Recent Developments in Marijuana Possession Law

AuthorKathleen McIntosh
40 AP PE AL V OL UM E 10 2005
Kathleen McIntosh
Marijuana possession is a contentious issue. For decades the
topic has been the subject of a raging national debate involving
the media, politicians, lawyers, and everyday citizens. Should
marijuana possession be criminal? Should it be decriminalized?
Should it be legal? Is the prohibition on marijuana possession
constitutional? Should ill Canadians be able to legally consume
Historically this debate involved significant discussion but very little
action. More recently, however, there has been a flurry of activity. In
less than five years, the issue has gone before several appellate courts,
including the Supreme Court of Canada. Regulations were developed
to allow seriously ill persons to legally possess and cultivate marijuana.
Furthermore, a marijuana decriminalization bill was put before the
House of Commons. These significant events, combined with a brief
discussion of the history of marijuana possession, are the focus of this
41 AP PE AL V OL UM E 10 2005
A Brief Historical Overview
Marijuana was first criminalized in 1923 under the Opium and Narcotic
Drug Act.
The rationale for this event is not entirely certain. There
was no discussion in the House of Commons. The Honourable H.S.
Beland simply stated that “[t]here is a new drug in the Schedule.”
well, there were no cannabis-related problems at that time; opium was
the drug of choice.
Interestingly, the prohibition on marijuana took place one year after
The Black Candle
was published. The author of that book, Emily
Murphy, was a police magistrate and judge of the Juvenile Court in
Edmonton, Alberta. She devoted an entire chapter to marijuana,
which she called an “extraordinary menace.”
In that chapter she
reproduced portions of a sensationalist letter from the chief of police
in Los Angeles, California:
Persons using this narcotic, smoke the dried leaves of the plant,
which has the effect of driving them completely insane. The
addict loses all sense of moral responsibility. Addicts to this drug,
while under its influence, are immune to pain, and could be
severely injured without having any realization of their condition.
While in this condition they become raving maniacs and are liable
to kill or indulge in any form of violence to other persons, using
the most savage methods of cruelty…
Murphy further quoted the chief of police’s statement that excessive
consumption of marijuana “ends in the untimely death of its addict.”
It is possible that concern about these supposed side effects of
marijuana consumption influenced Parliament to take pre-emptive
Despite the prohibition on marijuana, enforcement was almost non-
existent for several decades. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics
reported that only 25 marijuana offences were recorded across
S.C. 1923, c. 22.
House of Commons Debates 3 (23 April 1923) at 2124 (Hon. H.S. Beland).
E. F. Murphy, The Black Candle (Toronto: Thomas Allen, 1922).
Ibid. at 331.
Ibid. at 332-33.
Ibid. at 333.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT