Legal Cannabis in Canada: 7 of the Strangest Laws

Canada is expected to become the second and the largest country in the world to legalize cannabis for recreational use (Uruguay was the first) sometime in the summer of 2018. The road to legalization has been an interesting one, and along the way, the Canadian government has established some pretty strange laws.  Here are 7 of them.   

The Prohibition of Cannabis

Justin Trudeau has promised legal cannabisWe can’t get anywhere without starting here. Back in 1923, Canadians didn’t even smoke pot. In fact, they didn’t know what it was. However, for some reason historians still can’t agree on, cannabis was banned at the national level without any kind of parliamentary or public debate. To put the absurdity of this law into perspective, the United States saw a greater amount of pot use (though still nothing too prolific) in the 20’s than Canada did and had a pretty productive anti-cannabis propaganda machine infecting national attitudes toward weed with lies and scare tactics. Even so, it wasn’t until 1937 that cannabis became criminalized at the national level, 14 years after Canada implemented its early ban.   Thankfully, Canada has come a long way since this ban, first opting to legalize cannabis for medicinal use in 2001, and now for adult recreational use in 2018.

Personal Limits aren’t Personal in British Columbia

When British Columbia, one of Canada’s most populated provinces, released a draft of its cannabis rules, the maximum possession limit gave a lot of residents pause. The existence of a limit isn’t shocking—it reflects the federal law’s provision.  However, British Colombians are concerned about this aspect of the law:

“If 2 or more persons occupy the same location and there is an amount of cannabis at the location that is more than the maximum allowable amount of cannabis, each person is deemed to have contravened subsection (3). The deemed contravention referred to in subsection (4) by a person does not apply if the person took reasonable steps to prevent the contravention.”

This law seems to be requiring residents to interrogate their friends—and apparently anyone occupying the same location they’re at—about how much pot they’ve got in their possession so they can make sure they share what was supposed to be a “personal” limit. So if you want to benefit from British Columbia’s maximum limit, make sure you don’t have pot-consuming roommates, I guess.

The Law Says You Can Smoke in Public, but You Best Not Get High

woman smoking in publucOnce again, British Columbia has folks in a tizzy over another contradictory rule. The law makes it clear that cannabis consumption can’t happen in most public places.  However, the law doesn’t right out say that it can only be consumed in a private residence. It seems that cannabis can be smoked where it is legal to smoke tobacco. However, public intoxication is explicitly labeled as an offense punishable by a fine of $5,000 and 3 months imprisonment for the first offense and up to $10,000 and 6 months imprisonment for subsequent offenses. However, the law does not define what public intoxication means. This is one of the trickiest aspects of enforcing cannabis laws—police officers are used to monitoring alcohol blood levels to determine if someone is drunk. But cannabis works differently than alcohol. It also has a distinct smell. If someone smells like skunk, is that enough to consider them intoxicated? If THC levels are detected in their urine or blood—even though everyone knows THC lingers far past the duration of the high—is that enough? The law seems to suggest that British Columbians who smoke should stay home… all the time.

If You’re 18, You Can Buy Pot. Except You Can’t.

Canada’s federal law has set the minimum purchasing age at 18. The problem is that most of its provinces have given that limit a 12-month delay. In Ontario, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nanavut, the minimum age has been set to 19. However, because of the federal law, 18-year-olds can grow their own cannabis legally. There also isn’t a law that stops 18-year-olds from purchasing weed from Quebec or Alberta, the two provinces that matched the federal law’s age limit. This puts 18-year-olds and law enforcement in a strange position. Should law enforcement implement a set of rules specifically designed just for 18-year-olds who live in a legally gray area for a year?   

Cannabis Entrepreneurs Can Sell but Not Advertise Their Weed

cannabis leavesThe federal law has thrown quite the wrench at the cannabis industry by making it almost impossible for cannabis brands to meaningfully distinguish themselves. The text of the law states that it is prohibited to promote cannabis in the following ways: “by communicating information about its price or distribution; by doing so in a manner that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons; by means of a testimonial or endorsement, however displayed or communicated; by means of the depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional; or by presenting it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” So basically, put the weed in a brown bag and call it a day.

The Government Will Take Over for Dispensaries

In Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island, the only way to purchase cannabis is through a government-run store. Instead of allowing the “gray market” dispensaries that most Canadians source their weed from to enter the legal industry, these provinces have shut them out and have determined to replace them with government employees who probably will not have the kind of expertise in cannabis Canadians have grown accustomed to working with from dispensary employees. Illegal dispensaries have been raided and warned—one of the most famous instances of a major shut down was when police raided the Cannabis Culture shops run by the Prince and Princess of Pot, Marc and Jodie Emery. The Emerys were eventually arrested and ended up pleading guilty to several drug-related charges in a Toronto court.

Edibles May or May not be Legal a Year After Recreational Flower Sales Launch

Edibles are a friendly alternative to smoking for newbiesAn amendment proposing the legalization of edibles was added to the Cannabis Act in 2017. The proposal makes it possible for edibles to be legalized by July 1, 2019 at the earliest. Adults will still be able to create their own edibles at home, but entrepreneurs in the culinary part of the cannabis industry will have to wait their turn to legally reach the market. Entrepreneurs can bypass this law by selling their products or DIY materials online. It’s a strange law that once again places a targeted group within the industry in a legally gray area. 

Legal Cannabis in Canada: 7 of the Strangest Laws was last modified: by
Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.