Justin Trudeau announced that Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, will continue to move forward as planned, despite criticisms and recent calls for delay. Still, further roadblocks could be put in place for many Canadians.
Delays in the Senate have held up Bill C-46, the impaired driving legislation, which was set to move through the houses in tandem with the Cannabis Act. Now the Liberals face scrutiny from the opposition as the cannabis legislation may well be passed into law before the updated impaired driving bill. Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada also appealed to the Senate, showing their support for Bill C-46 and hope that it would be passed with urgency.
The Senate’s Aboriginal Peoples committee has called for Bill C-45 to be delayed for up to a year in order to have time for adequate consultations and meet specific Indigenous needs. Some of the concerns include negotiating revenue sharing on excise taxes with First Nations governments, establishing means to allow these governments to enact bylaws over the use and sale of cannabis within reservations, and bolstering cannabis education and addictions program funding for First Nations communities.
While the Liberals have committed to continuing to push the legislation forward on the original timeline, the reality is that there are still more layers of legislation and restrictions that could significantly impact Canadians’ access to cannabis across the country. The Federal government has allowed for the provincial and territorial governments to have significant control over cannabis regulation. Provinces and territories may take responsibility for regulating and enforcing systems for distribution and retail sales, increase the minimum legal age, lower personal possession limit, and increase requirements for personal cultivation.
The provincial governments have taken advantage of the control handed over from the federal government and proposed their own adaptations to the framework of the Cannabis Act, once passed. All of the provinces and territories, with the exception of Alberta and Quebec who remain at the federally mandated 18, have chosen to increase the legal purchasing age to 19. New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, Ontario, and the Yukon will all be using government-run outlets for retail sales. The remaining provinces and territories have opted for privately-run cannabusinesses, or a mix of private and government-run.
The most notable restriction comes from the provincial governments of Manitoba and Quebec, both of whom have stated that personal cultivation will be banned despite the Cannabis Act allowing for a maximum of four plants for personal cultivation per household. Bill C-45 does state that the provinces can add additional requirements to personal cultivation, such as disallowing cultivation outdoors or allowing landlords to restrict rental properties. However, removing the ability of citizens to cultivate completely is controversial and could likely end up being a matter settled by the courts. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould stated in March that Ottawa would not challenge the provinces, but noted that an individual could bring the conflict of laws to the courts. She went on to say that, “…if there is a conflict, then the federal law will prevail.”
Municipalities can also add local restrictions such as bylaws disallowing public cannabis consumption or placing zoning restrictions on cannabis related businesses. Many municipalities have placed zoning restrictions on dispensaries so that they may not be close to schools. This type of zoning requirement is widely supported and a great example of a reasonable restriction. Bans on public consumption are not as well received and are likely the largest barrier many Canadians will face.
An example can be seen in Calgary, where the city has chosen to ban public consumption, stating that private property is the only allowable space, and that landlords may forbid it. This leaves a significant percentage of the population with essentially no legal space to consume. The province of Alberta has banned consumption in dispensaries or cafes, and for obvious safety reasons cars are outlawed as well. Most renters are then left with no legal spaces for consumption as the large majority of rental properties are smoke-free.
Ontario has a similar ban on public consumption and has not yet allowed cannabis lounges. The province did ask the public for their opinions on a variety of cannabis topics, including the possibility of permitting cannabis lounges or venues. The request for public feedback is far from movement towards legal public consumption spaces, but having the question asked should leave the cannabis community hopeful.
There is still much criticism surrounding the Cannabis Act from parties on all sides of the bill, and yet there are still more unknowns. The provinces and municipalities will be faced with regulatory and enforcement challenges and more issues will inevitably unfold as legalization comes to fruition. Our various levels of government will respond in turn, and the legislation will undoubtedly be amended. The legalization of cannabis in Canada is very much an evolving process, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.