Skip to main content

The socialist NDP is embracing the free market, while the free-market Liberals seem to prefer the old-style state monopoly.

That is just one of the quirky realities as the provinces and territories slowly and unsurely unveil their strategies for the commercialization of legal marijuana.

Currently, only "medical" cannabis is legal. It must be prescribed and purchased from one of 74 licensed producers. More than 200,000 Canadians have availed themselves of this privilege.

Story continues below advertisement

But changes to the federal Criminal Code and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act mean that, come July 1, 2018, any adult can possess small amounts of marijuana.

While the Cannabis Act lays out the legal framework, the federal government left it to the provinces to figure out how marijuana will be sold.

In the past week, Quebec and Alberta both introduced legislation, and they took sharply different approaches.

Ontario and New Brunswick are the only other provinces to have introduced legislation to date.

Quebec's Bill 157, introduced by the pro-business Liberal government, creates a new government agency, the Société québécoise du cannabis, which will have a monopoly on the sale of recreational cannabis, both in retail outlets and online. This is almost identical to neighbouring Ontario's approach.

However, Quebec will have only 15 stores come July 1, and 150 within two years. That seems shockingly inadequate given that there are 801 state-run Société des alcools du Québec outlets selling liquor in the province, not to mention beer and wine in every corner store.

Quebec is also banning grow-your-own pot, although federal law allows up to four plants to be harvested for personal use.

Story continues below advertisement

Under the new law, marijuana can be smoked anywhere it is legal to smoke cigarettes, with one exception – college and university campuses. This seems like an odd rule; if anything, educational institutions and their grounds should be smoke-free.

On the retail front, Alberta's New Democrats have taken a diametrically opposed approach to Quebec. Under Bill 26, cannabis will be sold in private retail outlets, with no limit on the number of stores.

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will license businesses and handle distribution, just as it does with liquor stores. (In 1993, Alberta shut down 200 state-run liquor stores; it now has more than 2,000 private liquor stores.)

However, Alberta will not allow cannabis to be sold where liquor, cigarettes or pharmaceuticals are sold, which means stand-alone dispensaries, which provinces such as Ontario are vowing to shut down.

Interestingly, Alberta has kept one element of cannabis sales out of private hands: online sales.

In fact, only Manitoba has indicated that it will allow private retailers to sell marijuana by mail – even though almost all medical marijuana is currently purchased from licensed growers and distributed via Canada Post.

Story continues below advertisement

Online sales, which have received little attention compared with bricks-and-mortar sales outlets, could prove especially lucrative for the provinces. But that depends on whether the online prices for cannabis are the same as in-store prices.

To date, no province has issued any regulations about price, although legal cannabis will likely sell from $7 to $10 a gram, plus taxes.

With close to $1-billion in taxes alone to be had in the first year of the legal green rush, there is obviously much jockeying going on here. Provinces want more than a 50-50 share of the proposed $1-a-gram excise tax, and users of "medical" marijuana want a tax exemption.

In Alberta, pot can be smoked anywhere cigarettes are smoked, with one exception – no toking in motor vehicles, even for passengers.

Alberta will allow adults to grow their own marijuana, to a maximum of four plants, but they must be grown indoors. Ontario has also adopted the no-outdoor-gardening rule.

To date, all provinces have limited sales to 30 grams at a time (about a small baggie's worth) but with no limit on how much cannabis one can keep for personal use in the home. Quebec, however, says a personal stash must not exceed 150 grams.

Clearly, with the July 1 deadline approaching, all provinces need to make their plans clear, and soon.

All eyes are now on British Columbia, the land of bud. Will the newly elected NDP government legalize the province's extensive network of dispensaries, take the state-run-store route or try some hybrid approach?

Cannabis legislation tabled in Quebec Thursday includes a zero-tolerance rule on driving under the influence of the drug. Transport Minister Andre Fortin says failing a roadside test will result in a 90-day driving suspension. The Canadian Press
Report an error Editorial code of conduct Licensing Options
Tickers mentioned in this story
Unchecking box will stop auto data updates
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles as we switch to a new provider. We are behind schedule, but we are still working hard to bring you a new commenting system as soon as possible. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to