UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From 'indian hemp' to the 'new cannabis' in Canada : the racial contract and cannabis criminalization and licensing in a British settler state Vance, Amanda


As recreational cannabis drug legalization approaches in Canada with The Cannabis Act, the question of why marijuana cultivation, production, use and trade was criminalized in the first place looms large. Leading up to reform in Canada, observers in Canada and the United States argued racism was central to cannabis drug criminalization in North America. Using critical race theory including Charles Mills’ The Racial Contract, Edward Said’s Orientalism, and passages on ‘White Technicians’ from Jean-Paul Sartre's Black Orpheus; secondary sources by historians, sociologists, criminologists, and other scholars; as well as my own primary historical and contemporary source analysis, including archived Canadian and American media and recent Cannabis Act hearings in the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, I argue that racism was fundamental to cannabis criminalization in Canada as it was a European colonial policy which has disproportionately impacted racialized non-white Canadians in recent years. The Cannabis Act disregards Indigenous claims to sovereignty and imposes criminal penalties for unlicensed cannabis market activity. As such, the legislation could perpetuate racism in practice. Arguably, the net effect of the criminalization of unlicensed cannabis use and trade, combined with restrictive licensing practices, has been to co-opt cannabis for settler government and select entities with limited inclusion of Indigenous peoples so far, suggesting the need for further reform.

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