Making good on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign promises, Canada’s Liberal Party-led government last week announced a suite of bills to legalize recreational marijuana use throughout Canada. Also last week, I was on “To the Point” with Warren Olney to try to answer two big questions regarding Canada’s legalization plans: How will Canada legalize and what impact will that have on the United States?
First though, some history.
Canada already has legalized medical marijuana and its production, including production of “non-dried marijuana,” and some of its current producers, such as Tweed and Tilray, are well-recognized brands both within and outside Canada. What is little known about Canada’s medical cannabis regime, however, is that Canada never legalized medical marijuana distribution or dispensaries; Canadian medical marijuana patients order and receive their medical marijuana through Canada’s mailing system. Despite dispensaries being illegal, many operate relatively freely due to local law enforcement tolerance in certain Provinces. All of that will change when Canada legalizes marijuana, and the pending legalization bills are widely expected to pass.
With a desired goal of July 1, 2018 to get legalization off the ground, Canada is nothing if not ambitious. The legalization bills contain many interesting restrictions and standards, including the following:
- The legal age to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana will be 18, but the Provinces are free to set higher age limits.
- Individuals 18 and older can grow up to four plants per household for personal use.
- Tourists cannot bring cannabis into Canada, but they can purchase and use it while there.
- The provinces will almost exclusively regulate retail and marijuana distribution, as well as the retail price of marijuana. They can even own their own retail establishments if they wish.
- Provinces will be able to decide whether alcohol and marijuana can be sold at the same retail location.
- According to the federal government’s own press release, “those jurisdictions that have not put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally licensed producer with secure home delivery through the mail or by courier.”
- Marijuana vending machines and self-service displays are banned.
- The federal government will regulate marijuana producers.
- Advertising, promotions, and marketing cannot appeal to children and they will be heavily regulated by the federal government, including the possibility of no branding at all on the production side.
- Regulations regarding packaging and labeling are mandated, but they need to be debated by government first.
- No federal taxes or licensing fees are contained in the bills.
- Cannabis cannot be used to infuse alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine and vice-versa.
- More than 2 nanograms of active THC in the blood is a criminal driving offense punishable with a fine and the presence of more than 5 nanograms is a more serious offense, and officers will test driving impairment by using “fluid” samples, including saliva and blood samples.
As these cannabis bills make their way through Canada’s Parliament, there will no doubt be robust debates among lawmakers and regulators on everything from potency limitations to the kinds of cannabis products that will be available to quality assurance testing requirements. One of the most grueling debates will likely be over whether the Provinces should be the ones running all marijuana retail establishments.
To date, the U.S. only has one city-owned marijuana retail store. Needless to say, the idea of government owned and distributed marijuana hasn’t taken off in the U.S., both because it’s still federally illegal here and because we simply do not have a tradition of government ownership of anything retail. So even if Canada does embrace a “government weed” model, it’s unlikely this will cause the U.S. to influence our own state-by-state legalization scheme with private marijuana markets.