Canadian government launches legislative review of the Cannabis Act

Oct 20, 2022

In September, the Canadian federal government announced it would be launching a review of the Cannabis Act to examine whether the legislation governing the legalization of cannabis is meeting Canadians’ needs and expectations.

“Through this useful, inclusive and evidence-driven review, we will strengthen the act so that it meets the needs of all Canadians while continuing to displace the illicit market. I look forward to receiving the panel’s findings,” said Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos in a statement published on the federal government’s website.

The Cannabis Act was passed in October 2018, with the plan to review the legislation three years after it came into force. Accordingly, the review is now nearly a year overdue.

Moreover, according to the Cannabis Act, the review needs to be focused on the legislation’s impact on Indigenous people, as well as on cultivating cannabis in a housing complex and on the health and consumption patterns of young individuals.

“Young people are at increased risk of experiencing harms from cannabis such as mental health problems, including dependence and disorders related to anxiety and depression,” said Minister of Mental Health and Addictions Carolyn Bennett. “While a lot of progress has been made on the implementation of the Cannabis Act and its dual objectives of protecting public health and maintaining public safety, we need to assess the work that has been done and learn how and where to adjust to meet these goals.”

The review will additionally include an examination of the social and environmental effects of the Cannabis Act, the impact of legalization and regulation of medical cannabis, and the impact on racialized communities and women.

“Getting the scope of the review right was much more important than the timeline,” he said. “If we’d followed the legislation to a ‘T’ — both in relation to the three-year timeline, but also the considerations that are set out in the legislation — we would have missed a major opportunity to get this right,” said Liberal MP Nathaniel Erskine-Smith.

The expert panel has not been named yet, but it has been announced that Morris Rosenberg, the former deputy minister of justice, will serve as chair of the panel.

According to Bennett and Duclos, they have gotten numerous questions regarding reports of an increasing number of children having been hospitalized due to exposure to cannabis products, including edibles, and whether the review will examine the impact on young children.

“We’ve done well in terms of the public education campaign but I think since the advent of edibles that we need to do more,” Bennett said. “Families need to ensure that it’s in a safe place where children can’t access it.”

Furthermore, Erskine-Smith added that cannabis-related risks to public health can be mitigated with harm reduction measures. “The public health approach has to be about reducing harms and taking a broader look … to say, ‘How can we best regulate activities to reduce harms?’ And edibles are good example of that,” he said.