Recommendations of the LeDain Commission Report on Cannabis
The LeDain Commission was set up in 1969 as a Commission of Inquiry
into the non-medical use of drugs. It was established under the
Honourable John Munro, then Minister of National Health and Welfare.
Although the commission’s terms of reference included a broad range of
psychotropic substances, they felt that the issues surrounding cannabis
warranted detailed examination in a separate report, which they issued
in 1971. This report is an extremely thorough examination of the use
and effects of cannabis consumption, and is still considered to be
among the best of its kind.
The commission was made up of five members. Two of the commission
members chose to give separate conclusions and recommendations from the
The majority recommendation of the commission was written by Gerald Le
Dain, Heinz Lehmann and J. Peter Stein. In essence, they recommended
that simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use be
permitted, but that criminal sanctions be continued against the
importation and trafficking of cannabis. What follows is the text of
We recommend the following changes in the law respecting the
illegal distribution of cannabis:
- Importing and exporting should be included in the
definition of trafficking (as they are under the Food and Drugs
Act), and they should not be subject to a mandatory minimum
term of imprisonment. It might be appropriate, however, to
make them subject to somewhat higher maximum penalties than
other forms of trafficking.
- There should be an option to proceed by indictment or
summary conviction in the case of trafficking and possession
for the purpose of trafficking.
- Upon indictment, the maximum penalty for trafficking or
possession for the purpose of trafficking should be five years,
and upon summary conviction, eighteen months. It should be
possible in either case to impose fine in lieu of imprisonment.
- In cases of possession for the purpose of trafficking it
should be sufficient, when possession has been proved, for the
accused to raise a reasonable doubt as to his intention to
traffic. He should not be required to make proof which carries
on a preponderance of evidence or a balance of probabilities.
- Trafficking should not include the giving, without exchange
of value, by one user to another of a quantity which could
reasonably be consumed on a single occasion.
The costs to a significant number of individuals, the majority
of whom are young people, and to society generally, of a policy
of prohibition of simple possession are not justified by the
potential for harm of cannabis and the additional influence
which such a policy is likely to have upon perception of harm,
demand and availability. We, therefore, recommend the repeal
of the prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis.
The cultivation of cannabis should be subject to the same
penalties as trafficking, but it should not be a punishable
offence unless it is cultivation for the purpose of
trafficking. Upon proof of cultivation, the burden should be
on the accused to establish that he was not cultivating for the
purpose of trafficking, but it should be sufficient for him, as
in the case of possession for the purpose of trafficking, to
raise a reasonable doubt concerning the intent to traffic.
The police should have the power to seize and confiscate
cannabis and cannabis plants wherever they are found, unless
the possession or cultivation has been expressly authorized for
scientific or other purposes.
The first of two dissenting opinions was written by Marie-Andree
Bertrand. She argued that the sale and distribution of cannabis be
brought under the control of the provincial and federal governments.
Her recommendations are as follows:
The federal government should remove cannabis from the Narcotic
Control Act, as the Commission recommended in its Interim
The federal government should immediately initiate discussions
with the provincial governments to have the sale and use of
cannabis placed under controls similar to those governing the
sale and use of alcohol, including legal prohibition of
unauthorized distribution and analogous age restrictions.
Furthermore, this government-distributed cannabis should be
marketed at a quality and price that would make the ‘black
market’ sale of the drug an impractical enterprise.
The federal government should initiate a program to develop
efficient practical methods for cannabis production and
marketing in Canada. A standard form of natural marijuana would
seem to be most feasible at this stage, but hashish and
synthetic preparations should also be explored.
The federal government should initiate prospective multi-
disciplinary epidemiological research to monitor and evaluate
changes in the extent and patterns of the use of cannabis and
other drugs, and to explore possible consequences to health,
and personal and social behaviour, resulting from the
controlled legal distribution of cannabis.
All stages of the production and marketing of cannabis should
be conducted by the federal and/or provincial governments.
The final dissenting opinion was that of Ian L. Campbell. In the
preamble to his recommendations he states that, “I must dissent from
their recommendation that the prohibition of the simple possession of
cannabis be repealed and from part of the recommendation concerning
cultivation. I am in full agreement with all of their other
recommendations.” The reason he gives for opposing the repeal of
simple possession at this time is that it is “apt to be seriously
misinterpreted, particularly by young people” as reflecting the
judgement that cannabis is indeed completely safe and without potential
for harm. He concludes that prohibition of simple possession be
maintained, but that punishment be limited to a fine.
I must dissent from the recommendation of the majority of my
colleagues and recommend that the prohibition of cannabis be
maintained, for the time being at least. Possession of
cannabis should be punishable, upon summary conviction, by a
fine of $25.00 for the first offence and by a fine of $100.00
for any subsequent offence. I fully realize that these
penalties will not be a potent deterrent to those who will not
be deterred by the purely moral force of the law. But far
heavier penalties have clearly failed to deter. I believe that
the reduction of penalties to this level will on the one hand
maintain most of the existing deterrent capacity of the law and
on the other help to reduce the stigmatization to appropriate
levels- levels similar to those for under-age drinking or
buying alcohol from a bootlegger.
With respect to the cultivation of cannabis other than for
purposes of trafficking, I recommend that it continue to be an
offence with penalties identical to those which I recommend for
Despite the fact that the Commission was created to advise government
policy, and that it is regarded as being among the most comprehensive
reports of its kind, none of its recommendations have ever been acted
upon by any Canadian government since it was written.