Federal, Provincial and Territorial Roles and Responsibilities


October 17, 2018

The Cannabis Act creates a strict national framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada. All levels of government in Canada are able to establish certain requirements with respect to cannabis, consistent with their jurisdictional authorities and experience.

Federal Government

Under the Cannabis Act, the federal government is responsible for:

  • legalizing and strictly regulating the production of cannabis,
  • setting standards for health and safety, and
  • establishing criminal prohibitions.

More specifically, the federal government is responsible for:

  • Establishing restrictions on adult access to cannabis, including purchasing through an appropriate legal framework, sourcing from a well-regulated industry, and growing 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 products can be promoted, packaged, labelled and displayed, to protect youth;
  • Instituting a federal licensing regime for cannabis production that sets and enforces health and safety requirements and protects 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;
  • Creating minimum federal conditions that provincial and territorial legislation for distribution and retail sale is required to meet, to ensure a reasonably consistent national framework to promote safety; and
  • Enforcing the law at the border, while maintaining the free flow of legitimate travel and trade.

In addition, the federal government is responsible for enacting criminal legislation, including the recent reforms to the Criminal Code regime pertaining to impaired driving, which created new offences, and authorizes the use of new tools to detect drug-impaired drivers.

Health Canada is responsible for managing the federal regulatory program for cannabis production. This includes:

  • granting licences to individuals or entities that want to produce legal cannabis,
  • setting and enforcing strict requirements for cannabis licence holders, and
  • maintaining a system for tracking and monitoring the high-level movements of cannabis through the supply chain from cultivator to processor to retailer to ensure that legally produced cannabis is not diverted to the illegal market.

The Government of Canada remains committed to ensuring that individuals who require cannabis for medical purposes have reasonable access to legal and quality-controlled products. The existing system for providing access to cannabis for medical purposes will continue to exist under the Cannabis Act.

Provinces and Territories

The provinces and territories are responsible for licensing and overseeing the distribution and sale of cannabis, subject to minimum federal conditions.

Provinces and territories, together with municipalities, may 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 cannabis may be cultivated;
  • Establishing provincial and territorial zoning rules for cannabis-based businesses;
  • Restricting where cannabis may be consumed;
  • Enforcing the criminal law, including the impaired driving provisions and provincial and territorial traffic safety laws; and
  • Creating offences for youth possession of any amount of cannabis.

Provincial and territorial governments play a critical role 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.

Collaboration among Governments

The Government of Canada will continue to work closely with provinces and territories to raise public awareness and inform Canadians about the risks associated with cannabis use, and to monitor the impacts of providing strictly controlled access to cannabis. To support this work, the Government of Canada has committed more than $100 million over six years for cannabis public education, awareness and surveillance. As health is a shared responsibility between the federal, 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.

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