Canada just went where only one other nation has gone before (hi Uruguay!). But establishing a legal market for recreational cannabis is no straightforward feat.
In a trail-blazing move, Canada just became the first G7 nation to start selling cannabis for recreational use.
However, the path continues to be hazy, as the provinces and territories each lay down laws and continue to refine them, often struggling to balance big business, craft producers, and pot pioneers. Ironically, the more permissive the area, the bigger the challenge, as places with decades-old “gray markets” like Québec, Ontario, and British Columbia have discovered.
Depending on the province or territory, adults who are at least 18 or 19 will be able possess up to 30 grams of dried legal cannabis—or its equivalent. Most places will also allow gardeners to nurture up to four plants per household.
Sounds simple? It isn’t. Here’s everything you need to know about the Great White North green-lighting marijuana.
What can I buy?
Canada has legalized cannabis seeds, plants, fresh and dried flowers, and oils that can be ingested or applied topically. The 30-gram limit contains enough weed to roll about 60 joints.
Where can I shop?
Across Canada, residents can now buy cannabis online and around 100 brick-and-mortar stores opened on Legalization Day—with many more to come. Here’s the lowdown by region, although some municipalities have forbidden the sale of recreational marijuana. So check the fine print: your mileage may vary!
British Columbia (19+): Online sales, plus a mix of government- and privately-run shops. So far, only a single BC Cannabis Store has launched—go Kamloops!—but 62 applications have moved to the local-council sniff-test phase.
Manitoba (19+, while the alcohol limit is 18): The province is taking a hands-off approach, allowing sales via private websites and dispensaries: 10 have been approved and four may debut this week. Note: smoking at a provincial park or campsite can garner a $672 fine, and homegrown pot remains verboten, carrying a $2,542 penalty.
New Brunswick (19+): Cannabis NB unveiled the world’s first government weed store just before the country’s landmark legalization vote in summer 2018: a clean, modern space that categorizes bud into experiences—discover, connect, and refresh. As of October 17, 2018, its website offers 76 products, including prerolled joints from $6.50 and $45 for 25ml of CBD oil (a non-psychoactive extract proven to fight pain, inflammation, and psychosis).
Newfoundland and Labrador (19+): Grocery stores from the Dominion/Loblaws chain won most of the 24 initial licenses, some of which had a special 12:01 to 2 a.m. opening on October 17 for eager beavers (sales then resumed at 9 a.m.). Labrador has just one shop gearing up for the launch with the next expected in mid-December. Pot will also be available via shopcannabisnl.com.
Northwest Territories (19+): Look to online sales and liquor stores, five of which expanded their scope on Legalization Day: in Fort Simpson, Fort Smith, Hay River, Norman Wells, and Yellowknife. The outlet in Inuvik has decided against selling cannabis.
Nova Scotia (19+): Buy via the internet and 12 government-run stores, which will eventually carry 78 strains that “relax, unwind, centre or enhance,” according to brightly colored signs. But for now, they’ve stocked just 52, due to nationwide supply issues, running between $6.33—$11+ per gram, depending on quality. The province’s capital, Halifax, has designated “toking areas” on city property.
Nunavut (19+): This vast, largely indigenous territory won’t open any shops in 2018, but it’s entertaining bids. Initially, residents can buy online via the Ontario-based company Tweed. Fun fact: The official Inuktitut word for cannabis is surrarnaqtuq, but not everyone is turning on and tuning into this new terminology.
Ontario (19+): The retail network of Canada’s most populous province won’t open till April 2019, due to a new government and its fresh plan. Keep an eye on the Ontario Cannabis Store for options, both online and IRL!
Québec (18+): In one of Canada’s most conservative approaches, this French-speaking region will allow sales through a government-run site and an initial batch of 12 Société Québécoise du Cannabis boutiques. The area anticipates having Canada’s lowest prices at around $7 per gram to remain competitive with the gray market but continues to ban homegrown marijuana.
Saskatchewan (19+): The prairie province didn’t grant final permits until October 17, so only a handful of its 51 approved stores opened on day one. But expect private retailers in cities and First Nations communities, as well as online sales.
What does legal weed look like?
The antithesis of fun. Products appear almost identical and the mandatory packaging appears to be designed by a committee, possibly one influenced by Russian hackers nostalgic about brutalism. Only a single branding element—aside from the name—can enliven the tamper-resistant, child-proof sealed sachets, larded with Health Canada warnings. No trippy metallics and fluorescents allowed.
What about all the original shops and lounges?
Canada has enjoyed a lively, long, and prosperous “gray market” for non-medicinal marijuana. Dispensaries have abounded and even welcomed tours via limo or pedicab. Even before Legalization Day, some cannabis brands hosted pop-ups, while others stocked shelves with products like EP Infusions’ CBD-infused craft chocolate bars and Calm and Quiet, an anxiety-reducing powder for dogs. In fact, many “vapor lounges” are old enough to legally drink, including Vancouver’s New Amsterdam Cafe and Abi Roach’s famous “pot-positive joint,” the Hotbox Lounge in Toronto.
Paula Huie, owner and founder of the Ganjahnista’s Cannabis Social Lounge nearby in Hamilton, explains: These clubs have “existed in the shadows, providing a safe space for people to socialize and medicate. Most have a drop-in or monthly membership fee and rules such as patrons must be 19+, bring their own material, no selling of cannabis, and no tobacco or alcohol permitted.”
How about edibles?
You can bake your own—and share with adult friends, as long as no money changes hands. But the nation won’t introduce commercial edibles until 2019. Smaller brands hope to find a place at the table then. Almost half of Canadians say they would try legal cannabis-infused food products, according to a Dalhousie University study. Cofounder of Olli, Sarah Gillin, says, “A lot of people do not know yet how to cook with cannabis, but they’re curious about curated and controlled treats that allow for an easy, smoke-free and healthful way to enjoy its many benefits.”
She’ll apply for a license and launch her products next year. Other companies hope to make the transition from gray to white, like Mary’s Wellness, which has been selling infused teas, ciders, and coffees online since 2015. Its founder Virginia Vidal believes people are thirsty for experiences that avoid the “heavy-dose, heavy-high, movie-stigma-stoned” stereotype.
Expect an outpouring of other THC-tastic beverages when edibles go legit, including beer and cocktails.
Where should I be at 4:20?
The nation welcomed medicinal marijuana in 2001. But only patients with prescriptions could indulge—buying through online shops—until the recreational launch. Even now, it’s not easy being green. Some regions still forbid public consumption, including on streets, parks, beaches and patios, plus in cars, hotels, workplaces, and smoke-free rentals and condos.
Vapor lounges—Canada’s “bring your own bud” clubs—seem like the obvious solution. However, the forecast looks hazy on whether all, or indeed any, will be legitimized. Even if they are, high licensing fees and competition from deep-pocketed corporations could drag down these grassroots community hubs. So at the outset, sites like Bud and Breakfast—the Airbnb of pot-positive accommodations—will probably provide the best options for wandering weed-enthusiasts.
Make sure to check local laws about transporting pot. Laws range from Manitoba’s insistence that reefer rides in a secure compartment to New Brunswick’s ban on indulging while on a tractor or snowmobile.
Speaking of BYO bud, what will happen to Canada’s gray market?
No one’s quite sure yet. The provinces and territories are debating whether to bring these businesses into the fold. So pot pioneers, who paved the way for legalization, could be shut down by it. “We’re being hijacked,” says superstar cannabis activist Jodie Emery. “The alcohol and pharmaceutical industries are getting involved: It’s become big business with companies valued at billions of dollars on the stock market.
“The whole way it’s being rolled out is very scary,” she says. “This is not the legalization we wanted, which would have supported the current industry and stopped wasting money on law enforcement for victimless crimes, while offering amnesty to those already convicted. But sometimes you have to just take what you’re given and keep asking for more.”
Staying on the right side of the law
Marijuana may be legal now, but make sure to color inside the lines. The country is policing the drug carefully, jumping from eight laws to 45. “In particular, selling or supplying to youth will be looked upon very harshly,” explains cannabis lawyer Harrison Jordon. “And even one gram of illicit cannabis—bought from, say, a dealer or an unauthorized store—is a criminal offense since October 17th.”
Here’s the good news: Canada is removing mandatory minimum sentences. But that leaves a lot up to the police: Officers will be able to either make an arrest or issue a ticket that doesn’t go on the criminal record if paid promptly.
Be especially vigilant while traveling between Canada and the United States. Most border states allow medicinal use, and Maine, Washington, Vermont, and Alaska smile on recreational cannabis. But marijuana cannot move freely between the two countries. In fact, the United States could, in theory, permanently ban Canadians for being involved in the industry or admitting to ever using marijuana, depending on the officer’s discretion. So a 420-unfriendly guard could theoretically penalize Prime Minister Justin Trudeau—who admits to inhaling a few times, even as a member of Parliament—from visiting once he leaves office and surrenders his diplomatic passport. These rules could also punish the 56 percent of Canadian citizens who have tried marijuana.
The only solution remains a $750 (US$585) travel waiver. It involves a background check, proof of employment, two character references, and a letter of remorse, earning you a permit good for one to five years. Canada’s Public Safety minister Ralph Goodale has called the situation “ludicrous” and hopes to ease it.
In the meantime, experts say travelers aren’t legally obliged to answer any questions about weed. U.S. Customs and Border Protection could detain refuseniks for a few hours—and deny them entry that day—but both options beat costly, time-consuming workarounds to combat a lifetime ban.
For an official overview of the rules, head to Canada’s Department of Justice website.
This story was updated on Oct 17, 2018 to reflect new laws and the latest information.