April 19, 2017

High hopes: Canada moves ahead with cannabis legalization

On April 13, 2017, the Liberal Party of Canada fulfilled a 2015 campaign promise, tabling long-awaited legislation to end Canada's prohibition on cannabis. The proposed Cannabis Act would make Canada the first G7 country to legalize and regulate cannabis for recreational use, sale and cultivation across the country.

Until the proposed legislation passes and becomes law, the current regime remains in force.  Possessing and selling cannabis for non-medical purposes remains illegal in Canada. 

Under the new law, the federal government would license cannabis growers and the provinces would be in charge of distributing and selling cannabis to Canada's adult market.

Individuals would be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis.  Consumers would be able to grow up to four cannabis plants at home.  The bill restricts the sale and possession of cannabis to people 18 years of age and older, though the provinces will have jurisdiction to increase the minimum age.

The cannabis bill also creates new penalties.  While it provides for ticketing for possession that exceeds the personal limit by minor amounts, a sentence of up to 14 years in jail would apply to those involved in illegal distribution or sale or in giving or selling cannabis to minors.  A person who uses a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence would also face a penalty of up to 14 years in jail.

There are also numerous restrictions related to packaging, labelling and displaying cannabis.  It could not be sold in a package or with a label that could be appealing to youth.  Furthermore, the package or label could not depict a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional.

In conjunction with the proposed Cannabis Act, the government also tabled legislation that would strengthen measures to stop drug-impaired driving.  The new provisions would enable police to demand a saliva sample at the roadside if they suspect a driver has a drug in their body.  Legal limits for drugs would be set by regulation.

The Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Jordan established presumptive ceilings for how long criminal matters can take from laying a charge to the end of the trial without breaching s. 11(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  In the legal profession, many proponents of the proposed Cannabis Act think it will assist in clearing cases that are contributing to the delay issues that have been brought to the forefront by the R. v. Jordan decision.

The implementation of the proposed Cannabis Act is not a foregone conclusion.  The proposed legislation must go through a number of specific stages in the House of Commons and the Senate before it becomes law.  The government has stated that it hopes that the proposed legislation will become law by July 1, 2018. 

Undoubtedly, countries around the globe considering the potential decriminalization of cannabis will look to the implementation and impact of Canada's new regime when considering any changes to their existing laws.

This article has also been published on the following websites:
- Lexology - Mondaq