A guide to Canada’s recent legalization of recreational marijuana

With the passage of the Cannabis Act, Canada just became the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults on a federal level.


Under the new policy, Canadian adults may legally possess up to 30 grams of marijuana in public.


On October 17, 2018, Canada passed the Cannabis Act, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.  According to the Canadian Department of Justice, the Cannabis Act “creates a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis across Canada.”  The Act sets out the three main goals of the new policy: keeping marijuana out of the hands of youth, keeping profits out of the pockets of criminals, and protecting public health and safety through access to legal marijuana for adults. Additionally, the new policy will continue to allow access to medical marijuana for individuals with authorization from their healthcare provider.


Under the new policy, Canadian adults—those who are 18 and older—may legally possess up to 30 grams of marijuana, in its dried or non-dried equivalent form, in public.  They may share up to 30 grams of legal marijuana with other adults. Moreover, Canadian adults are permitted to buy dried or fresh marijuana, or marijuana in oil form, from retailers licensed in that province.  For Canadian adults who live in provinces or territories without a regulated retail framework, they are able to purchase marijuana online from federally-licensed producers.


The Cannabis Actalso allows individuals to grow and make marijuana products at home.  Those who meet the age requirement are allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants per residence, with two caveats: the plants must be grown from licensed seeds or seedlings, and the plants must be grown for personal use only.  Regarding marijuana-infused products, like food and drinks, individuals are allowed to make these products at home, so long as no organic solvents are used to create concentrated products.  However, marijuana edible products and concentrates will not be legalized for sale until October 17, 2019 under the law.


The new policy allows adults to possess up to 30 grams of dried marijuana.  The policy also addresses the equivalent possession limits for other forms of marijuana.    These include fresh marijuana, edible products, liquid products, seeds, and concentrates.  Accordingly, those who meet the age restriction can legally possess 150 grams of fresh marijuana, 450 grams of edible marijuana product, 2,100 grams of liquid marijuana product, 7.5 grams of concentrated marijuana, in solid or liquid form, and up to 30 plant seeds.


The Cannabis Act was passed with three specific goals in mind.


The Cannabis Act was with three specific goals in mind:protecting minors, protecting public health and safety, and reducing criminal activity.  The Act provides several methods for protecting minors, including both age restrictions and promotion restrictions for marijuana.


The Act creates two criminal offenses for providing marijuana to minors: giving or selling marijuana to youth and using a youth to commit a marijuana-related offense.  Both offenses are punishable with a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail. In terms of restricting promotion and enticement of minors, the Act prohibits products that are appealing to youth, packaging or labelling marijuana in an effort to make it appealing to minors, selling marijuana through self-service displays or vending machines, and promoting marijuana, except in narrow circumstances where minors do not have access to the promotions.  The punishment for violating these rules are severe, including a fine of up to $5 million Canadian dollars—the equivalent of $3,744,500 US dollars—or 3 years in jail.


In an effort to protect public health and safety, the Act creates strict safety and quality regulations, in addition to promoting public education and awareness on recreational marijuana use.  Considering what sector of the government is responsible for regulation, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments all play a role and share responsibilities in overseeing marijuana regulation.  The federal government has the broadest set of responsibilities, as it determines who may grow and manufacture marijuana and set industry standards for marijuana.  These include the types of marijuana products available for sale, the packaging and labelling requirements for marijuana products, the standardized serving sizes and potency, and creating prohibitions on the use of certain ingredients.  The federal government also regulates good production practices, the tracking requirements of marijuana from seed to sale, and the restrictions on promotional activities.  In contrast, provinces and territories in Canada have the task of developing, implementing, and maintaining the systems that oversee marijuana sales and distributions.  Further, provinces and territories have some freedom to add additional safety measures, such as increasing the minimum age requirement, lowering the personal possession limit, adding more rules on growing marijuana at home, and restricting the locations that adults may consume marijuana.


In addition to setting the aforementioned standards for public health and safety, the Canadian government has made considerable efforts to promote public awareness of the effects of marijuana use.  Specifically, Canada has committed close to $46 million to public education and awareness activities over the next five years.  The Canadian government hopes to inform Canadian adults and minors of the health and safety risks involved with marijuana use.


In addition to promoting public education and protecting minors, the new Canadian policy on recreational marijuana use seeks to reduce criminal activities and keep profits related to marijuana sales out of the hands of criminals.  Statistically, in Canada, nearly 48,000 marijuana related offenses were reported to police in 2017.  By allowing the possession and production of legal marijuana for adults, the Canadian government hopes to keep Canadian adults out of the criminal justice system.  As a criminal record resulting from a marijuana related offense can have serious, lifelong consequences for the person charged; this change in policy seeks to alleviate the disastrous toll that a criminal record can have on Canadians and their families.


The US Federal Government still considers marijuana as a Schedule I illegal substance.


As of December 14, 2018, ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized small amounts of marijuana for adult recreational use.  Since 2012, Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Michigan, and Vermont legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults.  In 2018 alone, twenty-one states considered bills that would legalize adult-use of marijuana.  However, the federal government still considers marijuana as a Schedule I illegal substance.


According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, Schedule I drugs, substances, and chemicals have a high potential for abuse.  Additionally, Schedule I drugs have no currently accepted medical use.  The Schedule I drug category includes heroin, lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (ecstasy), peyote, methaqualone, and marijuana.  This classification severely limits research on marijuana and its health effects in the US, leaving patients, health care professionals, and policymakers without the information they need to make fully-informed decisions regarding the use of marijuana.


Canada has taken a bold step that is sure to spark international discussion on the recreational use of marijuana for adults.


As Canada proceeds towards legalization of marijuana for recreational use, it is important to remember that provinces and territories will ultimately determine the local rules of implementation.  While some provinces will allow marijuana to be widely available, we can expect others to be much more stringent on access to recreational marijuana.  Further, it will be interesting to see the effect that this change has in Canada, in many different aspects, including the economy, the criminal justice system, and Canadian society.  As the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults, Canada has taken a bold step that is sure to spark international discussion on the recreational use of marijuana for adults.  As marijuana is still considered a Schedule I substance in the United States, only time will tell how the new policy of our neighbor and ally will affect marijuana legislation in the US.

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About Bryant Pernell (6 Articles)
Bryant Pernell is a third-year law student at Campbell Law School and currently serves as an Associate Editor for the Campbell Law Observer. Originally from Kenbridge, Virginia, Bryant attended the College of Charleston where he received his Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Before law school, he worked as a real estate agent for Southern Virginia Realty, Inc., and interned at Harris, Mathews, & Crowder, P.C. While at Campbell Law, Bryant has served as Event Coordinator for Delta Theta Phi, a service-based fraternity, and is pursuing an LL.M in Legal Practice through Nottingham Trent University. He is interested in comparative legal studies, constitutional legal issues, and estate planning.
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