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Part of Cannabis and consumers

Let the countdown begin: The end of pot prohibition – which has been in place since 1923 – is less than one month away.

Come Oct. 17, adults will be able to legally possess 30 grams of dried cannabis, or the equivalent in oil. But many details need to be worked out before then.

Like many other things in Canada (access to health care, for example), access to recreational cannabis will very much be a postal-code lottery.

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In Ontario, for example, there will be no bricks-and-mortar cannabis stores until April, 2019, after the new Conservative government scrapped plans for 150 government-run stores in favour of private retailers.

In the meantime, consumers will be able to buy products online from the lame-duck government agency, Ontario Cannabis Store. By contrast, in Alberta, there are expected to be as many as 100 outlets selling cannabis in both Calgary and Edmonton, not long after Oct. 17.

Across the country, there are duelling philosophies about where and how cannabis should be sold. Six provinces – British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Newfoundland and Labrador – will license private retailers as will two territories, Yukon and Nunavut, while four provinces – Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island – and the Northwest Territories will have government-run facilities.

Most provinces will not allow alcohol and cannabis to be sold in the same location but some, such as Nova Scotia, will have a designated area for cannabis sales within liquor stores. The legal age of cannabis possession will be 19 in every province except Quebec and Alberta, where it’s 18. (However, one party in the current Quebec election campaign is vowing to raise the age to 21 for cannabis.)

What exactly will be sold in cannabis stores is unclear. Nova Scotia has been the most forthcoming in the area: Consumers will be able to choose among 78 strains of cannabis in five formats – flower, seeds, pre-rolls, oil and gel caps.

You will be able to grow your own – up to four plants – except in Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut, whose laws will be challenged in court.

Edibles will not be legally available for sale in Canada until at least 2019. But you will be allowed to bake your own hash brownies.

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How much will cannabis cost? Again, that will depend on where you live and shop.

Initially, when legislation was proposed to legalize cannabis, it was assumed the price would be around $10 a gram. But street prices hover around $7 a gram ($6.83 to be precise, according to Statistics Canada), so the legal product will have to be competitive. And, of course, higher-quality product will cost more, in excess of $15 a gram.

There will be an excise tax of $1 a gram, or 10 per cent, whichever is higher, as well as provincial and federal sales taxes.

So far, there are more than 100 licensed cannabis producers in Canada. As in the beer industry, there are large producers and craft producers jockeying for consumers’ dollars.

Fortunes are being made, and lost, trading in volatile cannabis stocks, and there is expected to be a serious sorting-out once the market stabilizes, but that could be a couple of years away.

Although cannabis will be legal, Canada will, for the foreseeable future, continue to have a separate system for users of medical marijuana, of which there are currently 240,000 registered.

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In U.S. states that legalized recreational cannabis, the number of registered users of medical marijuana has fallen sharply. But, in the United States., products favoured by medical users are widely available in retail stores. It’s not clear if that will be the case in Canada.

One of the most concerning aspects of legalized cannabis is whether it will lead to an increase in impaired driving. The federal government recently approved a roadside saliva test, but the science seems a bit shaky and it is sure to face legal challenges.

For the casual consumer, as well as the curious who have never indulged, perhaps the most important thing to bear in mind is that, while it will be legal, pot will not be unregulated. Paradoxically, there will be far more rules about where and when you can purchase and smoke pot than there have ever been before, as municipalities, provinces/territories and the feds pile regulation upon regulation.

Canada may be blazing a trail on legalization. But, for bud lovers, aside from the threat of a criminal record being removed, blazing won’t be much easier come Oct. 17.

Editor’s note: The legal age for cannabis possession will be 19 in every province except Quebec and Alberta. Incorrect information appeared in an earlier version of this story.
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