On June 19, Canada’s Senate voted in favour of the government’s cannabis legalization bill. This legalizes the production, sale and consumption of cannabis as of October 17. The legalization of marijuana has been a topic of great conversation around the country and in our community. Residents of our community are curious about the role the government will play in the regulation of what is sold and who is selling it. I have explored this topic and although there are still a lot of unanswered questions with the Liberal plan to legalize marijuana, I have compiled some of the answers I do have.
Anyone who is 18 years or older can possess marijuana – up to 30 grams of it. Individuals can also grow up to four marijuana plants per household. However, exceeding the possession limit or providing someone who is under the age of 18 with marijuana could result in fines, jail time or both. It should also be noted that these are the rules imposed by the federal government. Provincial or territorial governments can increase the minimum age or decrease the amount that can be in one’s possession. They can also restrict where marijuana can be used. The provinces cannot impose looser restrictions than that of the federal government.
The federal government is responsible for setting strict requirements for marijuana manufacturers, determining what types of cannabis products will be available for sale, setting packaging and labeling requirements, standardizing serving sizes and potency, creating a list of prohibited ingredients, tracking cannabis from seed to sale and imposing restrictions on promotional activities. Permissible THC limits are set by the federal government as well. However, provincial governments can restrict these characteristics further if they wish. Legal cannabis producers are also subject to the federal government’s current legislation that prevents corporations from forming monopolies within the Canadian economy.
Along with the marijuana legislation, the House of Commons and Senate also passed Bill C-46, which deals with impaired driving. This bill sets the limits for driving under the influence of marijuana. Someone found to have a THC level between two and five nanograms per millilitre (ng) of blood would be fined up to $1,000; above five ng carries the same penalties as driving under the influence of alcohol, which includes mandatory minimum penalties of a $1,000 fine on a first offence, 30 days in jail for a second offence and 120 days in jail for a third offence. The bill also allows law enforcement to take a breath sample from drivers without needing reasonable suspicion of impairment, called mandatory screening. Police officers will be able to conduct impaired driving tests using saliva. The new impaired driving laws come into force in December.
Protecting youth from exposure to marijuana has been one of the larger concerns during the legalization process. In 2015, 21 per cent of youth reported using marijuana within the previous year. Similar to alcohol, cannabis cannot be legally sold to a person under the age of 18. Giving or selling cannabis to someone underage carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail. Anyone who uses a minor to commit an offence relating to the distribution, sale or production of marijuana could receive the same maximum penalty. However, young people aged 12 to 17 can carry up to five grams of marijuana without criminal penalty.
The law prohibits products or packaging that are appealing to youth and the promotion of cannabis except in situations where youth wouldn’t be able to see it, much like the existing regulations on the promotion of tobacco products. Information-based advertising is permitted so consumers can make informed, health-conscious decisions.
The government of Alberta will limit youth access by banning the public consumption in areas frequented by children, imposing limits on retail locations that keep cannabis away from schools, daycares and community centres, requiring that all staff at retail locations are over 18 and have received education and training to sell cannabis and working with the municipal and federal government to prepare public education and awareness campaigns.
The decriminalization of marijuana brings with it a list of new potential penalties for those who abuse the regulations put into place. Providing youth with marijuana, illegal distribution or sale, production beyond personal cultivation limits and transporting marijuana across Canada’s borders carry penalties of up to 14 years in jail. Possessing more than the legal limit, which is 30 grams, could result in up to five years in jail. The severity of penalties for exceeding possession or cultivation limits will vary based on how much the individual exceeds the limit by. For example, someone who has just a few more grams that what is permitted by law could be punished with a simple fine.
Privately-run cannabis stores will be under regulations by the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission and will be allowed to sell cannabis and accessories. The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will also operate online sales. Anyone 18 or older can possess and share with other adults up to 30 grams of legal cannabis. Making cannabis products at home, such as edibles, is also legal, provided that no dangerous organic solvents are used.
The legal possession limit is listed in the form of dried cannabis. However, marijuana can take many forms other than the dried form. One gram of dried cannabis is equivalent to five grams of fresh cannabis, 15 grams of edible products, 70 grams of a liquid product, one-quarter of a gram of concentrates or one cannabis plant seed. Therefore, an individual can possess 2,100 grams of a liquid cannabis product but only 7.5 grams of a concentrated form of cannabis, and so on.
Though I personally voted against this legislation after getting feedback from our community, I am committed to ensuring the legalization process is done responsibly and community safety is the number one priority as the bill becomes law.