Cultivation, Consumption, and Complexity - Cannabis Legalization Day in Canada

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

On October 17, 2018, the Federal government’s Cannabis Act (2017) will come into force. Three main goals have anchored the Act through the legislative process:

  1. Reducing cannabis availability for youth,
  2. Limiting revenues for criminal activity and
  3. Protecting public health and safety by supporting regulated access for adults.

Though it’s unclear whether any or all of these goals will be accomplished, the Cannabis Act has opened the door for discussion and debate about how public health, law enforcement, education, and research organizations can act and react to protect the public and create safe environments.

Who’s doing what?

As legalization day rolls in, who is doing what is still partially nebulous, as different levels of government and different agencies try to cover off pieces of the pie. According to the Act, the federal government will be responsible for regulating and enforcing industry-wide standards for commercial producers, while the territories and provinces will be responsible for overseeing the distribution and sale of cannabis, as well as developing guidelines and rules for growing cannabis at home. Municipalities will also take on some of the responsibility; they will likely oversee local land use regulations, business licensing, and the regulation of public consumption and personal cultivation. 

How will cannabis be sold?

However, these roles are evolving on a daily basis as different jurisdictions, at different levels, decide how they want to approach emerging issues. For example,  British Columbia has decided that the Liquor Distribution Branch will be the wholesale distributor of non-medicinal cannabis and will run provincial cannabis retail stores. Nova Scotia has similarly decided to keep sales publicly run; the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation will be the only authorized retailer of cannabis. In Alberta, consumers will have to set up an account online and submit to an age verification process (which includes uploading a driver’s license or a reputable credit check) for both online and in-person sales. Conversely, Ontario recently announced that they would be employing an online-only sales system for distribution in the first several months after legalization – a system that does not require proof of age. The Northwest Territories will sell cannabis online and initially will co-locate cannabis sales with alcohol in privately-run liquor stores.

Growing cannabis at home

Personal cultivation will also present challenges and provinces and territories have already stated their intentions to limit home growing in a variety of ways. At one end of the spectrum, Quebec and Manitoba have decided to implement a precautionary ban on all personal cultivation. Ontario and British Columbia will allow personal cultivation but only in indoor settings (in fact, in British Columbia, no plants should be publicly visible, whether that involves balconies, window sills, or unfenced yards). Yukon, on the other hand, has decided to take a more permissive approach, allowing personal cultivation both indoors and outdoors. New Brunswick allows indoor and outdoor growing, but plants must be kept in a locked enclosure.  Across Canada, there’s also a great deal of discussion about whether landlords will allow growing in rented units; in Newfoundland and Saskatchewan, for instance, landlords may choose to prohibit the cultivation and smoking of cannabis in their properties. Some large rental agencies are also considering providing spaces for cannabis consumption in separate spaces for their tenants. Additionally, all Canadians will need to begin their legal growing journey with seeds purchased from licensed retailers – seedlings and young plants will not be available for sale.

Where can people smoke cannabis?

Cannabis consumption via smoking has similarly generated a range of responses from the authorities responsible. There are currently four provinces that will allow cannabis smoking in public: British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec, and Nova Scotia. However, there will still be regulations governing the specific type of places that will be sanctioned for smoking, and many municipalities already have or will choose to ban smoking outright; many cities in Quebec have decided to ban public smoking completely, while other cities have decided to implement unique place-specific rules. The city of Halifax, for example, has banned cannabis smoking on sidewalks. Most provinces have provided detailed information on smoking in vehicles but make distinctions between parked vehicles and vehicles that may act as homes such as trailers, mobile homes, and RVs; in Prince Edward Island, for example, consumption will not be allowed in or on a boat, except if the boat is a private dwelling. Interestingly, campground allowances vary above and beyond vehicular rules, where some will allow campground smoking within one group’s particular campsite but others may ban it completely; confusing the issues of RV smoking regulations. It’s notable that university campuses are having similar debates, sometimes restricting consumption to cannabis friendly park areas or designated smoking areas.

The bottom line?

There are a lot of players when it comes to cannabis legalization. The approaches of each jurisdiction vary and communities are going to have to grapple with changing guidelines and the different levels of government involved in this issue. It’s critical that public health professionals be informed of the systems that are both in place and evolving in their regions and that they become familiar with the processes unique to their organizations.

October 17th is an historic day in Canada. This moment offers public health professionals an opportunity to create positive change, mitigate risks, and share knowledge that can safeguard the health of our communities.