Ontario’s path towards cannabis regulation took another step forward on July 12, 2017, as the Ontario provincial government released a consultation paper seeking input on how the province should approach cannabis legalization. The consultation paper comes on the heels of the introduction of the federal government’s Cannabis Act in April 2017 (see our April 13, 2017 Blakes Bulletin: Federal Government Introduces Cannabis Legislation), which seeks to legalize cannabis use across Canada by July 1, 2018.
The Ontario government is requesting feedback by July 31 by way of an online survey or via e-mail or mail for more specific input on the consultation paper.
Recreational cannabis in Canada will be regulated both federally and provincially. The federal government’s Cannabis Act and related regulations will govern the production, sale and possession of cannabis (with other federal legislation handling related criminal matters), while individual provinces and territories will be required, among other things, to regulate how cannabis will be distributed and sold within their boundaries. The Ontario policy development process for cannabis is being led by a secretariat within the Ministry of the Attorney General.
The consultation paper, among other things, identifies the province’s underlying priorities with respect to cannabis regulation, as public health, road safety and harm prevention. It also seeks feedback and input on how Ontario should approach cannabis legalization specifically with respect to five key areas identified in the paper. Those areas are as follows:
1. Distribution of Cannabis
The retail distribution of recreational cannabis reflects the high level of interaction between federal and provincial regulation. While machine dispensation and the sale of cannabis produced other than through a licensed producer (e.g., sale of homegrown, illegal or imported cannabis) would be prohibited under the proposed federal Cannabis Act, provinces will be responsible for developing a regulatory structure surrounding the sale and distribution of cannabis at a retail level. In any province that does not provide a regulatory regime for distribution, the federal mail-order distribution rules used for medical marijuana will continue to apply.
The Ontario government makes clear in the consultation paper that it is working towards developing a regulatory structure in the province, but the paper does not specify whether the distribution of cannabis will be run by a public institution (as the Liquor Control Board of Ontario runs the sale of alcohol in Ontario), by licensees in the private sector, or by some hybrid model. The government’s emphasis on public health and harm reduction makes it less likely that an open-ended private sector distribution or dispensary system will be used. The consultation paper specifically asks who should be permitted to sell and distribute cannabis in Ontario and what sort of regulatory structure should surround a future cannabis distribution industry in Ontario.
2. Permitted Locations for Use of Cannabis
The proposed federal Cannabis Act extends certain federal limits on smoking to cover cannabis, including identifying certain locations where cannabis use would not be permitted, such as federally regulated places. Provinces and municipalities may place further restrictions on where cannabis could be used, as they currently do for tobacco and alcohol.
Consequently, the Ontario government is seeking feedback on whether there are specific public locations around which cannabis use should not be permitted, and specifically, whether landlords and property managers should be able to restrict their tenants or condominium owners from using cannabis on their properties or specific locations (e.g., common areas in condominiums).
3. Minimum Age Requirements
If passed in its proposed form, the Cannabis Act would set the minimum age in Canada for recreational cannabis possession, use and purchasing at 18 years of age. However, each province and territory would have the capacity to set a higher age within their jurisdiction if they so choose.
As a result, the Ontario government is seeking input as to the important factors it should consider in setting a minimum age and whether the minimum age for recreational cannabis should be higher than 18 in Ontario. It seems highly likely that Ontario will follow its 19-year-old threshold for alcohol and tobacco with respect to cannabis.
4. Cannabis and Driving
Federal legislation proposes to introduce certain new offences, rules and regulations related to driving under the influence of drugs by way of proposed drug-impaired driving legislation. The Ontario government is seeking input on whether Ontario should introduce further measures related to mitigating safety-related consequences of driving under the influence of cannabis and the best ways to promote road safety and how to prioritize its resources.
5. Public Education on Cannabis Use
Finally, the Ontario government is seeking input on how to educate the public regarding the impact and consequences of recreational cannabis use.
The consultation regarding the regulatory structure surrounding the sale and distribution of cannabis should attract significant attention from businesses interested in the cannabis sector. Interested parties can provide general feedback by completing an online survey and can provide more specific input on the consultation paper via e-mail or mail. All feedback must be received by July 31, 2017, and the results of the consultation will be reported in the fall of 2017.
The Ontario government will also host a series of expert forums and information sessions this summer on the potential impacts of cannabis legalization.
Those looking to communicate with public office holders regarding the development of cannabis policy should carefully consider their obligations under applicable lobbying laws, and in particular should consider whether they will be required to register under the Ontario Lobbyists Registration Act if they engage in communication on this subject matter.