OTTAWA – The federal Liberal government has finally launched its long-awaited effort to legalize recreational marijuana, setting in motion a host of sweeping policy changes for public safety and health across Canada.
The suite of bills, which would establish 18 as the minimum legal age to buy pot, was introduced in the House of Commons by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, Health Minister Jane Philpott and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland.
A government news release promises a “strict legal framework” for the production, sale, distribution and possession of pot, and says selling cannabis to a minor would for the first time become a specific criminal offence.
It also promises “significant penalties” for those who engage young Canadians in “cannabis-related offences” and a “zero-tolerance approach” to drug-impaired driving.
The legislation commits the federal government to additional investment for licensing, inspection and enforcement challenges, and promises a “robust” public awareness campaign about the dangers of impaired driving.
The bills are sure to come under heavy scrutiny in the coming weeks and months as Ottawa and the provinces and territories hash out the finer jurisdictional details of major issues like distribution and law enforcement.
- Sales to be restricted to people age 18 and older, although provinces would have the jurisdiction to increase their own minimum age.
- Adults 18 and older would be allowed to publicly possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent in non-dried form.
- Sales by mail or courier through a federally licensed producer would be allowed in provinces that lack a regulated retail system.
- Adults aged 18 and older would be allowed to grow up to four cannabis plants for each residence, with plants not to exceed one metre in height.
- Adults aged 18 and older would also be allowed to produce legal cannabis products, such as food or drinks, for personal use at home.
- At first, sales will entail only fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis oils and seeds and plants for cultivation. Sales of edibles will come later, once regulations for production and sale can be developed.
- Possession, production and distribution outside the legal system would remain illegal, as would imports or exports without a federal permit. Such permits will cover only limited purposes, such as medical or scientific cannabis and industrial hemp.
- Travellers entering Canada would still be subject to inspections for prohibited goods, including cannabis.
- The existing program for access to medical marijuana would continue as it currently exists.
However, one pot activist has a few concerns with the federal government’s plans.
Dana Larsen says the punishments for selling or sharing weed with a minor are still worse than those for alcohol.
“An adult, who is 19 or whatever the legal age is, passes a joint to their friend who is one year younger and isn’t legal – then that person is risking a fairly serious jail time, whereas a 19-year-old who passes a beer to an 18-year-old who can’t drink, they might get in trouble. But they’re not going to be risking severe jail time for that.”
Larsen also says a “zero-tolerance” approach for saliva testing isn’t fair to cannabis users because he believes the testing is flawed.
“It sounds like if they’re going to restrict you from driving for any cannabis in your blood stream at all. That means that anybody who uses cannabis medically will never be able to drive, and anybody who uses cannabis a week or more before driving will be not able to drive.”
With files from Kyle Benning