A report from Health Canada, prepared as a ministerial briefing presentation in November 2015, has been released to the Canadian Press under an access to information request.
The presentation, called “Legalizing & Regulating Marijauana,” highlights nine points to the government and may sway future policy on the issue as legalization moves forward:
Cannabis Usage Rates
Eleven per cent of Canadians over 15 years old used cannabis in the last year, according to Health Canada data, with 20-24 year-olds at 26 per cent usage. Health Canada has labelled this as “relatively low overall rates of usage” and said that studies show use declines with age.
Health Benefits and Risks
Health Canada wrote that there is evidence of the benefit of cannabis to the treatment of chemotherapy, neuropathic pain and epilepsy in children but that the regular usage of cannabis carries risks, such as long-term mental issues for users under 25.
International legal framework
The country is party to several international agreements which do not allow for the legalization of cannabis. The report doesn’t indicate what kind of practical impact these agreements could have, as Uruguay, which is a member of similar deals, was met with regret from the International Narcotics Control Board when the country legalized cannabis, but no further consequences have been seen.
Canadian regime for medical marijuana
The presentation went over the current, licensed producer, medical cannabis system in the country. The report was released before the recent Allard appeal decision called for a rewrite of the status-quo.
Domestic legal context
Health Canada, in November, was aware that the verdict from the Allard appeal, and other court rulings, could affect how the Liberals legalize cannabis.
Role of provincial and territorial governments
The presentation stated that, while the federal government might impose minimum standards on legalization, the provinces and territories could and might create more strict regulations on where cannabis is used, sold and the minimum age on who could buy it, similar to alcohol regulations across the country.
Experience of other jurisdictions
Health Canada seemed to favour the approach Uruguay, with government controls of all production as well as setting the price, quality and maximum production volumes, as opposed to U.S. states like Colorado and Washington where Health Canada said commercial interests increased risks to health and safety.
Law enforcement issues
The presentation touched on current police action on cannabis, including organized crime involved in sales. Reports of cannabis-impaired driving are not representative of the actual number of those driving under the influence of cannabis, as it is difficult for police to recognize the signs. Health Canada recognized a national strategy for police on legal cannabis.
The Youth Criminal Justice Act currently requires police to use measures such as warnings and referrals to community programs for cannabis users aged 12 to 17. Health Canada write that consideration will need to be given to how the new regime will be enforced when it comes to young people.