By the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA)

In January 2022, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA) and Public Safety Canada (PS) hosted a virtual policy research symposium over three half days. The symposium shared knowledge about the effects of cannabis legalization on law enforcement and public safety. The event brought together a diverse group of participants, including members from the public safety and law enforcement communities; policy makers in the federal, provincial and territorial governments; academics; and others. Research and discussions focused on six topics:

  • Organized crime, 
  • Law enforcement and cannabis, 
  • Illicit markets, 
  • Patterns of consumer behaviour, 
  • Impacts on youth, and 
  • Impacts on impaired driving

Research highlighted the reduction in the number of young people being arrested for cannabisrelated offences and the increasing market share of the legal cannabis market. For impaired driving, the research showed that acute use of cannabis resulted in a modest increase in risk of a crash following the legalization of cannabis. Research also highlighted the complexity of measuring the effects of legalization on organized crime due to the lack of systematic evidence. The changes observed by law enforcement were in response to the challenges in regulating cannabis production and distribution in Canada. The need for appropriate procedures, training and resources was cited.

More data and research are needed to support Canada’s collective understanding of the impacts of the Cannabis Act on public safety, to identify emerging policy and administrative issues that should be prioritized, and to inform policy and practice. Future PS research areas include the continued enhancement of data collection related to impaired driving; measurement of the costs associated with cannabis enforcement; and continued monitoring of trends in illicit cannabis markets. Research done in collaboration with law enforcement would include cost-effective approaches to cannabis enforcement, evaluating the effectiveness of different police practices and where cannabis fits with other substance use priorities. CCSA and PS will continue to work with law enforcement agencies across Canada and provide support for practice-oriented research that addresses the public safety impacts of illicit cannabis. Indigenous communities need to be directly involved in research to better understand their situation and needs regarding illicit cannabis and ways to support them.

Addressing these issues will help inform decision making and shape the future of cannabis policy and practice in Canada. CCSA and PS will continue to provide continued leadership and support to enhance cannabis research, policy and practice. They will build on the success of this symposium to inform their cannabis research initiatives over the coming years and foster knowledge exchange on public safety implications and considerations for cannabis legalization.