Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act, is a piece of government legislation that would legalize access to cannabis in Canada. The bill would also control and regulate how cannabis is grown, distributed, and sold. The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons in April 2017 and recently passed by a vote of 63 MPPs for the Bill and 27 against. It is expected that the Bill will come into effect on July 1, 2018.
The Government of Canada’s goal for legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis is to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth and to prevent organized crime from continuing to profit from the illegal cannabis market.
More than half of all drug offences reported by police are cannabis-related, with 81% of those being possession-related. The criminal records that result from these charges have serious, lifelong implications for the individuals involved. People with criminal records may have difficulty finding employment and housing and may be prevented from travelling outside Canada. Approximately 21% of youth and 30% of young adults reported using cannabis within the last year. This Bill primarily aims to protect Canadian youth.
In order to regulate the sale of cannabis in Ontario, it will only be sold by the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation, a subsidiary of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Staff at the stores, like LCBO outlets, will be specially trained members of the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union. There will no self-service at the shops and marijuana will retail for $10 a gram. It will be sold from behind the counter to patrons 19 years of age and older. Forty stores will open initially across Ontario, gradually rising to 150 stores by the year 2020, and illegal pot dispensaries will be forced to close down under threat of steep fines. The tax revenue to the national treasury is projected to be upwards of $675 million a year.
Once the Bill comes into effect, adults will be permitted to buy, share, possess, and consume small amounts of cannabis in private residences. Adults will be able to possess up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis or equivalent in public and share the same amount with other adults, as well as be permitted to grow up to four cannabis plants for personal use.
While the sale of cannabis edible products and concentrates will not be allowed initially, individuals can make edibles at home for their own use and sale of cannabis edibles is expected to be authorized no later than 12 months following the Bill coming into force. This is to allow enough time for regulations to be made to address the specific risks associated with these types of products.
Under the proposed legislation, an adult found by a law enforcement officer to be carrying more than the allowed 30 grams of dried legal cannabis or equivalent could face a range of penalties depending on the severity of the infraction. A minor breach, such as carrying more than 30 grams but less than 50 grams, could land a person with a $200 ticket. This person would not face a criminal record and the ticket would be the equivalent of receiving a traffic infraction. A more severe breach, such as carrying significantly over the legal limit, could lead to criminal charges. The Cannabis Act also proposes creating new cannabis-related offences targeting those persons who would distribute or sell cannabis to Canadian youth. These new proposed offences carry a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.
As with current laws relating to drugs and alcohol, smoking behind the wheel or driving while impaired by cannabis will be prohibited to ensure road safety. New laws will be enacted to address this issue and the Government of Canada is proposing updated and strengthened penalties for impaired driving, including the possibility of life imprisonment for the most severe offences.
Current laws apply until such time that the Cannabis Act receives Royal Assent and comes into force, which is anticipated to be July 1 2018. Until this time cannabis remains illegal unless expressly authorized.