Legal cannabis: What the transition will look like
Cannabis will become legally available to all Canadian adults on October 17. As soon as the federal government started preparations for the landmark move, it insisted that legal cannabis would not be a free-for-all in Canada, but rather an industry operating under strict government controls.
When the market for recreational cannabis opens up, the drug will be available in provincially run or regulated stores, which will carry cannabis produced by companies that have gone through a rigorous Health Canada licensing process.
The federal government has said its goal is to remove a profitable product from the hands of organized crime, educate children and youth on the dangers of the drug and give adults a safer supply. Getting the legislation through the House of Commons and the Senate took more than a year, but federal, provincial and municipal governments will now be judged on their ability to offer a smooth transition from the black to the legal market.
The federal Cannabis Act set 18 as the minimum age to consume the drug for recreational purposes, but the number is higher in most provinces. The minimum age will be 18 in only Alberta and Quebec. Residents will have to wait an extra year, until they reach 19, in British Columbia, Manitoba, New Bruswick, Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories, Nova Scotia, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Yukon.
There are no rules in the federal legislation to determine where cannabis can be consumed. Still, provinces and municipalities have a right to determine appropriate locations, in a similar fashion to tobacco, including places away from building entrances or where children gather.
As of September, when Bill C-45 received royal assent, there were 117 producers that had received a license from Health Canada to supply the medical and recreational markets for cannabis. Edible products are not yet legal in Canada, so the companies can only produce dried and fresh cannabis, as well as cannabis oil. Most licensed producers are in Ontario (62) and British Columbia (25), followed by Quebec (9).
Health Canada will not cap the number of available licenses to avoid creating a regime where licenses grow in value because of their relative scarcity. Health Canada will eventually offer licenses for micro-cultivation and micro-processing that will include fewer conditions than the ones for larger, existing producers.
Provinces have full authority to create their own retailing model. Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Ontario and Saskatchewan are going with a private-sector regime. Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and PEI are adopting a model similar to their current government-run monopolies on alcohol sales. British Columbia is adopting a mixed regime featuring both public and private-sector retailers, and will be open to giving operating permits to currently illegal dispensaries.
To make sure all Canadians have easy access to legal cannabis, a mail-order system will also be in place across the country. Meanwhile, producers of cannabis are still fighting for the right to sell their own products on site, similar to the way micro-brewers can sell their own beers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vigorously defended his plan to allow Canadians to grow up to four plants of cannabis at home to ensure that consumers will be able to move away from their black-market suppliers of cannabis. Still, Manitoba and Quebec will ban home growing. The matter is expected to end up in court if a resident of Quebec or Manitoba decides to challenge the provincial ban on home cultivation.
The provinces that allow home cultivation can impose rules or limits, such as New Brunswick that forces home cultivation to be done in an enclosed space. Not all landlords will allow their tenants to grow cannabis at home.
A key element of the government’s plan is to provide safe, tested cannabis to consumers. While the government is insisting on plain packaging for the product, it will also have to include detailed information on the levels of THC and cannabinoids. In addition, the dried or fresh cannabis, as well as cannabis oil, will include health warnings such as: “Smoking cannabis is not recommended. Do not smoke or vapourize cannabis in the presence of children.”
Ottawa has decided to give itself up to a year to offer edible products, which are expected to be among the most popular ways to consume legal cannabis. Canadians will be able to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis on them outside of their residence, and share up to 30 grams with other adults.