A History of Drug Abuse in Canada | CCFA A History of Drug Abuse in Canada | CCFA
10 Jan
A History of Drug Abuse in Canada
history of drug abuse in canada


The history of drug abuse in Canada started around 1850.

Although Opium has been around for a very long time dating back to at least the Neolithic age, recreational use of Opium began in China in the 15th Century. To understand the history of drug abuse in Canada, we go back to the 19th century where migrants from China reached British Columbia and started settling there. They established opium dens in their communities that were usually remote.

Opium had (has) medicinal qualities specifically to relief from pain. These settlers from China were also a cheap labor sources in Canada so it became incredibly easy to produce in these communities. The government viewed opium consumption (a lot of medical reasons) as another easy source to earn revenue. So it imposed a tax on opium factories in 1871.

The First Legal Act against Drugs

The Minister of Labor, Mackenzie King was concerned with the growing number of opium users. The following year, the government enacted the Opium Act of 1908. Under this Act, it was illegal to import, manufacture, or sell opium. But opiates were still widely used through patent medicines. This causes the government to pass another act called the Proprietary and Patent Medicine Act that prohibited the use of cocaine in medicines. Pharmaceutical companies also had to label products that contained morphine, opium or heroin.

Drug Offenders and Penalties

With the imposition of the Opium Act, a black market for opium began to emerge. Officers thought that the only way to stop this black market was through rigorous imprisonment. Parliament passed the Opium and Drugs act 1911. Under this Act, Offenders would get harsher penalties for violation of the law. In addition, the list of prohibited drugs expanded. In 1921, the penalties for drug offenders were expanded for a seven-year prison sentence. By the end of 1923, more prohibited drugs were included in the list such as morphine, cocaine and cannabis.

Strict Legal Action against Drug Offenders

The 1920s drug policy was totally different from the present day. Drug users and offenders were considered more as criminals than as those with an illness. Besides, most of the convicted under the 1911 Drug Act were Chinese. This led many Canadians to believe that drug laws were not for them, but for immigrants only. In view of that, the Opium and Narcotic Drug Act was enacted in 1929 with more penalties for drug offenders. This remained the main drug regulation in Canada until 1960. During the same time, the media published sensational reports of drug use among youths. In 1961, the government made firm action and made the Narcotic Act stricter than before.

Schedules I to VIII

The drug laws remained unchanged between 1969 and 1973. However, in 1996, the Drugs and Substance Act was passed. Under this Act, drugs were classified into eight schedules I to VIII. Punishment for trafficking illicit drugs was included in schedule I and II. Under the schedule I and II, offenders would get a maximum of life imprisonment. On the other hand, penalties for the possession of drugs were included in schedule VIII. Tough sentencing minimized the number of drug users. But, it had negative effects on the health, employment and relationships of constant users.

Government Initiatives

In 2001, Canada became the first country to use cannabis legally for terminally ill patients. However, due to the enforcement of stricter Acts, the street price of cocaine in Canada is much higher than in South American and East Asian countries. Recently, drug courts in Canada have gained popularity. The aim of these drug courts is to divert those who violate drug regulations from prisons into treatment programs. Now addicts have access to Toronto drug rehab centres and alcoholics can go to Toronto alcohol rehab centres. This has remarkably decreased prison overcrowding.

However, this has caused people with all types of tendencies to go unmonitored in treatment centres that raises concerns for many. The answer to a high quality treatment without a crowded treatment program has thus become a private rehab.

Canadian Centre for Addictions

These posts are written by the staff of CCFA based on the ongoings and observations in the addictions and recovery industry. We're a private drug and alcohol rehab with an inpatient location in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada and an outpatient location in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Addiction Research, Drug Abuse & Drug Addiction

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