The Canadian government says it will legalize recreational marijuana use by 2018 or early 2019, effectively ending the prohibition on marijuana that dates back to 1923, using a model similar to the one in place for sales of tobacco and alcohol.
In a report released on Tues. Dec 13, a task force chaired by former Liberal minister Anne McLellan provided 80 recommendations. The 106-page report (Read the Framework for the Legalization and Regulation Of Cannabis In Canada) covers everything from advertising and branding to penalties for illicit production and trafficking, all legislated under a proposed new Cannabis Control Act.
What are the key recommendations?
- Set a national minimum age of purchase of 18, allowing provinces and territories to harmonize it with their minimum age for buying alcohol.
- Apply comprehensive restrictions to advertising and marketing.
- Require plain packaging and prohibit any product deemed to be “appealing to children.”
- Set a maximum amount of THC (the active ingredient in cannabis).
- Prohibit mixed products, for example cannabis-infused alcoholic beverages or cannabis products with tobacco, nicotine or caffeine.
- Introduce public education strategies to inform about cannabis risks.
- Use revenue as a source of funding for administration, education, prevention, research, enforcement and treatment.
- Implement a tracking system to prevent diversion and enable product recalls.
- Allow dedicated storefronts located appropriate distances from schools, community centres and public parks.
- Permit a direct-to-consumer mail-order system.
- Allow personal cultivation for non-medical purposes with a limit of four plants per residence and a maximum plant height of 100 cm.
- Extend current restrictions on public smoking of tobacco to the smoking of cannabis and to cannabis vaping products.
What were the task force's key objectives?
The task force lists several objectives in its recommendation to legalize recreational marijuana, but the primary ones are to keep profits out of the hands of criminals, particularly organized crime, reduce the burden on police and the courts associated with simple possession and conversely prevent Canadians from receiving criminal records for simple possession offences and all the while protect young Canadians by keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth.
Another major objective is to require marijuana products to be lab-tested to ensure they're safe to consume and free of harmful contaminants such as bacteria, mould and dangerous pesticides. Calls for mandatory testing and accurate depictions of potency comes after concerns were raised over a lack of regulations and consumer protection in the cannabis dispensary industry, which has proliferated this year leading up to legalization.
The task force recommends several strategies to accomplish the objectives, which include strengthening, where appropriate, laws and enforcement measures that deter and punish more serious cannabis offences, public health campaigns and establishing a strict system of production, distribution and sales.
Where will it be sold?
While Canadians have an idea of when they will be able to buy recreational marijuana, the eventual retail rules are still up in the air. The federal task force has recommended against selling cannabis in liquor stores and as of yet it's unclear whether sales will be at government-run outlets, pharmacies or private shops. The panel says provinces and territories should control the wholesale distribution of marijuana, but work closely with municipalities.
Who's not happy about it?
Members of Canada's medical community, concerned over the widely held mistaken belief that marijuana is harmless, are disappointed with the task force's age recommendation of 18 and over. Some medical experts are warning unrestricted access could have a detrimental impact on developing brains because the brain develops until about age 25.
Some facts about marijuana today
- According to government statistics, cannabis possession offences accounted for slightly more than half of all police-reported drug charges — 49,577 of 96,423 in 2015.
- Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey from 2015 found that 10 per cent of adult Canadians 25 years and older report having used cannabis at least once in the past year and over one-third reported using cannabis at least once in their lifetime.
- Canadian youth are more likely to consume cannabis (in the past year, 21% of those aged 15–19, and 30% of those aged 20–24) than adult Canadians.
What are the current penalties?
Until there is legislation legalizing recreational marijuana use, the current prohibition remains in effect. The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act lays out penalties primarily according to the amount or composition of marijuana.
- Possession of marijuana (up to 30 grams): Maximum penalties of a fine of $1,000 or six months in jail, or both.
- Possession for the purpose of trafficking, not more than 30 kg: Maximum penalty five years less a day.
- Trafficking in marijuana or possession for the purpose of trafficking (up to 3 kg): No minimum, maximum penalty of five years less a day.
- Trafficking in marijuana or possession for the purpose of trafficking (over 3 kg): No minimums sentence but a maximum of life in prison depending on factors that include, but are limited to, if you commit the offence for a criminal organization, use or threaten violence in the commission of a crime or are in or near a school or any other public place usually frequented by minors.
How much is 30 grams of marijuana?
Measuring marijuana, or at least much of the lexicon, is more common in Imperial measurements than metric. An ounce of marijuana is slightly more than 28 grams. A common quantity of marijuana purchased is an 8th, as in an 8th of an ounce, which weighs approximately 3.5 grams.
An average tobacco cigarette weighs a little less than a gram, about 0.7 grams. So there are roughly 40 cigarettes in an ounce. Consequently, 40 marijuana cigarettes weighing the same as an average tobacco cigarette will fall under the government’s 30 gram limit.
What about medical marijuana?
The task force recommends the medical marijuana regime should remain in place, at least until the legal recreational market dynamics play out. Medical exception includes up to 150 grams of dried marijuana for medical purposes. One would need documentation, such as a prescription from a doctor. If you have more than that, you can still be charged.
Sources: Grant Robertson, Daniel Leblanc, Carly Weeks, Mike Hager and Adrian Morrow of The Globe and Mail, The Canadian Press, defencelaw.com, marijuana.com
MORE FROM THE GLOBE AND MAIL