Recommendations of the LeDain Commission Report on Cannabis

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

their recommendations:

We recommend the following changes in the law respecting the

illegal distribution of cannabis:

  1. 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.

  2. There should be an option to proceed by indictment or

    summary conviction in the case of trafficking and possession

    for the purpose of trafficking.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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

simple possession.

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.

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