The federal government introduced the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) on April 13, 2017 to legalize and regulate the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada. [If/when] the Cannabis Act is passed, adults will be able to legally possess and use cannabis subject to the legislated restrictions.

The Cannabis Act has three key objectives:

  1. to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis;
  2. to protect public health and public safety through the establishment of strict product safety and product quality requirements; and
  3. to deter criminal activity through the imposition of serious criminal penalties for those operating outside the legal framework.

Highlights of the Cannabis Act

The highlights of the Cannabis Act that serve to fulfill the bill’s main objectives are discussed below.

Controlled Access

The Cannabis Act would enable adults, 18 years of age and over, to purchase dried or fresh cannabis from a licensed retailer, possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis (or the non-dried equivalent), grow up to four cannabis plants per residence, and make cannabis-based products at home. While the bill sets the minimum legal age for sale, purchase, and consumption at 18 years of age, provinces and territories may increase the minimum age. They will not be able to lower the minimum age requirement.

The bill also contains several provisions targeted at maintaining the safety of young persons. The promotion, packaging, and labelling of cannabis that would appeal to young persons is prohibited, as is selling or distributing cannabis to individuals under the age of 18.

Regulation

Cannabis will be jointly regulated by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. The federal government would impose rules and standards applicable to the cannabis industry. This would include mandating the types of cannabis products that may be sold to the public, setting packaging and labelling requirements, standardizing potency levels and serving sizes, prohibiting certain substances as ingredients in cannabis (such as nicotine and caffeine), tracking cannabis to ensure it is sold through legal channels, and placing restrictions on promotional activities.

The provincial and territorial governments will be responsible for licensing and overseeing the distribution and sale process pursuant to the federally-imposed conditions. This includes the ability to increase the minimum age requirement, lowering the amount of cannabis permitted for personal possession within their jurisdiction, creating additional rules and requirements for the growth of cannabis plants at home, and restricting locations where cannabis may be consumed.

Criminal Penalties

The proposed criminal penalties are intended to target those who do not abide by the regulated cannabis framework. Offences include the unlawful sale or distribution of cannabis, possession over the legal limit, cannabis production above the allowed personal limits or with the inclusion of combustible solvents, and transporting cannabis across the borders of Canada. All of these offences are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, with the exception of possession over the limit which is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Additional amendments to the Criminal Code were also introduced on April 13, 2017 through Bill C-46. These amendments are intended to strengthen impaired driving laws, specifically targeting drug-impaired driving.

Looking Forward

Though cannabis remains illegal until the Cannabis Act is passed, with exceptions for medical purposes, the Government of Canada intends to provide regulated and restricted access to cannabis no later than July 2018.