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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs - 1972

Cannabis:  The Report of the Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs


1. Introduction

This report, one of a series of final reports by the Commission, attempts to deal with the issues which bear on the social policy which should be adopted towards cannabis. It deals with the nature and effects of cannabis, its distribution, and its patterns and extent of use. It also examines the existing law with respect to cannabis. Finally, it reports the conclusions of the Commission on the issues and makes recommendations to the federal government concerning legislative policy. 

To place this report in proper perspective it is necessary to recall the Commission's terms of reference. These are set forth in the Order-in-Council (P.C. 1969 - 1112), which established the Commission on May 29, 1969, as follows: 

(a) to marshal from available sources, both in Canada and abroad, data and information comprising the present fund of knowledge concerning the nonmedical use of sedative, stimulant, tranquillizing, hallucinogenic and other psychotropic drugs or substances;

(b) to report on the current state of medical knowledge respecting the effect of the drugs and substances referred to in (a);

(c) to inquire into and report on the motivation underlying the non-medical use referred to in (a);

(d) to inquire into and report on the social, economic, educational and philosophical factors relating to the use for non-medical purposes of the drugs and substances referred to in (a) and in particular, on the extent of the phenomenon, the social factors that have led to it, the age groups involved, and problems of communication; and

(e) to inquire into and recommend with respect to the ways or means by which the Federal Government can act, alone or in its relations with Government at other levels, in the reduction of the dimensions of the problems involved in such use. 

Clearly we are required to focus our inquiry not on cannabis alone, but on a very broad range of psychotropic substances. This we have done, and the results of our inquiry with respect to other drugs will be published in a subsequent final report. of other subject areas referred to in our Terms of Reference. We believe, however, that the issues surrounding the use of cannabis in Canada today warrant detailed examination in a separate report. 

However, as we noted in our Interim Report, the use of a particular drug in O!r society cannot be examined realistically without reference to other forms Accordingly, in this report we will make frequent lationships between cannabis use and other forms of A more general and comprehensive discussion of pear in a later report. 

We have not attempted in this report to examine in detail the question of motivation to use cannabis, although it is touched on to some extent in the chapter on patterns of use. This requirement of our terms of reference will be met in a subsequent report in which this important aspect of our inquiry will be discussed and analysed more comprehensively than would have been possible within the context of cannabis use alone. 


At the outset of our work, we determined that if we were to adequately examine the phenomenon of non-medical drug use within the context of modern life in Canada, we would have to rely not only on the information and opinions of scientists and of experts, but also on the opinions, attitudes and experience of individuals in many parts of Canada. It was for this reason that we began our first round of public hearings in September 1969, and, following the publication of our Interim Report, we undertook a second round of public hearings. It was our objective in this latter round of hearings not only to increase our awareness of the views of the Canadian people, but also, wherever possible, to obtain from them their own sense of the value of the perceptions, conclusions and interim recommendations contained in the Interim Report. 

In all, the Commission held public hearings for 46 days, travelling some 50,000 miles to 27 cities and 23 university campuses in all the provinces of Canada. A total of 365 submissions were presented to us at these hearings and an additional 50 were forwarded for our consideration to the Commission's office in Ottawa. We estimate that approximately 12,000 people in all segments of Canadian society attended and participated in these hearings. More than 500 Canadians also expressed their views to us through private correspondence. We believe that our awareness of the response of the public to non-medical drug use was much enhanced by these attempts to provide, through the public hearings, a forum for frank and informal exchanges of opinion. 

As we said in our Interim Report, we were very impressed by the candor with which people of all ages came forward and spoke from a depth of conviction and feeling about the phenomenon of non-medical drug use and its relation to other aspects of social and cultural change today. 


Our inquiry, of course, extended far beyond the scope of public attitudes in Canada. While science cannot itself provide ultimate answers to complex social phenomena involving various economic, legal, philosophical and moral issues, it is an important and necessary instrument in any systematic search for explanation and understanding. For this reason, the Commission has invested heavily in the scientific evaluation of many facets of current cannabis use in Canada. 

We have developed a library that currently contains some 2,600 published and unpublished papers dealing with various aspects of cannabis. This does not represent the total number of papers surveyed by the Commission, but primarily those which we felt necessary to acquire for extended study. We have had full access to the library and documentation facilities of the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario, to the Library of the Department of National Health and Welfare, to the National Library, and to the National Science Library. In addition, we have received considerable assistance from other libraries in Canada and abroad through inter-library loan and special subject searches. Examples of these are the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health Clearinghouse for Drug Abuse Information, the U.S. National Library of Medicine, and the Science Information Exchange of the Smithsonian Institution. 

Chapter 2 of this report, entitled Cannabis and Its Effects, is the product of an intensive and comprehensive review of existing scientific literature, integrated with the results of the Commission's own research program. We have tried to encompass the relevant knowledge in the areas of cannabis botany and chemistry, as well as the physiological, psychological and behavioural ramifications of -cannabis use. The Commission's Research Director, Dr. Ralph D. Miller, has had direct supervision over this aspect of our research program. He was assisted in this work, and at various stages in the preparation of our review, by Dr. Ralph W. Hansteen, Joan Brewster, Patricia Oestreicher, Marilyn Jarvis and other members of the research and consulting staff. 

Drs. Miller and Hansteen were responsible for conducting the Commission's experimental program investigating various acute effects of cannabis on humans. -This phase of our research, which was initiated in 1971, is described in the chapter of the report dealing with Cannabis and Its Effects and, in more detail, in Annex A of that chapter. This research was designed to fill significant gaps in existing knowledge on issues of particular social relevance. 

We appreciate the co-operation of Dr. L.D. Reid of the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies in collaborating with the Commission staff in studying the effects of cannabis and alcohol on psychomotor function. We were fortunate in having available to us the laboratory facilities of Dr. Heinz E. Lehmann at the Douglas Hospital in Verdun, Quebec for experiments investigating the effects of synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol and marijuana. The Department of National Defence facilitated our program by providing a site for our studies of the effects of cannabis and alcohol on some automobile driving tasks. Other researchers who have contributed significantly to our experimental program include Cannie Adamec, Lawrence P. Lonero, Dr. Barry Jones of McMaster University, Dr. Leonard Theodore of York University, Dr. Stephen Link of McMaster University, and Dr. Ronald Siegal of the University of California. 

In addition to an extensive review of the international literature on possible adverse reactions and other medical complications associated with cannabis use, we have further examined the Canadian experience in a variety of ways. Formal studies conducted include a national survey of psychiatric hospitals, a multi-faceted study of physicians practising in the Ottawa area, and an Investigation of innovative services and street clinics (as well as some formal treatment facilities) across the country. Data obtained from these sources were supplemented with information from public and private hearings, formal briefs and written submissions to the Commission, and by regular contact with certain key persons involved in the treatment of drug-related problems, both across Canada and abroad. Commission Research Assistants Joan Brewster and Barry Hemmings have made major contributions to these projects. 

In examining the botanical aspects and cultivation of cannabis, we were greatly assisted by the work of Dr. Ernest Small of the Department of Agriculture. In addition, Lucille Barash provided a review of the history of hemp cultivation in Canada. 

In order to determine some of the chemical characteristics of cannabis currently being used illicitly in Canada, the Commission initiated chemical studies of cannabis samples obtained from a variety of sources, including police seizures and contributions from private individuals. In addition, we surveyed all major analytic facilities in the country for cannabis information. Extensive chemical studies were also made of the various cannabis samples obtained from the Health Protection Branch of the Department of National Health and Welfare for use in Commission experimental projects. P. Oestreicher and R.D. Miller were assisted at various stages in this research by Dr. Michael Willinsky and Kevin Fehr of the University of Toronto, Harry Beckstead of the Health Protection Branch, and Dr. Joan Marshman and her staff at the Addiction Research Foundation. 

We have relied to a significant degree on research in the social sciences to amplify our knowledge and understanding of cannabis use in Canada. As directed in our terms of reference, we sought to determine the extent and patterns of the use of this and other drugs. Much of our information comes from several national surveys initiated by the Commission. These data require further analysis for detailed presentation, which will be made in a subsequent report, but we refer to the essential conclusions from it concerning the extent of use in Chapter 4. The surveys were carried out, under contract to the Commission, by the Survey Research Centre of York University, under the direction of Sondra B. Phillips and the general supervision of Dr. Michael Lanphier. Our surveys in the Province of Quebec were carried out by le Centre de Sondage de I'Universite de Montreal. 

In order to adequately comprehend the patterns of cannabis use, and some of the legal and economic implications in Canada, we investigated in considerable detail the sources and distribution of cannabis at various levels in the society. Mel Green, the Commission's Senior Research Assistant, supervised the investigation of the sources and patterns of trafficking at both the international and domestic levels. 

The Commission conducted a study of the social and personal characteristics of conventionally employed Canadians over the age of 27 who were users of cannabis. Further, in order to determine some of the dimensions of marijuana and hashish use in a natural setting, the Commission analysed the recorded activity and actual drug consumption patterns (over a period of a month) of a small group of cannabis users who were students or gainfully employed adults. We also studied the use of cannabis and other drugs by young people across the country using participant observation techniques. Mel Green had major responsibility for these studies. 

We express our thanks to the many other staff scientists not previously noted who assisted us in our sociological research. We make special mention of Research Assistants Judith Blackwell, Burton Leathers, David McLachlen, Gordon Smith, and Research Associate Dr. Lynn McDonald of McMaster University. 

Our examination and assessment of the existing law and law enforcement methods in Canada required a detailed empirical investigation of these aspects of social policy. This research was carried out under the direction of professor John Hogarth of Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, assisted by Robert Solomon. Research into the doctrinal aspects of the law was conducted by Professor Paul Weiler, of Osgoode Hall Law School, and a comparative study of foreign drug legislation was carried out by Professor Stuart Ryan of the Queens University Law School. We are also grateful for the co-operation provided to us in this phase of our inquiry by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Statistics Canada, and the Bureau of Dangerous Drugs of the Department of National Health and Welfare. 

Detailed technical reports presenting a comprehensive discussion of certain projects from the Commission research program will be published subsequent to this report. 


The growing use of cannabis obviously is not confined to Canada. Its increasing prevelance in this country reflects a trend that has been observed in a number of other areas of the world. The observations, experiences and opinions of experts and other observers in numerous countries have been available to us. In some cases, members of the Commission and staff have gone abroad to seek the experiences of those conversant with the phenomenon in their own countries. We also sought their views and expertise in a number of private meetings and symposia held in Canada. Representatives of the Commission attended most of the major scientific conferences around the world dealing with cannabis during our mandate. We are grateful for the insights and knowledge so readily passed on to us, particularly in the fields of law and science. 

We make special mention of the assistance provided to us by the Addiction Research Foundation of Ontario. The availability of data from their documentation centre and library greatly facilitated the work of the Commission research staff, as did the chemical analytic services provided. In addition, we are appreciative of the generous advice and consultation provided at various stages of our inquiry by members of the Foundation research staff. We are also grateful for the co-operation so readily given by Dr. A.B. Morrison and his colleagues in the Health Protection Branch of the Department of National Health and Welfare. 

Finally, our thanks go out to the other members of the Commission's regular staff and consultants whose labour and dedication made possible the Implementation of our research program and the publication of this report. C. Michael Bryan, the Commission's Special Assistant, coordinated the editing and publishing of the report. A list of the Commissioners and staff appears in Appendix B. 


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