Canadian Cannabis Prohibition Predated U.S. Ban by 15 Years

Gerald Le Dain with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in 1969 (Photo by Peter Bregg/The Canadian Press)

Canada’s path to cannabis prohibition closely followed that of its southern neighbor. Like in the United States, a century ago cannabis was widely available in tincture form as a medication before being banned in a campaign that blatantly harnessed racism and xenophobia. Yet now Canada is legalizing coast to coast, starting October 17, while the U.S. federal government refuses to end its 80-year policy.

The Anti-Immigrant Roots of Canadian Prohibition

The Harrison Narcotics Tax Act of 1914, the first major anti-drug legislation in the US, was passed on a wave of anti-Asian hysteria. In Canada, the connection was even more blatant.

On September 7, 1907, a thousands-strong white mob of the Asiatic Exclusion League rampaged through Vancouver’s Chinese and Japanese district trashing shops and throwing some immigrants in the harbor. “Not a Chinese window was missed,” it was reported.

Business owners demanded compensation, and the deputy labor minister—William Lyon Mackenzie King, who later as prime minister led Canada through World War II—was dispatched to investigate. King was shocked to find that the claimants included (legal) opium merchants. Back in Ottawa, he wrote

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