9 Burning Questions About Legalization, Answered


Where will I be able to smoke?

 The short answer is: it depends.

The federal government ultimately left that decision up to the provinces, and each province is addressing it *slightly* differently.

In Saskatchewan, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, public consumption will be banned altogether. In Quebec and Ontario, it will be allowed anywhere that cigarettes are. Alberta has decided to leave that up to individual cities; in Edmonton, for example, you’ll be able to smoke on any sidewalk that isn’t within 10m of a bus stop, patio, doorway, or window.

BC will mostly follow the Quebec/Ontario model, with the additional caveat that cannabis consumption is forbidden near anywhere that children might be found — specifically playgrounds, schools, sports field, and skate parks.

For obvious reasons, smoking marijuana in vehicles is also illegal.

Where can I buy weed?

Again, it depends.

Quebec and Nova Scotia will have 20 dispensaries each to start with. PEI will have 4. New Brunswick will have 12. Nova Scotia’s stores will be contained within existing liquor outlets, while Ontario – the country’s largest economy – will only offer online sales until the spring of 2019. To begin with, BC won’t be much different. When it comes to licensing, BC is well behind most other provinces (having only started taking applications in August), and as a result, on Oct 17th, British Columbians who want to buy legally will have only two options: online, or at the province’s only licensed outlet in Kamloops. Currently there are 173 applications under consideration, but so far, only 62 of those have met the conditions necessary to move to the next stage of the process. Ultimately, BC won’t be restricting the number of dispensaries, but the timeline for the approval of existing applications is unknown.

All indications are that it will take the province’s legal cannabis industry 2-3 years to find its footing. In the meantime, the only way to be sure is to contact individual dispensaries directly. As more dispensaries obtain licenses, many of them will reopen. But in the meantime, for anyone looking to buy legally and reliably outside of the Kamloops area, the only option is to take to the internet.

BC’s online portal will be provided by Toronto-based Shopify.

What are some of the provincial differences and laws surrounding legalization?

Too many to count.

Right now, Canada’s cannabis guidelines are a monumental legal patchwork with very little cohesion. Because every province – and in some cases, each city – can set many of their own rules, the differences can be strikingly broad.

While some provinces are doing a public/private hybrid, many – including BC, Alberta, Ontario, and Manitoba — are moving forward with a strictly private model. Alberta is expecting to approve 250 private licenses within the first year alone. Restrictions there involve what stores can be called (nothing referencing intoxication, medical claims, or the name of the province, can be in the name, for example).

In BC, new provincial laws are set to turn dispensaries into the retail equivalent of a Russian nesting doll; first off, all outlets must have covered windows. Second, as per Health Canada’s guidelines, customers will also not be permitted to see or smell the cannabis they purchase, sealed as they’ll be within plain, opaque bags bearing an excise stamp. The packaging “cannot be embossed, shiny or metallic,” Health Canada has said. “The use of branding and logos will be restricted.” Dispensaries are also legally required to remove any reference to medicine from their names, and cannot operate within 300m of a school, community centre, or another dispensary.

That said, once BC’s legal cannabis outlets are up and running, they are planning to offer more than 150 different strains.

Will criminal records be expunged?

In a word, no. At least, not yet.

But down the line, that may change. In fact, it’s an issue that has already been taken up by the federal NDP; on October 3rd, party leader Jagmeet Singh announced plans to table a bill calling for amnesty for anyone convicted of nonviolent cannabis offences (something which disproportionately affects black and indigenous Canadians).

“It’s a question of justice,” NDP Justice Critic Murray Rankin told reporters, “and I’m hopeful that the Liberals will see it in that way and not as a partisan issue.”

What is the timeline for edibles?

As of right now, the projected date is Octover 17th, 2019 – exactly 1 year from initial legalization. The same will be true of shatter and concentrates.

What’s happening with the current Grey Market?

Within BC — home of perhaps the largest number of “grey market” retail outlets in the country – the government position is that a crackdown is coming. The newly-created Community Safety Unit will have greater powers of seizure and enforcement than current police departments do, including the power to seize illegally sold cannabis without a warrant — something Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth has warned Grey Market retailers may be used against them.

“The reality is this: illegal stores can either shut down on their own volition, or they will be shut down by the enforcement unit that will be in place in B.C,” he told reporters.

Moving forward, all new and existing dispensaries will have to be approved — not just by the province, but by council in the city where they hope to operate. Some cities won’t have brick-and-mortar stores at all (the upcoming civic elections on October 20th will include a referendum question on the subject), although in the opinion of most experts, that phase of the process likely won’t be a problem in Vancouver. Odds are, the city will look the same as it did before the 17th — at least eventually. Some existing grey market dispensaries have spent the past few weeks clearing their shelves of “illicit” product, slashing prices, and posting signs stating their intention to close until they receive provincial licenses. In the meantime, some will remain open selling accessories such as bongs. Others will continue to operate exactly as they have since the city’s licensing scheme was introduced back in 2015 (the city of Vancouver has already issued more than 3000 tickets to unlicensed dispensaries – worth an estimated $2.5 million – but less than 400 of those have ever been paid). The province HAS suggested that staying open illegally might impact a dispensary’s ability to get a license down the line, however, they’ve also said that minor cannabis convictions, or a business’ legality prior to the 17th won’t necessarily prevent them from obtaining a new license. And Vancouver’s Police Chief has been more explicit still, saying to the Toronto Star that a police crackdown on Day 1 is “highly unlikely”.

What are the new laws surrounding black market activity?

While the presence of organized crime in Canada’s cannabis industry is said to be minimal, the issue of a continuing black market in a post-legalization nation is a hazy one. It seems likely that for now, Canada’s black market is here to stay; despite having legalized marijuana back in January of 2018, the state of California is still dealing with a black market that is as robust as ever. Particularly in the early days, black market producers will likely fill in gaps in the legal market, while businesses struggle with hurdles like cost, taxes, regulatory compliance, and accessibility. Ontario is threatening noncompliant operations (and their landlords) with a $250,000 fine, and in BC, the City of Vancouver has taken 53 grey market operators all the way to the Supreme Court in hopes of shutting them down. In addition, the police and the newly-formed Community Safety Unit will be focusing on black market operators, as well as anyone selling to a minor (which could carry a penalty of up to 14 years in prison).

What’s next in terms of tourism? Does BC stand to become a destination for Cannabis Tourists?

Only time will tell.

In 2017, numbers indicated that 25-30% of the visitors to Amsterdam – home to the world’s oldest grey market — spent time in the city’s infamous “coffee shops”, for the purpose of consuming cannabis. Hoping to capitalize on the trend, there are already four Cannabis Tourism companies operating in BC, including Victoria’ CannaTours, which operates pedicabs, and has fostered relationships with the city’s restaurants and nightlife.

However, it looks like the reality will be a bit more subdued. The state of Colorado has had legal weed for 5 years, and so far, their cannabis tourism scene isn’t particularly robust; of people surveyed during that period, less than 1/10th said that cannabis was their reason for visiting the state while 2/3 said it didn’t factor in at all. In addition, with only one legal, licensed operation in the province, it seems unlikely to lead to an uptick in tourism — at least, for now.

What is the state of the southern border considering the disparate federal laws as they stand?

This is perhaps the most-asked question in the lead-up to legalization, and the hardest one to definitively answer.

For some Canadians, it may lead to increased border scrutiny; border agents are allowed to ask about virtually any aspect of your life — including whether you smoke recreationally — and check phones and electronic devices for evidence of illegal activity. And since border agents are federal, that’s even true of crossing into states where cannabis is legal.

That said, the biggest concern, surrounding people involved — even tangentially — in the cannabis industry, appears to have been laid to rest; as of October 10th, the US government announced that workers in the cannabis industry would generally be admissible, provided they were coming into the country “for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry”.

Jesse Donaldson is a Vancouver journalist whose work has appeared in VICE, The Tyee, the Calgary Herald, the WestEnder, and several others. His first book, THIS DAY IN VANCOUVER (2013), was shortlisted for a BC Book Prize.