Depending on the time zone, at the stroke of midnight on Wednesday Canadians ushered in the end of the federal prohibition on cannabis, but amidst the celebrations, questions remain about the impact the law will have on the public. Still, most Canadians appeared content to leave those questions for another day, with customers lined up at midnight to be among the first to purchase legal weed, according to reports from the BBC.
Joining the celebration was Canopy Growth Corporation (TSX:WEED) (NYSE:CGC) CEO Bruce Linton, who helmed the counter at the Tweed dispensary in St. John’s, Newfoundland just after midnight. Canopy is the number one Licensed Producer in all of Canada and expects to see major profits from the end of federal prohibition.
In preparation for the day, the Canadian government sent information out to 15 million households, letting them know what, exactly, the new law means. Because of varying laws between provinces, confusion is expected in the laws early days.
Industry leaders took to Twitter and other public forums to celebrate the day as well. Aphria Inc. (TSX:APH) CEO Vic Neufeld called it a new chapter for the industry.
“Congratulations Canada,” Neufeld tweeted. “Today we celebrate the end of nearly a century of prohibition and the beginning of a new chapter for the #cannabis industry. From the @aphriainc family, thank you to everyone who has worked tirelessly to make this historic milestone a reality.”
In fact, everyone from celebrities to industry insiders was seen celebrating the moment, one that was many years in the making. But once the excitement dies down, Canadians will have to wrestle with many unanswered questions.
As Canada legalizes cannabis, provincial laws may prove confusing
On Wednesday, Canada becomes only the second developed nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The federal government created the broad strokes of the law, allowing everyone 18 and over to purchase recreational marijuana, for example. The law also sets a 30-gram (about an ounce) limit on how much cannabis people can purchase in a single transaction or possess at one time in public.
Provinces, however, are left to fill in the details. Each Canadian province can decide on the legal purchase age, with most deciding on age 19 to coincide with the legal drinking age. Although federal law allows four plants for home growing, the provinces of Manitoba and Quebec forbid home growing.
While it seemed like a good idea on paper to allow each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories to enact their own rules governing cannabis, many Canadians are finding it difficult to navigate the laws as they travel across the country. Here are just a few of the provincial laws that may cause Canadians confusion as they head out to purchase cannabis this week.
Laws concerning sales will vary between provinces
Each province decided the rules on exactly how recreational marijuana will be purchased. Only officially recognized stores will be able to do legal sales; any other sale is a criminal act with a fine or even jail time as a penalty. Some provinces have government-run stores while others have left sales up to private outlets.
In some provinces like Nova Scotia, the provincial liquor board will run the dispensaries. Ontario will only sell recreational cannabis online, and British Columbia will have just one store open for the foreseeable future to serve its nearly five million people. Online purchases can only be done via websites run by each province — which may be useful in cities where pot shops might be banned.
The result is that there are more laws—and more confusion—around cannabis now that it has been legalized for recreational use than there were before legalization.
Public consumption may lead to public confusion
Public consumption laws vary widely depending on the province. Some provinces like Ontario are fairly open, allowing marijuana to be smoked or vaped anywhere tobacco is legal. Provinces like Saskatchewan and Manitoba will impose stiff fines for public consumption of any kind.
Across Canada, anyone with a blood level of more than five nanograms of THC will incur stiff fines. Critics say that medical marijuana users could be disproportionately targeted with this rule since many tend to develop higher THC levels in their blood.
Don’t go to work high
Many professionals are still wondering whether they can be penalized for marijuana use when they’re off the job. Officers in uniform can use it in Vancouver, as long as they are sober on the job. Toronto Police and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police are not considered fit for duty if they’ve smoked cannabis and must wait a full month before being put back on the “fit for duty” list.
Traveling with cannabis
Traveling with marijuana is even more confusing. In Nunavut, residents cannot carry it in their cars, but in Manitoba, it is legal to keep it in the trunk of the car. Prince Edward Island residents can keep it in the car but out of the reach of the driver or passengers.
Canadians crossing the U.S. border must remain careful not to have any in their possession because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level across the United States.
Signs dot the Canadian side of the border to remind Canadians they cannot bring marijuana into the United States. Nevertheless, both U.S. and Canadian border patrol officials expect big problems at the border. Thousands of Canadians are going to be turned away from the U.S. border due to impairment.
Canadians, who think they are using a legal substance in a legal way, could easily end up in a heap of trouble dealing with criminal charges as they travel from province to province.
Could there be trouble in paradise?
Canada’s federal and provincial governments are taking a cautious approach, but the government is involved at every level. The federal government even regulates the production of cannabis’ 120 Canadian growers. Distribution is then turned over to the provinces, who have it delivered to retail stores or warehouses for online sales.
Critics of the provincial system say that many regulations have been rushed and that they’re not well thought out and will likely have unintended consequences. Time will very quickly provide that insight.