Is marijuana legal in Canada?
Yes. Cannabis became legal in Canada on October 17, 2018, following the passage of the Cannabis Act. With the passage of that act, Canada became the second country after Uruguay to legalize marijuana at a national level. With the exception of Alberta, where the legal age is 18, and Quebec, where the legal age is 21, Canadians in every other province must be at least 19 years old to consume cannabis.
A brief history
Canada’s path to cannabis legalization was fairly straightforward. Canada first legalized cannabis for medical use in 2001 with the passage of the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, which was later updated to the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations in 2016.
Making recreational cannabis legal was a key part of Justin Trudeau’s campaign platform. When the Liberal Party leader became Prime Minister in 2015, a Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation was put together to research the issue. Two years into Trudeau’s term, Canada’s House of Commons passed the Cannabis Act in November of 2017. In June the following year, it was passed by the Canadian Senate.
From there, it proceeded to the governor-general, the representative of Queen Elizabeth II, where it was approved by Royal Assent. In addition to legalizing recreational consumption and possession, the act removed cannabis from Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances list. It also strengthened punishment for driving while impaired and providing cannabis to minors.
Legal restrictions and penalties
According to Canadian cannabis regulations, “Sanctions range from warnings and tickets for minor offences to criminal prosecution and imprisonment for more serious offences.” Criminal offenses include possessing more than the legal limit, illegally distributing or selling cannabis, growing more than personal cultivation limits, producing unregulated cannabis products with combustible solvents, taking cannabis across Canada’s borders, providing cannabis to minors, and committing a cannabis-related offense with the help of a minor.
The Cannabis Act aims to protect minors from accessing cannabis, including age restrictions for purchasing and possessing cannabis and strict penalties for providing cannabis to minors. Providing cannabis to a minor is punishable by a $5,000 fine and up to 14 years in jail.
Driving while intoxicated is illegal and provinces may impose additional penalties and regulations beyond the federal mandates. Those who drive while impaired face tiered penalties, called Summary and Hybrid offenses. These are imposed based on the number of convictions and the level of intoxication.
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.
It is illegal to work while impaired. Though employers are allowed to set their own drug use policies, and certain exceptions are made for those using medical cannabis.
Individual provinces are allowed to establish their own regulations on distribution and sales, areas of permitted use, legal age, and cultivation limits and requirements.
Where is it safe to consume?
Nationally, those who wish to smoke cannabis will face at least the same restrictions as those who smoke tobacco and could face 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 some 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 recreational marijuana use as part of lease agreements, similar to tobacco smoking prohibitions. They may also be able to ban growing in rental units. However, medical marijuana patients may still have the right to grow and consume cannabis in their homes according to provincial human rights legislation.
How to purchase cannabis products
During the ramp-up of medical marijuana production in Canada, a series of licensed producers were authorized to offer cannabis products to registered patients via mail. This is still widely available, for both medical patients and recreational marijuana consumers. For many years, there were a number of dispensaries that existed in a legal gray area, but since legalization has gone into effect, dispensaries and marijuana shops now exist in these categories: government-run retail marijuana shops, privately-run dispensaries, or a hybrid of the two.
To verify that the cannabis shop is operating legally, they must display a seal from the Canadian government in their shop as well as on all of the products to show that the shop is in compliance with the government, and all products have been approved as safe for public consumption.
Possession information and limits
Nationally, Canada weed laws allow buyers 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.
Penalties for possession over the limit ranges from a fine up to five (5) years in jail.
Medical cannabis use laws have been in effect in Canada since 2001. Patients using medical cannabis 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.
Recipients must provide medical documentation confirming a diagnosis by a healthcare 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 and to help alleviate pain associated with ailments 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. They may transfer or administer the substance directly to the patient or to the individual responsible for the patient under their professional care.