Backgrounder: Roles and Responsibilities


April 2017

The proposed Cannabis Act would create a strict national framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada. All levels of government in Canada would be able to establish certain requirements with respect to cannabis, consistent with their jurisdictional authorities and experience, which aligns with the advice of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.

Under the proposed Cannabis Act, the federal government would be responsible for establishing and maintaining a comprehensive and consistent national framework for regulating production, setting standards for health and safety, and establishing criminal prohibitions. More specifically, the federal government would be responsible for the following:

  • Establishing restrictions on adult access to cannabis, including purchasing through an appropriate framework, sourcing from a well-regulated industry, or growing safely in limited amounts at home;
  • Establishing serious criminal penalties for those operating outside the legal system, especially those who provide cannabis to youth;
  • Creating rules to limit how cannabis or cannabis accessories can be promoted, packaged, labelled and displayed, to protect youth;
  • Instituting a federal licensing regime for cannabis production that will set and enforce health and safety requirements and protect against the involvement of organized crime in the legal industry;
  • Establishing industry-wide rules on the types of products that will be allowed for sale, standardized serving sizes and potency, the use of certain ingredients and good production practices, as well as the tracking of cannabis from seed to sale to prevent diversion to the illicit market;
  • Creating minimum federal conditions that provincial and territorial legislation for distribution and retail sale would be required to meet, to ensure a reasonably consistent national framework to promote safety (e.g., adequate measures would need to be in place to prevent diversion, cannabis could not be sold to youth, and only legally produced cannabis could be sold);
  • Establishing the ability for the federal government to license distribution and sale in any province or territory that does not enact such legislation; and
  • Enforcing the law at the border, while maintaining the free flow of legitimate travel and trade.

The provinces and territories would license and oversee the distribution and sale of cannabis, subject to minimum federal conditions. Provinces and territories, together with municipalities, could also tailor certain rules in their own jurisdictions, and enforce them through a range of tools such as tickets. These rules may include:

  • Licensing the distribution and retail sale in their respective jurisdictions, and carrying out associated compliance and enforcement activities;
  • Setting additional regulatory requirements to address issues of local concern. For example, provinces and territories could set a higher minimum age or  more restrictive limits on possession or personal cultivation, including lowering the number of plants or restricting where it may be cultivated;
  • Establishing provincial and territorial zoning rules for cannabis-based businesses;
  • Restricting where cannabis may be consumed; and
  • Amending provincial and territorial traffic safety laws to address driving while impaired by cannabis (e.g., providing for 24-hour licence suspensions for adults or zero tolerance for young drivers).

Active involvement of provincial and territorial governments would be critical in helping to ensure that young people do not have access to cannabis and that those who sell outside the legal framework face stiff criminal penalties.

In Budget 2017, the federal government committed $9.6 million over five years to a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign and surveillance activities. As health is a shared responsibility between the federal and provincial and territorial governments, provinces and territories complement federal public health programming, including management of public health and safety issues, and school-based education and counselling.

The Government of Canada is committed to ongoing collaboration with the provinces and territories as it delivers on the commitment to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis. In addition to working with provinces and territories to establish a secure supply chain, the Government of Canada will work with provinces and territories to raise public awareness and educate Canadians about the risks associated with cannabis use, and to monitor the impacts of providing strictly controlled access to cannabis.


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