It is now a year since Canada moved to legally regulate cannabis for recreational use, becoming the second country after Uruguay, and the first major G7 economy, to do so (excluding the 11 US states that have now done so outside of US federal jurisdiction). While legal access to cannabis was already available for medical purposes, this marked a groundbreaking policy shift away from criminalisation of the drug and the people who use it in a country of nearly 40 million people.
The Canadian Government emphasised three key goals of regulation: the protection of public health; the protection of young people; and the reduction in criminality associated with the illegal market.1 The
reforms built on years of evidence demonstrating that the illegal status of cannabis did not prevent rising consumption and was associated with a range of other risks, from increased potency to the empowerment of criminal gangs
Historically, Canadian provinces have developed separate systems for regulating the sale of alcohol, and a similar devolved principle was applied to cannabis. As a result, a ‘patchwork’ of regulatory models has now emerged across the country. Some provinces have been more successful than others and many have experienced ‘teething’ issues during early implementation. Importantly, the Cannabis Act only allowed for herbal cannabis and oils to be sold in the first year. The sale of cannabis ‘edibles’ and concentrates are subject to separate regulations and are due to go on sale later this year in phase 2 of the implementation.2
Establishing an entirely new regulated market – aimed at displacing well-established illegal supply – was a unique challenge. While some have raised concerns that the intensity of cannabis regulation has slowed participation in the new legal market, others remain worried about creeping commercialisation. It will inevitably take time for the new system to bed in and for emerging problems to be addressed. Policy will hopefully evolve as evidence is gathered, and learning is shared across provinces. This briefing reviews the early data since legalisation and considers lessons other countries might draw from the Canadian experience.