Cannabis legalization in Canada

While legalization is a federal decision, the provinces and municipalities have areas of responsibility.

Proposed federal legislation

On April 13, 2017, the Government of Canada introduced legislation to legalize, regulate and restrict access to cannabis. This legislation is expected to come into effect by July 2018.

Cannabis is currently an illegal substance (with the exception of authorized medical use) under the federal Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

The federal legislation would:

  • allow adults to possess up to 30 grams of legally-produced cannabis
  • allow adults to grow up to four cannabis plants per household
  • set the minimum age for purchase and use at 18 years of age, with the option for provinces to increase the age limit
  • enable a regulatory regime for the licensed production of cannabis, which would be controlled by the federal government
  • enable a regulatory regime for the distribution and sale of cannabis, which would be controlled by the provincial government
  • establish new provisions to address drug-impaired driving, as well as making several changes to the overall legal framework to address alcohol impaired driving

Learn more:

Role of provinces

While legalization is a federal decision, provinces and municipalities have been given areas of responsibility.

Table 1: Jurisdictional responsibilities

Activity Responsible
Federal Provincial Municipal
Possession limits ** Yes No No
Trafficking Yes No No
Advertisement & packaging ** Yes No No
Impaired driving Yes Yes No
Medical cannabis Yes No No
Seed-to-sale tracking system Yes No No
Production (cultivation and processing) Yes No No
Age limit (federal minimum) ** Yes No No
Public health Yes Yes No
Education Yes Yes Yes
Taxation Yes Yes Yes
Home cultivation (growing plants at home) ** Yes No No
Workplace safety No Yes No
Distribution and wholesaling No Yes No
Retail model No Yes No
Retail location and rules No Yes Yes
Regulatory compliance Yes Yes No
Public consumption No Yes Yes
Land use/zoning No No Yes

** provinces will have the ability to strengthen legislation for these areas under federal jurisdiction

Alberta’s plan for action

The Government of Alberta has an obligation and an opportunity to actively shape how the province will adapt to cannabis legalization in a way that best suits Albertans’ needs, circumstances and values.

There is no perfect approach for legalized cannabis in Alberta. In many areas, our engagement with Albertans discovered that people were split in their opinions, and we recognize that there is no one clear strategy that will encompass the opinions and concerns of all Albertans.

We are recommending this approach as an entry point, and we will closely monitor all aspects of it as the system unfolds. There will be much to learn immediately after the system is put in place, and we will continuously improve what works and make changes to what doesn’t.

To that end, we will remain focused on our four policy priorities:

  1. Keeping cannabis out of the hands of children
  2. Protecting public health
  3. Promoting safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces
  4. Limiting the illegal market for cannabis

We will use these priorities as a plan for action from which we can measure our success in the long run.

1. Keeping cannabis away from children

Our approach to legalization aims to reduce the risks of cannabis use by youth by deterring them from consuming it. This includes setting a minimum age of 18. While we know some people under 18 will continue to use cannabis, we may deter some from trying it and thereby help protect them from health risks associated with the consumption of cannabis by young people.

We will take a zero tolerance approach to possession of cannabis by those under 18, using sanctions such as fines for youth who possess five grams or less. Possession above that limit will be a criminal offence.

We will also target public education to children and youth, focusing on both the health effects and the risks of buying from the illicit market (including exposure to unsafe products, unknown potencies and other illegal drugs). Similar to public awareness for alcohol, public education will also target parents, who may be a source for cannabis for some youth.

Our approach limits youth access to cannabis by:

  • banning public consumption in areas frequented by children
  • setting the minimum age for purchase, consumption and possession at 18
  • ensuring that all cannabis grown for personal use is grown indoors
  • setting location restrictions with buffers that keep retail locations for cannabis away from schools, daycares and community centres
  • requiring that all staff at retail locations are of legal age, and are properly educated and trained to sell cannabis, including always checking to make sure purchasers are legal age
  • doing further investigation on how online sales and home delivery can reliably confirm the recipient’s age
  • working with other governments and external partners to prepare public education and awareness targeted to young people and parents regarding the health risks and harms of cannabis use in youth

2. Protecting public health

Our approach to legalizing cannabis includes significant efforts to continue protecting the health and well-being of all Albertans from the potential risks of cannabis consumption. This includes short-term consequences such as effects on memory, attention and motor function. While we don’t yet have in-depth knowledge about long-term effects, some of the risks we do know about include testicular cancer, mental health problems and poor outcomes in pregnancy.

Other negative health consequences may come from frequent use, consumption of higher potency products, co-use with alcohol or tobacco, drug-impaired driving, violence related to the illicit market, unsafe products and exposure to other more harmful illicit substances. Albertans also told us they were concerned about risks associated with second-hand smoke and the potential for increased pressures on our hospitals and health care systems.

Certain groups are also more at risk, including children and youth, and pregnant women whose children could experience adverse cognitive and behavioural outcomes through their mother’s cannabis use.

Our recommended approach considers that public health is a priority and takes action to protect the health of Albertans by:

  • providing government oversight of distribution of legally produced cannabis products
  • restricting the consumption of cannabis in public to spaces where tobacco smoking is also allowed, and adding further restrictions to protect the health of children and limit the public’s exposure to cannabis and second-hand smoke
  • working with other governments and industry to develop public education and awareness campaigns to educate people about the risks of cannabis use, and in particular, to vulnerable groups, including children, youth and pregnant women
  • undertaking public education to discourage the use of cannabis with other substances, such as alcohol, tobacco and other drugs
  • ensuring retail outlets have point-of-purchase material that promotes responsible use and education about health risks to be in place wherever cannabis is sold
  • not allowing for cannabis to be sold in the same place as alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals

3. Promoting safe roads, workplaces and public spaces

Impairment is impairment, whether it’s by alcohol, cannabis or other drugs. Our approach recognizes that Albertans are concerned that legalizing cannabis could potentially increase impaired driving and impairment at work. Neither are new issues, but both are dangerous – not only for the person who is impaired, but for all Albertans who are put at risk because of these actions.

We have a system in place to deal with impairment. With cannabis legalization, we will review all aspects of the system to ensure those tools can also address impairment by cannabis, and we will work with workplaces and law enforcement to put in place any new tools required.

The safety of Albertans on our roads and in workplaces and public spaces is a priority, and our approach takes action to address impairment and public safety by:

  • banning drivers and passengers from consuming cannabis in vehicles
  • working with the transportation sector, law enforcement and the justice system to review the current system for impaired driving and make the changes necessary to address the legalization of cannabis
  • introducing new tools to expand the ability of police to address drug-impaired driving
  • deterring young people from consuming cannabis and driving by expanding current zero tolerance to include cannabis for young and graduated drivers
  • working with the federal government to train and equip law enforcement
  • developing promotional materials and undertaking public education and awareness about drug-impaired driving
  • working with industry and labour to assess current workplace rules to address impairment at work

4. Limiting the illegal market

Our approach recognizes that reducing the illicit market for cannabis is one of the goals of legalization. Other than approved sales for medical use, cannabis has only been available illegally in Canada.

Experience with legalized cannabis around the world indicates that it is unlikely any province can eliminate the illicit market completely. But the decisions Albertans make today — especially about how cannabis will be sold and used in the future — can go a long way to reduce criminal activity and limit access to those who are legally allowed to buy and use it. An opportunity exists to address the issue of the illicit market and reduce its presence in our society.

To that end, our approach includes actions to further protect Albertans from the effects of the illicit market by:

  • establishing a distribution system where government has oversight over products coming into our province from licensed producers
  • providing access for adults to purchase legal cannabis through retail outlets
  • allowing adults to grow up to four plants indoors at home for personal use, using seeds purchased from a cannabis retailer
    • This will reduce the need for consumers in more remote and rural areas to purchase cannabis from the illicit market because they are not near a retail location
  • promoting awareness and public education about the risks and dangers of buying from illicit market