Backgrounder: Legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis: the facts


April 2017

The proposed Cannabis Act would create a strict framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada. The proposed Cannabis Act is informed by the recommendations of the Task Force for Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.

The Act seeks to:

  • restrict youth access to cannabis
  • protect young people from promotion or enticements to use cannabis
  • deter and reduce criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties for those breaking the law, especially those who import or export cannabis, or provide cannabis to youth
  • protect public health through strict product safety and quality requirements
  • reduce the burden on the criminal justice system
  • provide for the legal production of cannabis to reduce illegal activities
  • allow adults to possess and access regulated, quality-controlled, legal cannabis
  • enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis

Currently, it is illegal to buy, sell, produce, import or export cannabis unless it is authorized under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations, such as the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations. The current program for access to cannabis for medical purposes would continue under the new Act.

Cannabis will remain illegal as the Bill moves through the legislative process. If it is approved by Parliament, the Bill could become law no later than July 2018.

Protecting Youth

The Government of Canada is committed to protecting young Canadians by keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth. Through the proposed Cannabis Act, the Government would restrict youth access to cannabis, put in place strict safeguards to protect youth from being encouraged to use cannabis, and create new offences for those adults who either sell cannabis to youth or use youth to commit a cannabis-related offence. The Government is also investing in a robust public education campaign to inform youth of the risks and harms of cannabis use.

The Government’s commitment recognizes that the current approach is not working. Canada has the highest rates of youth cannabis use of any country in the world. In 2015, use among youth aged 15 to 19 was 21%, while use among young adults aged 20 to 24 was 30%. Building on the recommendations of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, this legislation pursues a new approach that sets national standards and that will be more effective at protecting youth and reducing the role of the illegal market and organized crime.

Specifically, the proposed Cannabis Act prohibits anyone from selling or providing cannabis to any person under the age of 18. The provinces and territories would have the flexibility to raise the minimum age should they wish to do so.

In addition, the Act would create two new criminal offences, with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail for:

  • Giving or selling cannabis to youth
  • Using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence

To prevent youth from using cannabis, the proposed Act would also prohibit:

  • products that are appealing to youth
  • packaging or labelling cannabis in a way that makes it appealing to youth
  • selling cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines
  • promoting cannabis, except in narrow circumstances where the promotion could not be seen by a young person
  • false, misleading or deceptive advertising, sponsorships, testimonials and endorsements or other forms of promotion that could entice young people to use cannabis, and would establish limits on product branding

Penalties for violating these prohibitions include a fine of up to $5 million or 3 years in jail or both.

The proposed Act seeks to avoid criminalizing youth and avoid subjecting them to the lifelong consequences of a criminal record. Individuals under the age of 18 years would not face criminal prosecution for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis (up to 5 grams). Any violations of the Act by youth would be subject to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, recognizing the unique nature of the youth justice system. Provinces and territories would have the flexibility to prohibit the possession of any amount of cannabis by youth, thereby permitting police to seize any cannabis in the possession of a youth. 

These measures would complement a public education and awareness campaign informing Canadians, including youth, about the risks and harms of cannabis use. In Budget 2017, the Government committed $9.6 million over five years to a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign and surveillance activities.

The Government will monitor patterns of and perceptions around cannabis use amongst Canadians, especially youth, on an annual basis through the Canadian Cannabis Survey to inform and refine public education and awareness activities and to mitigate the risks and harms of use.

Protecting Public Health and Safety

The proposed Cannabis Act would protect public health and safety by:

  • setting rules for adults to access quality-controlled cannabis
  • creating a new, tightly regulated supply chain

Subject to approval by Parliament, the Government intends to bring the proposed Cannabis Act into force with a target date no later than July 2018. At that time, adults who are 18 years old or older would be able to legally:

  • possess up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form when in public
  • share up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis with other adults
  • purchase dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially regulated retailer
    • in those provinces that have not put in place a regulated retail framework, individuals would be able to purchase cannabis online from a federally licensed producer with secure home delivery through the mail or by courier
  • grow up to 4 cannabis plants per residence (not per person) for personal use, from licensed seeds or seedlings supplier, with each plant not to exceed 1 metre in height
  • make legal cannabis-containing products at home, such as food and drinks, provided that dangerous organic solvents are not used in making them

Initially, adults would be able to legally purchase fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis oils, and seeds or plants for cultivation. Other products, such as edibles, would be made available at a later date, once federal regulations for their production and sale have been developed and brought into force.

To deter criminal activity and to protect the health and safety of Canadians, the Government is committed to ensuring that there is a safe, legal and controlled supply of cannabis available for sale when the Act comes into force, subject to approval by Parliament.

Possession, production, distribution and sale outside the legal system would remain illegal and be subject to criminal penalties proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, ranging from ticketing up to a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment. The current program for access to cannabis for medical purposes would continue under the new Act.

Importing and Exporting Cannabis

Under the proposed Cannabis Act, it will remain illegal to import into Canada, or export from Canada, cannabis and cannabis products without a valid permit issued by the Government of Canada.

As is the case today, permits may be issued for certain limited purposes: medical and scientific cannabis or industrial hemp. The Canada Border Services Agency and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will continue to work together and with local police to uphold laws governing the illegal cross-border movement of cannabis.

Travellers, mail, courier and commercial shipments will continue to be subject to the Customs Act and examined for prohibited goods, including cannabis and cannabis products.

The unauthorized international cross-border movement of cannabis remains a serious criminal offence, and will be subject to enforcement up to and including criminal investigation and prosecution (which could result in a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for conviction on indictment).


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