Is Marijuana Legal in Canada?
Medical marijuana is slowly becoming globally accepted as medicine and most Canadians are asking the big question, “Is Marijuana Legal in Canada?” You may be surprised to find out that Canada was actually the first nation to legalize marijuana for medical use back in 2001 after the Canadian Court of Appeal declared medical marijuana prohibition unconstitutional. However, marijuana for recreational use still remains illegal with Uruguay becoming the first nation to claim that achievement when it passed regulation in 2014 that allowed residents to purchase, grow, and possess limited amounts.
The Past: Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR) 2001
The original regulation that allowed patients to access medical marijuana in Canada was enacted in 2001 and called the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR). This regulation allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a license issued by the Government with the application being signed off by a physician. A single strain of medicine was available for purchase from a single government supplier but optional licenses were available for patients to grow their own plants or to designate a grower to supply medicine to them. This allowed patients to obtain various strains whose characteristics could be better matched to a patients condition. This regulation was limited to patients that fell under two distinct classification schedules which covered only the most severe and extreme conditions and excluded some very common but still debilitating conditions and symptoms. The application process itself was complicated and lengthy and total patients nationwide, peaked at about 38,000 by the time the MMAR came to a close in March of 2014.
The Past: Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) 2014
The MMAR was repealed and replaced by the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR) which was enacted on April 1, 2014. This program allowed patients to possess dried marijuana flower/bud with a prescription issued by a practicing Canadian physician. A government issued license was no longer required. Licenses for patients to grow their own medicine were no longer being issued under this new regulation.
The Present: Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR)
As of August 24, 2016 the MMPR was replaced with the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation (ACMPR). This new regulation includes legislation that satisfied the Supreme Court decision to allow patients who possess a prescription from a doctor to grow their own medicine. Patients who choose to grow their own medicine can grow it themselves or designated a grower to grow it for them. The maximum limit is 5 outdoor plants or 2 indoor plants but the number of plants is determined by a formula that is based on the prescribed amount from the doctor. Patients must register with Health Canada in order to obtain a license to grow their own medicine. Medicine is available for purchase online by over 30 Health Canada approved, licensed producers (LP). An additional 20+ companies have also been approved for production only and sell wholesale to those licensed to sell. Concentrates are not legal for sale to medical marijuana patients however Cannabis Oil is approved to be sold by authorized LP’s with some of them currently selling edible oil capsules.
The Future: Cannabis Act
On April 13, 2017, a bill to legalize cannabis was introduced to Parliament. The proposed Cannabis Act would create a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis across Canada. According to the Government of Canada website the Act seeks to restrict youth access to cannabis, deter and reduce criminal activity, protect public health through strict product safety and quality requirements, reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, provide for the legal production of cannabis to reduce illegal activities, and allow adults to possess and access regulated, quality controlled legal cannabis.
The current program for accessing cannabis for medical purposes would continue under the new Act. Although cannabis is legal for medical use it will still remain illegal for recreational use as the bill moves through the legislative process. If it is approved by Parliament, the bill could become law with a target date of no later than July 2018.
No person could sell or provide cannabis to any person under the age of 18.
The Act would create 2 new criminal offences, with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail, for giving or selling cannabis to youth, and using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.
The Act would also prohibit:
- products that are appealing to youth
- packaging or labelling cannabis in a way that makes it appealing to youth
- selling cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines
- promoting cannabis, except in narrow circumstances where the promotion could not be seen by a young person
Penalties for violating these prohibitions include a fine up to $5 million or 3 years in jail.
Should the Cannabis Act become law in July 2018, adults who are 18 years or older would be able to legally:
- possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form
- share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults
- purchase dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially-licensed retailer
- In those provinces that have not yet or choose not to put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally-licensed producer.
- grow up to 4 cannabis plants, up to a maximum height of 100cm, per residence for personal use from licensed seed or seedlings
- make cannabis products, such as food and drinks, at home provided that organic solvents are not used
Other products, such as edibles, would be made available for purchase once appropriate rules for their production and sale are developed.
The federal, provincial and territorial governments would share responsibility for overseeing the new system.
The federal government’s responsibilities would be to:
- set strict requirements for producers who grow and manufacture cannabis
- set industry-wide rules and standards, including:
- the types of cannabis products that will be allowed for sale
- packaging and labelling requirements for products
- standardized serving sizes and potency
- prohibiting the use of certain ingredients
- good production practices
- tracking of cannabis from seed to sale to prevent diversion to the illicit market
- restrictions on promotional activities
The provinces and territories would license and oversee the distribution and sale of cannabis, subject to federal conditions. They could also:
- increase the minimum age in their province or territory (but not lower it). Ontario has increased their minimum age to 19.
- lower the personal possession limit in their jurisdiction
- create additional rules for growing cannabis at home, such as lowering the number of plants per residence
- restrict where adults can consume cannabis, such as in public or in vehicles
On Sept 8, 2017 the Ontario government released details of provincial distribution and possession laws coming into effect on July 1st.
Highlights of the Ontario plan are as follows:
The recreational marijuana market in Ontario will restrict sales to 150 LCBO-run stores.
The standalone cannabis outlets – physically separate from existing provincial-owned liquor stores – and a government-controlled website will be the only place weed can lawfully be sold after Ottawa legalizes it on July 1. The LCBO will get its product from the 58 medical marijuana producers licensed by Health Canada.
Only those 19 and older will be allowed to purchase or possess marijuana and pot consumption will be limited to private homes.
Smoking weed will continue to be illegal in any public space – including parks, workplaces and motorized vehicles.
Prices will kept competitive to curb the black market, but the government does expect a boost in tax revenues.
Finance Minister Charles Sousa, Health Minister Eric Hoskins, and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi unveiled the plan Friday at Queen’s Park after months of work from Ontario’s cannabis secretariat.
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario, which runs the province’s 651 liquor stores – using workers who are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union – will oversee all retail sales and run the online service.
There will be 80 LCBO weed stores in place across the province by July 1, 2019 and another 70 by 2020.
Online sales will begin next July after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government legalizes recreational marijuana.
The government is also looking at new road safety rules to curb impaired driving.
The Cannabis Act proposes offences targeting those acting outside the legal framework, such as those involved in organized crime.
Penalties would be set in proportion to the seriousness of the offence. Sanctions would range from warnings and tickets for minor offences to criminal prosecution and imprisonment for more serious offences.
When legalization or decriminalization finally takes place, Canadians will no longer be asking, “Is marijuana legal in Canada?”
The grey area: Dispensaries
Dispensaries are operating within a grey area of the law. Under the current regulation dispensaries are operating illegally since only licensed producers are allowed to sell marijuana to patients however any time a dispensary is brought to trial the courts have not been convicted and thus leaving the dispensaries to operate with no real risk of conviction for their illegal activity. It should be noted that dispensaries do not sell regulated product from licensed producers and patients who choose to purchase medicine from a dispensary is doing so at the risk of possible contamination from pests, pesticides, fertilizers, heavy metals, and pathogens.
So the next time someone asks you the question “Is marijuana legal in Canada?”, you can answer them with a resounding, “Yes!”