Canada to Legalize Marijuana. Here’s What You Need to Know

Published on April 13, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Canadian flag waving with Parliament Buildings hill and Library in the background

In an announcement that will have profound implications for cannabis legalization worldwide, Canada became the first G-7 nation to formally propose the full legalization and regulation of cannabis today. In a news conference in Ottawa, leaders of Canada’s health, justice, and public safety ministries revealed the Liberal government’s plan to end decades of cannabis prohibition. If adopted as planned, the new federal rules would allow the production, sale, and possession of cannabis by all adults 18 years and older. The federal government would license cannabis producers (growers), but will leave most regulations regarding distribution and sale up to the provinces.

Here’s what you need to know.

Q: When will legalization happen?
A: July 1, 2018. That’s the short answer. Media outlets have reported that the Liberal government’s proposal, if adopted, would legalize cannabis for adults nationwide by Canada Day, 2018. That date may shift as the legislation moves toward approval. It may also be reset away from Canada Day in order to not turn Canada Day into 4/20 North.

Who will be able to purchase, possess, and consume cannabis?
All adults. Canadians and visitors. Don Cherry and Justin Trudeau. Drake, Feist, Deadmau5, and Geddy Lee.

Hmm. That word “adult”: What’s the age requirement?
It’s a bit tricky. Federal law will set a minimum age of 18, but each province will be free to set its own age limit above that level. So in some provinces it may be legal only for adults age 19 or 21, or even 25, depending on what each province decides to adopt. That age limit restricts sales and outlaws providing cannabis to minors, and it bars advertising to minors or marketing promotional activities to young people.

Regardless, while young people under 18 could be hit with civil sanctions for cannabis, they wouldn’t face criminal prosecution for simple possession of small amounts.

Who’s going to grow it? Who’s allowed to sell it?
The federal government will issue licenses to cannabis producers (growers), much as it currently does with medical marijuana licensed producers. Officials say this will ensure product quality and safety. Retail, on the other hand, would be left primarily to provinces.

The federal legislation allows for many scenarios. If a province doesn’t put in place a retail distribution or sales framework, the national government has authority to allow adult consumers to purchase directly from a federally licensed producer. Vending machines would be prohibited.

Will I be able to buy at a cannabis store?
Whether to permit storefront dispensaries will be a decision left to provincial governments. If legal states in the US are any indication, some communities will welcome retail stores; others will likely ban them. If a province doesn’t put in place a retail distribution or sales framework, adult consumers may be able to purchase directly from a licensed producer.

How much can I have?
Adults can possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, or a little over an ounce.

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Can I grow my own?
Yes, but there are limits. Personal cultivation will be allowed up to four plants per residence, each with a height limit of 100 cm (3 feet, 3 inches). Note that the limit is per residence, not per person. So if you’re sharing a house with roommates, you don’t each get to grow four plants. One residence, no matter how large or small, may contain four growing plants. That’s it.

What will happen to current medical marijuana LPs?
Current medical cannabis regulations will remain in effect for the time being. The government plans to review them as adult-use regulations evolve in order to make any changes deemed necessary.

What will happen to existing storefront dispensaries?
The federal legislation doesn’t address the current situation with unlicensed storefront dispensaries. The tone of the officials at today’s briefing indicated that they expected cannabis to be sold through retail storefronts, to be licensed by provinces and/or local municipalities. The key word there is “licensed.” That doesn’t mean existing dispensaries will turn legal or illegal overnight.

Will I be able to order cannabis through the mail, or ground delivery?
That will be determined by each province.

What about taxes?
Oh, the government will take a bite. Count on it. But the current bill makes no mention of taxes. Most expect the federal finance minister to bring a formal proposal for cannabis taxation later in the year.

Will infused edibles be sold?
Edibles will be allowed and regulated for health and public safety. Cannabis products can’t contain nicotine, caffeine, or alcohol.

Is advertising allowed?
The government says its goal is to provide adults with factually accurate information in order to make informed choices about cannabis. To that end, advertisements aren’t allowed to make false or misleading claims, nor may they appeal to young people. They can, however, include levels of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, a product’s ingredients, strain names, and a company brand.

How about gummy bears? 
Probably not. The federal act prohibits “cannabis or a cannabis accessory that has an appearance, shape or other sensory attribute that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons.” So gummy bears and other candy-like products will likely not pass muster with the federal government. Ditto to any edible product with flavors like cotton candy or bubblegum.

What about product packaging?
There were some last-minute rumors that the government could prohibit branding, the use of colors in packaging, and other visual design elements. But that’s not the case—not yet, at least. The legislation gives the federal government the authority to bring forward regulations. Those regulations will be set at a later date.

Anything else we should know about packaging?
Yes: It will be illegal to display any cannabis product in a manner that may result in the cannabis package or label being seen by a young person. This pertains to actual cannabis products; it’s unclear how it would affect advertising.

Any change of import/export here? 
Nope. Current Canadian law allows the import or export of cannabis only through a license issued by Health Canada, for medical or research purposes only. That will not change under the new federal proposal.

How about vending machines. 
No, you won’t be able to sell or purchase cannabis or cannabis-related accessories via vending machines. That’s actually written into the federal rules.

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Leafly Staff
Leafly Staff
Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis information resource, empowering people in legal cannabis markets to learn about the right products for their lifestyle and wellness needs. Our team of cannabis professionals collectively share years of experience in all corners of the market, from growing and retail, to science and medicine, to data and technology.
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