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​​​​​​​Marijuana, also known as cannabis, is the most commonly used illegal drug in Canada and worldwide. While recreational use is illegal, marijuana can be used for medical purposes with the support of a healthcare practitioner.

Why marijuana is a concern

  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in Canada, with 10.6% of Canadians reporting past-year use in 2012.

  • Canadian youth had the highest rate of past-year marijuana use in 2009–2010 (28%), compared to students in other developed countries.

  • A growing body of research suggests that marijuana use — particularly chronic use — can negatively affect mental and physical health, brain function (memory, attention and thinking) and driving performance.

  • Marijuana can also negatively affect the development and behaviour of children born to women who used the drug during pregnancy.

View Cannabis Use and Risky Behaviours and Harms: A Comparison of Urban and Rural Populations in Canada.

Legal status in Canada

Marijuana is a Schedule II drug under the Canadian Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, meaning that growing, possessing, distributing and selling marijuana is illegal, with the following penalties:

  • Possession: up to five years’ imprisonment;

  • Production: up to seven years’ imprisonment; and

  • Trafficking: up to life imprisonment.

Drug-impaired driving is also an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.

Marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes

Regulatory options for cannabis fall along a continuum, rather than into distinct categories. Our Cannabis Regulatory Approaches report illustrates the continuum with examples of the various approaches and countries that have implemented them.​

Our policy brief, Marijuana for Non-Therapeutic Purposes​, discusses options and presents recommendations for ensuring an evidence-informed approach to marijuana policy.

In February and August 2015, CCSA led delegations to gather evidence and experience in Colorado and Washington state. The delegations consisted of partners from public health, treatment and enforcement sectors. The goal was to inform the ongoing national dialogue about policy options for the regulation of marijuana in Canada by observing the effects of the approaches in the two states. That these two states are using different regulatory frameworks provided the opportunity to compare the models in terms of both implementation and impact.

Our report,​ Canna​bis Regulation: Lessons Learned in Colorado and Washington State​​, highlights lessons learned to help promote a national dialogue that will inform “made in Canada” policy options to minimize the potential negative health, social, economic and criminal justice impacts of cannabis use in Canada.

Marijuana for medical purposes

Although much research to date has focused on the health risks associated with the use of marijuana, clinical evidence supporting the use of marijuana for specific medical purposes is also beginning to emerge. As a result, policy makers, health professionals and medical regulatory bodies are seeking policy approaches that balance patient needs, emerging knowledge, health risks and concerns about misuse and diversion.

Our policy brief, Marijuana for Medical Purposes​, presents information, options and next steps for developing effective, evidence-based policy for the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

Synthetic cannabinoid products

Synthetic cannabinoid products contain chemicals that mimic the effects of THC (Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

For more information please view our CCENDU Bulletin on Synthetic Cannabinoids in Canada.