Cannabis Legalization for Recreational Use

Reviewed by

Professor: Dr. Bruno Dupeyron


Purpose: This policy paper is intended to analyze existing cannabis policy and other policy alternatives in relation to Effectiveness, Public Support and Administrative complexity.

Methodology: This policy paper is based on second hand research done by academic scholars including academic books, academic journal articles and publications. This paper will also used a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods as well as findings from various case studies.

Research and findings from one jurisdiction can not directly apply to another; therefore, this paper will compare findings from a Latin American country Uruguay, A European country Netherlands and neighbouring US States of Washington and Colorado and will attempt to analyze them in relation to Canadian context. Liberal Party is still structuring its cannabis policy therefore this paper has used data and information available as of present day.

This paper will analyze existing cannabis policy and possible four policy alternatives including Dutch Model, Uruguayan model, US States model and Liberal Party model in relation to three core topics – Effectiveness, Public Support and Administrative Complexity. This paper will also attempt to score existing policy and policy alternatives on the scale of 0 being lowest and 1.0 being highest. Based on critical evaluation, recommendations will also be provided.

Cannabis: There are evidences that use of cannabis is about 4000 years old. Cannabis refers to a group of plants indigenous to Central and South America. Cannabis contains number of chemicals including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) or known as cannabinoids that causes psycho-pharmaco-activity. (Adrian 2015) THC is the main psychoactive compound that can range from 1% to 20% and is being used in various forms like smoking, vaporizing, or ingesting it in cookies, candies, and more. (Zeisser etal. 2012, 82)

The adverse health effects of cannabis are related to the frequency of usage and it is relatively less harmful and addictive than other controlled substances even alcohol and tobacco. In addition, it is relatively less addictive drug. (Nutt, King and Phillips 2010)

(Nutt, King and Phillips 2010)

 Importance of issue: As per current policy, possession, cultivation and trafficking of cannabis at any quantity is prohibited and violations are punishable by law. On the other hand, cannabis is the most prevalent drug among Canadian youth and adults with the youth consumption rate of 28% – highest in the world. In 2012, cannabis related offences were more than half of total drug related offences and majority of them were related to the small possession of cannabis. (Spithoff, Emerson and Spithoff 2015) Even though it is prohibited, it’s easily accessible through black market. About 85 % of cannabis users stated that it’s very easy to get cannabis. (Asbridge, Valleriani, Kwok and Erickson 2016)

Policy Issue: The existing policy was aimed at reducing the usage of cannabis and reducing harm caused by it; however, trends show that it has failed to do achieve its objective.

Consequences of the current policy: Because of the prohibition, consumers are forced to purchase cannabis in black market, which is illegal. As a result of this around 60,000 Canadians are arrested every year. (Spithoff, Emerson and Spithoff 2015) This means every year 60,000 Canadians are getting criminal record and being refrained from possible job opportunities or education. Because of the prohibition policy currently about 700,000 Canadians have criminal record. (Hyshka 2009)

Among all age groups cannabis consumption is more predominant in Canadian youth. In 2012, 29.2% youth have consumed cannabis in previous year that was four times higher than adult rate of 7%. (Rudzinski, Dawe, McGuire, Rehm and Fischer2013) The noticeable presence of cannabis in Canadian youth raises questions about the effectiveness of existing prohibition policy.

International drug treaties: Being a UN member Canada is obliged to observe UN Drug Convention 1961 and other treaties internationally. If a Canada wishes to legalize cannabis, it has two choices that would stay within international law. One is like Bolivia to legalize leaves in domestic market and denounce any treaties. Another option is to legalize in weaker forms in with low level of THC. Also, Canada has the right to windrow from Convention. (Room 2013)

Status Quo – Existing Policy of Prohibition

 Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) of Criminal code of Canada has classified cannabis under Schedule II drug; therefore, its possession and consumption is strictly prohibited and punishable by law. (Cotter, Greenland and Karam 2015) In 2002 Liberal Party presented bill C- 38 focusing on decriminalizing small possession of cannabis but was not successful in making it law. In 2006 Conservative party made it clear that they are not in favour of any changes on current policy. (Fischer 2003)

Effectiveness: Score 0

Even though cannabis is strictly prohibited it’s consumption and related crimes have either remain stable or increased. (Cotter, Greenland and Karam 2015) Canadian youth have the highest rate of consumption of cannabis and its easily accessible. (Asbridge, Valleriani, Kwok, and Erickson 2016) This states that the existing policy is not effective to control usage and access to youth.


(Cotter, Greenland and Karam 2015)

 Public Support: Score: 0.4

There is an increasing demand for legalization in public. Also, majority of Canadian mainstream media is in favour of legalization. As per an opinion poll in 2012, 60% Canadians were in support of legalization. (Asbridge, Valleriani, Kwok and Erickson 2016)

Administrative Complexity: Score: 0.25

The implementation cost of current prohibition policy is significantly high. Based on a senate report in 2002, the cost of law enforcement and legal cost for prohibition was estimated to be between 700 million to 1 billion dollar per year. (Parliament 2002)

State of Colorado with the population of 5.4 million collected $134 million from taxing cannabis in fiscal year 2014-2015. Canada with the 35 million can possibly collect $810 million if same rules applied to the population of Canada’s size. (Hickenlooper 2014) The estimated consumption of cannabis in Canada is 16,000 kilogram and possible tax revenue could be $2 billion. If cannabis revenues have been added to the 2014-2015 fiscal year, it would have been a budget surplus of $2.7 billion rather than deficit of 1.3 billion. (Flister 2012) If cannabis are legalized law enforcement agencies can perhaps focus on other more violent and important crimes. (Kisely 2008)

Policy Option 2 – The Dutch Model – de facto legalization

Since 1971, The Dutch are shaping their policy to regulate, administer and restrict cannabis through three basic policy pillars Normalization, Differentiation and Access Control.


Normalization: Instead of focusing on consumption reduction, Dutch policy focuses on reducing harm caused by consumption.

Differentiation: Dutch differentiated between hard drugs and soft drugs and put cannabis in the category of soft drugs that is more tolerable. At the same time strict regulations remained for the hard drugs like cocaine, heroine and others. (Sar, Brouwers, Goor, and Garretsen 2011)

Access Control: Dutch regulated the supply of cannabis through regulated licensed coffee shops and prohibition on marketing of any kind. This restricted access to youth and consumption in youth declined. (MacCoun and Reuter 1997)

Effectiveness: Score: 0.6

The Dutch were able to achieve their policy objective of reducing harm through “backdoor policy” – where small amount of cannabis is easily available at the front door of a regulated licensed coffee shop however, large transaction at back door were strictly prohibited. (Pardo 2014) By this approach Dutch were able to eliminate cannabis black market and organized crime. (MacCoun 2010) As a result of differentiation between hard drugs and soft drugs the usage of hard drugs in Netherlands has decreased and it is the lowest in Europe. (Spapens 2012; MacCoun 2010)

Public Support: Score: 0.8

After the de facto legalization in Netherlands, tourism increased and Amsterdam became the popular tourist destination for de facto legal cannabis. (Spapens 2012; MacCoun 2010) Reports indicate that Dutch public opinion is in favour of government’s legalization policy. (Korf 2002)

Administrative Complexity: Score 0.6

 The Dutch policy has its administrative challenges as well. The Dutch Policy is mainly based on accepted practices rather than explicit policy. Even after 40 years of legalization, Netherlands is struggling with the implementation of “back door” policy and illegal supply chain. The government does not control production, packaging or price neither regulate cannabis through tax. Government has banned all marketing resulting low usage in youth. (Spithoff, Emerson and Spithoff 2015)

Policy Option 3 – The Uruguayan Model

In 2012, president Jose Mujica passed bill 534 and granted state the monopoly on production, processing and distribution of cannabis for the entire industry. Government established a new federal institution named as Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis (IRCCA) to regulate cannabis. (Pardo 2014)


The first step in the implementation process was registering users with fingerprints. Any registered user can get cannabis through licensed Pharmacy with THC warnings in plastic bags. Onsite consumption and marketing is strictly prohibited. Government taxes at sales point and revenue goes for Public Health Funding. (Spithoff, Emerson and Spithoff 2015)


Effectiveness: Score: 0.5

 Uruguayan bill 534 was a direct result of failed war on drugs. The Uruguayan government claims that the new policy will ruin the black market and organized crime. (Faubion 2013) However, there are conflicting arguments from media and government where government states that policy is effective while media states it is not. (Hoffman 2015)

 Public Support: Score: 0.4

Legalization Uruguay was a state initiative while majority of public was against the legalization. (Pardo 2014) Even though there is an obvious present of cannabis in the country, mainstream media and general public are against the legalization. (Hoffman 2015)

Administrative Complexity: Score: 0.7

Administrative challenges are complex in Uruguayan model; Uruguay has established an entire federal institution to regulate and to administer cannabis market. (Faubion 2013) There have been accounts of unnecessary hassle and harassment by law enforcement authority to registered users. (Hoffman 2015) The fingerprinting requirements for registering users might not be politically as well as administratively feasible in Canada’s context. (Spithoff, Emerson and Spithoff 2015) Uruguay’s top- down approach might not be the best match in reducing administrative complexity in Canada since Canadian infrastructure for distribution of regulated substances (Tobacco and Alcohol) is provincial responsibility. (Buxton, Andrew, Tu and Stockwell 2009)

Policy Option 3 – US (Colorado & Washington) Model

 In 2012 Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis by a public referendum that was directly in conflict with Federal Law. The federal government would not challenge state regulation, on the condition that state governments would implement strong, effective regulatory and enforcement systems to address public safety, health, and other interests like restrict access to youth. (Bryce 2014)

Effectiveness: Score: 0.7

State of Colorado established Amendment 64 implementation task force to execute legalization process. The task force was responsible for licensing the retailers and control of supply. (Blake and Finlaw 2012) State of Washington provided licences through Liquor Control Board; LCB regulates new cannabis industry by consulting with experts, public health practitioners and law enforcement agencies. LCB conducted a number of public hearings that includes interviewing 6000 citizens before legalization. (Bryce 2014) The entire process of legalization was vey well executed in political manner and might fit for Canada. (Room 2013)


US legalization has been profitable for the State. In 2015 Colorado State announced that it has collected $60 million in tax revenues. (Taylor 2015) US legal cannabis market is about $2.7 billion a year and growing. Colorado created 18,000 new jobs in legalized market. (Subritzky, Pettigrew and Lenton 2015)

Public Support: Score: 0.6

As per Sate of Colorado’s referendum results 55 % voters voted for the legalization. (Colorado 2012) In the period of post legalization there has not been negative public opinion in public. (Subritzky, Pettigrew and Lenton 2015)

Administrative Complexity: Score: 0.8

 Both states used existing bureaus like Colorado Department of Revenue (CDR) and Washington State Liquor Control Board (LCB) to regulate cannabis. (Blake and Finlaw 2012) Economy is flourishing in Colorado and Washington by the investment of Cannabis firms and other development. (Subritzky, Pettigrew and Lenton 2015)

Adapting the approach of Colorado and Washington will reduce the administrative complexity because distribution will be strictly regulated through public owned institutions. Canada does have the knowledge of “know how” of distribution of Alcohol through provincial control. On the other hand, Canadian constitution does not allow provinces to make rules that are in conflict with federal laws.

 Policy Option 4 – Liberal Model Political Opinion

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Liberal Party are committed to legalize cannabis in Canada. The Liberal legalization model is based on Legalization, Regulation and Restrict Access to youth. (Liberal 2012)

Effectiveness: Score: 0.8

 The major challenge in legalization is it would require changes in the federal law. The Liberal Party framework is similar but not identical to Colorado where provinces will be responsible for the distribution. Liberal model is aimed to fight black market by ensuring low price than black market and zero tolerance for import. Liberal Model also aimed at providing quality cannabis to consumers keeping in mind the importance of Public Health. The number one Liberal policy goal is to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth. (Liberal Party 2013)

Considering the existing efficiency in distribution of Alcohol and Tobacco, Liberal approach to administer and regulate cannabis by provincially regulated Liquor Stores seems efficient and sounds more effective in achieving major policy goal of “keeping it out of the hands of youth”.

 Public Support: Score: 0.8

There is an increasing demand from public for legalization; also cannabis is easily supplied in black market. Majority of Canadian Media and think tanks are in support of legalization. (Asbridge, Valleriani, Kwok and Erickson 2016) About 85% to 90% Canadians want to see medicinal cannabis legalized while about 60 % Canadians wants to see small amount of recreational cannabis legalized. (Fischer 2003; Asbridge, Valleriani, Kwok and Erickson 2016)

It is also claimed that cannabis legalization promise was one of the major factors in Liberal Party’s win in 2015 election. (Johnson 2015)

Administrative Complexity: Score: 0.8

The Liberal framework for legalization is lead by Federal Minister of Justice and health. It is based on feedback from provinces and claims to provide administrative flexibility. It has federal-provincial revenue sharing agreement identical to the distribution of Alcohol and Tobacco. (Liberal Party 2013)


If implanted in an efficient manner, Liberal model of federal – provincial partnership like Alcohol and Tobacco can reduce administrative complexity.


Table 1 – Policy Option Scores




A finding that a product has adverse effects does not necessarily infer that prohibition is the most sensible way of control.


A good public policy must be formed in a more holistic understanding of the relative risks to individuals and society. A complete legalization is risky as it makes public specifically youth vulnerable to health hazzards. But existing policy of prohibition is not successful in reducing usage and reducing harm. (Crépault 2014)


(Zielinski 2015)


As presented in the Drug Policy Spectrum, a responsible regulated legalization approach advocated by Liberal Party can be successful in reducing social and health harms.


Evaluating all policy alternatives in relation to Canadian context Liberal model sounds more adaptive and promising on the basis of effectiveness, public health and administrative complexity.

The other important opinion is because of the lack of information and evidence; it’s recommended that government take extra caution in implementing any model. Like advised in the Liberal model ongoing feedback and communication with provinces will be the key to success. (Crépault 2014)

A pilot project for five to six years of legalizing low level THC cannabis can be a preferred option since it will keep policy window open for returning back to existing prohibition in worst-case scenario.



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