1093 days after being elected and 473 days after hoping to have legislation in place, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has legalized recreational cannabis in Canada.
Trudeau declared that cannabis legalization would be a top priority if his Liberal party was elected in 2015. The Liberal government had originally hoped to have legislation passed and in place for recreational use by July 1, 2017 – just in time for Canada 150 – but fell short of that goal.
As of Oct. 17, cannabis is now legal to buy, sell and use in Canada’s nine provinces and three territories. However, some provinces are leading the way in terms of accessibility to the now provincially controlled drug.
Newfoundland and Labrador is leading the charge in terms of availability, with 24 stores opening across the province. Kathleen Wynne’s Liberal government had planned to open 29 stores in Ontario, but this plan fell through after Doug Ford was elected as Premier.
Ford promised to push legislation that would allow cannabis dispensaries to be privately owned and operated, scrapping Wynne’s plan to use existing infrastructure through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Brantford, Kitchener, Cambridge, Guelph and Hamilton were all selected to have an Ontario Cannabis Store open in time for legalization. Instead, Ontario will not have any stores available to legally sell cannabis and will use an online store instead.
This leaves Ontario tied for last in cannabis store count with Nunavut, who will also be selling the substance online and opened their first beer and wine store last year. Ford plans to legalize privately operated stores in April 2019.
Ontario Cannabis will sell cannabis oil, as well as dried and fresh bud – the flowers of a female plant which contain psychoactive and medicinal properties. Edibles will not be legal to sell, but consumers may cook their own and share with anyone who is of legal age. Consumers will also be able to grow their own cannabis, with a limit of four plants per household.
The Liberal government has set base laws for the substance, but allowed provinces and municipalities to create their own laws and bylaws. Federal laws are basic, some of which make it illegal to:
- Possess a maximum of 30 dried grams in public
- Sell cannabis through self serve kiosks or vending machines
- Provide cannabis to anyone aged 18 years-old or younger
The Ontario government chose to make the legal age to consume cannabis 19 as a way to ensure it is consumed responsibly, raising any penalties associated with youth charges to 18. The Cannabis Act created two new criminal offenses for giving or selling cannabis to anyone under the provincial minimum legal age and using youth to commit cannabis-related crimes. The maximum penalty for a conviction of either crime is 14 years in prison.
The province has also set regulations for where cannabis can be smoked or vaped. Consumers will be allowed to consume the substance in:
- Private residences
- Public on sidewalks and parks, for example
- Designated rooms in hotels
- Residential vehicles like houseboats and motorhomes (that meet provincial criteria)
While some motorhomes are legal to consume the substance in, it will be illegal to consume it and operate motor vehicles.
Brantford and neighbouring communities have created bylaws which will add further restrictions to cannabis. Brantford’s city council voted to forbid the sale of cannabis at storefront locations. While this will not affect the city now, it will restrict any future private dispensaries if Ford’s legislation is passed next year. Changing this bylaw would require an amendment from city council.
Brantford launched an awareness campaign to educate the public on how to safely consume cannabis, writing “if you choose to use, lower your risk”. Their website recommends:
- To buy from legally from Ontario Cannabis
- Those under 25 limit usage as their brain is still developing
- Choose edibles or vaping over smoking to avoid lung damage
- Avoid driving for six hours after consumption
- Avoid consumption if users are already at risk for mental health issues, are pregnant or responsible for others.
“Just because it’s legal,” reads the Brantford Cannabis Legalization web page, “doesn’t make it good for you”.
Wilfrid Laurier University approved an interim cannabis policy that sets rules to follow in terms of cannabis consumption and possession on campus. The policy reads: “use and preparation of Cannabis (indoors and out-of-doors) on University Facilities or in University Vehicles is prohibited”, except where it is explicitly allowed. The policy also reads:
“All University Employees, Students, Contractors and Volunteers are expected to be responsible with their consumption of Cannabis and ensure they are able to engage in their activities related to the University in a manner which does not threaten the safety or health of themselves or others.”
The interim policy will be used while Wilfrid Laurier collaborates with local municipalities, the government, university community and other universities to create an official cannabis policy.