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Everything you wanted to know about cannabis legalization but forgot to ask

When can I buy it?

We’re not sure. Probably late summer or early autumn.

The government had intended for recreational marijuana use to be legalized by 1 July 2018. Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, passed its third reading in the House of Commons last fall, and Trudeau has emphasised that it will be implemented without delay.

But the bill is still under scrutiny in the Senate, which has repeatedly threatened to send it back to the House for amendment. Some indigenous leaders have also expressed concern that the act does not allow them to regulate or ban the sale of pot on their land as they can with alcohol, and that – in violation of section 35 of the constitution – they were never consulted about these legislative changes. Both challenges could delay legalization until parliament’s fall sitting.

But whenever legalization does occur, don’t expect to rush out and buy anything that day. The government anticipates a two or three-month transition period before cannabis may be legally bought or sold.

Where can I buy it?

Because the details of legalization have fallen to the provinces, that depends on where you are in Canada. In Alberta, recreational cannabis will be widely available at more than 200 private retailers across the province, while in Ontario it will be carefully curated at only 40 state-run shops. Most of the other provinces are a blend of these two approaches; in Newfoundland and Labrador, you will be able to buy weed at Loblaws’ grocery stores. Few of the country’s suddenly ubiquitous (and illegal) marijuana dispensaries are likely to survive the transition to licensed retailing.

How will I know what I’m buying?

Health Canada guidelines stipulate that packaging has to list all the information a consumer needs to make an informed decision, including the name of the producer, the name of the marijuana strain, and its THC/CBD content. This includes a large disclaimer about the health risks associated with pot. For maximum safety, product packaging is designed to be so terrifyingly bland that no one would ever accidentally mistake its contents for something fun.

Kiva Confections sells chocolate cannabis products at the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo



Kiva Confections sells chocolate cannabis products at the Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in 2015 Photograph: Alyssa Schukar for the Guardian

How much weed can I have?

Adults are allowed to carry up to 30g of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a “public space”, which means that’s all you can buy at any one time. Note that “public space” includes your personal vehicle. If you’re caught out in public with more than 30g, you can face up to five years in prison.

Can I bake it into brownies?

You are free to consume your marijuana recreationally in any manner you see fit, so long as you keep it away from children. (New Brunswick will also require you to store your weed in a locked room or container, not unlike a firearm.)

But you won’t be able to buy pre-made edibles or other marijuana extracts until exactly one year after the Cannabis Act comes into effect, sometime in 2019.

Can I drive high?

No! This is a bad idea for a number of reasons, foremost being that it is both dangerous and illegal. Under the Liberals’ proposed inclusion of stoned driving under the Criminal Code, Bill C-46, THC levels of 5 nanograms per millilitre of blood are penalized in three tiers: a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first offence; minimum 30 days imprisonment for a second offence; and a minimum of 120 days in jail for the third and any subsequent offenses. These penalties get significantly steeper if you maim or kill anybody, from two years to life behind bars. Less than 5ng but more than 2.5ng will face a fine of up to $1,000.

Proving marijuana impairment is more difficult. Unlike booze, there is no breathalyzer for pot, nor is there a clear consensus about how high is too high to drive. Alcohol is metabolized at a standard rate, but THC impacts users differently depending on their age, genetic background, size, history of use and method of ingestion, and remains detectable in urine for days, weeks or months after.

Currently, police officers can only order a standardized field sobriety test to drivers who they suspect may be intoxicated. If the driver fails, they can demand a further 12-step drug recognition expert evaluation, who then gauges impairment and orders further blood or saliva tests. C-46 would grant them the power to do mandatory breathalyzer testing on any lawfully stopped car, and they can demand roadside testing of oral fluid if they suspect a driver is high. They can also preemptively demand blood samples if they order a DRE evaluation. (It is worth mentioning that a CBC investigation found DRE testing was unscientific, roughly as accurate as a coin flip and prone to false arrests.)

C-46 would also increase maximum sentencing for impaired driving offenses, from a minimum of 14 years to life in prison in cases causes bodily harm or death. These heightened penalties mean impaired driving offenses now fall under the category of “serious criminality” in Canadian law. This means foreign nationals with a previous conviction can be barred from entering the country, and permanent residents in Canada charged with a single impaired driving offense could potentially face deportation.

Driving high is not the worth the risk.

I live in a rural area and my neighbour wants to buy a couple grams from me to save a trip to town. Is that OK?

Absolutely not. Unless you are a licensed retailer, it is illegal for one adult to sell cannabis to another. Anyone found selling marijuana without a license will face fines up to $5,000 or up to 14 years in prison. You are, however, allowed to freely share your drugs with your friends.

Can I give some to the bright and earnest 16-year old next door in desperate need of escape from their broken home and/or crushing suburban ennui?

Providing a minor with even so much as the shake from the bottom of your bag risks you a $5,000 fine, or up to 14 years in jail.

Can I grow my own?

Federal guidelines allow recreational users to grow up to four plants per household, up to a metre tall. Most provinces have acceded to this suggestion, with some (like British Columbia) stipulating that the plants must be grown in a secure location out of public view.

In Manitoba and Quebec, however, home growing is illegal. Landlords in some provinces are also pushing for the right to ban tenants from growing cannabis in their rental properties.

Also: do not move your plants while they’re budding or flowering! Appearing in a public space with a blooming cannabis plant nets you a fine up to $5,000, or five years behind bars.

Can I smoke weed at work?

Your employer has final authority on drug policy in the workplace. Legalization isn’t anarchy. If you can’t stagger into work after a liquid lunch at the pub, don’t expect to spark a spliff on your smoke break.

(The rules are different if you use medicinal cannabis. Employers are required by law to accommodate medicinal users the same as they would anyone else with a disability or medical condition requiring prescription drugs. This rarely implies carte blanche to smoke on the job, however. Consult your employer for details.)

Can I smoke in my house?

Marijuana faces most of the same restrictions as public smoking, with additional proscriptions against public intoxication. In many parts of Canada, your home may be the only place you can legally smoke pot in peace.

Unless you’re renting. Many provinces (including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario) are moving to grant landlords the power to ban smoking weed in their residences as part of the lease, in the same way that they can ban tobacco.

A man smoking marijuana in Toronto at an event supporting cannabis legalization on 20 April.



Once legalized, adults are allowed to carry up to 30g of dried cannabis in a ‘public space’. Photograph: Arindam Banerjee/REX/Shutterstock

Does legalization mean amnesty for those who have previous convictions for marijuana-related crimes?

Justin Trudeau has admitted to smoking pot as a sitting MP, and said last year that his father’s connections had allowed his brother Michel to escape marijuana charges. Because the prime minister acutely recognizes the systemic injustice of pot incarceration in Canada – black and indigenous peoples are disproportionately imprisoned for minor drug offences – there is tremendous pressure on Trudeau to grant amnesty to those convicted of pot-related offences once the drug is legalized.

But while the government is considering amnesty for simple possession charges, it has expressed little interest in pardoning anyone convicted of trafficking. Given that marijuana arrests have continued during the process of legalization, there does not appear to be much appetite for amnesty at this time.

Will I be able to travel to the US if I smoke legal pot in Canada?

This can get dicey. Although a number of US states have legalized recreational marijuana, it remains illegal at the federal level. This means border agents can deny passage to anyone they suspect of participating in the use, production or distribution of marijuana anywhere in the US, including states where it is legal.

Once pot is legal in Canada, recreational marijuana consumption will no longer be grounds for US border agents to refuse admission. But they can revoke entry to anyone who admits to (or is found) having used or possessed pot prior to the end of prohibition. And given that the drug remains illegal under US federal law, they can permanently bar Canadians from the country as drug traffickers if they suspect a professional connection to the legitimized marijuana industry.

Will Canada be liberalizing any other drug laws?

No. Although the Young Liberals may have passed a resolution calling for decriminalizing drug use at the Liberals’ 2018 policy convention, Justin Trudeau is adamant that his government is done with rescheduling controlled substances. Not even a visit from the Portugese prime minister to extol the virtues of decriminalization could change his mind.

Full story is available here.

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