Brock University

Illicit Drug (Marijuana) Use and the Law

The legal status of marijuana has been debated vigorously over the past few years in Canada. Proponents of policies that would allow individual possession of small amounts of marijuana argue that it is a relatively safe drug and that criminal sanctions against personal use and possession represent at worst excessively harsh and at best unnecessary penalties. Conversely, those who oppose liberalization of current laws contend that marijuana is not a benign drug, particularly in light of new medical information showing that marijuana shares many features with other dangerous illicit drugs. As well, it has been asserted that decriminalization or legalization of marijuana would trigger a sharp increase in use, resulting in significant increases in health, economic, and social costs. This session invites papers that explore the determinants of Canadians views on the legalization/decriminalization of marijuana or address the prevalence of marijuana and/or other illicit drug use among various subgroups in the Canadian population.

Session Organizer: Henry Chow, University of Regina,


Marijuana: The Year in Re- and Pre- View

Stephen Gray, King's University College,

2013 marks the year that two US states, Colorado and Washington, endorsed the legalization of recreational marijuana during state referendums.  In Latin America, Uruguay, one of the most developed and wealthiest countries in the region, legalized marijuana, becoming the first country in the world to do so. Whereas in Canada, the opposition Liberal party in preparation for elections in 2015 endorsed marijuana legalization at its policy conference, the only plank of its platform to be publicly declared. The party leader Justin Trudeau openly confessed to the media that he had enjoyed a puff of pot in the time since becoming a member of Parliament, much to the uproar and furor of conservatives. Prime Minister Stephen Harper of the governing Conservative party of Canada has mused about the possibility of empowering police to treat personal possession of marijuana as a non-criminal offence, ticketable fine. Such a gesture constitutes a reversal of sorts, given his role in mandating mandatory minimum sentencing laws for possession of as few as six cannabis plants.  Meanwhile, changes to the Medical Marijuana Regulation Act (MMRA) come into effect May 1st. Medical users are defiant, refusing to give up their private pot gardens, challenging authorities to confiscate their inexpensive medicine, rather than pay exorbitant markups for legal marijuana. Later this year Marc Emery, the marijuana activist, is set to be released from US prison authorities and transferred to the Correctional Services of Canada to serve out the remainder of his term in Canada. Are the seeds of change in the air? Are they blowing in the direction of freedom? This paper will provide the context for an enlightened dialogue on the prospects of advancing the cause of marijuana legalization in Canada in 2014, as well as explore the relatively optimistic hope for change.


An examination of marijuana use among members of a Canadian First Nations community

Nicholas Spence, The University of Western Ontario and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, , Samantha Wells, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and The University of Western Ontario, , Julie George, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health , , Kathryn Graham, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and The University of Western Ontario,

Perceived risk of cannabis has decreased over time, but the contribution of marijuana use to the burden of disease on society is significant. Globally, Aboriginal peoples have rates of marijuana use that are significantly higher than the general population. Understanding the issue (prevalence, causes, and consequences) is fundamental to developing appropriate policy and programming strategies to improve health and well-being. This study examines the characteristics of marijuana users among a cross sectional sample of 340 people aged 18 and over from a Canadian First Nations community. It incorporates Aboriginal specific measures, such as historical loss and racism. Logistic regression models were used to predict marijuana use as measured by having ever used marijuana more than once per week (yes/no). Independent variables included socio-demographics, mental health (depression, anxiety), Body Mass Index, licit substance use (alcohol and tobacco), Historical Loss Scale, Childhood Trauma Scale, Measure of Indigenous Racism Experience Interpersonal Racism Scale. Historical loss, racism, and mental health were not associated with marijuana use. However, ever engaging in frequent marijuana use was reported by more than half the sample and associated with being younger, male and a smoker. The normalization of marijuana use may indicate a potential public health problem.



Legalization/Decriminalization of Marijuana: A Multivariate Analysis

Henry Chow, University of Regina,

Marijuana is the most widely used illicit drug in Canada. The 2011 Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey revealed that 9.1% of Canadians aged 15 years and older reported having used marijuana in the previous year. In 2011, the prevalence of past-year marijuana use by youth was 21.6%, three times higher than that of adults (6.7%) and the prevalence among males (12.2%) was twice as high as that of females (6.2%) (Health Canada, 2012). A growing body of evidence demonstrates the negative impact of marijuana use on peoples’ different aspects of lives, including physical and mental health, cognitive functioning, ability to operate a motor vehicle, academic difficulties, and engagement in other risk behaviour (Buckner, et al., 2010; Caldeira et al., 2008; McCarthy et al., 2007).

Based on a questionnaire survey of about 400 university students in a western Canadian city, this paper explores students’ use of marijuana and their views on legalization/decriminalization of marijuana. Multiple regression analysis will also be conducted to explore the major determinants of students’ views on legalization of marijuana.


Buckner, J.D., Ecker, A.H., & Cohen, A.S. (2010). Mental Health Problems and Interest in Marijuana Treatment among Marijuana-Using College Students. Addictive Behaviors, 35(9), 826-833.

Caldeira K.M., Arria, A.M., O'Grady, K.E., Vincent, K.B., & Wish, E.D. (2008). The Occurrence of Cannabis Use Disorders and Other Cannabis-Related Problems among First-Year College Students. Addictive Behaviors, 33(3), 397-411.

Health Canada (2012). Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey: Summary of Results for 2011 Retrieved from:

McCarthy, D.M., Lynch, A.M., & Pederson, S.L. (2007). Driving after Use of Alcohol and Marijuana in College Students. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors. 21(3), 425-430.


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