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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Criminalizing pleasure: cannabis prohibition in Canada Tousaw, Kierk I.


Cannabis prohibition is a contentious issue that has been studied extensively by government and the courts. The empirical evidence, in both forums and over time, is remarkably consistent. Cannabis use poses little or no threat of harm to the typical user. Some members of vulnerable groups, however, may be at risk of harm from cannabis use. Whether prohibition is justified on the basis of protecting these vulnerable groups from self-inflicted harm is a question that tests the proper boundaries of criminal law and requires analysis of certain legal philosophies including paternalism and liberalism as evidenced by John Stuart Mill's harm principle. This paper reviews the major government studies of cannabis use and policy. In addition, the paper reviews the main Charter challenge to cannabis prohibition that were recently decided by the Supreme Court of Canada. Ultimately, the government inquiries all call for reform of Canada's cannabis laws. Despite this, Canada's policy toward cannabis has remained virtually unchanged since its inception in 1923. The Supreme Court recently rejected the Charter challenge, leaving any hope of reform in the hand of Parliament. Reform seems unlikely because certain themes of prohibition, such as the assumption that it has a deterrent effect, continue to find resonance despite empirical evidence to the contrary. The power of the status quo, it seems, is very difficult to overcome.

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