Cannabis is one of the hottest topics of the decade—there’s no denying that. With the recent recreational legalization in Canada, the plant is often at the centre of animated discussions both for and against. And while it might feel like a very current issue, the truth of the matter is that Canadians have been talking about cannabis for a long time.
Where Canadian cannabis was 100 years ago
Back in the early 1900s, the Canadian government actually encouraged farmers to plant hemp, because it was a key material for making textiles, rope, and paper. But, despite the fact that hemp has negligible (less than 0.3%) amounts of the psychoactive compound THC, Canada stopped hemp production once it was prohibited under the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act in 1938. This was 15 years after cannabis was first made illegal in Canada with the passing of the 1923 Narcotics Drug Act Amendment Bill.
It’s not entirely clear what led to the ban in 1923. Some speculate that Canada was just a sheep in the herd and following other countries across the world that were criminalizing cannabis. But what was most shocking about the Canadian government’s decision to implement the ban is that there was hardly any debate on the matter. Because so little was known about the plant, Parliament passed the bill without any disputes, setting the stage for the next 95 years of prohibition.
The 60s and 70s: An era of re-emergence and political strife
After 40 years of not much activity, cannabis emerged in the 1960s as a central feature of the hippie subculture. Still illegal at the time, pot became a symbol for peace, art, and freedom, and was at the core of a number of social and cultural movements that the 60s are still widely remembered for.
In the following decade, the positive sentiment towards cannabis was even stronger. In 1971, hundreds of people attended Vancouver’s first pro-cannabis smoke-in, which saw 2,000 people come together to protest drastic police initiatives against cannabis users and the broader hippie community. Unfortunately, due to the existing political tensions of the time, what started out as a peaceful protest turned into a violent clash with police forces—which is why the event is remembered as the Gastown Riot.
The following year, there was a spark of hope for the pro-cannabis contingent. The Le Dain Commission released findings on cannabis that pointed to its potential for decriminalization. But, much like the world’s decision-makers of today, the commission’s board was split on how to proceed. Some saw the benefits of decriminalization, and the rest argued that it would lead to increased use—which they frowned upon. The lack of agreement left the commission’s findings with no clear roadmap on how to proceed. And so things stayed very much the same.
The birth of the medical dispensary
British Columbia has always been at the center of Canada’s cannabis story, and this was particularly true during the 90s. In that decade, the province saw the launch of some of the country’s first dispensaries that were focused on providing a holistic approach to treating ailments with cannabis. These establishments were technically illegal, and while their proprietors kept getting ‘caught’ by the police, the courts had a hard time finding them guilty of anything because there was no clause in the prohibition of cannabis to allow for medical use. After all, they were leading the charge in getting cannabis to patients who desperately needed it for a number of different ailments.
A new millennium brought (some) change
The ringing in of a new millennium brought about a landmark case in Canada that opened a new door for the cannabis hopefuls. Terrance Parker had been arrested for unlawful possession of cannabis that he was using specifically to control his epilepsy. He appealed his charges in 2000, and in a landmark result, won his appeal. As part of this case, the Ontario Court of Appeal finally declared it unconstitutional to prohibit cannabis use for medical needs, and the presiding judge on the case gave the regulatory bodies a year to catch up.
This decision was the first of many that led to Canada’s current legal landscape. In 2001, following the decisions made by the courts, Canada enacted its first ever medical marijuana law, the Canadian Medical Marijuana Access Regulations. And in the 17 years that followed, the industry worked hard to advocate for a legal framework for both the medical and recreational use of the plant.
What legalization meant for the Canadian cannabis industry
Across the country, licensed cannabis producers and retailers alike had a big red circle in their calendars around October 17, 2018. The launch of the recreational market was long-awaited and it put Canada on the map as the first G7 country to legalize adult use of cannabis bud and oils.
In the last year, we’ve seen Canadian cannabis companies become household names, the emergence of new brands that are adding to the conversation, and lucrative new opportunities for savvy investors. Pragmatic cannabis retailers, including Eden Empire, closed their dispensaries prior to October 17 so that they could license their stores for the adult-use market and relaunch their brand once approved by the appropriate governing bodies.
In the grand scheme of things, 2018 was really just a turning point for Canada’s cannabis market. By the end of 2019, edibles, concentrates, and topicals will hit the shelves with the next wave of legalization. So if you’re interested in trying out cannabis, but don’t want to smoke it, you might soon find some more appealing products at your local dispensary.
Canada’s cannabis industry has come a long way since the hemp farms of the 1900s, evolving from a basic crop, to a national crime, to a human right, and finally to an emergent yet massive market. There have been setbacks and hurdles—but overall, we’re proud to be a part of history as Canada continues to make momentous regulatory strides, and we are excited to help shape the future of the cannabis industry from the inside.
Want to come along? Learn more about our story within Canada’s cannabis market here.
Photos: Dougie Jones / Shutterstock, BestStockFoto / Shutterstock