Canada’s Liberal Party government launched a review of the country’s legalization of cannabis on Thursday, four years after the country became the world’s second to legalize marijuana for adults. Canada legalized marijuana with the passage of the Cannabis Act in 2018, five years after Uruguay became the first country to legalize cannabis for adults in 2013.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a press conference on Thursday that the review will help legislators and other policymakers determine if cannabis legalization is meeting the needs and expectations of Canadians.
“Through this useful, inclusive and evidence-driven review, we will strengthen the act so that it meets the needs of all Canadians while continuing to displace the illicit market. I look forward to receiving the panel’s findings,” Duclos said.
The Cannabis Act mandated that a review of cannabis legalization be conducted three years after the law was passed. The review, which is being initiated one year later than required by the legislation, is required to study the impact of cannabis legalization on Indigenous people, the cultivation of cannabis in housing complexes, and the health and cannabis use patterns of young people.
“Our government legalized cannabis to protect the health and safety of Canadians, particularly minors, and to displace the illegal market,” added Duclos.
Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, a co-chair of the all-party cannabis caucus, said that the review can help reveal the shortcomings of the groundbreaking Cannabis Act, which made Canada the first country in the northern hemisphere to legalize recreational marijuana.
“We have been, in many ways, world leaders in advancing sensible drug policy and legalization and regulation of cannabis is an example of that,” said Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who co-chairs the all-party cannabis caucus, at a press conference. “But we didn’t get it perfect, we didn’t get it exactly right for the first time.”
Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett agreed, noting the review is designed to focus in part on the mental health implications of cannabis legalization, particularly among the young.
“Young people are at increased risk of experiencing harms from cannabis such as mental health problems, including dependence and disorders related to anxiety and depression,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett. “While a lot of progress has been made on the implementation of the Cannabis Act and its dual objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety, we need to assess the work that has been done and learn how and where to adjust to meet these goals.”
Protecting Youth and Displacing the Illicit Market
When Canada’s Liberal government passed cannabis legalization in 2018, the stated goals of the Cannabis Act included protecting the health of Canadians and displacing the country’s illicit marijuana market. The review will help officials determine how effectively the legislation is meeting those goals so far.
“We are going to displace the illicit marketplace. It’s only a matter of time and you are going to, over the next three years, five years and 10 years, see those numbers shift,” said Erskine-Smith. “The legal marketplace will be where Canadians continue to turn.”
The Canadian Chamber of Commerce expressed support for the review, saying that the comprehensive evaluation would help foster the growth of the regulated cannabis market.
“However, to effectively displace the illicit market and protect the public health and safety of all Canadians, law enforcement, businesses, industry and all levels of government will need to continue to work together,” the Canadian Chamber of Commerce National Cannabis Working Group said in a statement.
The mandated review has been expanded to include an investigation of the social and environmental impacts of the Cannabis Act, the legalization and regulation of medical marijuana and the effects of reform on minority communities and women. Erskine-Smith said that including the additional areas of focus in the review is responsible for the government’s failure to meet the three-year deadline specified in the legislation.
“Getting the scope of the review right was much more important than the timeline,” he said. “If we’d followed the legislation to a ‘T’ — both in relation to the three-year timeline, but also the considerations that are set out in the legislation — we would have missed a major opportunity to get this right.”
The review will be conducted by a panel of experts led by Morris Rosenberg, a former deputy minister of justice. The government has not yet named the remaining members of the review panel.
The panel will hear from members of the public, government officials, Indigenous groups, youth, cannabis industry representatives, and medical cannabis users. The panel will also hear from leaders in public health, substance abuse, law enforcement, and health care.
“I look forward to working with the panel and to providing evidence-based advice to ministers to strengthen this particularly important piece of legislation and advance public policy in this area in Canada,” Rosenberg said Thursday.