Canada: Legislative Review of the Cannabis Act: What We Heard Report

Table of contents

Chapter 1: Message from the Panel

We are honoured to have been appointed by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions as the independent Expert Panel to conduct the legislative review of the Cannabis Act (the Act). As the Expert Panel, we will offer our observations and advice — based on our own expertise — independent of outside influences, including our professional affiliations. We take our mandate, independence, and impartiality extremely seriously, and have devoted significant time to this important work.

After almost a century of prohibition, Canada became the first major industrialized nation in the world to legalize and regulate cannabis when the Act and its regulations came into force. The Act allowed for the production, sale, and distribution of cannabis. The purpose of the Act is to protect public health and public safety, including by providing access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis, and by enhancing public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.

We recognize that the Act and supporting policy framework represents a radical departure from the prohibitory regime that existed for the past century. Other countries are closely monitoring how the new Canadian framework has been implemented, as they consider their own possible reforms to their cannabis laws.

Parliament’s decision to mandate an independent review 3 years after the Act came into force in 2018 recognized that there would inevitably be some gaps between what Parliament intended to achieve with the legislation and other supporting measures, and how those elements actually worked. However, it was clear that these gaps, and the modifications necessary to address them, would only become apparent once there had been some practical experience with the new framework. The primary purpose of this review, therefore, is to identify how the new framework is working in practice to date, and to provide recommendations to make it more effective.

However, it is important to note that this review began after only 4 years of experience with the new regime. It will likely take many years to understand the full impact of this new approach. Therefore, we hope that this is only the first of a series of periodic independent reviews to assess the new cannabis framework.

At the beginning of our work, we were briefed by governmental officials on the new legislative and regulatory framework for cannabis and reviewed available literature to increase our understanding.

We acknowledge that barriers exist for many groups to engage in processes like this review. We have attempted to mitigate some of these difficulties by offering various means of participating and trying to remove financial and logistical barriers to participation. We have also used trusted interlocutors including community leaders and youth advocates to reach out to marginalized or disadvantaged groups. We have also proactively contacted specific groups to hear their perspectives and expertise. We worked to build relationships with all potential stakeholders, and dedicated extra effort to building relationships with those who expressed distrust with our process, given some of their past experiences with engagements related to cannabis.

From December 2022 to June 2023, we held numerous roundtable discussions, one-on-one meetings, and were graciously hosted by a number of stakeholders at their sites. The voices and perspectives reflected in this report come from a wide range of stakeholders and experts who are described in Chapter 3. We would like to extend our gratitude to those who shared their views and experiences with us.

We would particularly like to thank those First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities that agreed to participate in this process and share their perspectives with us. We adapted our engagement approaches, incorporated feedback, and learned important lessons through engaging with different stakeholders — which we hope shows the value we place in obtaining a broad range of input. We would also like to acknowledge the courage of those who shared very personal stories — whether related to their use of cannabis for medical purposes, past cannabis convictions, and experiences with law enforcement and the criminal justice system, or financial losses incurred in trying to participate in the legal industry. We appreciate that while sharing these stories was not easy, it helped us to understand the impacts of legalization on Canadians.

This report marks the completion of the first phase of our work, which was focused on engaging with stakeholders and experts to consider evidence and collect opinions and perspectives. For the second phase of our work, we will re-engage stakeholders in multi-sectoral roundtables and host other discussions to gain a deeper understanding and fill any knowledge gaps from our first phase. We will then prepare a final report for the Ministers, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament by March 2024 with our advice and recommendations. Our final report will be based on the data that we have gathered and what we have heard.

Specifically, this report outlines the building blocks used to develop the cannabis framework and the resulting measures (“overview of measures”), key data (“data and observations”), and the perspectives, including lived and living experience, that were shared through our engagement to date (“what we heard”) related to the themesFootnotea of our mandate set out in Chapter 2. The views of individual stakeholders are not attributed in this report. We recognize that data related to some themes is more limited in scope or availability, and that our engagement activities are not complete. Our suggestions for reform will by necessity likely go beyond the strict parameters of the Cannabis Act and its regulations, as the cannabis framework encompasses associated pieces of legislation, as well as policy and programs, across all levels and areas of government.

In this report, we have included brief summaries of what we have learned though our evidence gathering, and we present a variety of findings from population surveys, research studies, and other sets of data. Although we have endeavoured to be thorough and have invited stakeholders and experts to provide evidence to us, the summaries in this report are limited to key indicators and national-level data that can help characterize the impacts of cannabis legalization. We recognize that the information is imperfect, and often based on self-reported data. In addition, there are areas where there are inconsistencies between different data sources and measures (for example, related to the estimation of legal market share), and we would invite further observations in these areas.

Not surprisingly, we have found that while there continues to be strong support for the underlying public health and safety objectives of the Act, opinions are divided on how best to achieve them. We believe that it is important to clearly set out these disagreements. These can point us to areas where further research needs to be conducted to help develop an improved cannabis framework for Canada. We hope that we have captured the breadth and nuances of these perspectives and acknowledge that any errors are our own. We also recognize that there may be alternative points of view that we have yet to hear.

Chapter 2: Executive summary

The Cannabis Act (the Act) requires a review of the impact of the Act on public health and, in particular, on the health and consumption habits of young persons with respect to cannabis use, the impact of cannabis on Indigenous persons and communities, and the impact of the cultivation of cannabis plants in a dwelling-house.

In appointing us as the Expert Panel to lead the review, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions broadened our mandate to consider the following themes, which guided our review process, engagement activities, and the organization of our report:

  • economic, social, and environmental impacts of the Act
  • progress towards providing adults with access to strictly regulated, lower-risk, legal cannabis products
  • progress made in deterring criminal activity and displacing the illicit cannabis market
  • impact of legalization and regulation on access to cannabis for medical purposes
  • impacts on Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, and women, who might be at greater risk of harm or face greater barriers to participation in the legal industry based on identity or socio-economic factors

Building the cannabis framework

For the first time, the Act legalized and strictly regulated the production, distribution, sale, import and export, and possession of cannabis for adults of legal age. It is clear that a significant effort has occurred over the last 5 years to support the development and implementation of a complex and transformative public policy.

This began with the coming into force of the Cannabis Act in 2018. The legislation was designed based on most of the recommendations of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation (the Task Force).Footnoteb Distribution and retail systems were built, and a new industry was established to produce a regulated supply of cannabis for adult Canadians. Additionally, changes were implemented to the Criminal Code to address cannabis-impaired driving. Public education efforts were launched to raise awareness of the new regime and to help Canadians make informed choices about cannabis consumption. Following legalization, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) led the development of an Integrated Cannabis Research Strategy (ICRS) to help gather information and evidence about the use of cannabis, its health and safety effects, and the behavioural, social, cultural, ethical, and economic implications of the legalization of cannabis.

To address the issue of prior criminal records for cannabis convictions, the federal government instituted a program that allowed individuals who had prior convictions for simple possession of cannabis under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) to apply for a record suspension without a waiting period, and at no cost.

In late 2019, the legal sale of edible cannabis, cannabis extracts, and cannabis topicals were authorized under the Cannabis Act. Amendments to the Cannabis Regulations were introduced to address the public health and public safety risks of these new classes of cannabis.

The federal government has committed to ongoing evaluation of the new cannabis framework and the reporting of these results, both through internal program evaluation and via this independent review.

Scope of our engagement

We have engaged with:

  • researchers and academics in various fields (such as public health, public safety, criminal justice, and economics)
  • health care professionals and organizations
  • people working in the areas of public health and harm reduction
  • youth and youth advocates
  • First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people (including leaders, governments, community organizations, industry members, and Elders)
  • the cannabis industry (including federal licence holders both large and small, distributors, regulators, retailers, and industry associations)
  • equity-deserving groups
  • people with diverse lived and living experience
  • international policy leaders
  • cannabis consumers
  • various levels of government
  • law enforcement representatives
  • stakeholders involved in the use of cannabis for medical purposes (such as people who use cannabis for medical purposes, patients and their caregivers, patient advocacy groups, cannabis clinics, and those operating outside of the current medical access system)

We travelled to British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec to meet with stakeholders in their locations.

As of June 30, 2023, we:

  • met with almost 500 individuals from over 200 organizations in nearly 90 meetings
  • completed 8 sector-based roundtable meetings (public health, justice and public safety, industry, 3 meetings with patient organizations and advocates, and 2 meetings with youth and young adult advocates)
  • completed 5 roundtables focused on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)
  • undertook distinctions-based engagement activities with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis
  • visited sites of licence holders involved in cultivation and processing, retail stores, harm reduction sites, and cannabis clinics
  • engaged with stakeholders operating outside of federal, provincial, or territorial licensing frameworks




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