Medical Use

Yes, Canada has had regulations in place to permit medical cannabis use since 2001.

Cannabis has been a controlled substance in Canada since 1923. In its decision in R. v. Parker in 2000, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that a failure to provide a viable medical cannabis exemption from the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (CDSA) violated the liberty and security of the person guaranteed by s.7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and was inconsistent with the principles of fundamental justice in that it forced individuals to choose between their liberty and their health. When leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was dismissed, the federal government enacted the Medical Marijuana Access Regulations (MMAR) in 2001.

Under the MMAR, persons with a declaration from their physician relating to a prescribed list of symptoms were able to access cannabis for medical purposes by growing it themselves, having someone grow it for them or by purchasing from a government supply. The MMAR faced numerous court challenges and resulting amendments over the following 12 years.

In 2013, the federal government “privatized” medical cannabis by introducing the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR). The MMPR replaced the MMAR and provided that the only legal source of medical cannabis was from a federally licensed cannabis producer. The MMPR also faced a number of legal challenges and was ultimately struck down (again, under s.7 of the Charter) due to its failure to provide a personal production option to medical cannabis patients. As a result, the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR) replaced the MMPR on August 24, 2016. The ACMPR provided patients with the option of growing their own cannabis (either themselves or through a designated grower) or purchasing it from a licensed producer. The provisions of the ACMPR were carried forward into regulations to the Cannabis Act when it was enacted in 2018.

Medical patients with a medical document from a healthcare practitioner may register with a federally licensed medical cannabis seller. Purchases may be made online or by phone, with mail-only delivery to patients. There are no permissible storefronts for medical cannabis. Medical cannabis patients are subject to a public possession limit of the lesser of 150g of dried cannabis (or equivalent) or a 30-day supply (based upon the daily amount set out in the patient’s medical document).

As of September 2020, approximately 377,000 Canadians were registered to purchase cannabis from a medical seller, and another 43,000 were registered with Heath Canada to cultivate their own medical cannabis or have a designated grower do so on their behalf.

Recreational Use

Yes, it is allowed pursuant to the Cannabis Act which came info force on October 17, 2018.

Current Regime: On October 17, 2018, Canada became the 2nd country in the world (after Uruguay), and the 1st G7 nation, to legalize non-medical cannabis.

The Cannabis Act encompasses both medical and non-medical cannabis. Available licensing categories distinguish between various activities with cannabis (nursery, cultivation, processing, sale for medical purposes, analytical testing, research and manufacturing of cannabis [prescription] drugs). ‘Micro’ licence categories, with lower regulatory burdens, are available to small-scale cultivators and processors.

The Cannabis Act carves out a scope of permissible activities with cannabis and creates corresponding offences for activities falling outside of this scope. It imposes significant penalties (up to 14 years imprisonment) for the most serious offences while also attempting to reduce the burden on law enforcement and the criminal justice system by creating ticketing options for less serious offences. For the first year after enactment, the permissible product types were limited to dried cannabis, fresh cannabis, cannabis oil with a restricted concentration of THC, cannabis plants and seeds. However, on October 17, 2019 regulatory amendments introduced three new product categories (edible cannabis, cannabis topicals and cannabis extracts). Products falling into these new categories became available for sale to consumer in late December, 2019, with an increasing array of products hitting shelves throughout 2020.

There are currently 570 licensed cannabis cultivators, processing and/or medical sellers in Canada. 150 analytical testing licences have been issued, along with 382 cannabis research licences.

Jurisdiction for the distribution and sale of non-medical cannabis rests with the provinces and territories. Each province and territory has enacted its own framework for the retail sale of cannabis (storefronts and online). There are a wide variety of approaches being taken across Canada on issues such as the minimum age to purchase and possess cannabis, who can sell (private vs. public stores), whether residents are permitted to grow up to four plants at home (as is provided in the Cannabis Act) and where cannabis can be consumed.

Goods and services tax applies to all cannabis purchases (medical and non-medical). The federal government has also imposed an excise duty on most cannabis products (generally, equal to the greater of $1/gram or 10% of the products price, or $0.01 per mg of THC, depending on the product format. An additional cannabis duty also applies in certain provinces. The excise duty does not apply to cannabis products containing <0.3%THC or prescription drugs containing cannabis.

Restrictive packaging and prescribed labelling applies to both medical and non-medical cannabis products. A universal cannabis symbol must be placed on every product containing cannabis with >0.3% THC, along with prescribed health warnings and product information. The Cannabis Act imposes significant restrictions on the ability to promote and advertise cannabis. Certain informational and brand-preference promotion can take place in adequately age-gated environments. Promotions depicting people, animals, characters, testimonials or endorsements, or which are appealing to children or contain lifestyle depictions are strictly prohibited (similar to restrictions on the promotion of tobacco).

The definition of cannabis in the Cannabis Act includes all parts of a cannabis plant (other than non-viable seeds, bare stalk and fibre derived therefrom, and roots) and specifically includes all phytocannabinoids found in the cannabis plant (even if synthetically produced). This means that cannabidiol (CBD), in and of itself, is regulated as cannabis and does not enjoy differential treatment as in many other jurisdictions.


The licensed cultivation of approved hemp cultivars is addressed in the Industrial Hemp Regulations, which are regulations to the Cannabis Act. “Industrial hemp” is defined as cannabis plant, or any part of that plant, in which the concentration of THC is 0.3% w/w or less in the flowering heads and leaves. Hemp farmers can freely sell hemp stalk and seed for use in the manufacture of a variety of products. However, flowering heads, leaves and branches may only be sold to a federally licensed cannabis processor and these parts of the plant are then treated as “cannabis”.

Import/ Export Opportunities

The Cannabis Act permits licence holders to obtain permits to import and export cannabis for medical or scientific purposes only. No export or import of adult-use / recreational cannabis is permitted. This is presumably driven by international drug treaty obligations. Health Canada has issued an information bulletin on the importing and exporting of marijuana by licensed producers. In that bulletin, Health Canada set out a very restrictive position, stating that Health Canada’s general policy is to issue import or export permits only in limited circumstances, such as importing starting materials (e.g., seeds, plants) for a new licence holder, exporting cannabis products to another country that has a medical cannabis regime, or importing or exporting small quantities of cannabis for scientific purposes (e.g., research or testing).

The factors that will be considered by Health Canada before issuing an import or export permit include:

• Canada’s obligations under international treaties;

• Whether the application is consistent with the relevant provisions in the Cannabis Act and its regulations;

• Whether the import or export will be used solely for medical or scientific purposes;

• In the case of exports, whether the country of final destination has issued an import permit;

• Whether there are risks to public health given that imported products are not subject to the same strict production standards or Health Canada inspections;

• Whether there are risks to public safety and security, including the risks of diversion; and

• For the import or export of drugs containing cannabis, whether import/ export requirements of the Food and Drugs Act and its regulations have been met.

That being said, limited exports of medical cannabis have been reported to a variety of countries in Europe and elsewhere. In the quarter ending March 31, 2019, 179kg of dried cannabis and 81.25L of cannabis oil were exported from Canada (for medical or scientific purposes). Imports were nil.

The degree to which Health Canada will permit the importation of medical cannabis products for sale to Canadian patients in the future remains uncertain. At the very least, such importation would require proof that the products had been cultivated and processed to standards at least as stringent as the GPP standards imposed upon Canadian licensed processors.

Market Size

37.5 million people.

In the first year after legalization, sales of legal non-medical cannabis in Canada were nearly $908 Million, or $24 per capital.