Rolling Out the Details on Proposed Marijuana Legalization

April 28 blog main image

The federal government has introduced legislation that could legalize recreational use of marijuana in Canada. Read on to find out more about what’s proposed and the changes that could be coming soon.

The federal government has recently introduced legislation in the House of Commons that could legalize recreational use of marijuana in Canada.  If passed, the legislation will legalize and regulate the production, usage and sale of cannabis across Canada by July 2018 (Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act), while also strengthening impaired driving laws (Bill C-46) to ensure that the public is protected.

What is proposed under Bill C-45?

While enabling the recreational use of marijuana, the Cannabis Act also focuses on public safety issues, including highlighting the need for public education campaigns, setting minimum age requirements for possession, and empowering the provinces to have discretion locally on where cannabis can be consumed, sold and distributed.

  • The Cannabis Act will enable people over the age of 18 to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis (fresh or dried), although ach province has the discretion to raise the minimum age for possession
  • Adults over the minimum age requirement will be permitted to purchase cannabis and cannabis oil from retailers that are regulated provincially
  • At the outset of legalization, only dried and fresh cannabis would be available for sale along with cannabis oil. Other products such as edibles will be addressed at a later date
  • Canadians will be able to grow up to four plants per residence (for personal consumption only), with the height of each plant not to exceed one metre
  • The federal government will establish a public education campaign targeted at youth that highlights the risks and harms of cannabis use (the federal Budget unveiled this past March showed a commitment to developing education and awareness campaigns)
  • The Cannabis Act will create a new criminal offence for giving or selling cannabis to youth. The proposed maximum penalty would be 14 years in jail
  • Youth under the age of 18 will not be subject to criminal charges for possession or sharing a small amount of cannabis (less than five grams)

Strengthening Impaired Driving Laws

Alongside the introduction of the Cannabis Act, the federal government took steps to address issues around impaired driving.  Through Bill C-46, if passed, changes would be made to the Criminal Code of Canada designed to deter impaired driving by alcohol and/or drugs.

Three new offences would be created for those who are found to have a have a specific level of a drug in their blood within two hours of driving.  Penalties are dependent on the drug type, along with the level of drug or combination of drugs and alcohol.  If passed, the new offences are:

Type of Offence Details Penalties
Summary conviction criminal offence 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per ml of blood within two hours of driving Maximum fine of 1,000
Hybrid criminal offences 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood within two hours of driving Mandatory $1,000 penalty for a first offence

Mandatory penalties to escalate for repeated offenders including jail time (30 days for a second offence, 120 days for a third offence)
Combinations of Alcohol and THC

Through Bill C-46, some penalties for alcohol impaired driving would also increase based on high blood alcohol concentration readings.  Below is a summary of the proposed mandatory fines for first offences:

Blood Alcohol Concentration Level Proposed mandatory minimum penalty
BAC of 0.08 to 0.119% $1,000 fine
BAC of 0.120 to 0.159% $1,500
BAC of 0.160 and above $2,000
Refusal of testing $2,000

The Bill also proposes strengthening enforcement tools:

  • Police have oral fluid screeners available to assist in detecting drug-impaired driving
  • Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) would be recognized as experts in a trial

Are there any specific rules/laws in Ontario?

Through the federal legislation, each province will be able to determine how cannabis will be distributed and sold, provided it meets the minimum federal requirements.  This could include issuing licenses for cannabis sales, and restricting where marijuana can be consumed.  Currently, the provincial government has not indicated how or where cannabis will be sold, but additional information should be available in the coming months.

In Ontario, the provincial government amended the Highway Traffic Act in 2016 to mirror the penalties for drug-impaired driving offences to those for alcohol-impaired driving offences.  The rules, which took effect in October 2016, comply with the federal allowance that each province can amend traffic safety laws related to drug impairment.

Have the laws changed with the introduction of the Cannabis Act?

Although the Cannabis Act has been introduced in the House of Commons, it is currently illegal for the general public to buy, sell or produce cannabis in Canada.  Cannabis will continue to be illegal in Canada while the legislation is debated. If the legislation is approved by Parliament, the bill could become law by July 2018.

The legislation is subject to debates among Members of Parliament, committees and the Senate, so amendments to the legislation could be made before it becomes law.

What is CAA’s position?

As long standing advocates for road safety, CAA is monitoring this discussion and its impact across the province. CAA Members have highlighted impaired driving, alongside distracted driving, as the road safety issue that concerns them the most. Ensuring that road safety remains at the forefront of efforts to legalize cannabis will continue to be our focus.