Not This Time: Canadians, Public Policy, and the Marijuana Question, 1961–1975


277 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-9048-6
DDC 362.29'5'097109046




Reviewed by Dave Bennett

David Bennett is the national director of the Department of Workplace Health, Safety and Environment at the Canadian Labour Congress in Ottawa.


At its broadest, the “marijuana question” has several facets:
whether marijuana is a legal or only a moral issue, whether it is a
health issue of preventing and treating marijuana use, or whether it is
simply a matter of public education. All these issues are well covered
in Not This Time, including the phenomenon of “moral panic,” whereby
sensational or allegedly widespread cases lead to a sudden, draconian
change in drug policy or law enforcement.

During the 1960s, there was a public perception that the use of illegal
drugs was increasing, one indicator being a huge rise in the annual
number of drug arrests. When social research on marijuana use took off
in the late 1960s, this did indeed indicate that use of the drug was
widespread and rising, though there were great variations according to
age, gender, class, and region. In 1969, the federal government
appointed a Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs (the
Le Dain Commission). In its various reports, the commission was largely
unable to reach a consensus on the marijuana question, including the
issues of legalization and decriminalization, and some aspects of
reducing penalties for possession. The commission did, however,
recommend the transfer of marijuana from the Narcotic Control Act to the
Food and Drugs Act. In the event, the commission had little impact on
public policy (“not this time”), though prosecution policy was
relaxed and sentencing rules became less rigid.

There are only two areas where the emphasis could have been changed.
The book deals with a single drug over a limited period of time. It
would have been helpful to have more background information on American
and international moves on marijuana, including the UN drug conventions.
This is offset by a useful conclusion, which brings the issue up to date
from 1975 to the present.

Secondly, there are some references to statistics on arrests,
prosecutions, and sentencing. But without a systematic analysis of court
cases over possession, trafficking, and cultivation, it is hard to
determine just how arbitrary and repressive Canada’s marijuana policy
really was.


Martel, Marcel., “Not This Time: Canadians, Public Policy, and the Marijuana Question, 1961–1975,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 24, 2024,