A Quick Guide to Canadian Cannabis Laws | cannabisMD

Traveling to Canada? What to Know About Canadian Cannabis Laws

red maple leaf on green pot symbols

Canadian cannabis laws vary widely by province. Image Credit: By Lightspring on shutterstock.

While cannabis has been completely legalized in Canada since October 2018, the country’s track record of trailblazing cannabis reform stretches back even further — Health Canada, the national health department, first established a federally legal medical marijuana program in 2001. The development of cannabis law in Canada in 2019 continues to be a pioneering process, one which is setting an example for other countries looking to follow in its path.

Known as the Cannabis Act, Canada’s nationwide framework for legalization has created a model for the United States to follow if — or when – cannabis is legalized across the country. However, there are also some important differences: for example, Canada’s age minimum for using cannabis has been set at 18. In the 11 U.S. states that have legalized recreational use cannabis, the age minimum has been set at 21, which means that most of the 38 percent of US college students who use cannabis (according to a 2018 study sponsored by The National Institute on Drug Abuse) must continue to do so illegally.

One major strength of Canadian cannabis regulations is in their flexibility. Under the Cannabis Act, most decisions have stayed in the hands of the provinces — they can decide on any legal age above 18, or even to keep a ban on recreational sales (online sales from a government website would still be allowed, to keep the black market from gaining a foothold). This is an approach that the U.S. may look to emulate, as it allows more conservative parts of the country to maintain more restrictive laws.

A standard for maximum possession has been set at 30 grams, and each household is allowed to cultivate up to four cannabis plants, subject to additional provincial restrictions. Nationwide, smoking in vehicles is strictly banned. Regulations around cannabis edibles remain to be set — though the government has announced that they’ll be available to the public by December 2019.

A Province-by-Province Breakdown of 2019 Canadian Cannabis Laws

Alberta

Legal age: 18
Who’s selling? Private retailers and government-run online sales.

Albert, along with Quebec, is one of two provinces with the cannabis age minimum set at 18. Public consumption is discouraged, with bans on using cannabis at zoos, swimming pools, and other recreational areas — though the province has said it’s open to the idea of cannabis cafes or social lounges.

British Columbia

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Both government and private retailers and online sales.
Long famous for its locally-grown cannabis, the province has some of the most detailed restrictions in the country. Included in its regulations are prohibitions on smoking on boats, near bus stops, or within six meters of a doorway, window, or air intake.

Manitoba

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Private retailers and online sales.
Manitoba is the only province with a discrepancy between its drinking and cannabis purchase ages. As cannabis consultant Jamie Shaw told Lift & Co, “Manitoba’s going to have a weird thing where they’ll have 19-year-olds in a bar with 18-year-olds and the 19-year-olds will be allowed to go out and smoke pot while the 18-year-olds won’t.”

New Brunswick

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Government-run retailers and online sales.
Few provinces take cannabis security as seriously as New Brunswick: all outdoor cannabis plants in the province must be kept behind a locked enclosure at least 1.52 meters tall, and all cannabis kept in-house must be secured as well.

“For people here in New Brunswick who have guns in their houses, it’s locked. It’s their responsibility. [Cannabis] will be the same thing,” the province’s justice and public safety minister Denis Landry said at the time of the announcement.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Private retailers and government-run online sales.
The country’s eastern-most province is also one of its most creative when it comes to cannabis. Canopy Growth, the world’s largest cannabis producer, has set up a unique retail outlet in Newfoundland called a “farm gate.” So far, its St. John’s location is the only cannabis retail shop in the country directly attached to a grow facility.

Northwest Territories

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Privately-run liquor stores and government-operated online sales.
Using cannabis in this frigid province is both tightly controlled (individual communities can choose to ban it) and expensive: according to Statistics Canada, the Northwest Territories have the priciest cannabis in Canada, averaging C$11.46 a gram. The national average is C$6.83 per gram.

Nova Scotia

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Government-run retailers and online sales.
Nova Scotia has the highest cannabis use per capita in the country according to Statistics Canada, with average consumption reaching 27.1 grams per year. It’s also the province where the black market has made the biggest strides in recent years, with a legal cannabis production sector establishing itself as well.

Nunavut

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Online sales, with cannabis retailers permitted later.
Nunavut was the last province to announce their legal cannabis framework, due to delays caused by the 2017 territorial election. Through October 17, 2019, the Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission and Canopy Growth have a non-exclusive contract for online sales, and the province won’t have any physical shops at least until then. Private and public retail options are set to be permitted at a later date.

Ontario

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Private retailers and online sales.
Canada’s most populous province — and home to its biggest city, Toronto — dealt with the legal cannabis shortage of the post-legalization period by limiting its retailer licenses to 25. This helped keep stock at a relatively robust 61 percent of that listed on menus, a strong figure nationwide.

Prince Edward Island

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Government-run retailers and online sales.
In response to a provincial survey run in 2017, PEI looked forward to the challenges of legalization in more rural provinces by amending its Highway Traffic Act to treat driving under the influence of cannabis in a similar way to its laws on drunk driving.

Quebec

Legal age: 18
Who’s selling? Government-run retailers and online sales.
Quebec was one of the provinces hit hardest by the post-legalization shortages, dealing with it by closing dispensaries three days a week. And there is no recourse for home growers — along with Manitoba, Quebec is one of the only provinces to ban home growing.

Saskatchewan

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Private retailers and online sales.
According to cannabis consultant Jamie Shaw, Saskatchewan has the best, least meddlesome cannabis supply chain in the country.

“If you get a license to be a retailer in Saskatchewan, you can actually go directly to whichever licensed producer that you want,” as she told Lift & Co. “You don’t have to go through the province, which is huge.”

Yukon

Legal age: 19
Who’s selling? Government-run retailers and online sales.
Cannabis in Yukon is sold at only one physical retailer, located in the capital city of Whitehorse. The rest of the large province is supplied by online sales.

Ed Weinberg
Ed Weinberg
Ed Weinberg is an American journalist who’s written stories on everything from cannabis to textiles, architecture, urban exploration, and culture in Vietnam, where he spent seven years. Previous to freelance writing, he held senior editorial positions at Word Vietnam and the Vietnam Investment Review.

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