While the United States enjoys increasingly progressive cannabis laws, our neighbors to the north are a large step ahead of us. Canada has fully decriminalized recreational cannabis, while the U.S. still struggles to iron out legalization on a state-by-state basis. After an announcement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Cannabis Act became law and received royal assent on June 21. This new law officially marks the end of a 95-year prohibition of recreational cannabis in Canada.
This is not to say that Canada hasn’t struggled to craft a comprehensive and cohesive plan for full legalization. There have been controversial timelines to put new laws into practice that have been pushed back and plenty of political discord. At the time of this writing, however, Canada’s Senate has passed Bill C-45 with a vote of 52-29, granting full legalization of recreational cannabis to Canadian citizens on October 17, 2018.
What It Means Now That Canada Has Gone Green
Joining Uruguay as the first two countries to fully decriminalize marijuana, Canada’s example is paving the way for an increasing number of other countries that are headed in this direction. Some of these countries, like Mexico, Colombia, The Netherlands, and Jamaica, should not come as much of a surprise. Others, however, are more difficult to imagine. France, Portugal, Spain, the Czech Republic, Italy, and New Zealand are all weighing the pros and cons of full legalization, with possible future legislation likely.
Canada’s path to legalizing marijuana has been anything but smooth. Decriminalization has met with delays and resistance among conservatives who fear their law enforcement needs more time to strategize and fine-tune its policies—much like states in the U.S. continue to refine their approach to monitoring the legal industry. In fact, Canada’s provinces are responsible for deciding their own policies, much like individual states in this country. The Canadian government fears a spike in black market sales and finding effective ways to stop it, again much like our situation in the U.S.
Canada’s progressive laws will no doubt result in a financial boon that will boost its economy (the market forecast is at over $7B in 2019), and time is of the essence for the country to establish reasonable policies. With the implementation of legal cannabis rapidly approaching, each province has yet to determine iron-clad regulations. The rules of each province still remain murky. Some will allow public consumption, other will not. Likewise, home growing will occur in some areas but not others.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways each province currently plans to address the Cannabis Act. Here’s how things are shaping up.
The province of Quebec predicts a price point of $7 to $10 per gram, with public consumption being legal. Restrictions on public consumption will more or less mimic cigarette restrictions. If you are 18 years or older, you will be able to buy from a licensed retail facility. The Quebec government will control its marijuana laws, much like it controls liquor laws. Marijuana dispensaries will include metro areas in Montreal but will not be in close proximity to schools and parks. No dispensary can operate within a kilometer of another, and home growing will not be legal. Quebec will also allow delivery of cannabis through its postal service. Driving under the influence will result in a 90-day driver’s license suspension.
Novia Scotia hasn’t designated a recommended price point for its cannabis. Public consumption will be legal (although extremely limited), and the minimum age will be 19. Citizens can carry as much as 30 grams and grow four plants or fewer. Strict measures will occur for minors caught with more than 5 grams. Those caught driving under the influence will have their licenses suspended for a year and face a $1,000 to $2,000 fine. The province is undecided on whether it will allow landlords to ban marijuana on their premises, but legislation may allow them to evict those who violate the conditions of their tenant agreement. Private homes may be the primary areas for people to consume.
The historically conservative Alberta province has no recommended price for cannabis. Its cannabis legislation will be more restrictive than the rest of the country. There will be no (or extremely limited) public consumption—in designated areas only—but the minimum age for consumers will be 18. Calgary, the capital of Alberta, has legislators who would like to forbid outdoor use altogether, so cannabis enthusiasts in Alberta may have much more limited options for where they can consume than the rest of the country.
The province of Ontario estimates its cannabis price to be $10 per gram—although its black market currently sells at nearly 15% less. To legally consume or purchase cannabis, a person must be 19 years old. While medical patients may consume in public, recreational use will only occur in private residences. Ontario will regulate the sale of cannabis through the Ontario Liquor Control Board (LBCO) but not actually sell it. There will be 40 dispensaries open when legalization goes into effect (150 by 2020), and online retail sales will also be allowed. Dispensaries may not open near schools. Cannabis will be sold separately from liquor, although that will probably occur elsewhere in Canada.
Manitoba’s plan for cannabis consumption remains less defined than in other provinces. There is no price recommendation, and outdoor use is undecided. It seems that Manitoba will be late to the game with some of its legislation.
Manitoba has made some decisions, however, and the Manitoba Liquor and Lottery Corp. will oversee cannabis distribution, though private retail facilities will sell it—and the number of dispensaries allowed remains undefined. Like Ontario and the territory of Nunavut, Ontario plans to ban home cultivation.
The cannabis policies in British Columbia will be similar to Nova Scotia in some respects (no defined price estimate, public consumption allowed, and 19 years of age for consumption), but more lenient overall. Cannabis will be sold separately from alcohol throughout British Columbia—although in some rural areas, marijuana will be sold in stores that also sell food and lottery tickets. Sales will be made in government-run stores as well as from independent retailers. Driving laws will resemble those in Quebec, with a 90-day suspension of driving privileges if caught driving impaired.
Labrador and Newfoundland
The combined province of Newfoundland and Labrador is the newest of Canada’s 10 provinces, and its cannabis laws will largely resemble those for alcohol. There is no estimated price for cannabis, and the legal age to buy it will be 19. Smoking will not be allowed in public, and the only place to smoke it will be private property. The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation will issue private retail licenses and will also maintain an online store. Alcohol and cannabis cannot be sold together and must be available for purchase at different stores. At the time of this writing, the province was fine-tuning cannabis educational programs as well as its driving laws.
The New Brunswick estimated price point is quite specific, from $9.20 to $11.54 a gram. The legal age to buy and consume cannabis will be 19, but the public smoking of it will remain illegal. Overall, this province’s marijuana laws will be among the strictest in Canada. Citizens will have to keep their cannabis in locked containers or locked rooms in their homes. People may carry as much as 30 grams but may store unlimited amounts at home. Driving laws are particularly strict, and impairment will be determined by saliva and blood tests as well as a field sobriety test. Impaired individuals will have their cars impounded. Those convicted of driving impaired will have to pay to have their licenses reinstated. Driving penalties will be particularly strict for those under 21 years of age.
New Brunswick plans to designate only 20 retail cannabis stores before legalization goes into effect.
Prince Edward Island
The province of Prince Edward Island will allow sales to anyone aged 19 years or older. There is no estimated price point for cannabis, and public smoking will be illegal. There will be only four government-run dispensaries, one each in Montague, Charlottetown, Summerside, and West Prince. Prince Edward Island will allow online ordering and delivery. The province has been extremely resistant to legal marijuana, and the only place permitted for consumption will be in private homes, where an unlimited amount may be stored (the national 30-gram public possession limit will be in effect). Many of Prince Edward Island’s other cannabis laws are in a state of flux and require hasty attention.
The legal age for buying cannabis in Saskatchewan will be 19, with no estimated price (authorities will arrive at a price based on those of other provinces), and no public smoking will be allowed. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority will monitor the sale of cannabis through private retail stores and will initially issue 60 permits. Its laws mandate that anyone who purchases marijuana must return home immediately afterward—not for groceries, or even gas (the hope is that this will prevent people from smoking in cars). Four plants can be grown legally at home, but landlords may ban tenants from smoking or growing.
Although cannabis use continues to be controversial in Canada, the country appears to be paving the way for other nations to follow suit with their own versions of national legalization. There is no disputing the fact that the plant appears to have worldwide appeal. Right now, all eyes are on Canada as a progressive testing site that will help determine the plant’s future elsewhere.
If you decide to head north of the border this fall and plan to include cannabis consumption on your trip, it will behoove you to research the marijuana laws in places you plan to visit—much like you would when visiting legal states in the U.S. Doing so will ensure a pleasant visit free of legal hassles or fines. In our age of increasingly liberal laws regarding cannabis use, we can all salute Canada taking an important first step for international approval!