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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Cannabis Control Policy

 Cannabis Control Policy: A Discussion Paper

 Health Protection Branch

Department of National Health and Welfare

January 1979

Non-criminal, or "civil," offences. 

A number of American states have "decriminalized" cannabis possession by transferring the offence from their criminal codes to their civil codes. Cannabis possession is not, as a result, legalized; it remains an offence subject to punishment like a violation of highway traffic legislation, but it is not a "criminal" offence and the offender does not have a "criminal record." This transfer is possible because state governments have both criminal and civil jurisdiction. As appealing as this model might be, it appears to be constitutionally unavailable to Parliament. Since Parliament's jurisdiction over cannabis is based on its criminal law power, it is difficult to see how it could create a civil offence, when the courts have defined a crime as an act prohibited with penal consequences. In any event, the Interpretation Act R.S.C. 1970, c. I-23, s. 27(2), deems the violation of any federal statute — no matter what head of power it is enacted under — to be a criminal offence. Thus, unauthorized parking on federal property, in violation of the Government Property Traffic Act R.S.C. 1970, c. G-10, constitutes a criminal offence. The fact that this legislation provides for the ticketing of the vehicle and the entering of a conviction upon payment of a set fine does not negate the criminal nature of the offence, but merely relates to the procedures used to enforce the law.

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