Canada Federally Legalizes Cannabis
Yes, you heard correctly! On Wednesday, our neighbor to the North, Canada, officially became the first major world economy to legalize recreational marijuana! Starting this morning, government pot retailers all over the country began to open. Excited Canadians waited for hours in line to buy their first government-approved joints. For many, it was a surreal nostalgic moment, similar to the end of Alcohol Prohibition in the United States in the 1930s. Some of the new customers waiting in line for a new legal dispensary to open in the east end of Montreal could be heard exclaiming that “I have never felt so proud to be Canadian…Canada is once again a progressive global leader. We have gay rights, feminism, abortion rights, and now we can smoke pot without worrying police are going to arrest us.”
Although the full legalization laws have now taken effect, the vision of what a now pot-permissive Canada will look like still remains somewhat hazy. Despite the palpable excitement around legalization, there is still much caution. As recently as Monday, the Canadian Medical Association Journal released a statement that called the government’s legalization plan an “uncontrolled experiment in which the profits of cannabis producers and tax revenues are squarely pitched against the health of Canadians.”
There’s still a lot we don't know, including what will happen to the unlicensed dispensaries that began opening in cities across the country in recently. Aside from all that, here's a look at what we do know as Canadian citizens begin to buy legal cannabis for the first time.
How will people buy?
The way Canadians will purchase legal cannabis depends largely upon which Province they live in. The minimum age limits for purchasing and consuming cannabis currently vary, but most provinces have mirrored their rules for alcohol consumption. Check out this post for a specific breakdown of the current regulations per each Canadian province!
Despite the differing laws on age and where cannabis can now be legally purchased, there is one constant across the country: Online sales are now available in all provinces and territories, whether via private retailers or through government-run websites. The E-commerce giant, Shopify, which will manage online sales for four provinces, is confident that its system will be able to handle the volume.
Can I grow at home?
In most Canadian provinces and all territories, adults are now allowed to possess up to four marijuana plants per household for recreational use. That remains the same limit that the Canadian federal government imposed when it passed the Cannabis Act in June.
Quebec and Manitoba remain the two holdouts. Both fiercely opposed the Federal government’s decision and instead enacted their own rules banning growing cannabis plants at home, a decision some lawyers have argued could eventually result in a constitutional challenge.
How much will it cost me?
The final cost that Canadians end up paying for a gram of legal marijuana will ultimately be a major factor in determining whether or not Canada's decision to legalize was successful. If the cost of a legal purchase ends up being more expensive than pot bought on the black market, there may be little, or almost no incentive for Canadians to quit buying from their current supplier.
Prices could change in the future, but currently a gram of legal weed costs between $6-$14.55 depending upon the province you're buying in.
Is a weed shortage possible?
In short, yes. According to Health Canada, there are currently more than 120 licensed cannabis producers in the country — with many based in Ontario and B.C. Although several companies rapidly expanded ahead of legalization, one of Canada's top cannabis producers recently said that labor shortages as well as possible supply chain issues may cause "sold out" signs to pop up at pot stores soon after it becomes legal. Only time will tell.
How does legalization work at the U.S. border?
Despite law changes in certain U.S. states, Cannabis is still a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance (the same category as heroin) at the U.S. Federal level. Possession of any amount, regardless of what state you're in, is illegal under U.S. Federal law. Ahead of legalization officially taking effect, Ottawa warned Canadian travelers that "previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the U.S."
Just one day prior to the official start of legalization a U.S. border official noted that nothing had changed in that regard, saying: "If you've been the subject of a violation of U.S. laws, that will still make you inadmissible to our country."
What's remains unclear is whether travelers will now be questioned more frequently about their potential past cannabis use.
Along with people leaving Canada, there will additionally be changes for people coming into Canada as well. An official reported to CBC News that Canadian Border Services Agency guards will now have to ask every traveler about possible pot possession. Travelers arriving by air should expect to see a question about cannabis use on customs declaration forms
What can I take on a plane?
People flying within Canada will be able to pack up to 30 grams of cannabis. But all travelers should remember they still can't bring weed aboard international flights.
How could this affect my job?
It largely depends upon the field you work in, and your employer. Prior to the start of legalization, many Canadian companies updated cannabis use policies.
Both Air Canada and WestJet have prohibited recreational cannabis use for pilots and those in "safety-sensitive positions."
The new regulations for police officers also vary widely across the country. In Calgary, the police service has outright forbidden cannabis consumption, while Vancouver’s Police Department now requires officers to self-evaluate whether they are fit for duty.
Experts say policies will likely evolve in the months following legalization.
What are the rules around driving?
Under the new legislation passed in June, police can conduct roadside saliva tests of drivers they suspect to be under the influence of drugs. How drivers will be treated depends on how much THC is found in their blood.
- Between two and five nanograms in their blood could face a fine of up to $1,000
- More than five nanograms, or who were drinking alcohol and consuming cannabis at the same time, could face steeper fines and jail time.
- People convicted in the most serious cases could face 10 years in prison.
As recently as August, Statistics Canada reported nearly five per cent of Canadians — about 1.4 million people — said they had been a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had consumed cannabis within two hours of driving.
Despite these statistics, Chief Constable Adam Palmer of the Vancouver Police Department, who also happens to be the current president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said this past week that at a time of limited government resources, policing marijuana would not suddenly become law enforcement’s primary concern following legalization. While Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, reportedly kills 11 Canadians a day, and has come a major crisis in many major Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Marijuana does not.
He added, “I don’t expect a big crackdown on day one.”
Only time will tell how Canada’s new national experiment is turning out, let us know what you think in the comments!
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