The Legal Situation of Cannabis in Canada

Around the world, many people hold Canada in high esteem. It consistently ranks near the top of quality of life rankings, has millions of square kilometres of pristine wilderness and has famously friendly people.

Related: What can Europe Learn from Cannabis Laws in Canada?

This nation has also led the way on several progressive reforms. It was among the first countries to legalise same-sex marriage, and for years, it has championed cultural diversity. But, recently, Canada has been best known for fully legalising recreational cannabis.

What is the current state of cannabis laws in Canada? Scroll down to find out more.


Drug laws in Canada

Cannabis became fully legal on October 17, 2018. However, the trafficking and possession of most other drugs remain illegal. Any substance that falls under Schedule I, Schedule II and Schedule III cannot be possessed, produced or sold without express government permission.

Penalties for possession of illegal drugs depend on whether the charge is an indictable offence. If it isn’t, punishments range from probation to imprisonment for one year. If it is an indictable offence, offenders can get a sentence as long as three to seven years.

Sentences for illegal drug production and trafficking are far more severe. Some offenders can get away with sentences as light as one year of imprisonment. However, other producers/traffickers can get the book thrown at them — repeat offenders could receive a life sentence.

Any organically-grown or derived cannabis product is now legal in Canada, edibles included. However, synthetic cannabinoids are a notable exception, as the Canadian drug law still lists these substances as a Schedule II drug. As such, anyone caught with ‘spice’ or other synthetic cannabinoids can have the penalties mentioned above applied to them.


Cannabis in Canada

Before 2001, cannabis was 100 percent illegal in Canada. However, that didn’t stop a broad spectrum of Canadians from consuming this plant. Since the 1970s, 20 to 45 percent of young people, or those between the ages of 18 to 24, have admitted to consuming cannabis.

In recognition of its medical benefits, the Canadian government legalised cannabis for medical purposes in 2001. At that point, the share of working-age and older adults using cannabis rose noticeably.

After the election of a new government in 2015, Canada moved to fully legalise cannabis. Soon after, lawmakers set October 17, 2018, as legalisation day. One year later, in October 2019, cannabis edibles also became legal.

In the present day, usage stats have moved in an interesting direction. While cannabis use among young people has held steady over the past decade, the proportion of teenage users has fallen.

Since legalisation, the Canadian government has licensed hundreds of cannabis producers. Initially, there was a supply shortage. Within a year, though, production caught up. Today, there is a glut, leading to price declines in the legal market.

Related: What Europe Can Learn From Canadian Cannabis Companies

While cannabis may be legal for sale and consumption in Canada, there are limits. Canadians can have a maximum of 30 grams of cannabis on their person at any time. At home, they can grow up to four plants.

The provinces have also imposed additional restrictions. For instance, Manitoba and Quebec do not allow the home growing of cannabis. And, in Quebec, the law does not permit retailers to sell edibles designed to ‘appeal to children’.   


Hemp in Canada

It may come as a surprise to some, but farmers had grown hemp in Canada for centuries. Its history dates back to the early 1600s when settlers in Acadie planted it for the first time. As recently as 1928, Canadian government officials encouraged farms to grow hemp crops.

Then, after World War II, this plant got swept up by the mania surrounding marijuana. Canada banned the growing of hemp in the 1940s. Shortly after, though, authorities allowed small amounts of cultivation for research purposes.

These studies eventually uncovered the truth about hemp. By the 1980s, a significant body of evidence had shown that farmers could grow hemp independent of cannabis. Furthermore, researchers backed up its suitability as a fibre.

Related: The Strongest Hemp Industries in Europe

In 1998, the Canadian government legalised the production of hemp for industrial purposes. Today, the Cannabis Act governs the production and sale of industrial hemp. To legally produce or sell hemp in Canada, it must contain less than 0.3 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Currently, there is no limit on the amount of cannabidiol (CBD) that hemp can contain.


CBD in Canada

Both cannabis and hemp-derived CBD are legal in Canada. Despite its legality, though, complexities in the Cannabis Act restrict its availability.

During its creation, lawmakers rolled preexisting hemp regulations into the Cannabis Act. Consequently, this law treats hemp-derived CBD the same way as a high THC pre-roll. CBD is not an intoxicant, but only government-sanctioned shops can sell it.

Speaking of THC, full-spectrum is the top-selling CBD oil in Canada according to this leading buyer’s guide. Users benefit from the ‘entourage effect’ by having more cannabinoids than just cannabidiol, making it very popular among users.

This situation might not pose a problem in places like Alberta, where there is a thriving private market. However, in provinces like Quebec, where only public outlets exist, access to CBD suffers. Currently, there is no movement on liberalising the sale of hemp-derived CBD. However, lobbying efforts continue.


Medical cannabis in Canada

Following a 2000 Supreme Court decision, Canada legalised the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes in 2001. Once approved, you had two options — you could grow your own or get a supply from an approved grower.

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Patrons no longer need to apply for a medical cannabis card in Canada. Those who know what they need can buy from a dispensary. Alternatively, new patients can consult experts at established medical cannabis clinics.


The future of cannabis in Canada

What does the future hold for cannabis in Canada? Firstly, availability will continue to improve. Cannabis has come a long way in just two years. After initial growing pains, retail access to recreational and medical cannabis is easier than ever before.

Ontarians had to rely on the OCS online store for much of the first year. At last count, however, Ontario had more than 140 retail outlets. Elsewhere, store counts continue to climb. Access to hemp-derived CBD remains a sticking point, but common sense is expected to prevail in the near future.

In 2019, edibles became legal. As 2020 has gone on, their availability has steadily improved. Many analysts expect this market segment to have excellent potential. Currently, many non-users shy away from dried cannabis as they perceive smoking to be unhealthy.

Related: How Canadian Cannabis Companies Are Securing their Place Across the Pond

However, many in this group are open to trying edible forms of cannabis. For this reason, opportunities abound in this area.

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