On October 17, 2018, Canada is prepared to follow through on Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign promise to legalize cannabis for adult use nationwide. The legislation has been a long time coming for the product that has been banned since 1923. Initially hopes had been that cannabis would be available as early as summer 2018, but the date was pushed back due to added governmental review.
Canada is the first G-7 country to legalize cannabis and joins a handful of smaller countries, such as Uruguay, to legalize or decriminalize marijuana. The legalization is expected to launch a multi-billion dollar industry almost instantly.
In June 2018, the House of Commons approved the legislation. As a formality, it proceeded to the governor-general, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, and it was approved by Royal Assent. Canada removes the substance from its Controlled Drugs and Substances list to allow for personal consumption and possession. It will also strengthen punishment for driving while impaired and providing cannabis to minors.
Regulated use of medical marijuana has been legal since 2001.
Driving while impaired is illegal and provinces may impose additional penalties and regulations beyond the federal mandates. Those found to drive while impaired face tiered penalties, called Summary and Hybrid offenses. These are imposed based on the number of convictions and level of intoxication.
The legislation will be updated on December 18, 2018, as part of an overall reform to the Criminal Codes for transportation offenses. Among the changes, police will have greater latitude in stopping suspected impaired drivers and demanding the motorists submit to an oral or blood screening device, regardless of discernible of impairment.
The legal limit for THC in the bloodstream is two (2) nanograms per milliliter. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram. Concentrations between two (2) and five (5) nonograms result in a fine up to $1,000. Concentrations of five (5) or more nanograms will result in a $1,000 minimum fine on the first offense, imprisonment of 30 days or more on a second offense and 120 days or more on a third offense. Drug-impaired driving crashes can range from 18 months to as much as life imprisonment for a fatal accident.
Currently, police are only empowered to demand a field sobriety test. If they have reasonable grounds to believe an offense has been committed they can demand a blood sample or a drug recognition evaluation from trained personnel.
Providing cannabis to a minor is punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to 14 years in jail.
It is also illegal work while impaired. Traveling internationally with cannabis is a crime. Employers are allowed to set their own drug use policies, and certain exceptions are made for those using medical marijuana.
Individual provinces are allowed to establish their own regulations on distribution and sales, areas of permitted use, legal age and cultivation limits and requirements.
How to Purchase
The national government has left it to the provinces and territories to determine the sale of cannabis. Some provinces will tightly limit operations and intend only to allow it to be sold in government-owned stores. In other provinces, there will be wider distribution and public and private dispensaries. It is also left to the areas to decide whether to sell cannabis and liquor together in the same stores or separately. In some rural areas cannabis will be sold alongside lottery tickets and food. A number of producers in the country offer cannabis by mail with online ordering. Provinces will also be able to decide whether to allow mail deliveries.
Where is it Safe to Consume?
Provinces and territories have the power to decide where cannabis can be consumed. Nationally, cannabis smoking will face at least the same restrictions as other forms of public tobacco smoking, with penalties for public intoxication. Provinces and territories can also limit smoking in proximity to areas where children are present, such as schools and playgrounds, as well as sports venues. For parts of the country that may mean one’s home is the only place to legally smoke.
A number of provinces will allow landlords to ban use as part of lease agreements, similar to tobacco smoking prohibitions. They may also be able to ban growing in rental units.
Possession Information and Limits
Nationally, buyers will be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public, which is also the limit that can be bought per purchase, and the amount they can have in their vehicle. Currently, there are no limits on how much may be stored in one’s home. Provinces can modify possession amounts, transport, and storage.
The minimum age to purchase and possess cannabis is 18. Provinces may raise the minimum age, but not lower it.
The government has set equivalencies for one (1) gram of dried cannabis to equal five (5) grams of fresh cannabis, 15 grams of edibles, 70 grams of liquid, 0.25 grams of concentrate and one (1) plant seed.
Premade edibles and extract will not be available until one (1) year after the legislation is passed, although consumers can create their own edibles if they wish.
Penalties for possession over the limit ranges from a fine up to five (5) years in jail.
Patients using medical marijuana are allowed to have up to 150 grams or 30 times the daily dose prescribed by an authorized health-care practitioner, of dried marijuana or its equivalent.
to Be to Consume?
The Cannabis Act allows householders to grow up to four (4) plants up to one (1) meter tall for personal use. However, Quebec and Manitoba do not allow cultivation of plants. Alberta restricts cultivation to indoor growing, and New Brunswick allows only indoor growing and requires cultivation to be in a separate locked space. Additionally, it is illegal to have a flowering plant in public.
Thousands of Canadians are federally licensed to possess and use medical cannabis. Until the new law is passed, Canadians must qualify for the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which came into effect on Aug. 24, 2016.
Recipients must provide medical documentation confirming a diagnosis by a health-care practitioner, defined as either an authorized physician or nurse practitioner.
Patients must be a Canadian resident 18 years or older, not be convicted of a marijuana-related offense and be registered only once at a time.
Generally, patients can qualify for medical cannabis under two categories. One is to allow for compassionate end-of-life care, for pain symptoms such as seizures, spinal cord injury, cancer, or HIV/AIDS. The second category is for patients suffering from other persistent debilitating symptoms. Among the ailments Health Canada lists as possibly qualifying are:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Back & Neck Problems
- Brain Injury
- Chronic nausea
- Chronic pain
- Crohn’s disease
- Eating disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Hepatitis C
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Kidney failure, including dialysis treatments
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle spasms
- Muscular dystrophy
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Severe arthritis
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep disorders
- Vehicular crash-related injuries
Information on eligibility and applications are available on Health Canada’s medical marijuana website (PDF).
Authorized caregivers are allowed to possess fresh or dried marijuana or cannabis oil, may transfer or administer the substance, or provide a medical document. They may also transfer substances to an individual responsible for the patient under their professional care.
This page was last updated September 6, 2018.