Dec. 24, 2018

The Essential Guide to Canada's Cannabis Legalization: Pros and Cons

The Essential Guide to Canada's Cannabis Legalization: Pros and Cons

The Essential Guide to Canada's Cannabis Legalization: Pros and Cons

Why Did Canada Legalize Cannabis?

Since the legalization of cannabis in Canada, dozens of cannabis retailers have popped up in many neighbourhoods across the country. But let’s delve into the process of this legalization, and examine the arguments in favour and against this decision.

Cannabis legalization was the top story highlighting many news outlets in 2018. In an annual poll of the country’s newsrooms conducted by The Canadian Press, business editors and reporters across the country chose cannabis legalization in a landslide, with 60 per cent of the votes cast. 52 per cent of Canadians supported legalization, while 41 percent disapproved of it altogether. 

To put this into perspective, let’s go back in time. In 2002, cannabis accounted for approximately 20 percent of the cost of substance abuse in Canada. This translated to a significant number of people, considering that cannabis was not yet legal at that time.

Who supported and disapproved cannabis legalization in Canada? What were their thoughts? Read on to find out.

Cannabis in Canada: Age Demographics and Characteristics of the Supporters and Users

Abacus Data polled 3,000 Canadians and found some interesting facts: generally, respondents saw cannabis in the same or similar light than alcohol. Younger respondents were more favourable to cannabis than older Canadians.

Youth use cannabis more than any other age group by a large percentage. The rate of use in 2015 was over two times higher among Canadian youth aged 15–24 compared to adults (25.5% vs. 9.9%).  Among youth aged 15–19, the rate of past-year cannabis use in 2015 was 20.6%; the corresponding rate was 29.7% among young adults aged 20–24. On average, youth (15–19 years) initiated use of cannabis at 15.4 years, young adults (20–24 years) at 16.5 years and adults (over 25 years) at 18.8 years. Similar results were reported in the CCS 2017 in terms of age of initiation (18.7 years) and past year cannabis use which was two times higher among Canadians aged 16-24 compared to Canadians aged 25 years and older.

I remember that in high school, cannabis was “the cool thing” to do. Kids who did it were considered “cool” or popular, and it was fun and exciting to experiment. There was the stigma that the kids who experimented with cannabis were mostly in middle class and cared less about school. More recently, Deloitte conducted a customer profile research and found that today’s cannabis consumers mostly attain higher grades in high school, are younger, and are more into risk taking.

Many non-profit organizations have argued in favour of regulating cannabis, so as to undertake education campaigns, especially given that chronic use of cannabis can lead to mental health issues, including episodes of psychosis. As well, because the active ingredient in cannabis, THC, can affect brain development in youth.

Arguments for Legalizing Cannabis in Canada

From the perspective of the federal Liberal government, cannabis should be legalized because of the following reasons:

  • Increased tax revenue

Through regulation, governments can impose a price on cannabis, similar to alcohol and tobacco. Canada could look to Colorado, which legalized cannabis on January 1, 2014. The results from Colorado’s first two years of legalization show significant monetary tax revenue. With recreational and medicinal sales reaching almost $1 billion in 2015, Colorado collected more than $135 million in taxation revenue and fees. To ensure that positive outcomes occur alongside the considerable economic boost, the generated tax revenue is used for the state’s public school capital construction assistance fund, and public programs such as substance abuse and regulation of marijuana use. CIBC estimates the Cannabis market could be approximately $10B per year.

  • Reduced spending on enforcement of cannabis-related offences

Legalization of marijuana in Canada could substantially reduce the government’s spending on the enforcement of the federal marijuana laws. According to a report by Statistics Canada, there were 73 000 marijuana-related criminal offences (67% of all police-reported drug offences) in 2013. This number has, in fact, increased approximately 8% over the period of 10 years from 2003 to 2013. The current marijuana policy and legal framework is associated with considerable government costs of approximately $500 million to $1 billion per annum.

  • Eliminate the illegal market for cannabis

Eliminating the illegal market is one of the objectives of legalization. It’s encouraging, therefore, to note that current cannabis consumers are expected to move nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of their purchases to legal channels, whether through bricks-and mortar retailers or online channels. It’s notable that less frequent consumers are much more likely to buy through legal retailers (69 percent) than are daily consumers (37 percent).

  • Delay the onset of cannabis use in youth

Youth use cannabis more than any other age group. Ranking the top 5 substances used by Canadians, amongst youth: alcohol (72%), cannabis (26%), crack cocaine and others. According to UNICEF, Canada has the highest percentage of children ages 11, 13, and 15 who report having used cannabis in the last 12 months. Age restrictions will not prevent the use of all cannabis by youth, but can help delay the onset of use.

Arguments against Legalizing Cannabis in Canada

  • Potential increase of cannabis to youth

Legalization means that cannabis can be sold in a variety of forms, including edibles such as candies, brownies, chocolate bars, and drinks. Surveillance of poison control centres and hospital admissions in Colorado showed cannabis-related exposure in children 0-5 years of age increased 138% following medical marijuana legalization and 225% following recreational legalization. Cannabis-related hospital admissions for children increased three-fold after legalization and poison center calls mentioning “marijuana” increased 0.8% per month.

  • Health effects with chronic use of cannabis

Many argue that those consuming high levels of cannabis can exhibit signs of impairment, even when trying to get off the drug. Psychomotor impairments can occur, including neurobiological differences in brain structure, connectivity, and function There is even evidence that suggests chronic use of cannabis can increase automobile accidents and in some circumstances, schizophrenia. However, these cases are limited. Increases in automobile accidents are doubled with the use of cannabis - this pales in comparison to the nearly 10-fold rise in car accidents as a result of excessive alcohol use. 

  • Health issues for short-term users

Short term users may experience anxiety and panic and an increased risk of accident if a person operates a motor vehicle under marijuana’s influence. Harmful effects in chronic users include chronic bronchitis, impaired respiratory function, cardiovascular disease, respiratory cancers, and psychotic symptoms and disorders.

  • Concerns about quality control

As cannabis is an agricultural product, hazardous material (e.g., pesticides, fertilizers, other pests) could make their way into crops during cultivation. The Globe and Mail took a sample of nine different dispensaries in Toronto and one-third did not pass Health Canada guidelines. 

  • The need for strong government regulations over the sale and commercialization of cannabis

Canada is the first G7 country to legalize cannabis for recreational use. There is dependency on government to regulate all aspects of cannabis including sale, distribution, and packaging (e.g., making it child-proof, label warnings).

The Government of Canada’s Proposal on Cannabis

Bill C-45, The Cannabis Act, which seeks to do the following:

  • restrict youth access to cannabis

  • protect young people from promotion or enticements to use cannabis

  • deter and reduce criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties for those breaking the law, especially those who import, export or provide cannabis to youth

  • protect public health through strict product safety and quality requirements

  • reduce the burden on the criminal justice system

  • provide for the legal production of cannabis to reduce illegal activities

  • allow adults to possess and access regulated, quality controlled legal cannabis

  • enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis


In order to prevent youth from using cannabis, the Act would also prohibit: 

  • products that are appealing to youth

  • packaging or labelling cannabis in a way that makes it appealing to youth

  • selling cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines

  • promoting cannabis, except in narrow circumstances where the promotion could not be seen by a young person

As part of the Cannabis Act, adults who are 18 years or older would be able to legally:

  • possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form

  • share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults

  • purchase dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially-licensed retailer

  • In those provinces that have not yet or choose not to put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally-licensed producer. 

  • grow up to 4 cannabis plants per residence for personal use from licensed seed or seedlings

  • make cannabis products, such as food and drinks, at home provided that organic solvents are not used

Final Thoughts

At the time of cannabis legalization debates in 2018, there were still a lot of unknowns. Will the number of chronic users go up? Will police re-training be as important? Will there be an increase in youth access to cannabis? Are there long-term health effects from chronic and short-term use of cannabis? Will there be increased costs over regulations?


Now that a few years have passed since legalization of cannabis in Canada, what are your thoughts? Did any of the arguments for or against legalization come into fruition? Do you think that this legal status of cannabis will stay in Canada in the long term?

Sources used in this podcast: Armina Ligaya, “Cannabis legalization named top Canadian business news story of 2018,” Global News, December 16, 2018: Vanmala Subramaniam, “Canadians still split on cannabis legalization, Forum Research Poll finds,” Financial Post, October 17, 2018: Mohammad Hajizadeh, “Legalizing and Regulating Marijuana in Canada: Review of Potential Economic, Social, and Health Impacts,” International Journal of Health Policy Management, 2016: 454. Deloitte, “A society in transition, an industry ready to bloom 2018 cannabis report,” 2018: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, “Cannabis,” Canadian Drug Summary, June 2018, 5-7: B.C. Representative for Children and Youth Submission, “B.C. Cannabis Regulation Engagement,” Government of BC, 2017: Government of Canada, “Legalizing and Regulating Cannabis: The Facts,” 2018: Juliet Akhibe et. al, “The Public Health Implications of the Legalization of Recreational Cannabis,” Ontario Public Health Association, 2017: 16-17. Marco Leyton, “Legalizing Marijuana,” Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 2016: 75. Michael Broughton, “The Prohibition of Marijuana,” University of Manitoba, 2016: 6. --- Support this podcast: