Overview

On Thursday, April 13, 2017 the Liberal government introduced a bill that will legalize cannabis across Canada, effective no later than July 2018. The Ministers of Justice, Health, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and Public Revenue were joined by Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair in announcing the landmark legislation.

Despite the sweeping changes it will trigger, “The Cannabis Act” does not offer extensive detail beyond accounting for specific penalties. The broader policy implications and regulatory changes will be written in coming months at both the federal and provincial levels of government. The government laid out a system designed to harshly punish production or distribution outside of the authorized channels once legalization is introduced. Local and provincial police forces will be expected to continue cracking down on illegal dispensaries.

Interesting similarities between ending cannabis prohibition and alcohol prohibition (nearly 90 years ago) exist – as it was then – focus was on kids, health and consumption (Canadians could only get a litre a week of alcohol back then).

Federal

Since the introduction of the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations, the federal government has overseen the production and distribution of cannabis in Canada. This legislation marks a significant evolution in the role of the federal government:

  • Production: Health Canada will maintain regulatory oversight for the means of production for both recreational and medical cannabis. There are currently 43 Licensed Producers (LPs) in Canada, with 40 to 50 more in the queue. With legalization on the horizon, reports indicate Health Canada will accelerate its review process.
  • Enforcement: The federal government reserves the right to conduct inspections, issue or rescind licenses and to order testing and recalls. Clear penalties are set out for illegal distribution.
  • Medical Marijuana: The current policy governing medical cannabis will require updating.
  • Age: No Canadian under the age of 18 will be permitted to access Cannabis. Provinces will have the ability to raise the age of access.

Provinces and Territories

The extent of oversight passed on to the provinces by this announcement is a significant development. It is expected that provinces and territories will work with one another to harmonize policies. Provincial jurisdiction will include:

  • Distribution: Provinces are instructed to introduce legislation that will establish “authorized retailers” and as expected, the legislation does not prescribe a distribution solution and does not rule out options.
  • Enforcement: Shared enforcement responsibility with the federal government for seed-to-sale inventory tracking. An additional authorization and inspection system can be set up by provinces and territories. Provinces may increase the age of access and lower limits. The legislation sets clear penalties for driving under the influence of cannabis.

What does this mean?

With new players entering in the market to satisfy the desire for new products, the cannabis space in Canada is about to become busier and louder than at any time before. Communicating a clear message is more important than ever.

Moving from prohibition to legalization is a monumental undertaking that requires cooperation and collaboration among all levels of government, law enforcement, industry, the medical community, educators and, perhaps most of all, the public. There is little over a year to go.