On June 19, 2018, the Canadian Senate voted in favour of the Federal Government’s Cannabis Act, paving the way for Royal Assent and legalization of cannabis in Canada. The legislation includes a provisional buffer period of eight to twelve weeks, which will provide provinces and territories the time necessary to address retail and distribution concerns. On June 20, 2018, Prime Minister Trudeau announced legalization would take effect on October 17, 2018.

While the federal legislation makes the purchase and consumption of recreational cannabis legal, the provinces and territories will retain jurisdiction over matters such as the retail model, distribution, public consumption and workplace safety.

Each province and territory has enacted legislation providing for a variety of models for retail and distribution. For example, in Ontario the province will manage the distribution and sale of cannabis through the government run Ontario Cannabis Store, with 40 stores expected to open over the summer of 2018. The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority has issued 51 permits in 32 communities to private retailers. Similarly, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will oversee distribution to private retailers. The B.C. model will allow sales through both privately run retail stores and government-operated stores.

This is an historic change that has broad implications for a number of areas of law, including occupational health and safety, impaired driving, labour and employment and regulation of the retail and distribution sector (especially in those jurisdictions with private retailers).