The Cannabis Act: The Facts

Backgrounder

October 17, 2018

On October 17, 2018, the Cannabis Act came into force, legalizing, strictly regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The Act implements a new comprehensive public health approach that will be more effective in protecting youth and keeping profits out of the pockets of criminals and organized crime.

The Cannabis Act creates a legal and regulatory framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada. This framework was informed by the recommendations of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.

The Act:

  • restricts youth access to cannabis;
  • prohibits promotions that are designed to encourage youth to use cannabis;
  • imposes serious criminal penalties on people who break the law, especially those who import or export cannabis illegally, or provide cannabis to youth;
  • establishes strict product safety and quality requirements;
  • reduces the burden on the criminal justice system;
  • provides for the legal production of cannabis;
  • allows adults to possess and access regulated, quality-controlled, legal cannabis; and
  • enhances public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis.
What is legal now that the Cannabis Act has come into force?

Implementation of the new law is a shared responsibility between the federal, provincial and territorial governments. Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 18 or 19 years of age or older (depending on the province or territory) may legally:

  • purchase limited amounts of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil, cannabis seeds, or cannabis plants from retailers authorized by the provinces and territories;
  • possess up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form in public;
  • consume cannabis in locations authorized by local jurisdictions;
  • grow up to four cannabis plants per household (not per person) for personal use, from licensed seeds or seedlings from licensed suppliers;
  • share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent with other adults;
  • 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 are only able to legally purchase fresh or dried cannabis, cannabis oil, and seeds and plants for cultivation. Other products, such as edibles, will be permitted for legal sale within one year, at which time federal regulations for their production and sale will have been developed and brought into force.

The current framework for access to cannabis for medical purposes is continuing under the Cannabis Act, and will be reviewed by the Government of Canada within the next five years.

What remains illegal?

Possession, production, distribution and sale outside the legal system remains illegal and subject to criminal penalties proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, ranging from ticketing up to a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

Protecting youth

To further protect youth, the Cannabis Act prohibits anyone from selling or providing cannabis to any person under the age of 18 years. Provinces and territories have the ability to set a higher minimum age, such as 19 years of age.

The Cannabis Act creates two new criminal offences, with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail for:

  • giving or selling cannabis to youth; and
  • using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.
Any violations of the Act by youth would be dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. 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). Provinces and territories have the flexibility to prohibit the possession of any amount of cannabis by youth, thereby permitting police to seize any cannabis that a youth may possess. All provinces and territories will be including such prohibitions in their cannabis legislation.

To prevent youth from using cannabis, the Cannabis Act also prohibits:
  • products, promotions, packaging and labelling that are appealing to youth;
  • the sale of cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines;
  • promotion of cannabis, except in narrow circumstances where the promotion could not be seen by a young person; and
  • false, misleading or deceptive advertising, sponsorships, testimonials and endorsements or other forms of promotion that could entice young people to use cannabis.
Penalties for violating these prohibitions include a fine of up to $5 million, 3 years in jail, or both.

Impaired driving

As is the case today, driving while impaired by cannabis, or any other drug, is illegal. Law enforcement officers are trained to detect and deter drug-impaired drivers using Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and Drug Recognition Experts. Canada's drug-impaired driving laws have been strengthened. Changes include new “legal limit” drug offences for having specified levels of a drug in the blood within two hours of driving and additional tools to detect drug-impaired drivers. The Government is investing $274 million into law enforcement and border efforts to deter drug-impaired driving and enforce new laws and providing $81 million to provinces and territories. As of October 1, 2018, more than 13,000 law enforcement officers have been trained in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing and 833 officers have been certified as Drug Recognition Experts, and more officers are being trained on an ongoing basis.

Cannabis and international travel

Border rules have not changed. Taking cannabis, or any product containing cannabis, across Canada’s international borders, whether you are leaving or entering Canada, remains illegal and can result in serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad. That prohibition exists even with US states where cannabis is legal. You cannot bring cannabis into or take cannabis out of Canada.

Cannabis is illegal in most countries. Previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by local law, could result in a traveller being denied entry to his or her destination country.

Travellers are responsible for learning about the laws of the countries they intend to visit. See Travel.gc.ca’s Travel Advice and Advisories for information on your destination.

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

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.

In rare and exceptional circumstances, Health Canada may authorize and issue an exemption for an individual to bring cannabis into Canada across international borders for medical or scientific purposes on a case-by-case basis.

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