Canadians disjointed on pot plan: Most support the bill, but think it will fail in its key goals

Canadians disjointed on pot plan: Most support the bill, but think it will fail in its key goals

Two-in-three say the proposed law will fail to prevent kids from using more pot once it’s legal

April 20, 2017 – With tens of thousands expected to bask in a celebratory haze over the prospect of soon getting legally high on their own supply of pot this 4/20, a new public opinion poll from the Angus Reid Institute finds Canadians in favour of the draft legislation that would legalize marijuana use, but less mellow as to whether it will achieve the goals the government has set for it.

More than six-in-ten Canadians say they support the proposed Cannabis Act. But once into the weeds on the details of it, an even larger number (66%) expect it to fail in its key mission of making it more difficult for young people to use the drug. Likewise, a small majority think the bill will fail to cut organized crime out of the marijuana industry, and half expect it to fail to prevent a surge in the number of people driving impaired.

Canadians are also somewhat divided on the 30-gram limit the bill sets for marijuana possession, with fewer than half (45%) saying this is “about right,” and the rest more likely to say it is too high than too low.

Key Findings:cannabis act canada

  • Six-in-ten Canadians (63%) say they are in favour of the Cannabis Act proposed by the federal government. That’s slightly lower than the two-thirds (68%) said “make it legal” when the Angus Reid Institute asked about the subject last year
  • Canadians are divided evenly over whether new proposed punishments for driving under the influence of marijuana will have the desired effect. Half (49%) say they expect the measures to discourage marijuana-impaired driving, while 51 per cent remain unconvinced
  • Two-in-three (66%) say the new law, if passed, will fail to prevent young people from using even more pot than they already do – something the government has made a key goal of its legalization effort


  • Most support the bill, divided on its contents

  • Legislative aims and expectations

  • Will legalization do more good than harm?

  • Where should marijuana be sold?

Most support the bill, divided on its contents

After 94 years of prohibition, marijuana appears set to become legal in Canada next year. Last week, the federal government introduced two pieces of legislation, Bill C-45 – also known as the Cannabis Act – and Bill C-46, which will combine to overhaul the landscape of marijuana use in this country.

The push to legalize marijuana in Canada is reflective of a long-term shift in public opinion. As recently as 2001, polls showed fewer than half of Canadians supporting legalization of cannabis for recreational use. By last year, an Angus Reid Institute poll found that support had grown to more than two-in-three, as seen in the following graph:

cannabis act canada

During the 2015 election, the Liberal Party promised to legalize and regulate marijuana, something government commissions have twice recommended – first in the 1970s, and again in 2002.

Perhaps reflecting this long debate, Canadians express a high degree of awareness of this issue. Some three-in-four (76%) say they have been seeing at least some media coverage and having the odd conversation about the legalization effort, and fewer than one-in-20 – just 3 per cent – haven’t seen or heard anything about it.

Asked whether marijuana legalization is a good idea or a bad idea, overall, a small majority of Canadians (56%) choose the former, while fewer than one-in-three (31%) choose the latter. The rest (13%) are uncertain:

trudeau marijuana

On the government’s specific proposal, however, some six-in-ten (63%) voice their support.

The two bills are favoured across all age groups and regions, but younger people (those ages 18 – 34) and British Columbians are the most enthusiastic. Quebec residents and those ages 55 and older, meanwhile, are least supportive, as seen in the graphs that follow:

trudeau marijuana

Perhaps surprisingly, more traditionally conservative Albertans are slightly more supportive than the national average:

cannabis act canada

While this overall support for the legislation is quite high, it is slightly lower than the percentage of Canadians who have previously said they support legalizing marijuana. One possible explanation for this is that Canadians have disagreements with certain provisions of the proposed law.

The Cannabis Act allows for adults to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana or its equivalent in cannabis oil. This is roughly one ounce – enough to roll dozens of joints. For many Canadians – particularly those who oppose the legislation – this limit is too high.

Overall, 45 per cent of respondents say 30 grams is “about right,” but a similar number (48%) say the legal limit for possession should be lower. Opponents of the bill overwhelmingly choose a lesser amount, while supporters largely think the 30-gram limit is about right, as seen in the following graph:

trudeau marijuana

Divisions also exist on the government’s proposal to allow Canadians to grow up to four marijuana plants of less than one-metre in height for their own personal use. While the largest group (43%) says the proposal is “about right,” almost three-in-ten (29%) say “no marijuana plants should be legal.” Even among supporters of the bill, some one-in-five say the four-plant limit should either be lower or should not exist:

trudeau marijuana

The draft law sets the federal minimum age for legal marijuana use at 18 – considerably lower than the 25 recommended by medical professionals in the government’s legalization task force – though provinces have the option to set a higher age within their own jurisdictions.

This provision is among the most controversial for Canadians, with a majority (58%) saying the age should be higher than 18. Opponents of the bill are largely united in this view, while those in favour of the legislation are more divided:

trudeau marijuana

While provinces would not be able to lower the legal age for usage, they would however, be able to raise the minimum. In the minds of many Canadians, this would be a good move. Strong majorities in Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada say the age restriction should be raised:

trudeau marijuana

As might be expected, those who were recently 18 themselves are more likely to say 18 is about right, while older respondents largely say the minimum age for marijuana use should be older than 18:

trudeau marijuana

Legislative aims and expectations

In proceeding with this legalization, the federal government says it’s upholding a key campaign promise while attempting to accomplish three main goals:

  • to keep cannabis out of the hands of children
  • to dissuade users from driving under the influence
  • and to minimize the profit available to organized crime by undercutting their market share

Whether or not the legislation will achieve these desired effects is a subject of debate. The accompanying Bill C-46, a part of the legislative bundle the Liberals have proposed in their legalization strategy, would create new criminal charges for those who sell cannabis to those underage, as well as allow for saliva testing to determine THC levels for drivers. Canadians are evenly divided over whether these measures will succeed in discouraging marijuana-impaired driving:

cannabis act canada

The proposed punishment regime for sale of cannabis to a minor are comparatively strong when considering the penalties for selling tobacco or alcohol to the same age group. The latter two substances carry a fine for first-time offenders, while marijuana could net an offender 14 years in prison. Even with age limits and punishments in place, many Canadians doubt kids will have a harder time getting pot.

Fully two-thirds (66%) say measures in the Cannabis Act will fail in this objective. Notably, responses are identical among those who have children and those who don’t.

cannabis act canada

Another piece of the legalization, long lauded by proponents, is the potential to remove a reliable funding source from organized crime in communities. Marijuana accounts for approximately half of global drug gang profits, though the RCMP have, to this point, said that it is too soon to gauge the impact legalization will have on the illicit market.

Just over half of Canadians say they expect organized crime to find ways to stay in the marijuana trade and maintain some level of profit, with most of the cynicism coming from those over 55 years of age:

cannabis act canada

As it will be up to the provinces to decide how to tax cannabis, each region will have a role to play in just how effective the attempts to undercut the illegal market will be. While the draw of tax revenue will likely be strong, McGill business professor Kenneth Lester has suggested little to no tax would be the best strategy to “hurt the black market as much as we can”.

Will legalization do more good than harm?

Asked to consider the overall effect of legalization on Canadian society, a fair bit of hesitation is still noted for a portion of the population. While six-in-ten (58%) say that they expect more good to come from this policy change than harm, a substantial minority of 42 per cent say the opposite. This gap in opinion is particularly profound when looking at the story regionally:

cannabis act canada

The social divide is explained by the view of each group regarding the substance and its potential health effects. Those who say that legalization will do more harm than good are three times more likely to view marijuana as a ‘gateway drug’ that may lead users to seek out other, harder drugs. They are also far less likely to say that marijuana is safer than alcohol:

cannabis act canada

The one aspect of legalization that two-thirds of Canadians (66%) agree on is that the health risks of the substance aren’t fully understood. Much of the research on marijuana and it’s effects, both positive and negative, has been stunted by its continued categorization as a Schedule 1 drug in the United States.

Where should marijuana be sold?

The Cannabis Act – as currently proposed – leaves some critical components of the framework for marijuana legislation undefined. Not only does it delegate the minimum age for using the substance to the provinces, but also the task of determining where and by whom marijuana may be sold. The only requirements the bill places on distribution is that sellers be licensed by the provinces, and that marijuana products not be sold in vending machines.

Within these limits, a wide range of options are available to provincial governments, and this poll finds Canadians supportive of many of them:

cannabis act canada

The three most popular options listed in the preceding graph receive majority support across all regions of the country, though some regions are more enthusiastic about certain options.

In British Columbia, Alberta, and Saskatchewan, roughly three-quarters of the population supports selling marijuana in dispensaries, while fewer than seven-in-ten favour this option elsewhere.

In Manitoba, three-quarters (73%) support selling marijuana through government agencies like liquor stores. No other province voices more than two-thirds support for this option.

Quebecers, continuing the pattern seen elsewhere in these results, are most likely to oppose each of these three methods for organizing the sale of marijuana, though each one still receives majority support in la belle province:

cannabis act canada

Again, younger respondents take a decidedly pro-access view, with higher support for each of the options canvassed (see comprehensive tables). Even online ordering – by far the least palatable option overall – receives the support of nearly half (47%) of 18-34-year-olds. Among young men, a full majority support distributing marijuana by mail, as seen in the following graph:

cannabis act canada

Also unmentioned in the Cannabis Act is any plan for taxation of legal marijuana sales. When asked last year, the vast majority of Canadians (85%) agreed with the statement, “Tax revenues will increase if marijuana is legalized.” As discussed above, how government goes about meeting this rather reasonable expectation will reflect the delicate balancing act necessary to find a price-point that will undercut the black market.

The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.

Click here for the full report including tables and methodology

Click here for comprehensive data tables

Click here for the questionnaire used in this survey


Shachi Kurl, Executive Director: 604.908.1693 @shachikurl

Ian Holliday, Research Associate: 604.442.3312

Image Credit – Marly Jane (FLICKR)

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