Canadian Narcotics Policy: A Relic of Settler Colonialism

  • Michael Mytrunec University of Alberta


In this paper, I examine the formation and enforcement of Canadian narcotics policy through the lens of settler colonialism. By examining the rationale for Canadian policies towards opium, cannabis, and quat, I challenge the notion that public health and safety played a material role the formation of Canadian narcotics policy. Rather, racialized targeting of minority groups was a key driver for creating laws to prohibit certain narcotics and incidentally target undesirable subcultures. Evidence that punitive and enforcement-oriented strategies for controlling narcotic  drugs are ineffective have frequently been met by the continuation of these very strategies, further undermining the stated purposes for enacting strict drug laws. Language of “law and order” and the propensity to crack down on drug users, coupled with racial profiling and police biases, has continued the disproportionate racial impacts of drug laws, and the successes of narcotics policy in entrenching the status quo have outweighed their failures in reducing drug consumption. I conclude that, as it exists currently, Canadian narcotics policy is inseparable from Canada’s past as a settled, colonial nation-state.