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Cannabis Exports from Canada to the United States

Introduction: Why is this an issue?

Canadian law on cannabis exports

US official claims that Canada is a major source of cannabis for the United States

Claims by Canadian officials that Canada is a major source of cannabis for the United States

Evidence challenging these claims:
  1. 2001 Report of the Auditor General of Canada
  2. National Drug Intelligence Center, United States–Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment
  3. Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Criminal Intelligence Directorate, Marihuana Cultivation in Canada: Evolution and Current Trends
  4. United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, Global Illicit Drug Trends 2002
  5. Statement by Donnie R. Marshall, Administrator, US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, March 29, 2001
  6. United States-Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment (October 2004)


United States government officials (and sometimes even Canadian officials) have made many claims that Canada is a major supplier of cannabis to the US.  However, the available evidence, including reports from the Auditor General of Canada, the RCMP, joint Canada-US task forces, and the United Nations, suggests that:

The motivation behind these exaggerated claims about Canadian exports is not entirely clear.  Nor is it clear how reducing the penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis (Bill C-38, introduced at the end of May 2003 (since reintroduced on November 1, 2004, in the 38th Parliament as Bill C-17) would make possession of up to 15 grams a ticketable offence only) would affect Canadian cannabis exports.  However, some argue that United States drug control officials simply want to portray Canada as a major supplier of cannabis in order to justify US pressure against Canadian law reform related to cannabis.
This web page sets out the claims made by US officials about Canadian cannabis exports, then offers evidence, based on various reports, to challenge those claims. It also describes the current Canadian law prohibiting cannabis exports.

        -- Eugene Oscapella, Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy

The Law

Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (S.C. 1996, c. 19), the main federal law that creates criminal offences relating to drugs, prohibits the export of illegal drugs, including cannabis, from Canada.  It also prohibits "possession for the purpose of export."  In both cases, the maximum possible penalty (for cannabis) is life imprisonment.

The Act states:

6. (1) Except as authorized under the regulations, no person shall import into Canada or export from Canada a substance included in Schedule I, II, III, IV, V or VI. [Schedule II lists cannabis, its preparations, derivatives and similar synthetic preparations]

(2) Except as authorized under the regulations, no person shall possess a substance included in Schedule I, II, III, IV, V or VI for the purpose of exporting it from Canada.

(3) Every person who contravenes subsection (1) or (2)

(a) where the subject-matter of the offence is a substance included in Schedule I or II [Schedule II lists cannabis etc.], is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to imprisonment for life . . .

US official claims about cannabis exports to the United States

Sources close to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency [Adminstration] say it will soon issue a report claiming there are 15 to 20,000 marijuana growing operations in British Columbia alone and 95 per cent of the output is headed south.
-- Carl Hanlon, Global National Television News, 6:30 pm EDT, Monday, May 13, 2002

Canada is a major source country for high-potency  marijuana, hydroponically grown marijuana, so-called "BC bud" from British Columbia coming into the United States.

– US Drug “Czar” (Director of the US Office of National Drug Control Policy) John Walters, press briefing for foreign journalists, Washington, DC, August 13, 2002

"The problem today is that Canadian production of high-potency marijuana in British Columbia is a major source of marijuana [in the United States] . . . and it's spreading. Just like cocaine, shipped up from Mexico."
-- “Canada's pot policy under fire from U.S.,” Globe and Mail (Toronto), September 13, 2002, quoting US Drug “Czar” John Walters

Mr. Walters said last week the United States is already alarmed that 95% of the marijuana grown in British Columbia is sent south of the border. The growers are largely Vietnamese organized crime groups who have moved into Ontario and Quebec to supply the U.S. market with high-potency and high-quality marijuana, he said.
-- “Decriminalization will cause border delays, hurt economy, Alliance critic says: Tighter border security,” National Post, Monday, December 16, 2002

Liberalizing laws will boost drug use and bring more pot into the United States, said John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy. Canada is already a major source of marijuana for the United States, with an estimated $2.5 billion worth smuggled in each year, Walters said Thursday.
-- “U.S. Frets Canada May Ease Marijuana Law,” New York Times, December 12, 2002

[US Drug Czar ] Mr. [John] Walters said this week that 90 per cent of a highly potent strain of Canadian marijuana being grown in Canada is shipped to the U.S.   "Canada is now becoming the principal vehicle to move what amounts to the crack of marijuana into the United States. This is not about us having a small additional problem, this is about driving directly at the biggest threat that we have."
-- "RCMP focuses on traffickers: commissioner: Mounties not interested in making criminals out of marijuana users", The Ottawa Citizen, May 16, 2003

Evidence challenging US claims about Canadian cannabis exports

1. 2001 Report of the Auditor General of Canada

11.19 . . . Recently, the United Nations International Narcotics Control Board raised some concern about Canada's efforts to eradicate cannabis. British Columbia's Organized Crime Agency estimates that more than 15,000 growing operations in British Columbia produce $6 billion worth of marijuana annually. The law enforcement community believes that a significant portion of this is smuggled to the United States; however, Canada supplies only a small portion of the U.S. market.

“Illicit Drugs: The Federal Government's Role”, Office of the Auditor General of Canada, 2001 Report, Chapter 11 (for full report, click here.)

2. National Drug Intelligence Center, United States–Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment, December 2001
(for full report, click here.)

Most of the marijuana available in the United States is produced domestically or is imported from Mexico and Colombia. However, Canada increasingly is becoming a source country for high-grade marijuana to the United States.

. . .

Marijuana is also the most popular illicit drug in Canada. Most of the marijuana consumed in Canada is produced in that country; however, marijuana smuggled into Canada from countries such as Mexico and Jamaica, some of which transits the United States, also is available.

 Although criminal groups based in Canada supply far less marijuana to the United States than their Mexican or Colombian counterparts, most of the marijuana supplied from Canada is high-grade marijuana, for which there is a growing demand in the United States. Seizure data and anecdotal evidence suggest that multi-metric ton quantities of Canada-produced marijuana reach U.S. markets yearly. Nevertheless, marijuana transported from Canada clearly amounts to only a small percentage of all marijuana smuggled into the United States. [emphasis added]

. . .

A number of international publications have reported that approximately 50–60 percent of the marijuana produced in Canada is smuggled into the United States annually. However, in-depth analysis and consultations between officials of both countries have concluded that these estimates cannot be substantiated through current reporting.

National Drug Intelligence Center, United States–Canada Border Drug Threat Assessment, Product No. 2002-R0423-001, December 2001, pp. 2-3.  

3. Excerpts from

Marihuana Cultivation in Canada: Evolution and Current Trends - November 2002

Criminal Intelligence Directorate
Royal Canadian Mounted Police - November 2002

(Originally published November 2002 and posted on the RCMP Internet site April 24, 2003)
(for full report, click here)

Exportation of Canadian Marihuana to the United States

. . .

Smuggling of Canadian marihuana to the United States is rising. According to the U.S. Customs Service, 148 kilos of marihuana were seized along the British Columbia-Washington State border in 1994. Four years later, in 1998, the total stood at 1,182 kilos. In 1999, Customs officers seized 1,319 kilos. It is impossible to determine exactly what percentage of the marihuana grown in Canada is intended for the U.S. markets.

It should be underscored that despite the large quantities of Canadian marihuana smuggled into the United States, Canada is far from being the principal source. To put things in perspective, it is estimated that approximately three tons of Canadian marihuana are seized each year in the United States, while the exports from Mexico alone total thousands of tons annually. During the first half of 1999 alone, U.S. Customs intercepted 547 tonnes of marihuana being smuggled into the country from Mexico. The U.S. are basically their own main source of marihuana. [emphasis added]

(see the complete section of the RCMP report on exports immediately below)
Exportation of Canadian Marihuana to the United States

Today, Canadian production of marihuana is such that offer now outstrips demand, which means that part of the crop is intended for export to foreign markets, mainly to the United States. The smuggling of Canadian marihuana to the U.S. is an activity that is conducted every day, practically all along the border. The drug is moved by land, sea and air, using every conceivable method.

Traffickers employ various modes of transportation, depending in most cases on the amount to be smuggled. For quantities of about 15 to 25