Canada is about to go where only one other nation has gone before (hi, Uruguay). But establishing a legal market for recreational cannabis is no straightforward feat. Here are the details.
Canada is about to blaze a trail: On October 17, it will become the first G7 nation to start legally selling recreational cannabis.
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 get now?
Unless you’re a Canadian with a medicinal prescription, it’s all off-limits still. Mellow out until mid-October, dude!
But what about all the shops and lounges?
Canada has a lively, long, and prosperous “gray market” for non-medicinal marijuana. Dispensaries already abound and even welcome tours via limo or pedicab. Some cannabis brands are hosting pop-ups, while others stock shelves with products like EP Infusions’ CBD-infused craft chocolate bars and Calm and Quiet, an anxiety-reducing powder for pooches. And 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.”
The scene may be thriving, but police can still bust anyone growing, selling, or using recreational weed now. Play it safe and wait!
What can I purchase after Oct. 17, 2018?
Canada is only legalizing three types of cannabis: seedlings, dried marijuana flowers or buds, and oils that can be ingested or applied topically.
The federal government will license growers and producers, while provincial and territorial liquor agencies act as central distributors. Only Saskatchewan will allow producers to sell directly to private retailers. So not much room exists for craft cannabis to bloom.
No brownies? C’mon, man . . .
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.
What will legal weed look like?
The antithesis of fun. Products will look 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.
Where can I shop?
Access to legal marijuana will vary wildly because the provinces and territories set their own rules. Here’s the lowdown by region:
Alberta (Legal age: 18 and over): Licensed stores or albertacannabis.org
British Columbia (19+): A mix of government- and privately-run shops, plus online sales
Manitoba (19+): Expect dispensaries and e-tail. Note: This province doesn’t allow homegrown pot.
New Brunswick (19+): Cannabis NB unveiled the world’s first government cannabis store just before the country’s landmark vote: a clean, modern space that categorizes bud into experiences—discover, connect, and refresh.
Newfoundland and Labrador (19+): Grocery stores from the Dominion/Loblaws chain won most of the 24 initial licenses. Cannabis will also be available via shopcannabisnl.com.
Northwest Territories (19+): Private liquor stores and online sales
Nova Scotia (19+): Via the internet and government liquor stores, which will carry 70 strains that “relax, unwind, centre or enhance,” according to brightly colored signs
Nunavut (19+): This vast territory won’t be opening any stores in 2018, though it’s entertaining bids. Initially, look to buy online.
Ontario (19+): Government-run Ontario Cannabis Stores, as well as on the web
Prince Edward Island (19+): The government will debut in-person and online stores
Québec (18+): In one of Canada’s most conservative approaches, this province will allow sales through government-run Société Québécoise du Cannabis boutiques and an online shop.
Saskatchewan (19+): Expect private retailers in cities and First Nations communities of this prairie province, as well as online sales.
Yukon (19+): The territory opted for government stores, both e-tail and brick-and-mortar.
Where should I be at 4:20?
The nation welcomed medicinal marijuana in 2001. But only patients with prescriptions can indulge—buying through online shops—until the recreational launch. Even then, it will not be easy being green. Some regions are forbidding 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 they’ll 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.
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
Once marijuana is legal, make sure to color inside the lines. The country will be 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—will be a criminal offense after 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, 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.