Cannabis legalization – What we heard

Albertans shared their feedback on cannabis legalization in Alberta through extensive public engagement in summer and fall of 2017.


The federal government passed legislation to legalize cannabis in Canada. Provinces and territories could decide how to adapt the legislation.

The Alberta government held extensive public and stakeholder engagement from June to October 2017, to gather Albertans' input on what a system for legalized cannabis could look like for our province. More than:

  • 60,000 Albertans shared their input through online, telephone and in-person surveys, participation in focus groups and in hundreds of written submissions.
  • 100 organizations attended stakeholder meetings

Input gathered during the first round of engagement in June and July helped inform the draft Alberta Cannabis Framework, which was released Oct. 4, 2017.

During the second round of engagement, Albertans were invited to read the draft framework and participate in a second online survey. More than three-quarters of online respondents said they believed the framework was reasonable and overwhelmingly supported the policy priorities on which it was based.

After Bill 26: An Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis was released in November 2017, additional stakeholders, municipalities, licensed producers, potential retailers and law enforcement were invited to participate in a third round of engagement.

Phase 3 stakeholder engagement summary

A number of stakeholder engagement sessions were held to discuss regulatory aspects of the legislation and discuss next steps. Below is a summary of what was heard.


  • Municipalities requested that regulations be flexible so that they can be tailored to best suit the needs of each individual community.
  • Some stakeholders expressed a concern about jurisdictional responsibilities, and wanted to receive clarity from the government.
  • All municipalities expressed concerns around timelines and enforcement.

Current industry and potential industry stakeholders

  • Stakeholders from various backgrounds were invited to participate in a roundtable on Jan. 4, 2018 to give feedback on proposed ideas for retail regulations.
  • Stakeholders in attendance included those currently in the medical cannabis space, those currently operating in other retail spaces, potential cannabis retailers, associations and municipalities.
  • Topics included who could work in a retail store, where stores could be located and how stores would operate.
  • Stakeholders were supportive of strong security requirements and of background checks of staff, but some potential retailers were concerned with the application process timeframes, and of the AGLC physically warehousing product for distribution.
  • Most stakeholders also supported a flexible buffer regulation that allows municipalities to adjust them to best suits their own communities.

Law enforcement

  • Police identified they were concerned about organized crime infiltrating legal retail locations. They particularly highlighted:
    • concerns around illicit cannabis entering the legal system to be sold
    • risks around shipping/transportation as a place for infiltration of organized crime
  • Law enforcement supports a tiered approach to background checks, with those in higher positions requiring more scrutiny.
  • In terms of physical stores, they would like to see security regulations meet or exceed what is currently required for liquor stores or pharmacies.
  • They suggested mandatory photo ID checks of all customers; a minimum of 40-days retention requirement for CCTV footage; enough staff on duty to discourage shoplifting; and robust inventory tracking.
  • There are a number of outstanding questions for them, including how additional court costs will be handled.

Phase 2 engagement summary

A summary of the results from the public and stakeholder engagements are broken down as follows:

For detailed results, see Alberta Cannabis Legislation: Detailed Engagement Report

For information on engagement methodology, please contact the Alberta Cannabis Secretariat at [email protected].

Policy objectives

A strong majority of Albertans agreed that the 4 policy priorities government identified as foundational to its decision making are consistent with their personal priorities for cannabis legalization. The policy priorities are:

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

Survey response

How consistent are these 4 provincial priorities with your personal priorities for cannabis legalization?

  • 56% - very consistent
  • 25% - somewhat consistent
  • 6% - neither consistent nor inconsistent
  • 5% - somewhat inconsistent
  • 7% - very inconsistent

Telephone data, June 2017

Online participants were asked about any other topics they considered priorities. Their other suggestions included:

  • public health considerations (risk of second-hand smoke, increased strain on mental health programs, need for public education, need for more addictions research)
  • the need to recognize medical use
  • the need for enforcement
  • economic (revenue) considerations
  • calls to not legalize
  • fear of increased use
  • recommendations to treat cannabis like alcohol or tobacco
  • concerns about the smell

Minimum age

In the initial surveys, Albertans were asked for feedback on the most appropriate model for setting the minimum age for access to cannabis in Alberta. Options included:

  • establishing a national age
  • matching the legal age for tobacco and alcohol
  • setting a higher age unique to cannabis

Of those who provided an opinion on a specific legal age, a majority supported matching the legal age for tobacco and alcohol. The majority of Albertans who took part in the face-to-face (intercept) surveys across the province and the telephone poll also supported matching the legal age for cannabis to the legal age for drinking or smoking.

After the draft cannabis framework was released in October, the majority of respondents to the online and telephone surveys agreed with 18 as the minimum age, validating the proposed decision to align the legal age for cannabis with the legal age for alcohol and tobacco.

Stakeholders were somewhat more split.

Many stakeholders agreed that aligning the legal age for purchase and consumption of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis made sense, as society recognizes that 18 is the age when adult decisions are made in Alberta.

However, some stakeholders, especially those in the health sector, felt that 21 would be a more appropriate minimum age, and a compromise between 18 and 25, because of the risks cannabis poses to the health and brain development of young people.

Many stakeholders also suggested that increasing the drinking age for the same reason should be considered. It should be noted that, of the online respondents who did not agree with 18 as the minimum age, their concerns echoed the stakeholders’ concerns about brain development of young people.

In all stakeholder discussions, it was acknowledged that if the minimum age is set too high, young people would likely continue to access the illicit market.

Survey responses

Which option is the most appropriate model for setting the minimum age for access to cannabis in Alberta?

  • 11% - a national cannabis age would be best
  • 54% - should match our drinking and smoking age (18 years old)
  • 34% - should be higher than our drinking and smoking age
  • 1% - don't know / not sure / no opinion

Telephone data, June 2017

Starting in July 2018, the minimum age for legally purchasing and possessing cannabis in Alberta will be 18.

  • 33% - very reasonable
  • 32% - somewhat reasonable
  • 11% - somewhat unreasonable
  • 23% - very unreasonable
  • 1% - don't know / no opinion

Telephone data, Oct 2017

Using cannabis in public

Albertans were asked for their thoughts about the public consumption of cannabis. The majority of survey respondents (online, telephone and face-to-face) who participated in the initial engagement process over the summer of 2017 felt people should be allowed to use cannabis products in some public spaces outside of their homes.

Most also believed that limitations on public consumption should be the same for all forms of cannabis.

Participants at stakeholder meetings had a range of opinions – including limiting use only to personal residences, treating it like alcohol where it can only be used at home or in licensed establishments, or following the same public consumption rules as for smoking tobacco.

There was also support by participants in the online and face-to-face surveys for similar rules to be in place for smoking or vaping cannabis as there are currently for tobacco use.

In the online and telephone surveys, most respondents agreed with cannabis consumption (in all forms) in specialized licensed bars, lounges and cannabis cafes, and in areas where smoking tobacco is currently allowed.

Again, stakeholders had mixed views: some supported establishing cannabis cafes and lounges as a means to reduce the illegal market, while others feared cafes or lounges would increase consumption and incidents of impaired driving, and potentially renormalize smoking.

After the release of the draft cannabis framework in October, respondents in both online and telephone surveys overwhelmingly supported the proposed approach for consumption of cannabis products in public spaces limiting cannabis use to places where tobacco use is allowed and restricting its use in areas frequented by children.

And a clear majority of online respondents also supported delaying the opening of cafes or lounges where cannabis consumption would be allowed.

Stakeholders also advocated for the need for public education with respect to where cannabis could be consumed.

Survey responses

People should be allowed to use cannabis in some spaces outside the home.

  • 26% - strongly agree
  • 31% - somewhat agree
  • 3% - neither agree nor disagree
  • 9% - somewhat disagree
  • 30% - strongly disagree

Telephone data, June 2017

In an effort to protect children and limit second-hand exposure for all Albertans, public consumption of cannabis in Alberta will be restricted any place where tobacco is restricted, as well as outdoor areas frequented by children, hospital and school properties, and in vehicles.

  • 71% - very reasonable
  • 17% - somewhat reasonable
  • 3% - somewhat unreasonable
  • 7% - very unreasonable
  • 2% - don't know / no opinion

Telephone data, Oct 2017

Growing at home

Proposed federal legislation will allow adults to grow up to 4 plants at home for personal use.

Of those surveyed over the summer, a majority agreed that government should set rules defining where cannabis can be grown on private property.

After seeing the draft cannabis framework, this support continued with a majority of Albertans supporting restricting the growing of plants to indoors only, which would include growing in a contained and secure greenhouse.

Stakeholders held split opinions on home cultivation – some felt that growing cannabis at home, either inside or outside, would go directly against the policy objective of keeping cannabis out of the hands of children and youth, giving them easy access, and expressed concern about the levels of moisture and mold that may occur, particularly in rental or multi-family dwellings.

Others felt that growing cannabis was simply like growing any other plant at home, noting that it is not psychoactive until it is dried, and that homeowners need to take proper precautions for securing the plants and using good growing practices to avoid mold in the home, as they would be expected to do with any type of indoor plant.

Survey responses

Should Alberta consider defining where cannabis can be grown on private property (e.g., in a secured structure versus anywhere on the property, including in the garden or yard)?

  • 62% - provincial or local government needs to define if the plants need to be secured or not
  • 37% - owner of the property should decide if the plants need to be secured or not
  • 2% - don't know / not sure / no opinion

Telephone data, June 2017

Under federal legislation, adults will be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants per household for personal use. Alberta will not allow these plants to be grown outside the home in a backyard or garden where children and youth would have easy access.

  • 45% - very reasonable
  • 25% - somewhat reasonable
  • 9% - somewhat unreasonable
  • 19% - very unreasonable
  • 2% - don't know / no opinion

Telephone data, Oct 2017

Purchasing cannabis

Albertans were asked for their feedback on how cannabis should be distributed in Alberta and sold to consumers. This included asking about who should own and operate regulated retail locations in our province; setting retail rules; and if we should allow online sales and home delivery of cannabis products.

The majority of respondents to the online survey said there should be some form of government oversight of distribution, although they were split between government-owned distribution and government-licensed private distributors.

Many respondents in all surveys (online, telephone and face-to-face), as well as many stakeholders, supported a model where government would regulate and oversee privately owned retail outlets.

Some stakeholders were concerned that if government does not allow private retail, it would create room for the illegal market to grow. Others believed the government should look at the current system for accessing medical cannabis online as an example, or consider a public retail model.

After the draft cannabis framework was released, respondents in both the online and telephone surveys continued to be split in their opinions regarding the retail model. This remained the case even when respondents were presented with additional information about potential financial impacts about either system, as well as black market impacts and impacts on product variety.

In the online and telephone surveys, there was majority support for specialized retail outlets that only sell cannabis and related products. And while a majority of telephone survey respondents said there should not be online sales or home delivery of cannabis products, there was no consensus among online survey respondents.

Some stakeholders also talked about looking to other models as examples, such as the pharmaceutical distribution model and the distribution and retail model in place for alcohol.

Stakeholders expressed differing opinions on the retail model when asked – many of those in the health sector felt that a publicly run model would be better able to take a public health approach to cannabis.

Several stakeholders in the current medical cannabis industry advocated for a private retail model, citing existing expertise within the industry, and the potential for economic development and diversification in Alberta.

Stakeholders supported rules against co-location of cannabis with alcohol, pharmaceuticals, and tobacco.

Online survey respondents were asked about rules and regulations for cannabis stores.

A strong majority supported restricting access to minors and requiring mandatory training for staff who work in cannabis stores.

There was also majority support for regulating where stores can be located, the number of stores in any given area, and co-location of other products in cannabis stores. As well, there was overwhelming support for restricting consumption of cannabis in retail stores.

Survey responses

Who should own and operate retail cannabis outlets in Alberta?

  • 59% - private retailers run the stores with government setting the rules and providing licences
  • 37% - government owns and operates the stores
  • 5% - don't know / not sure / no opinion

Telephone data, June 2017

Which type of cannabis store do you lean towards?

  • 58% - privately operated stores with government oversight and distribution
  • 42% - government-owned stores

Telephone data, Oct 2017

Public safety

Albertans were asked if they thought Alberta should establish additional rules and restrictions that go beyond what the federal government is proposing in relation to drug-impaired driving and drug impairment in the workplace.

Almost all Albertans who participated in the online survey and telephone survey in the summer supported zero tolerance for any drugs for new drivers and drivers under 18, just like there is now for alcohol. This was also the case among participants in the stakeholder meetings. This high level of support continued after the draft framework was released.

A majority of survey participants also believed that government should introduce new legislation to keep Alberta’s roads safe from drug-impaired driving, including banning cannabis in vehicles, immediate roadside licence suspension and temporarily seizing an impaired driver’s vehicle if the driver is found to be under the influence of drugs.

They also supported government giving police more tools to deal with drug-impaired driving, including administrative sanctions. Some survey participants expressed concern with accurately assessing impairment due to cannabis consumption.

Stakeholders said that cannabis-impaired driving should be treated by law enforcement the same as alcohol-impaired driving, and most agreed that demerits should be considered for cannabis-impaired drivers, as well as escalating penalties.

Stakeholders also said they would like to learn more about the tools the federal government would be introducing to identify cannabis impairment. Stakeholders also emphasized the need for ongoing funding and research to develop better tools to determine impairment from drugs.

When asked about recreational cannabis use in the workplace, most participants said it should be treated the same as alcohol and should not be allowed, and that more should be done to keep workers and workplaces safe once cannabis is legalized.

Survey responses

Should the province consider additional rules to discourage drug-impaired driving, in addition to what the federal government has proposed?

  • 93% - zero tolerance
  • 74% - driver's licence suspension
  • 71% - vehicle impoundment

Does the introduction of legal cannabis require more to be done to keep workers and workplaces safe?

  • 50% - definitely
  • 27% - probably
  • 14% - probably not
  • 7% - definitely not
  • 1% - don't know / not sure / no opinion

Telephone data, June 2017

Economic implications

In the online survey conducted between June and July 2017, Albertans shared their input on the potential implications cannabis may hold for economic development across various industries.

Stakeholders were also asked about the potential for economic diversification the legalization of cannabis presents.

Most stakeholders agreed that legalized cannabis could bring economic development opportunities, including in agriculture, as Alberta has a climate conducive to producing cannabis.

Many stakeholders also talked about opportunities to work with partners (like the hemp industry, post-secondary institutions and indigenous communities) to not only develop cannabis for consumption but also for other products.

There were also comments about the potential for the development of “cannabis tourism” in the province.

Albertans' use of cannabis

In June 2017, Albertans were asked to anonymously disclose their cannabis use in a telephone survey. We asked again in October as part of the telephone survey and the second online survey.

Results from June showed that more than half of Albertans 17 and older have used cannabis in their lifetime. One in 5 Albertans have used recreational cannabis in the last 12 months.

Among those who said they use cannabis, their frequency of use varied, split anywhere between a few times a day to a few times a year.

A majority of respondents said they would likely stop using their current sources for buying cannabis once cannabis is legal, and a large majority said they it was very unlikely they would grow their own cannabis.

Only 7% of those who had not tried cannabis before indicated they might after it is legal (Telephone data, June 2017).

Survey responses

In the past 12 months, have you used cannabis for...?

  • 12% - recreational purposes only
  • 5% - medical purposes only
  • 8% - both recreational and medical purposes
  • 75% - haven't used cannabis in the past 12 months

Telephone data, June 2017

In the past 12 months, have you used cannabis?

  • 24% - yes
  • 75% - no
  • 1% - prefer not to answer

Telephone data, Oct 2017

Support for legalization and social acceptability

Albertans were asked how they felt about the proposed federal legislation to legalize cannabis, and how their support (or opposition) of legalized cannabis compares of their support (or opposition) for other substances.

The majority of respondents in the online and telephone survey in the summer of 2017 said they either support or do not oppose legalization. This show of support remained consistent in the October 2017 survey.

In both the summer surveys and the October surveys, a clear majority thought using cannabis for medical purposes is socially acceptable – whether that is by smoking, vaping or eating cannabis.

The majority of online and telephone respondents said smoking cannabis for non-medical purposes is also socially acceptable.

A strong majority of both online and telephone survey respondents also said it was socially acceptable to consume alcohol.

Survey responses

To what degree do you support or oppose the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis?

  • 36% - strongly support
  • 21% - somewhat support
  • 10% - neither support or oppose
  • 10% - somewhat oppose
  • 23% - strongly oppose

Telephone data, June 2017

  • 33% - strongly support
  • 28% - somewhat support
  • 4% - neither support nor oppose
  • 11% - somewhat oppose
  • 25% - strongly oppose

Telephone data, Oct 2017


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