FAMOUS CASES | The Constitutional Right to Marijuana in Canada: R v Parker.

Date01 May 2020
AuthorBowal, Peter

"If a rule of criminal law precludes a person from obtaining appropriate medical treatment when his or her life or health is in danger, then the state has intervened and this intervention constitutes a violation of that man's or that woman's security of the person ...

R v Parker, [2000] OJ No 2787 (ONCA) at para 106

"Canada first criminalized the possession, use and trade of marijuana in the Narcotics Drug Act of 1923. It was added, almost incidentally, to the list of prohibited drugs. In the late-night session at the House of Commons on April 23, 1923, with the Narcotics Drug Act under discussion, legislators asked about additions to the list. One Member of Parliament - referring to marijuana - casually replied: "there is a new drug in the schedule."

And thus was launched what would be for close to the next century the Canadian 'War on Drugs'. Marijuana use increased in the 1960s, along with its criminalization and enforcement. The maximum penalties were seven years' imprisonment for simple possession and life imprisonment for trafficking. From 1965 to 1975, some 300,000 marijuana possession charges were laid against predominantly young Canadians. Enforcement costs soared to $400 million annually.

The popular Reefer Madness movie added to the rhetoric around the drug's evils and stigmatization. Meanwhile, the counter-culture espoused marijuana (known by several different terms in street slang) as a drug of choice. Opium dens and back-alley heroin gave way to the hippy happy, laid-back, open lifestyle and occasional peaceful protest.

This change of social attitude eventually supported the argument that marijuana was even a necessity of life. A decade after this shift in 2000, it was no longer career ending to admit that one had inhaled. The next shoe to drop would be complete liberalization of marijuana in 2018. Canada emerged as the first federal G7 and G20 nation - the second country ever - to legalize the cultivation and consumption of cannabis and its by-products. Canadian social policy and attitudes to the plant had come full circle after nearly a century.

This article is about R v Parker, the leading medical marijuana case that represented the first legal crack to bring down the prohibition-era wall.


Terrance Parker was epileptic. Two lobectomies in his teens failed to control his seizures. He claimed to have suffered side effects from prescription drugs, psychological trauma and depression.

In the late 1960s, Parker tried...

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