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Cannabis: Report of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs

Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Should the use of cannabis be decriminalized or legalized? If so, how should it be legislated, and for whom? Although Western nations have sought to address these questions for decades, there has never been a thorough and comprehensive study of the subject. A special committee of the Canadian senate sought to rectify this, and when their report was made public, it astonished observers with its audacious recommendations.

    Important scientific resources were used for the committee's purposes: the investigations of 23 international researchers based on 200 interviews; the work of Canadian specialists working in an array of disciplines; and a large number of discussion groups. The essential recommendations of the report are found in this book. The Senate committee proposes new perspectives on illicit drugs, calling for a rational new political view that does not marginalize users. With innovative scientific investigation and bold recommendations, this report, prefaced by Senator Nolin, is an indispensable tool in the national and international debate surrounding cannabis.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7268-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xx)
    Pierre Claude Nolin
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The members of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs addressed the question of drugs as everyone else does - that is, with the same preconceptions, the same basic attitudes, the same fears, and the same anxieties. Of course, we had at our disposal the study on illegal drug legislation that our colleagues conducted in 1996, during which they heard many witnesses over the course of several months. We also knew at the outset that research expertise would be available to us. Nevertheless, it is difficult to go beyond attitudes and opinions that have long been taken for granted. Whether...

  6. PART I General Orientation

    • 1 Our Mandate
      (pp. 7-8)

      The Committee’s mandate is a continuation of the evolution of drug legislation passed by the Parliament of Canada in 1996, theControlled Drugs and Substances Act. While this legislation was being studied by the Sub-Committee on Bill C-7 of the Standing Committee on Health of the House of Commons in 1994 and 1995, the vast majority of witnesses were highly critical of the bill. The most common criticisms concerned three points: first, the lack of basic principles or an expressed statement as to the purpose of the act; second, the fact that the bill perpetuated the prohibition system of the...

    • 2 Our Work
      (pp. 9-12)

      Designing, developing and implementing public policy is the very essence of the role of government, of political life in the broad sense. This fundamental activity presupposes a choice between various alternatives and, in a democratic system, an explanation and justification of the choice that has been made. A public policy, regardless of its object, stands at the confluence ofvarious influences: partisan political considerations, of course, and economic considerations as well - in fact, increasingly so. However, if it lays claim to a certain degree of rationality and citizen support, a public policy must also be based on rigorous and objective...

    • 3 Guiding Principles
      (pp. 13-18)

      What should public policy on illegal drugs consist of — policy in the strict sense of the word, as government through public debate and not party politics? As we are part of the Senate of Canada, and therefore of Parliament, and have legislative authority, one might wonder why we ask ourselves the question. As legislators, are we not guided by the principles of good government, that is to say by public interest? But what, exactly, is public interest, and how is it determined? Does our position as Senators give us thede factoability to say what is, or what...

    • 4 A Changing Context
      (pp. 19-28)

      Our work is being conducted at a time in history, in a given historical period. That history is not simply a field external to us, something outside us, exercising no influence on what we do. It is closely bound up with our actions, influencing them in various subtle ways. At the same time, because we are living through and making that history, we do not have the necessary distance from it to reconstitute all its elements or to understand all its implications. However, to re-situate our work in its complexity and uncertainty, we have a responsibility to attempt to ascertain...

  7. PART II Cannabis:: Effects, Types of Use, Attitudes

    • 5 Cannabis: From Plant to Joint
      (pp. 31-42)

      Cannabis, marijuana, pot, grass, kif, grifa, ganja - every culture has its own name for the drug made from cannabis satiua indica, one of the two main varieties of hemp. Besides these various names, there are also different ways in which the drug is used and different contexts for its use: here marijuana is rolled with cigarette tobacco in a cigarette paper (joint), there kif is smoked in a pipe, and elsewhere ganja is smoked in a water pipe. Sometimes it is baked into cookies or cakes. The Frenchpétard, the English joint or the Indianbanghare all names...

    • 6 Users and Uses: Form, Practice, Context
      (pp. 43-66)

      Who uses cannabis? How do the patterns of use in Canada compare to those in other countries? In what context is cannabis used? Why? Which populations are most vul nerable? What are the social consequences of cannabis, specifically on delinquency and criminal behaviour? Most importantly, what trajectories do cannabis users follow, specifically with respect to consumption of other drugs?

      At the very least, partial answers to these questions are needed to establish policy on the substance. In Canada, knowledge of patterns and contexts of cannabis use verges on the abysmal. In the early 1980s, the USA, the United Kingdom, and...

    • 7 Cannabis: Effects and Consequences
      (pp. 67-82)

      Cannabis, as we saw in Chapter 5, acts on the central and peripheral nervous systems in various ways. While research has established a fairly clear role for some of the components of cannabis - particularly ∆⁹THC, the main active component - we are less sure of the role of other chemicals. Research, which is often conducted on laboratory animals or in an even more specialized manner on molecules extracted for experimental purposes, does not reflect the conditions under which the average user uses marijuana. Since THC content varies greatly with the cannabis available on the market, since users make different...

    • 8 Driving under the Influence of Cannabis
      (pp. 83-90)

      If there is one issue of major concern to society and governments - other than the effects of cannabis use on young people or the effects of substance abuse - then it is certainly the issue of how cannabis affects the ability to drive a vehicle. We are already familiar with the effects of alcohol on driving, and the many accidents involving injuries or deaths to young people. In spite of the decreases in use noted in recent years, it is widely agreed that one fatal accident caused by drug use is one accident too many.

      After alcohol, cannabis is...

    • 9 Use of Marijuana for Therapeutic Purposes
      (pp. 91-98)

      There has been renewed interest in the issue of the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes in recent years, particularly in Canada. In the wake of an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling which found the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to be unconstitutional pertaining to the therapeutic use of marijuana, the federal Minister of Health made new regulations in July 2001 that give people with specified medical problems access to marijuana under certain conditions.

      However, the scientific community - the medical community, in particular - is divided on the real therapeutic effectiveness of marijuana. Some are quick...

    • 10 Canadiansʼ Opinions and Attitudes
      (pp. 99-106)

      One of our main objectives throughout our study was to get Canadians involved. We wanted people to share their opinions, experiences and fears regarding marijuana. We also wanted to provide access to the information we held so as to contribute, within our modest means, to better knowledge of the realities of marijuana, if only to raise the level of public debate.

      It is always very difficult to gauge the public's opinions, attitudes and concerns. The traditional method of surveying a representative sample of the population was too expensive for our resources. However, we did commission a qualitative study using focus...

  8. PART III Policies and Practices in Canada

    • 11 A National Drug Strategy?
      (pp. 109-116)

      It will probably surprise many Canadians to learn that Canada only had a fully funded national drug strategy from 1987 to 1993. This chapter will recount the development and implementation of the 1987 National Drug Strategy.

      In May 1987, the federal government announced a $210-million, five-year action plan to curb drug abuse. The government stated that the action plan was in response to mounting concerns regarding increasing rates of drug-related problems. Others have suggested that "this strong political action was undoubtedly influenced by the latest American 'War on Drugs.’”¹

      The National Drug Strategy (NDS),Action on Drug Abuse, was launched...

    • 12 The National Legislative Context
      (pp. 117-120)

      Knowing where we have been helps us understand where we are going. That is the goal of this chapter: retracing the evolution of Canadian drug laws from 1908 to the present day. We have identified three legislative periods. The first and longest - the period of hysteria - spans 1908 to 1960. We were told that drugs were made criminal because they are dangerous. Analysis of debates in Parliament and in media accounts clearly shows how far this is from the truth. When cannabis was introduced in the legislation on narcotics in 1923, there was no debate and no justification;...

    • 13 Regulating Therapeutic Use of Cannabis
      (pp. 121-126)

      As discussed, cannabis has an extremely long history of therapeutic use, going back several thousands of years. It was often used for the same medical conditions it is used for today. With the development of the pharmaceutical industry in the last century, the medical community has gradually discontinued its use. Various factors may explain this. Developments in the pharmaceutical industry provided the medical community with more stable and better tested medication. The practice of medicine itself has changed and so has our conception of health. Then, at the turn of the 20th century, the plants from which opium, cocaine, and...

    • 14 Police Practices
      (pp. 127-132)

      Many organizations play a role in enforcing Canada's illicit drug legislation. This section will review three: the RCMP, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (CCRA), and provincial and municipal police forces. These key players co-operate with many other organizations when required, such as National Defence, Fisheries and Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard.

      The RCMP is involved mainly in four components of Canada's Drug Strategy: enforcement and control, national co-ordination, international co-operation, and prevention programming. The RCMP is also involved in drug prevention and has established a Drug Awareness Service. With a budget of $4 million and 31 employees, this...

    • 15 The Criminal Justice System
      (pp. 133-138)

      The previous chapter examined how people first come into contact with the criminal justice system through the enforcement of criminal legislation. Several questions remain, however. What happens once a person has been charged with a drug offence? Who is responsible for prosecuting drug cases? What type of punishment do people receive? Who ends up with a criminal record? Have there been any challenges to the constitutional validity of drug legislation? These issues and others related to the criminal justice system are reviewed in this chapter.

      The Federal Prosecution Service (FPS) is the lead prosecution agency with respect to drug offences...

    • 16 Prevention
      (pp. 139-146)

      Prevention is a key component of public health strategies and is increasingly part of the array of measures used to fight crime, especially crime related to the abuse of psychoactive substances. Viewed - in theory, at least - as a public health issue, an effective illegal drugs policy calls for a strong prevention strategy.

      The literature makes a distinction between primary, secondary and tertiary prevention - prevention through social development and situational development; universal, specific and indicated prevention; and prevention of use, at-risk behaviour and abuse - yet does not agree on the specific content of each field or the...

    • 17 Treatment Practices
      (pp. 147-152)

      How common is cannabis dependence? In fact, physical dependence on cannabis is rare and insignificant. Some symptoms of addiction and tolerance can be identified in habitual users but most of them have no problem in quitting and do not generally require a period of withdrawal.

      As far as psychological dependence is concerned, the studies are still incomplete, but the international data tend to suggest that between 5% and 10% of regular users (at least during the last month) are at risk of becoming dependent on cannabis. If we recall that we estimated that approximately 3% or 600,000 adult Canadians have...

    • 18 Observations on Practices
      (pp. 153-158)

      Without embracing the hyperbole that makes drugs into a bigger social issue than they actually are, we can nevertheless state that the use of psychoactive substances, legal or illegal, and potential dependency problems concern every citizen and every level of government throughout the country. This is an issue of national importance. Quite apart from its social and economic consequences, which will be discussed later, the drug issue should be a priority because it concerns the education of children and adolescents, affects the quality and safety of living environments, and causes suffering and wasted lives. Granted that this is not so...

  9. PART IV Public Policy Options

    • 19 The International Legal Environment
      (pp. 161-164)

      This chapter could begin and end with the same words: The international drug control conventions are, at least with respect to cannabis, an utterly irrational restraint that has nothing to do with scientific or public health considerations.

      Our analysis of the history and evolution of international drug control conventions leads us to three observations. The first has to do with the absence of definitions. The terms “drugs,” “narcotics” and “psychotropics” are not defined in any way except as lists of products included in schedules. Any natural or synthetic substance on the list of narcotics is, for the purposes of international...

    • 20 Public Policies in Other Countries
      (pp. 165-166)

      The vast majority of Canadians have heard about the “war on drugs” which the USA is conducting and about its prohibitionist approach, but many would be surprised to see the major variations between states, indeed between cities, within that country. Even fewer know that Sweden enforces a prohibitionist policy at least as strict as that of the US, but through other means. Many of us have, in one way or another, heard about the “liberal” approach introduced in the Netherlands in 1976. Fewer people know of the Spanish, Italian, Luxembourg, or Swiss approaches, which are even more liberal in certain...

    • 21 Public Policy Options
      (pp. 167-182)

      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. It is as if this legislation is the backbone of our public policy. Public discussions of cannabis do not deal so much with the matters of 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. In this Committee’s view, a public policy...

  10. Conclusions and Recommendations
    (pp. 183-204)

    The mandate of the Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs 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. This final section sets out the main conclusions that emerge from all the information we examined 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...

  11. Committee Members
    (pp. 205-206)
  12. Glossary of Key Terms
    (pp. 207-216)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 217-229)