Welcome to the Stone(d) Age

By AntiCompositeNumber, via Wikimedia Commons.

October 17, 2018 will surely go down as a milestone in Canadian history because it marks the legalization of cannabis in our nation. Talks of legalization have been going on for quite some time but were made more tangible with Justin Trudeau’s 2015 campaign promise to legalize cannabis. With a vibrant cannabis culture such as Canada’s, many Canadians have been patiently waiting to see if and when the Trudeau government would follow through on this promise.

Last fall, the Cannabis Act passed its third reading in the House of Commons. While the Trudeau government had intended for weed to be legalized by Canada Day 2018, they fell short of their goal due to scrutiny of Bill C-45 in the senate. However, as of October 17, the anticipation has ended for experienced stoners and intrigued experimenters alike — weed is legal.

But what exactly does this mean? How does Bill C-45 break down for the average Canadian? The Cannabis Act is a piece of federal legislation that aims to, “(1) keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, (2) keep profits out of the pockets of criminals, and (3) protect public health and safety by allowing adults access to legal cannabis.” More specifically, it allows people 18 (or 19 depending on the province) years of age and over to, “possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis in public, buy dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially-licensed retailer, and grow, from licensed seed or seedlings, up to four cannabis plants per residence for personal use.” Crimes like supplying cannabis to an underage youth and distribution outside the legal framework will be heavily penalized, having maximum sentences of 14 years in prison.

Like tobacco, cannabis packaging will be required to indicate the health risks associated with its use. Health Canada also stipulates that packaging display the name of the producer, the name of the cannabis strain, and its THC/CBD content. Packaging must also be quite bland in order to minimize the risk of children interacting with cannabis.

Legalization has no impact on the danger and illegality of driving while under the influence of cannabis, and as such, strict penalties remain in place for individuals found impaired behind the wheel. However, legally restricting driving while high poses unique challenges unlike the legal restriction of driving under the influence of alcohol. THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, affect users differently depending on their genetic background, size, age, history of use, and method of ingestion. Weed is detectable in urine for days, weeks, or months after its consumption.

It is unclear if the proposed methods of enforcing such laws account for the nuances involved in proving cannabis impairment. Bill C-46, a piece of federally imposed legislation that incorporates driving while high under the Criminal Code, disallows people with 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood to drive. It includes, “a minimum fine of $1000 for the first offense; minimum 30 days’ imprisonment for a second offense; and a minimum of 120 days in jail for the third and any subsequent offenses.” If a high driver kills or maims anyone, the penalties get much more severe.

Police officers are not only equipped with tests to determine if drivers are impaired, but are also authorized to use oral fluid screening devices at roadside. Ontario drivers that are 21 and under or in possession of a G1, G2, M1, or M2 license, are not permitted to have any cannabis in their system.

The federal government must also face questions regarding amnesty for those who have previous convictions for cannabis-related crimes. Federal officials have said that Canadians convicted of possessing under 30 grams of cannabis will be able to soon file a formal application for a pardon, although this may take multiple weeks to take effect. Statistics Canada has revealed that 80% of cannabis-related drug offenses reported to police in 2017 were possession offenses. Estimates show that upwards of 500000 Canadians have a criminal record with cannabis possession charges, many of which are minor, for carrying 30 grams or less. The legalization of cannabis is the final step to decriminalization, although people with charges made before its legalization may have to wait an indefinite period of time to be pardoned.

There is no denying the racial disparities that are associated with criminal charges; despite relatively equal rates of cannabis use across racial groups, Indigenous and black populations are overrepresented in cannabis-related arrests. Racial profiling leads to harsher penalties for people of colour, and both racialised and impoverished communities have disproportionately higher numbers of criminal charges, including possession. Cannabis Amnesty is a campaign whose aim is to petition the Canadian government to grant pardons for Canadians that have been convicted for minor possession offenses. According to Cannabis Amnesty, black persons without a history of criminal convictions are three times more likely to be arrested by Toronto police for minor cannabis possessions than white persons with similar backgrounds.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, along with Annamaria Enenajor – the campaign director for Campaign for Cannabis Amnesty – announced a private member’s bill that, if passed, would clear the record of anyone who has been charged with personal possession. Although cannabis-related criminal charges have been steadily declining since 2011, those with criminal records for minor offenses have been burdened with ongoing difficulties with securing employment and travelling outside of Canada. Although pardons will be granted to those charged with possessing 30 grams of cannabis or less, these will not be granted immediately. As there is still no official date for cannabis amnesty, the future for Canadians burdened with a criminal record for minor possession of cannabis remains questionable.

While the federal government juggles complex issues such as amnesty and driving under the influence, much of the policy-making has been delegated to provincial legal systems. Provinces, territories, and Indigenous communities are allowed to determine the legal minimum age, as well as restrictions surrounding its sale, use, and quantity of possession.

Prior to the June 2018 provincial election, Ontario’s plan for legalization involved a government monopoly on its sale through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Doug Ford’s PC Party campaigned on a platform that was open to the prospect of privatizing the sale of cannabis in Ontario. However, as of right now, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) remains the only source of legal cannabis. Ontarians must make their purchases through the OCS website which are then delivered to the consumer’s residence where they will be expected to show ID to prove they are 19 years of age or older.

Unfortunately, Ontarians hoping to hastily get their hands on legal weed have experienced difficulties, as cannabis shortages have created significant delays in delivery. This is not unique to Ontario as shortages burden much of the country. After a century of prohibition, the demand for legal weed is sky high. In the first 24 hours of legalization, the Ontario Cannabis Store reported over 100000 online orders. Cannabis supply faces barriers, as many producers deal with the bureaucratic process of acquiring sales permits in order to supply OCS with legal cannabis.

The provincial government claims that it is moving forward in constructing, “a tightly regulated private retail model for cannabis” that they expect to launch before April 1, 2019. Under this model, private stores would have to acquire licenses from the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and the Ontario Cannabis Store would serve as the exclusive wholesaler to these stores.

A door sign to the smoking shelter at the Shorelines Casino Peterborough, opened on October 15, 2018, prohibits cannabis use on the property. Photo by Leina Amatsuji-Berry.

The provincial government also outlines clear restrictions on where the smoking and vaping of cannabis is permitted, listing private residences, many outdoor public spaces such as sidewalks and parks, designated rooms in hotels, motels, and inns… On the list of spaces where smoking and vaping cannabis will remain illegal is university residences, as they fall under the category of indoor common spaces.

Trent University is currently in the process of updating its Smoke-Free Policy. Updates are expected to be implemented as of January 1, 2019 and may include the move to restrict tobacco and cannabis smoking and vaping to a number of designated smoking areas. Until any such changes are in effect, smoking and vaping tobacco and cannabis are subject to Trent’s current policy which states that, “smoking is prohibited in all buildings (including residences), Trent vehicles, nine meters from doorways, air intakes and operable windows”.

As Trent University, the province of Ontario, and the country as a whole adjust to cannabis legalization, there are sure to be complications involved in this chaotic, yet historic process. Inevitably, the public eye will be closely scrutinizing how various levels of government and institutions respond to these complexities as Canada burns bridges with cannabis prohibition.