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Cannabis in Canada: Know the Law

Cannabis is now legal in Canada and is governed under the legal framework of the Federal Cannabis Act. Passed on October 17, 2018, the legislation deemed the possession, use, cultivation, sale and purchase of cannabis legal for adults. The Act outlines rules and restrictions regarding cannabis and the countless products it is found in. The underlying goal of the Act is to protect public health and safety of Canadian citizens nation-wide regardless of the method or reason they have for consuming cannabis products.

What are the goals of the Cannabis Act?

Although the Cannabis Act is a strict legal document that aims to control all aspects pertaining to cannabis, it has three main goals related to the Canadian public. This includes keeping cannabis away from Canadian youth and keeping profits out of the black market, therefore stifling their powers. Lastly, there is the overarching goal of protecting public health and safety by standardizing procedures regarding the production, distribution, and possession. These are the main focus points of the Act and must be considered together since they are so politically and socially intertwined. Looking at the broad picture will help accomplish these goals nation-wide.

How is the Cannabis Act Protecting Youth?

Only adults over the age of 18 are legally able to consume cannabis products. Selling or providing cannabis to youth – any person under the age of 18 – is illegal and subject to several penalties, the maximum being sentenced to 14 years of jail time. The Act is specifically designed to prevent youth from accessing cannabis. This is done through the obvious age restriction as well as rules governing the promotion of cannabis. The Act prohibits cannabis distributors from marketing products in a way that is enticing to youth i.e. specific branding schemes, colors, or patterns on packaging. It also prohibits most cannabis promotion to youth and does not allow sale through self-service portals such as vending machines. The penalty for specifically violating promotional rules regarding cannabis may include a fine up to a maximum of $5 million or 3 years of jail time.

What are the Rules for Adults under the Cannabis Act?

Adults over the age of 18 are legally permitted to grow, purchase and consume cannabis as dictated by the Cannabis Act. Throughout Canada, the maximum amount of dried cannabis that can be carried in public per person is 30 grams. It is legal to share up to 30 grams with other adults. Limits are based on dried cannabis, and the Act states equivalent amounts for other forms such as fresh (5 grams), edible (15 grams), liquid (70 grams), concentrate (0.25 grams) and seed (1 seed) possession per 1 gram of dried cannabis. Purchase is legal only through provincially or federally-licensed retailers. Buying certain forms of cannabis, such as edibles is currently still illegal, although creating your own food and drinks with cannabis perfectly fine within your home. It is permitted to grow up to four plants per household. In Ontario, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is currently the only place where cannabis products may be legally purchased, although this may change in April 2019 to include more retailers. Some provinces and territories do not yet have a regulated retail framework in place for cannabis, and as such, each area has its own provincial/territorial legislation. Adults should be aware of these differences and respect them.

Cannabis in the Workplace

Both employees and employers need to be aware of the specific rules concerning cannabis use in the workplace, which are in place to ensure safety for all. Employers must address and educate employees on all workplace hazards based on the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Is it Legal to Consume Cannabis at Work?

It is illegal to consume recreational cannabis in an enclosed workplace. The rules concerning theuse of cannabis for medicinal purposes (either within or beyond the workplace) have not changed due to legalization. Those using recreational cannabis within a workplace, especially that with a high TCH content, may be deemed unfit to work safely and may pose a hazard to themselves and others.

What Employers Should Know

In terms of cannabis, the OHSA outlines four main areas of focus for employers. The first is workplace safety, and it is unknown how accommodating employers should be of this new Federal legislation. The second is the employer’s duty to accommodate up until undue hardship, meaning accommodating an employee’s use of prescribed cannabis while also taking into account safety concerns regarding assigned tasks which include, but are not limited to, participating in meetings, driving, etc. Driving while or after consuming cannabis is illegal, deeming the person impaired. As such, it is uncertain what rules need to be applied to assigning tasks that may inadvertently put workers and others at risk, as well as the liability associated with this. The third factor is an employer’s duty to include medical cannabis prescriptions under their company’s insurance and medical plans. The fourth factor is the topic of drug testing employees. These topics are still controversial and viewed as taboo in the workplace. However, the first steps have been made, and now further discussion is needed to help standardize disciplinary actions in the workplace concerning cannabis use.

Note: It may be difficult or outright impossible for a supervisor to notice whether their employee is high. Employers must exercise caution when approaching this topic.

Are cannabis regulations different across provinces and territories?

Yes, although the overarching regulations are outlined in the Federal Cannabis Act. However, Canadian provinces and territories implement their own legislation regarding how cannabis is sold and distributed. The public possession limit of 30 grams of dried cannabis is uniform across all Canadian provinces and territories. The legal age is 19 in all provinces except Alberta and Quebec, where the age is 18. Each provincial government has the ability to change restrictions concerning cultivation, age limit, possession amount, and restricting use in public. Other aspects, such as penalties for impaired driving and offenses for youth possession vary depending on the province or territory.

Where you are legally allowed to purchase cannabis in Ontario?

The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is currently the only place where cannabis products may be legally purchased. This online platform is strictly regulated by the Federal government. However, private business enterprises will soon step up to the plate, as licensing processes are currently underway to allow retailers to enter the market as early as April 1, 2019. Regardless, buying cannabis from anywhere other than the OCS at present time can result up to $100,000 fine and/or one year of jail time until licensing is approved. In Ontario, private retailers selling cannabis will be governed by the regulations of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO). This authority has decided to open private retailers in phases, beginning with granting 25 licenses. This is partially due to the shortage of legal cannabis in Ontario, but also to more strictly regulate the ‘pop-up’ of private sellers wanting to get their share of the cannabis business.

What forms of cannabis are currently legal to be sold in Canada?

It is important to note that not all forms of cannabis are available for legal sale under The Cannabis Act. The Cannabis Act currently permits the sale of:

  • cannabis oil
  • fresh cannabis
  • dried cannabis
  • cannabis plant seeds
  • cannabis plants

Edible cannabis, cannabis extracts and cannabis topicals remain illegal for sale within Canada. These products are expected to be available for legal sale no later than October 17, 2019.