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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs
Volume 2 - Policies and Practices In Canada
Chapter 12 - The National Legislative Context

The Le Dain Commission (1969-1973)

When parliamentarians were examining the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act  in 1969, they asked that a special committee be struck to look into the issue of drug use in Canada, particularly the use of cannabis. On May 29, 1969, the Liberal government headed by Pierre Elliott Trudeau passed Order-in-Council P.C. 1969-1112, establishing the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, more commonly known as the Le Dain Commission. One of the reasons put forward to justify its creation was:


That notwithstanding these measures and the competent enforcement thereof by the R.C.M. Police and other enforcement bodies, the incidence of possession and use of these substances for non-medical purposes has increased and the need for an investigation as to the cause of such increasing use has become imperative. [1][83]


The Commission’s activities and reports

The Commission carried out its activities from mid-October 1969 until December 14, 1973, when its final report was tabled. During this period, it heard from 639 groups and individuals: 295 organizations presented briefs and 43 appeared before the members of the Commission; 212 individuals made submissions and 89 gave oral presentations. In total, the Commission held public hearings in 27 cities, including Ottawa and the ten provincial capitals, travelling some 50,000 miles around the country. During its term, the Commission published four reports: an interim report (1970), a special report on cannabis (1972), a report on treatment (1972) and a final report (1973). In addition to its Chairman, Gerald Le Dain, the Commission comprised four members: Ian L Campbell, Heinz Lehman, Peter Stein and Marie-Andrée Bertrand.

Before reviewing the Commission’s recommendations in relation to cannabis, it is worthwhile to look into four aspects of the Commission’s work that Dr. Marie-Andrée Bertrand brought up at a hearing of our Committee.

The first relates to the Commission’s mandate, which was “extremely generous and broad.” She presented it thus:

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

(b) to report on the current state of medical knowledge respecting the effect of the drugs...;

(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... in particular, on the extent of the phenomenon, the social factors that have led to it, the age groups involved, and problems of communications; 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 relation with Government at other levels, in the reduction of the dimensions of the problems involved in such use.



Because the mandate was so broad, commissioners and the Commission's personnel got involved in a vast project which, in my opinion, had a great deal of impact on Canadian society. I am convinced that even though it had no influence at all on criminal legislation, the Le Dain Commission brought about a considerable change in the mentalities of Canadians, as it raised, for instance, awareness about the effects of traditional drugs.[2][84]   


Second, the method used by the Commission to seek the opinions of Canadians. After mentioning the Commission’s travel, she recalled that the public hearings gave the public an opportunity to ask questions and to confront the experts.  


Thus, we raised a wide national debate on the factors whereby Canadian society … can, frequently resort to psychotropic substances to alleviate some of its suffering. In my opinion, the generosity of the mandate, the method of consultation, the style and attitude of the commissioners - and more specifically those of the Commission's chairman - brought about an effervescence of ideas about democracy, about how the State functions, and about the feeling of alienation that many Canadians felt and still feel vis-à-vis their national, provincial or municipal government. [3][85]  


Third, the Commission’s research mandate. Dr. Bertrand stated that the Le Dain Commission, at the height of its mandate, employed 100 persons, 30 of whom were full-time researchers. These researchers basically worked on four targets: (1) the effects of the drugs – and especially of cannabis, (2) drug use, (3) treatment problems, and (4) the influence of the media on the phenomenon.

Fourth, the Commission’s impact. Dr. Bertrand believes that the democratic debate kicked off by the Commission had significant impact on knowledge about drugs. Many people came to understand that stereotypes of drug users as criminals were just that–stereotypes. The Commission also kicked off a deep debate about the factors pushing people to take drugs and increased awareness of these issues. What became apparent very quickly after the Commission started its work was Canadians’ feeling of alienation from Canadian politicians and lawmakers, and the frustration that ordinary people are not listened to in this country.


[1][83] Le Dain, G., et al., (1973) Canadian Government Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, Ottawa: Government of Canada, page 4.

[2][84]  Dr. Marie-Andrée Bertrand, Professor Emeritus of Criminology, Université de Montréal, Evidence presented to the Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, Senate of Canada, First Session, Thirty-Seventh Parliament, 2001, page 45.

[3][85]  Ibid., page 46.

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