Northern Exposure

Canada Ready to Roll: Marijuana Becomes Legal in October

Canada’s Cannabis Act—making recreational marijuana legal—will take effect on October 17, 2018. The country’s federal parliament passed the measure on June 19, 2018, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly announced the new law’s effective date. Medically prescribed marijuana had previously been legalized.

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Federal Law Allows Up to Four Plants Per Household

The Cannabis Act allows Canadians over the age of 18 to buy, possess, grow, and use cannabis recreationally. The federal government will regulate production, quality assurance, and production standards. Subject to local laws, adults in the country will generally be allowed to engage in the following activities:

  • Purchase fresh or dried cannabis, cannabis oil, and plants and seeds for cultivation from a regulated retailer;
  • Possess up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis or its equivalent in public;
  • Share up to 30 grams (or its equivalent) of legal cannabis and cannabis products with others;
  • Cultivate up to four plants in their own residence (no more than four plants per household); and
  • Alter cannabis at home to prepare varying types of products (e.g., edibles) for personal use provided that no dangerous organic solvents are used in the process.

Note, however, that because of Canada’s constitutional division of powers, provincial and territorial governments will have a great deal of latitude in regulating sales, distribution, and workplace health and safety issues. The provinces and territories may increase the minimum age, lower the possession limit, and impose additional requirements on the personal cultivation of marijuana.

Zero Plants Per Household in Manitoba, Quebec

Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories have been huffing and puffing to try to keep up with the Trudeau government. They’ve enacted their own laws dealing with marijuana issues such as the following:

  • Minimum legal age for purchase, possession, and use: 19 in most places but 18 in Quebec and Alberta;
  • Regulated sales distribution methods: government-run stores in some provinces, while others have opted for regulated, private retail stores or a combination of the two;
  • Whether plants can be grown at home and how many: up to four plants per home in most places, but zero in Manitoba and Quebec;
  • Where it’s legal to smoke marijuana: wherever tobacco is used in some provinces and territories, while others will restrict it to private property that isn’t a public place;
  • Legal possession limits by weight (if any): generally, 30 grams, except up to 150 grams in Quebec.

Some provincial laws go further. Ontario, for example, prohibits the sale or distribution of cannabis to persons if they are or appear to be intoxicated. The province also prohibits landlords from knowingly allowing their properties to be used for the unlawful sale, cultivation or distribution of cannabis. It will impose strict penalties on young, commercial, and novice drivers who are impaired by cannabis when driving, including license suspension, monetary penalties, and mandatory treatment programs

Medical Marijuana Refresher

A constitutional challenge led to the legalization of medical marijuana across Canada in 2001. Regulations under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act now govern how Canadians can get access to marijuana and its derivatives for medical purposes.

Under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulation, the following individuals may possess various forms of marijuana:

  • Persons who have obtained the substance for their own medical purposes or for those of another individual for whom they are responsible from either a licensed producer, a health care practitioner during treatment for a medical condition, or a hospital;
  • Health care practitioners who require the substance for the practice of their profession;
  • Hospital employees in connection with their work;
  • Licensed producers; and
  • Licensed dealers.

The regulation also outlines who may prescribe medical marijuana, the type of documentation required, the maximum amount that individuals who use cannabis products for medical purposes can possess, and the authorized activities of licensed producers.

The regulation sets out strict security measures that licensed producers are required to have, including: measures to prevent unauthorized access and strict labeling requirements to identify the type and quantity of the drugs. They also must ensure that their products are appropriately registered, the appropriate time frames have elapsed between the refilling of prescriptions, and certain specifications are outlined in the order (e.g., the quantity of drug required).

The medical marijuana regulations are not expected to change when marijuana is legalized for recreational use.

Workplace Impacts and Concerns

Many employers are concerned about how the legalization of recreational cannabis will affect the workplace. The increasingly prevalent use of medical marijuana is also a concern.  Employers’ worries include:

  • Increased use of cannabis both inside and outside of the workplace;
  • Impact on workplace safety (especially in safety-sensitive roles);
  • Methods for detecting impairment or intoxication;
  • Restrictions on workplace drug testing;
  • Productivity, motivation, absenteeism, and employee performance; and
  • Increased needs and costs to accommodate addicts and prescribed users.

Given the dearth of proven scientific methodology to evaluate the impairment from marijuana use, employers’ concerns are valid.

High Stakes for Employers

While research is under way to develop more reliable impairment testing methods, it’s doubtful they will be ready by October. Yet, employers have significant legal obligations to protect their employees’ health and safety. Managers in Canada have gone to jail for failing to fulfill those duties.

We do indeed live in interesting times in Canada. We’re rolling along, but where will we end up?