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How long does it take: Legislative time-line comparisons

Proponents of cannabis reform always point to how long legislation prohibiting cannabis has been in effect and wonder how long it will be until rational legislation (legalization) replaces irrational legislation (prohibition). Rational is defined as, what is in the best interest of the greater good of society, while irrational is, what is best for the interests of a few at the expense of others - some form of oppression.

For those who don't know, cannabis prohibition began in 1923 - a generation that is now eldery or passed on. Is that really a long time in the world of politics though?

That can depend on whether the move will amend existing legislation to empower individual rights, or introduce new methods to diminish rights. Legislation under the guise of anti-terrorism, money-laundering or asset forfeiture can be passed within months of conception, but getting rid of morality-based legislation can be a different story.

Just to give an overview, government documents reveal how long it took just to change some rather significant housekeeping legislation:

Canadian sovereignty

Total time-line: 114 years

Inception: 1867
First correction: 64 years (1931)
Final correction: 50 years later (1981)

Canada, which was a self-governing colony in 1867, achieved legal independence with the Statute of Westminster in 1931. The Constitution of 1867 had one serious omission: it contained no general formula for constitutional amendment. It was necessary to ask the British Parliament to take action each time an amendment was needed.

An amending formula should have been included in the Constitution at the time of the coming into force of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, but it was not until November 1981, after numerous attempts, that the federal government and the provinces (except Quebec) agreed to the amending formula that is now part of the Constitution Act, 1982. Since then, all parts of the Constitution can be amended only in Canada.

Now on to the moral questions of the day.

Death Penalty

Total time-line: 106 years

inception: 25 years after Confederation (1892)
First dismantling: 22 years later (1914)
Second dismantling: 40 years later (1954)
Third dismantling: 7 years later (1961)
Fourth dismantling: 4 years later (1966)
Fifth dismantling : 10 years later (1976) (civilians)
Last dismantling: 22 years later (1998) (military too)

Contrary to predictions by death penalty supporters, the homicide rate in Canada did not increase after abolition in 1976. In fact, the Canadian murder rate declined slightly the following year (from 2.8 per 100,000 to 2.7). Over the next 20 years the homicide rate fluctuated (between 2.2 and 2.8 per 100,000), but the general trend was clearly downwards. It reached a 30-year low in 1995 (1.98) -- the fourth consecutive year-to-year decrease and a full one-third lower than in the year before abolition. In 1998, the homicide rate dipped below 1.9 per 100,000, the lowest rate since the 1960s.

The overall conviction rate for first-degree murder doubled in the decade following abolition (from under 10% to approximately 20%), suggesting that Canadian juries are more willing to convict for murder now that they are not compelled to make life-and-death decisions.

Since abolition, at least 6 Canadian prisoners convicted of first-degree murder have been released on grounds of innocence.

Abortion Law

Total time-line: 119 years

Inception: 2 years after Confederation (1869)
Prohibition of the sale, distribution, and advertisement of contraception (1892)
First dismantling: 100 years later (1969) - contraception decriminalized
Final dismantling: 119 years later (1988) mandated by the Supreme Court

1988: On January 28, the Supreme Court of Canada strikes down Canada's abortion law as unconstitutional. The law is found to violate section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it infringes upon a woman's right to life, liberty, and security of the person.

1989: The federal government introduces Bill C-43, an amendment to the Criminal Code that would prohibit abortion unless a doctor finds the pregnancy is a threat to the woman's physical, mental, or psychological health.

1990: In May, the House of Commons passes Bill C-43 and the legislation is sent to the Senate for approval. In 1991, the bill is narrowly defeated by the Senate in a tie vote. Abortion is now treated like any other medical procedure.

Cannabis Law

Total time-line: 95 years, 5 months, and 24 days.

Inception: April 23, 1923

1997: First legal challenge to the cannabis law.

1998: Hemp became legal. Farmers could grow hemp under strict conditions

2000 - court-mandated (Parker) Medical cannabis becomes legal for patients with certain conditions.

August 1, 2001: Based on Parker decision, the law officially is of no force or effect, but is still being enforced

May 16, 2003 : Ontario Superior Court acknowledges end of cannabis prohibition, but confusion still abounds.

Dec 23, 2003 : Supreme Court of Canada upholds cannabis prohibition. No end in sight. The status quo of arrests and criminalization continue to the present.

November 6, 2012 : A giant step backwards. MANDATORY MINIMUMS FOR GROWING 6+ PLANTS NOW IN EFFECT On November 6, amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act imposing mandatory minimum prison sentences for pot offences came into force. For example, possession of at least six cannabis plants is now punishable with six to nine months of imprisonment. If the same offence was committed for trafficking, the maximum penalty is increased to 14 years.

October 19, 2015: The Liberal party wins a majority in the federal election with a platform to legalize cannabis.

Apr 13, 2017: BILL C-45 FIRST READING, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts

April 20, 2015: The government introduces a Task Force to study and recommend how to move forward with legalization.

Jun 19, 2018: The final vote on Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, in the Senate.

Jun 20, 2018: The government confirmed cannabis to be legal in Canada starting October 17, 2018

Also see: Key dates in the evolution of Canadian attitudes, laws regarding marijuana

In a nutshell:

In 1923 cannabis became prohibited with one statement made in Parliament, "There is a new drug on the schedule." It was fourteen years later, in 1937, that anyone was convicted of this offense, so it is often referred to as "a solution without a problem."

The lower court decision in Parker that Section 4 of the Controlled Drugs and Substancess Act (CDSA) was unconstitional because there was no provision for the ill who had to choose between their health and liberty, was upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. (July 31, 2000) Unless a provision was made by amending the law within one year, the law would be of no force or effect.

The government did not appeal to the Supreme Court and instead chose to implement new regulations by the deadline of August 1, 2001 which are known as the Marijuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). The regulations circumvented the court mandate and have also been ruled unconstitutional.

Also, three Canadians who launched Constitutional challenges to the cannabis laws in the early 1990's, finally had their cases heard before the Supreme Court of Canada on May 6, 2003. The SSC rendered their decision on the case December 23, 2003 which was Parliament had the right to enact whatever laws it wanted when it comes to cannabis.

In 2012, Canada is governed by a majority Conservative government (with 39.6% of vote), that appears to have culled that much of the vote with a "win at any cost" approach. This resulted in a conviction of election irregularities, found in comptempt of parliament, and ongoing investigation into further election fraud involving robocalls, forgery and other irregularities.

This government brought in mandatory minimum sentences for growing 6+ cannabis plants and setting Canada back further than ever before.

Further Resources: Legal Section: Cases for court desicions .

Timeline on Canadian Cannabis Laws

Detailed Canadian Marijuana Law Timeline

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Last Modified:Friday, 22-Jun-2018 13:11:31 PDT 45487