An old adage says those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. While it may seem cliché now, that phrase remains relevant to the medical marijuana discussion in Canada. Years of cannabis prohibition and restriction have limited knowledge about the substance in both public and scientific circles. The only way to learn more about the drug’s potential medical advantages is to relax legal restrictions that prevent rigorous tests and trials.
But as this article will detail, actual medical marijuana laws tend to lag behind both medical research and commission recommendations by many years. Even as experts in both science and law argued against the negative effects of prohibition, negative cultural stigma delayed significant medical cannabis policies until the dawn of the 21st century. The last two decades have seen significant strides for this promising substance, but if that progress is to continue, the mistakes of the past cannot reoccur.
1923: Marijuana Is Criminalized in Canada
While marijuana didn’t enter popular culture in a major way prior to the mid- to late-1930s, the Canadian government outlawed the drug a decade and a half earlier. There have been countless arguments about the cause of this prohibition, including a dubious one that over-emphasizes the influence of suffragette Emily Murphy’s anti-cannabis chapter in her book The Black Candle. Others have attributed the decision to a need to align Canada’s drug control with that of other countries.It’s a known fact, however, that the move to outlaw marijuana did not cause any debate in the House of Parliament.
This decision is as relevant to marijuana’s medical history as it is to its legal past. The CBC reports that the act went against contemporary drug reports, and it resulted in the ban that has prevented serious scientific research into the subject. It would take nearly half a century for a major Canadian body to challenge the stigma caused by this proscription.
1963—64: Structure of Cannabidiol, THC Determined
As research on cannabis languished in Canada, scientists in other countries were able to make their own advances. In the early 1960s, Raphael Mechoulam was able to obtain cannabis samples from the Israeli national police and test it. This led his team to map out cannabidiol (CBD)’s structure in 1963, before they did the same for tetrahydrocannabinol a year later. This represents the first time that the key chemical components of the drug had been isolated, and it gave medical experts a better understanding of how these substances interact with the human body.
2001: Canadian Medical Marijuana Access Regulations Instated
A court decision in 1997 paved the way for the Canadian Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR), which came into law in 2001. This measure allowed cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, and arthritis sufferers to use marijuana to treat pain, muscle spams, nausea, seizures and more. A policy that allowed patients to draw from a legal supply of the drug followed in 2003.
2013: Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations and Current Policies
After the MMAR ended in 2014, the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) came into effect. While the MMAR allowed patients to grow their own supply of marijuana, the MMPR made clients reliant on 35 producers that Health Canada licensed to grow and sell the substance. A 2015 court decision allowed medical users to legally make and consume marijuana in other forms, giving patients more freedom in their consumption methods. The Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) replaced the MMPR in 2016 after a federal court ruled that preventing patients from growing their own plants was unconstitutional. The new laws allow users to buy from either licensed producers or produce their own cannabis, but only for personal use.