committee has focused on cannabis, we have nevertheless observed inherent shortcomings in the federal drug strategy. Quite obviously, there is no real strategy or focused action. Behind the supposed leadership provided by Health Canada emerges a lack of necessary tools for action, a patchwork of ad hoc approaches from one substance to another and piecemeal action by various departments. Of course, co‑ordinating bodies do exist, but without real tools and clear objectives, each focuses its action according to its own particular priorities. This has resulted in a whole series of funded programs developed without any tangible cohesion.

Many stakeholders have expressed their frustration to the Committee at the jig-saw of seemingly evanescent pieces and at the whole gamut of incoherent decisions, which cause major friction on the front lines. Various foreign observers also expressed their surprise that a country as rich as Canada, which is not immune to psychoactive substance-related problems, did not have a “champion”, a spokesperson or a figure of authority able to fully grasp the real issues while at the same time obtaining genuine collaboration of all stakeholders.

It is for this reason that we are recommending the creation of the position of National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to be attached to the Privy Council. We do not envisage this as a super body responsible for managing psychoactive substance-related budgets and action. In fact, we favour an approach similar to that of the Mission interministérielle à la drogue et à la toxicomanie in France over one modelled on the United States’ Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Advisor would have a small dedicated staff, with the majority of staff loaned from the various federal departments and bodies concerned by the drugs issue.

The Advisor would be responsible: for advising the Cabinet and the Prime Minister on national and international psychoactive substance-related issues; for ensuring co-ordination between federal departments and agencies; for overseeing the development of federal government psychoactive substance-related objectives and ensuring these objectives are satisfied; and to serve as a Canadian Government spokes-person on psychoactive substance-related issues at an international level.

 

 

Recommendation 1

The Committee recommends that the position of National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency be created within the Privy Council Office; that the Advisor be supported by a small secretariat and that federal departments and agencies concerned by psychoactive substances second, upon request, the necessary staff.

 

 

National strategy sustained by adequate ressources and tools

 

A federal policy and strategy do not in themselves make a national strategy. Provinces, territories, municipalities, community organizations and even the private sector all have a role to play in accordance with their jurisdiction and priorities. This is necessary and this diversity is worth encouraging. However, some harmonization and meaningful discussion on practices and pitfalls, on progress and setbacks, and on knowledge, are to be encouraged. Apart from the resource-starved piecemeal action of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, there are all too few opportunities and schemes to promote exchanges of this type. The current and future scale of drug and dependency-related issues warrants the Canadian Government earmarking the resources and developing the tools with which to develop fair, equitable and well-thought out policies.

Like the majority of Canadian and foreign observers of the drug situation, we were struck by the relative lack of tools and measures for determining and following up on the objectives of public psychoactive substance policy. One might not agree with the numbers-focused goals set out by the Office of National Drug Control Policy for the reduction of drug use or for the number of drug treatment programs set up and evaluated. However, we have to admit that at least these figures serve as guidelines for all stakeholders and as benchmarks against which to measure success.

Similarly, one might not feel totally comfortable with the complex Australian goal-definition process, whereby the whole range of partners from the various levels of government, organizations and associations meet at a conference every five years. However, at least those goals agreed upon by the various stakeholders constitute a clear reference framework and enable better harmonization of action.

The European monitoring system with its focal points in each European Union country under the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction umbrella might seem cumbersome; and the American system of conducting various annual epidemiological studies might appear expensive. We might even acknowledge that there are problems with epidemiological studies, which are far from providing a perfect picture of the psychoactive substance-use phenomena. However, at least these tools, referred to and used throughout the Western world, enable the development of a solid information base, with which to analyse historical trends, identify new drug-use phenomena and react rapidly. In addition, it allows for an assessment of the relevance and effectiveness of action taken. No system of this type exists in Canada, which is the only industrialized Western country not to have such a knowledge structure.

It is for these reasons that the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada support various initiatives to develop a genuine national strategy. Firstly, the Government should call a national conference of the whole range of partners with a view to setting out goals and priorities for action over a five-year period. This conference should also identify indicators to be used in measuring progress at the end of the five-year period. Secondly, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse needs to be renewed. Not only does this body lack resources but it is also subject to the vagaries of political will of the Minister of Health. The Centre should have a budget in proportion with the scale of the psychoactive substance problem and should have the independence required to address this issue. Lastly, a Canadian Monitoring Agency on Drugs and Dependency should be created within the Centre.

 

 

Recommendation 2

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada mandate the National Advisor on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to call a high-level conference of key stakeholders from the provinces, territories, municipalities and associations in 2003, to set goals and priorities for action on psychoactive substances over a five-year period.

 

 

Recommendation 3

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada amend the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse enabling legislation to change the Centre’s name to the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency; make the Centre reportable to Parliament; provide the Centre with an annual basic operating budget of 15 million dollars, to be increased annually; require the Centre to table an annual report on actions taken, the key issues, research and trends in the federal Parliament and provincial and territorial assemblies and legislatures; mandate the Centre to ensure national co-ordination of research on psychoactive substances and dependency, and to conduct studies into specific issues; and mandate the Centre to undertake an assessment of the national strategy on psychoactive substance and dependency every five years.

 

 

Recommendation 4

The Committee recommends that in the legislation creating the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency, the Government of Canada specifically include provision for the setting up of a Monitoring Agency on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency within the Centre; provide that the Monitoring Agency be mandated to conduct studies every two years, in co-operation with relevant bodies, on drug-use trends and dependency problems in the adult population; work with the provinces and territories towards increased harmonization of studies of the student population and to ensure they are carried out every two years; conduct ad hoc studies on specific issues; and table a bi-annual report on drug-use trends and emerging problems.

 

 

A public health policy

 

When cannabis was listed as a prohibited substance in 1923, no public debate or discussion was held on the known effects of the drug. In fact, opinions expressed were disproportionate to the dangers of the substance. Half a century later, the Le Dain Royal Commission of Inquiry on the Non-Medical Use of Drugs held a slightly more rational debate on cannabis and took stock of what was known about the drug. Commissioners were divided not so much over the nature and effects of the drug but rather over the role to be played by the State and criminal law in addressing public health-related goals. Thirty years after the Le Dain Commission report, we are able to categorically state that, used in moderation, cannabis in itself poses very little danger to users and to society as a whole, but specific types of use represent risks for users.

In addition to being ineffective and costly, criminalization leads to a series of harmful consequences: users are marginalized and exposed in a discriminatorily fashion to the risk of arrest and to the criminal justice system; society sees organized crime enhance their power and wealth by benefiting from prohibition; and governments see their ability to conduct prevention of at-risk use diminished.

We would add that, even if cannabis were to have serious harmful effects, one would have to question the relevance of using the criminal law to limit these effects. We have demonstrated that criminal law is not an appropriate governance tool for matters relating to personal choice and that prohibition is known to result in harm which often outweighs the desired positive effects. However, current scientific knowledge on cannabis, its effects and consequences are such that this issue is not relevant to our discussion.

Indeed available data indicate that the scale of the cannabis use phenomenon can no longer be ignored. Chapter 6 indicated that no fewer than 30% of Canadians (12 to 64 years old) have experimented with cannabis at least once in their lifetime. In all probability, this is an underestimation. We have seen that approximately 50% of high school students have used cannabis within the past year. Nevertheless, a high percentage of them stop using and the vast majority of those who experiment do not go on to become regular users. Even among regular users, only a small proportion develop problems related to excessive use, which may include some level of psychological dependency. Consumption patterns among cannabis users do not inevitably follow an upward curve but rather a series of peaks and lulls. Regular users also tend to have a high consumption rate in their early twenties, which then either drops off or stabilizes, and in the vast majority of cases, ceases altogether in their thirties.

All of this does not in any way mean, however, that cannabis use should be encouraged or left totally unregulated. Clearly, it is a psychoactive substance with some effects on cognitive and motor functions. When smoked, cannabis can have harmful effects on the respiratory airways and is potentially cancerous. Some vulnerable people should be prevented, as much as possible, from using cannabis. This is the case for young people under 16 years of age and those people with particular conditions that might make them vulnerable (for example those with psychotic predispositions). As with alcohol, adult users should be encouraged to use cannabis in moderation. Given that, as for any substance, at-risk use does exist, preventive measures and detection tools should be established and treatment initiatives must be developed for those who use the drug excessively. Lastly, it goes without saying that education initiatives and severe criminal penalties must be used to deter people from operating vehicles under the influence of cannabis.

As for any other substance, there is at-risk use and excessive use. There is no universally accepted criterion for determining the line between regular use, at-risk use and excessive use. The context in which use occurs, the age at which users were introduced to cannabis, substance quality and quantity are all factors that play a role in the passage from one type of use to another. Chapters 6 and 7 identified various criteria, which we have collated in table form below.

 

Proposed Criteria for Differentiating Use Types

 

Environment

Quantity

Frequency

Period of use and intensity

Experimental / Occasional

 

Curiosity

 

Variable

A few times over lifetime

None

Regular

Recreational, social

Mainly in evening

Mainly in a group

A few joints

Less than one gram per month

A few times per month

Spread over several years but rarely intensive

At-risk

Recreational and occupational (to go to school, to go to work, for sport…) Alone, in the morning

Under 16 years of age

Between 0.1 and 1 gram per day

A few times per week, evenings, especially weekends

Spread over several years with high intensity periods

Excessive

Occupational and personal problems

No self regulation of use

Over one gram per day

More than once per day

Spread over several years with several months at a time of high intensity use

 

 

If cannabis itself poses very little danger to the user and to society as a whole, some types of use involve risks. It is time for our public policy to recognize this and to focus on preventing at-risk use and on providing treatment for excessive cannabis users.

 

 

Recommendation 5

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada adopt an integrated policy on the risks and harmful effects of psychoactive substances covering the whole range of substances (medication, alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs). With respect to cannabis, this policy shall focus on educating users, detecting and preventing at-risk use and treating excessive use.

 

 

A regulatory approach to cannabis

 

The prohibition of cannabis does not bring about the desired reduction in cannabis consumption or problem use. However, this approach does have a whole series of harmful consequences. Users are marginalized and over 20,000 Canadians are arrested each year for cannabis possession. Young people in schools no longer enjoy the same constitutional and civil protection of their rights as others. Organized crime benefits from prohibition and the criminalization of cannabis enhances their power and wealth. It is a well-known fact that society will never be able to stamp out drug use – particularly cannabis use.

Some might believe that an alternative policy signifies abandoning ship and giving up on promoting well-being for Canadians. Some might maintain that a regulatory approach would fly in the face of the fundamental values of our society. We believe, however, that the continued prohibition of cannabis jeopardizes the health and well-being of Canadians much more than the regulated marketing of the substance. In addition, we believe that the continued criminalization of cannabis undermines the fundamental values set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and borne out by the history of a country based on diversity and tolerance.

We do not want to see cannabis use increase, especially among young people. Of note, the data from other countries that we compared in Chapters 6 and 20 indicate that countries such as the Netherlands, Australia or Switzerland, which have put in place a more liberal approach, have not seen their long-term levels of cannabis use rise. The same data also clearly indicate that countries with a very restrictive approach, such as Sweden and the United States, are poles apart in terms of cannabis use levels, and that countries with similar liberal approaches such as the Netherlands and Portugal are also at opposite ends of the spectrum, falling somewhere between Sweden and the United States. We have concluded that public policy itself has little effect on cannabis use trends and that other more complex and poorly-understood factors play a greater role in explaining the variations.

An exemption regime making cannabis available to those over the age of 16 would probably lead to an increase in cannabis use for a certain period. Use rates would then level out as interest wanes and as effective prevention programs are set up. This would then be followed by a roller-coaster pattern of highs and lows, as has been the case in most other countries.

This approach is neither one of total abdication nor a sign of giving up but rather a vision of the role of the State and criminal law as developing and promoting but not controlling human action and as stipulating only necessary prohibitions relating to the fundamental principle of respect for life, others and a harmonious community, and as supporting and assisting others and not judging and condemning difference.

We might wish for a drug-free world, fewer tobacco smokers or alcoholics or less prescription drug dependency, but we all know that we shall never be able to eliminate these problems. More importantly, we should not opt to criminalize them. The Committee believes that the same healthy and respectful approach and attitude should be applied to cannabis.

It is for this reason that the Committee recommends that the Government of Canada amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to create a criminal exemption scheme for the production and sale of cannabis under the authority of a licence. Licensing and the production and sale of cannabis would be subject to specific conditions, that the Committee has endeavoured to specify. For clarity’s sake, these conditions have been compiled at the end of this section. It should be noted at the outset that the Committee suggests that cigarette manufacturers be prohibited from producing and selling cannabis.

 

 

Recommendation 6

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to create a criminal exemption scheme. This legislation should stipulate the conditions for obtaining licences as well as for producing and selling cannabis; criminal penalties for illegal trafficking and export; and the preservation of criminal penalties for all activities falling outside the scope of the exemption scheme.

 

 

Recommendation 7

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada declare an amnesty for any person convicted of possession of cannabis under current or past legislation.

 

 

A compassion-based approach for therapeutic use

 

In Chapter 9, we noted that cannabis has not been approved as a medicinal drug in the pharmacological sense of the word. In addition to the inherent difficulties in conducting studies on the therapeutic applications of cannabis, there are issues arising from the current legal environment and the undoubtedly high cost to governments of conducting such clinical studies.

Nevertheless, we do not doubt that, for some medical conditions and for certain people, cannabis is indeed effective and useful therapy. Is it more effective than other types of medication? Perhaps not. Can physicians currently prescribe cannabis at a known dosage? Undoubtedly not. Should persons suffering from certain physical conditions diagnosed by qualified practitioners be permitted to use cannabis if they wish to do so? Of this, we are convinced.

Regulations made in 2001 by the Health Canada, even though they are a step in the right direction, are fundamentally unsatisfactory. They do not facilitate access to therapeutic cannabis. They do not consider the experience and expertise available in compassion clubs. These regulations only govern marijuana and do not include cannabis derivatives such as hashish and cannabis oils.

It is for these reasons that the Committee recommends that Health Canada amend the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations in order to allow compassionate access to cannabis and its derivatives. As in the previous chapter, proposed rules have been compiled at the end of this chapter.

 

 

Recommendation 8

The Committee recommends that the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations be amended to provide new rules regarding eligibility, production and distribution of cannabis for therapeutic purposes. In addition, research on cannabis for therapeutic purposes is essential.

 

 

Provisions for operating a vehicle under the influence of cannabis

 

In chapter 8, we discussed the fact that research has not clearly established the effects of cannabis when taken alone on a person’s ability to operate a vehicle. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to suggest that operating a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis alters motor functions and effects a person’s ability to remain in his or her lane. We have also established that the combined effects of cannabis and alcohol impair faculties even more than alcohol taken alone. Epidemiological studies have shown that a certain number of cannabis users do drive under the influence of the substance and that a large proportion of these people, mainly the young, appear to believe that cannabis does not impair their ability to drive.

This chapter also indicated that no reliable and non-intrusive road-side detection tools exist. Saliva-based equipment is a promising development but for the time being, provide random results. We have also established that a visual recognition system, which has mainly been developed and assessed in the United States, is a reliable way of detecting drug-induced impaired driving faculties.

 

 

 

Recommendation 9

The Committee recommends that the Criminal Code be amended to lower permitted alcohol levels to 40 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, in the presence of other drugs, especially, but not exclusively cannabis; and to admit evidence from expert police officers trained in detecting persons operating vehicles under the influence of drugs.

 

 

research

 

Research on psychoactive substances, and particularly on cannabis, has undergone a boom over the past 20 years. The Committee was able to fully grasp the actual extent of this increase, since we faced the challenge of summarizing it. Not all research is of the same quality and the current political and legal climate governing cannabis hampers thorough and objective studies. Nevertheless, a solid fact base was available to the Committee, on which to base its foregoing conclusions and recommendations.

However, more research needs to be done in a certain number of specific areas. In Chapter 6, we established that a lack of practical research on cannabis users has resulted in only a limited amount of information on contexts of use being available. It is also currently difficult to establish criteria on the various types of cannabis use in order to guide those responsible for prevention. The Committee suggests that cannabis use of over one gram per day constitutes excessive use and that between 0.1 and one gram per day equates to at-risk use. We also suggest that any use below 16 years of age is at-risk use. This is of course enlightened speculation, but speculation nevertheless, which remains to be explored.

In Chapters 16 and 17, we referred to the fact that we know very little about the most effective prevention practices and treatment. Here also, the current context hindered. As far as prevention is concerned, the more or less implicit “just say no ” message and the focus on cannabis use prevention are strategies that have been dictated by the prohibition-based environment. In terms of treatment for problem users, abstinence-based models have long been the dominant approach and continue to sit very poorly with harm-reduction-based models. Thorough assessment studies are required.

The Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency must play a key role in co-ordinating and publishing the results of studies. The Centre does not have to conduct research itself. This can and indeed must sometimes be carried out by academics. The Health Research Institutes are also natural players. However, it is important to clearly identify a single central body to collect research information. This will enable the information to be distributed as widely possible and, we hope, used.

 

Recommendation 10

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada create a national fund for research on psychoactive substances and dependency to fund research on key issues - more particularly on various types of use, on the therapeutic applications of cannabis, on tools for detecting persons operating vehicles under the influence of drugs and on effective prevention and treatment programs; that the Government of Canada mandate the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to co-ordinate national research and serve as a resource centre.

 

 

Canada’s international Position

 

The Committee is well aware that were Canada to choose the rational approach to regulating cannabis that we have recommended, it would be in contravention of the provisions of the various international conventions and treaties governing drugs. We are also fully aware of the diplomatic implications of this approach, in particular in relation to the United States.

We are keen to avoid replicating, at the Canada-US border, the problems that marked relations between the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany over the issue of drugs-tourism between 1985 and 1995. This is one of the reasons that justifies restricting the distribution of cannabis for recreational purposes to Canadian residents.

We are aware of the fact that a significant proportion of the cannabis produced in Canada is exported, mainly to the United States. We are also aware that a considerable proportion of heroin and cocaine comes into Canada via the United States. We are particularly cognisant of the fact that Canadian cannabis does not explain the increase in cannabis use in the United States. It is up to each country to get its own house in order before criticizing its neighbour.

Internationally, Canada will either have to temporarily withdraw from the conventions and treaties or accept that it will be in temporary contravention until the international community accedes to its request to amend them. The Committee opts for the second approach, which seems to us to be more consistent with the tradition and spirit of Canadian foreign policy. In addition, we have seen that international treaties foster the imbalanced relationship between the Northern and Southern hemispheres by prohibiting access to plants, including cannabis, produced in the Southern hemisphere, while at the same time developing a regulatory system for medication manufactured by the pharmaceutical industry in the Northern hemisphere. Canada could use this imbalanced situation to urge the international community to review existing treaties and conventions on psychoactive substances.

Canada can and indeed should provide leadership on drug policy. Developing a national information and action infrastructure would undoubtedly be key to this. Canada must also play a leading role in the Americas. We believe that Canada enjoys a favourable international reputation and that it can promote the development of fairer and more rational drug – in particular cannabis - policies. We also contend that Canada should strive for the creation of a European Observatory-style Drug and Dependency Observatory for the Americas within the Organization of American States.

 

 

Recommendation 11

The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada instruct the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Trade to inform the appropriate United Nations authorities that Canada is requesting that conventions and treaties governing illegal drugs be amended; and that the development of a Drugs and Dependency Observatory for the Americas be supported by the Government of Canada.

 


Proposals for implementing the regulation of cannabis for therapeutic and recreational purposes

Amendments to the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations  
(Production and sale of cannabis for therapeutic purposes)
 
A.              Eligible person

 

A person affected by one of the following: wasting syndrome; chemotherapy treatment; fibromyalgia; epilepsy; multiple sclerosis; accident-induced chronic pain; and some physical condition including migraines and chronic headaches, whose physical state has been certified by a physician or an individual duly authorized by the competent medical association of the province or territory in question, may choose to buy cannabis and its derivatives for therapeutic purposes. The person shall be registered with an accredited distribution centre or with Health Canada.

 
B.              Licence to distribute

 

A Canadian resident may obtain a licence to distribute cannabis and its derivatives for therapeutic purposes. The resident must undertake to only sell cannabis and its derivatives to eligible persons; to only sell cannabis and its derivatives purchased from producers duly licensed for this purpose; to keep detailed records on the medical conditions and their development, consumption and the noted effects on patients; to take all measures needed to ensure the safety of the cannabis products and to submit to departmental inspections.

 
C.              Licence to produce

 

A Canada resident may obtain a licence to produce cannabis and its derivatives for therapeutic purposes. The resident must undertake: not to hold a licence to produce cannabis for non therapeutic purposes; to take the measures necessary to ensure the consistency, regularity and quality of crops; to take the measures necessary to ensure the security of production sites; to know and document the properties and concentrations of each harvest with respect to Delta 9 THC; to sell only to accredited distribution centres and to submit to departmental inspections.

 

D.             Other proposals

 

·        Ensure that expenses relating to the use of cannabis for therapeutic purposes will be eligible for a medical expenses tax credit;

·        Establish a program of research into the therapeutic applications of cannabis, by providing sufficient funding; by mandating the Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency to co-ordinate the research program; and by providing for the systematic study of clinical cases based on the documentation available in organizations currently distributing cannabis for therapeutic purposes and in future distribution centres; and

·        Ensure that the advisory committee on the therapeutic use of cannabis represents all players, including distribution centres and users.

 

 
Amendment to the
Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA)
(Production and sale of cannabis for non therapeutic purposes)

 

A.     General aims of the bill

 

·        To reduce the injurious effects of the criminalization of the use and possession of cannabis and its derivatives;

·        To permit persons over the age of 16 to procure cannabis and its derivatives at duly licensed distribution centres; and

·        To recognize that cannabis and its derivatives are psychoactive substances that may present risks to physical and mental health and, to this end, to regulate the use and trade of these substances in order to prevent at-risk use and excessive use.

 

B.     Licence to distribute

 

Amend the Act to create a criminal exemption scheme to the criminal offences provided in the CDSA with respect to the distribution of cannabis. A Canadian resident could obtain a licence to distribute cannabis. The resident must undertake not to distribute to persons under the age of 16; must never have been sentenced for a criminal offence, with the exception of offences related to the possession of cannabis, for which an amnesty will be declared; and must agree to procure cannabis only from duly licensed producers. In addition, in accordance with the potential limits imposed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, licensed distributors shall not display products explicitly and shall not advertise in any manner.

 

C.     Licence to produce

 

Amend the Act to create a criminal exemption scheme to the criminal offences provided in the CDSA with respect to the production of cannabis. A Canadian resident could obtain a licence to produce cannabis. The resident must undertake to only sell to duly licensed distributors; to sell only marihuana and hashish with a THC content of 13% or less; to limit production to the quantity specified in the licence; to take the measures needed to ensure the security of production sites; to keep detailed records of quantities produced, crops, levels of THC concentration and production conditions; and to submit to departmental inspections. No person charged with and sentenced for criminal offences, with the exception of the possession of cannabis, for which an amnesty will be declared, shall be granted a licence. No person or legal entity, directly or indirectly associated with the production, manufacture, promotion, marketing or other activity connected with tobacco products and derivatives shall be granted a licence. In accordance with the potential limits imposed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, cannabis products and their derivatives shall not be advertised in any manner. 

 

D.    Production for personal use

 

Amend the Act to create a criminal exemption scheme to the criminal offences provided in the CDSA in order to permit the personal production of cannabis so long as it is not sold for consideration or exchange in kind or other and not advertised or promoted in any other way. In addition, quantities shall be limited to ensure production is truly for personal consumption.

 

E.     Consumption in public

 

Consumption in public places shall be prohibited.

 

F.      International trade

 

All forms of international trade, except those explicitly permitted under the Act shall be subject to the penalties provided in the CDSA for illegal trafficking.

 

 

G.    Other proposals

 

·        Ensure the establishment of a National Cannabis Board with duly mandated representatives of the federal government and the governments of the provinces and territories. The Board would keep a national register on the production and sale of cannabis and its derivatives, set the amount and distribution of taxes taken on the sale of cannabis products and ensure the taxes collected on the production and sale of cannabis and derivatives are directed solely to prevention of at-risk use, treatment of excessive users, research and observation of trends and the fight against illegal trafficking.

·        The provinces and territories would continue to develop prevention measures that should be directed at at-risk use, as a priority. The Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency should be mandated to collect best prevention practices and ensure an exchange of information on effective practices and their evaluation.

·        The provinces and territories would continue to develop support and treatment measures that should be directed at excessive use, as a priority. The Canadian Centre on Psychoactive Substances and Dependency should be mandated to collect best prevention practices and ensure an exchange of information on effective practices and their evaluation.

·        Increase resources available to police and customs to fight smuggling, export in all its forms and cross-border trafficking.


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II – Witnesses quoted in the report

 

Mohamed ben Amar, Professor, Pharmacology and Toxicology – University of Montreal, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 11, 2001, Issue no 4.

 

Line Beauchesne, Professor, Department of Criminology – University of Ottawa, Second Session, Thirty-sixth Parliament, October 16,  2000, Issue no 1.

 

Patricia Bégin, Director, Research and Evaluation – National Crime Prevention Centre, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

Marie-Andrée Bertrand, Professor Emeritus of Criminology – University of Montreal, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, April 23, 2001, Issue no 1.

 

Hilary Black, Founder and Director – B.C. Compassion Club Society, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, November 7, 2001, Issue no 10.

 

Tim Boekhout van Solinge, Lecturer and Researcher in CriminologyUtrecht University, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, November 7, 2001, Issue no. 11.

 

Micheal J. Boyd, Chair of the Drug Abuse Committee and Deputy Chief of the Toronto Police Service – Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, March 11, 2002, Issue no 14.

 

Neil Boyd, Professor, Department of Criminology – Simon Fraser University, Second Session, Thirty-sixth Parliament, October 16, 2000, Issue no 1.

 

Serge Brochu, Professor and Director of the International Center for Comparative Criminology – University of Montreal, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, December 10, 2001, Issue no 12.

 

Bill Campbell, President – Canadian Society on Addiction Medicine, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, March 11, 2002, Issue no 14.

 

Mark Connolly, Director General, Contraband and Intelligence Services Directorate, Customs Branch – Canada Customs and Revenue Agency First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, October 29, 2001, Issue no 8.

 

John Conroy, Barrister, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, March 11, 2002, Issue no 14.

 

Jean-Michel Coste, Director – French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, October 1st, 2001, Issue no 7.

 

Patricia Erickson, Researcher – Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 14, 2001, Issue no 2.

 

Julian Fantino, Chief – Toronto Police Service, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, September 10, 2001, Issue no 5.

 

Benedikt Fischer, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences – University of Toronto, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, September 17, 2001, Issue no 6.

 

David Griffin, Canadian Police Association, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 28, 2001, Issue no 3.

 

Henry Haddad, President – Canadian Medical Association, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, March 11, 2002, Issue no 14.

 

Health Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

Kash Heed, Vice Drugs Section – Vancouver Police Service, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, November 7, 2001, Issue no 10

 

Gary E. Johnson, Governor, State of New Mexico, First Session, Thirty-seventh, November 5, 2001, Issue no 9.

 

Cal Johnston, Chief – Regina Police Service, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 13 2002, Issue no 16.

 

Harold Kalant, Professor Emeritus – University of Toronto, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 11, 2001, Issue no 4.

 

Perry Kendall, Health Officer – Province of British Columbia, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, September 17, 2001, Issue no 6.

 

Paul Kennedy, Senior Assistant Deputy Solicitor General, Policing and Security Branch – Solicitor General of Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

Barry King, Former Chair of the Drug Abuse Committee and Chief of the Brockville Police Service – Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, March 11, 2002, Issue no 14.

 

R.G. Lesser, Chief Superintendent – Royal Canadian Mounted Police, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, October 29, 2001, Issue no 8.

 

Gillian Lynch, Director General, Drug Strategy and Controlled Substances Programme – Health Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

Mary Lynch, Director, Canadian Consortium for the Investigation of Cannabinoids – Dalhousie University, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 11, 2001, Issue no 4.

 

Nicole Maestracci, President – Interministerial Mission for the Fight against Drugs and Drug Addiction, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, October 1st, 2001, Issue no 7.

 

Colin Mangham, Director – Prevention Source B.C., First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, September 17, 2001, Issue no 6.

 

Céline Mercier, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry – McGill University, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, December 10, 2001, Issue no 12.

 

Croft Michaelson, Director and Senior General Counsel, Strategic Prosecution Policy Section – Justice Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

John P. Morgan, Professor of Pharmacology – City of New York Medical School, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 11, 2001, Issue no 4.

 

Dann Michols, Assistant Deputy Minister, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch – Health Canada, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

Dale Orban, Canadian Police Association, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 28, 2001, Issue no 3.

 

Michel Perron, Executive Director – Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, June 10, 2002, Issue no 22.

 

Senate of Canada, Proceedings of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, March-April 2001, Issue no 1.

 

Senate of Canada, Proceedings of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 28, 2001, Issue no 3.

 

Eric Single, Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences – University of Toronto, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 14, 2001, Issue no 2. 

 

Diane Steber Büchli, Head, International Drug Affairs Unit – Swiss Federal Office of Public Health, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, February 24, 2002, Issue no 13.

 

Art Steinman, Executive Director – Alcohol-Drug Education Service, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, November 7, 2002, Issue no 10.

 

Ambros Uchtenhagen, Retired Professor – Addiction Research Institute, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, February 4, 2002, Issue no 13.

 

Mark Ware, Assistant Professor – McGill University, First Session, Thirty-seventh Parliament, May 31st 2002, Issue no 18.

 

Mark Zoccolillo, Professor, Department of Psychiatry – McGill University, Second Session, Thirty-sixth Parliament, October 16, 2000, Issue no 1.


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