Canada’s cannabis laws don’t consider the social benefits

Published Mar 11, 2023 02:00 p.m. ET
Unsplash / Tim Marshall 

Canada’s Cannabis Act, which came into effect in 2018, is often applauded for being progressive and forward-thinking. The act legalized the use of recreational cannabis, making Canada the second country in the world to do so after Uruguay. However, despite this apparent win, the act fails to consider the social benefits of cannabis use and the positive impact it can have on communities across the country.

The social benefits

One of the most significant ways in which Canada’s cannabis laws fall short is in their failure to address the issue of cannabis criminalization. Although the act legalized the use of marijuana, it does little to address the harm caused by decades of cannabis prohibition. Prior to legalization, cannabis use was criminalized, and people who used or sold marijuana were subject to harsh legal penalties, including imprisonment.

The impact of this criminalization was particularly severe for marginalized communities, including Indigenous peoples, Black and racialized communities, and low-income individuals. These groups have historically been disproportionately impacted by drug enforcement policies, and as a result, they have borne the brunt of the negative consequences of cannabis criminalization.

Despite the fact that cannabis is now legal in Canada, the impact of this criminalization is still being felt. Many people who were criminalized for cannabis use prior to legalization continue to face social and economic barriers, including difficulties finding employment and accessing housing. Furthermore, many people who continue to use cannabis are still being criminalized, particularly if they are from marginalized communities.

Another way in which Canada’s cannabis laws fail to consider the social benefits of cannabis use is in their failure to address the issue of medicinal marijuana. Although medicinal cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001, the system for accessing it remains complicated and difficult to navigate. In order to access medicinal cannabis, patients must obtain a medical prescription from a healthcare practitioner, which can be a lengthy and difficult process.

Furthermore, many people who use medicinal cannabis are still facing barriers to accessing it, including high costs and limited availability. For people with chronic pain or other serious medical conditions, the therapeutic benefits of cannabis can be life-changing, yet many are unable to access it due to these barriers.

In addition to these issues, Canada’s cannabis laws also fail to address the potential social benefits of cannabis use. Research has shown that cannabis can have a positive impact on a range of social issues, including mental health, addiction, and harm reduction.


For example, studies have shown that cannabis use can be effective in treating conditions such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. For people who have struggled with these conditions, the therapeutic benefits of cannabis can be significant, helping to improve their quality of life and reduce the negative impact of mental illness.

Furthermore, research has also shown that cannabis can be effective in treating addiction. Although there is still much debate around this issue, some studies suggest that cannabis can be a useful tool in reducing dependence on opioids and other addictive substances.

Finally, cannabis can also be an effective harm-reduction tool. For people who use drugs, particularly injection drugs, cannabis can be a safer alternative that reduces the risk of overdose and other health complications. In this way, cannabis can help to mitigate the negative impact of drug use on individuals and communities.

Despite these potential social benefits, Canada’s cannabis laws have largely failed to consider them. Instead, the focus has been on legalizing cannabis for recreational use, with little attention paid to the potential therapeutic and harm-reduction benefits of the drug.

Reform is necessary to move forward

In order to fully realize the potential social benefits of cannabis use, Canada’s cannabis laws must be reformed to address the issues of criminalization, access to medicinal marijuana, and the potential therapeutic and harm reduction benefits of cannabis use. This will require a significant shift in the way that we think about cannabis, moving away from a focus on criminalization and punishment and towards a focus on harm reduction and social justice.

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