Cannabis Legalization in Canada
On October 17, 2018, the Government of Canada’s Cannabis Act came into force, establishing a new framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada.
The Cannabis Act is also designed to prevent youth from accessing cannabis, displace the illegal cannabis market, and ultimately protect public health and safety by:
• Establishing serious criminal penalties for those who sell or provide cannabis to youth
• Setting rules for adults to access quality-controlled cannabis
• Creating a new, tightly regulated supply chain
The Province of British Columbia also established a framework for non-medical cannabis in British Columbia and passed legislation to provide for legal, controlled access to non-medical cannabis in British Columbia.
Medical cannabis continues to be provided exclusively through Health Canada’s program.
What is Cannabis?
Cannabis, also known as marijuana, is a plant that contains a number of chemical compounds called cannabinoids that may affect the brain and other parts of the body’s nervous system. Cannabis leaves, flowers, and buds can be consumed in a number of ways such as being smoked, vaporized, applied topically, cooked in food or brewed into tea.
A Snapshot of BC’s Cannabis Regime
(Source: The Province of British Columbia)
In light of the federal government’s legalization of non-medical cannabis, the Province of British Columbia has now passed legislation to provide for legal, controlled access to non-medical cannabis in British Columbia.
BC’s regulatory framework for non-medical cannabis is comprised of 3 pieces of legislation:
The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act (CCLA)
The Cannabis Control and Licensing Act is guided by the Province’s priorities of protecting youth, protecting public health and safety and keeping the criminal element out of cannabis. The Act sets out rules regarding:
- A private retail licencing regime
- Provincial age limit
- Restrictions on possession and public use
- Restrictions on personal cultivation
- Enforcement authority to deal with illegal sales
The Cannabis Distribution Act (CDA)
The Cannabis Distribution Act establishes exclusive public wholesale distribution, and public (government-run) retail sales, both in stores and online.
Amendments to the Motor Vehicle Act (the MVA)
The province has toughened provincial regulations by amending the Motor Vehicle Act to better equip police in removing drug-impaired drivers from the road, and to deter drug-affected driving. This includes:
- A new 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition for drug affected driving
- Zero-tolerance restriction for the presence of THC in new drivers in the Graduated Licensing Program (GLP).
Exemptions for Medical Cannabis
While those using cannabis for medical purposes are expected to comply with BC’s cannabis laws, the province has included some exemptions for the use of Health Canada authorized medical cannabis in otherwise prohibited areas, as long as specific requirements are met.
For additional details see the Cannabis Control Regulation, Part 5 – Medical Cannabis.
Cannabis Health Risks
Cannabis can be used for both medical and non-medical purposes. While people may choose to use cannabis for its therapeutic effects, cannabis affects everyone differently and does have the potential to harm your health.
Cannabis – whether used recreationally or for medical purposes – does carry some health risks. These risks vary by age of user, consumption method and context of use. For example, the Health effects of cannabis listed by the Government of Canada include that the that long-term effects of smoking cannabis are similar to the effects of smoking tobacco.
Cannabis and Medication Interactions
Cannabis can interact with medications. Combining cannabis with other medications can increase the overall effects. This could increase the risk of injury or harm, particularly with activities like driving.
For more information on the interactions between cannabis and medications, members of the public should consult their pharmacist or primary care provider.
(See Guest Post: Cannabis - An Overview for Pharmacists from the BC Drug and Poison Information Centre)
Learn about the health risks and guidelines for safer use
- Health effects of cannabis (Government of Canada)
- Canada’s lower-risk cannabis use guidelines
- Here to Help BC
- Foundry BC
- Health Link BC
- Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research BC
- Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction
Reporting an Adverse Reaction
The public and health professionals can submit adverse reactions (also known as side effects) about a cannabis product to Health Canada.
Learn more about Health Canada’s Adverse Reaction and Medical Device Problem Reporting.
Cannabis and Pharmacies
Cannabis (for medical or non-medical purposes) will not be available through pharmacies in BC.
Private retail stores licenced through the Province will also be prohibited from using a business name that includes the words, (in traditional or non-traditional spelling) “pharmacy,” “apothecary,” or “dispensary.” Graphics associated with a pharmacy, including for example, a green cross, are also prohibited.
Accessing Cannabis in BC
(Source: “Get Cannabis Clarity” – Government of British Columbia)
In BC, you must be 19 years or older to buy, use, possess, or grow non-medical cannabis.
Non-medical cannabis will be sold exclusively at government-run stores, licensed private retailers, and the BC government’s online store.
Visit the Government of British Columbia’s “Get Cannabis Clarity” resource page for additional information on cannabis access, possession and public use.
Cannabis for Medical Purposes
Health Canada will continue to offer the only program for accessing cannabis for medical purposes which includes an option for authorized individuals to access cannabis from a licensed producer to apply to produce their own.
To learn more about cannabis for medical purposes, see the information available through Health Canada.
- Cannabis in Canada
- Get Cannabis Clarity – Government of BC
- Cannabis Licensing Regulation
- Cannabis Control Regulation
- Cannabis Control and Licensing Transitional Regulation
- Amendment of Violation Ticket Administration and Fines Regulation
- Amendment of Provincial Sales Tax Exemption and Refund Regulation
- Amendments to the Park, Conservancy and Recreation Area Regulation and the Conservation Officer Service Authority Regulation
- Amendment of Tobacco and Vapour Products Control Regulation
- Amendment of Business Number Regulation
- Amendment of Classification of Land as a Farm Regulation