Canada: Coast To Coast Provincial Cannabis Legislation Update

Last Updated: June 29 2017
Article by Matt Maurer

While it is still early days with the Cannabis Act  having only been tabled about two months ago, things have begun buzzing at the provincial and municipal level where issues such as sale, distribution and consumption will be legislated. Below is a coast to coast summary of what is transpiring at the provincial (and in some instances municipal) level.

British Columbia

Out on the West Coast, British Columbia is known around the world for its cannabis but getting a sense for how liberal the law might be in B.C. is challenging at the moment.

After a highly publicized Provincial General Election, the result was a minority government. Ultimately, an agreement was reached between the NDPs and the Greens, which will have an impact on what we will see for its provincial cannabis policy. While neither party made cannabis policy a focus of their campaign, they have both anticipated federal legalization of the recreational market.

The NDPs have publicly advocated for a hybrid system for sales and distribution, where cannabis would retail in private beer and wine stores, pharmacies, storefront dispensaries and craft breweries. The B.C. Greens see a distribution model that allows consumers to sample and purchase product at a producer's location and a role for pharmacies. Although no details have been released as of yet, we expect to see B.C. talking about cannabis very soon.

The province does have a cross-ministry group working on legalization issues and at a municipal level Victoria and Vancouver have taken steps to license cannabis businesses, notwithstanding that recreational cannabis remains illegal at the federal level (until next year). It appears that the municipalities are getting a bit fed up with the silence from their big provincial brother with Victoria Council formally resolving to ask the province when it anticipates publishing draft regulations and legislation relating to cannabis.

Alberta

Alberta is historically known as a conservative province and the message coming from its provincial government fits the historical narrative well. The Government of Alberta has taken a page from the federal script and has indicated that the province's three main areas of focus are to keep cannabis away from kids, keep profits away from criminals and protect roads and workplaces.

However, it appears that the residents of Alberta will have a say on the provincial system as Alberta has indicated that it will be seeking the input of its citizens on issues such as minimum age, health and safety and where cannabis will be sold, among others. Earlier this month, the provincial government launched an online cannabis survey in order to solicit feedback from Albertans on how Alberta should adopt the proposed Cannabis Act,  including surveys on minimum age, distribution, and the use of cannabis in public spaces. The survey is open for residents (and non-residents) to complete until July 31, 2017, so we expect to see provincial legislation put forth some time in the fall.

The cities of Edmonton and Calgary are gearing up at the municipal level. Edmonton city staff is already working on draft municipal by-law amendments and is looking at issues such a licensing fees and the possibility of businesses such as cannabis lounges. A zoning bylaw amendment with regulations for cannabis related activities is included in the Edmonton City Council's Agenda for June 28, 2017. The bylaw carves out definitions for "cannabis production and distribution", "cannabis retail sales" and "cannabis lounges", and excludes cannabis retail sales from other types of retailers and businesses in the city. Although this doesn't tell us exactly what we will see in terms of distribution, it tells us that on a municipal level, we may see cannabis in retail storefronts and public consumption in cannabis lounges.

Calgary has established a panel of experts to assist in getting the ball rolling towards establishing its own municipal framework.

Alberta Finance Minister Joe Ceci has indicated that Alberta will be ready to go live by July 1, 2018.

Saskatchewan

Not a lot to report out of Saskatchewan yet. The Justice Minister and his staff are in the process of reviewing the Cannabis Act. The province has indicated that it will work with both the federal government and other provinces in implementing its legislation.

Manitoba

Manitoba jumped the gun on the federal announcement of the Cannabis Act, putting forward the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act which was met with a lot of criticism, especially from medical cannabis users. The Cannabis Harm Prevention Act  would list cannabis as an intoxicant and would ban people from consuming it in a vehicle.

When the Cannabis Act  was unveiled, the Justice Minister stated that she has "lots of concerns" with the legislation.

While it appears that Manitoba may ultimately be home to one of the more conservative set of cannabis laws across the country, for the time being the provincial government is not commenting publicly on what the province's next steps are, aside from indicating that they want to consult with, and listen to, Manitobans.  We do know that an interdepartmental working group is examining the implications of regulations on a provincial level and hopes to synchronize its regulations with other jurisdictions across the country. The province hopes to collaborate with other provinces and create similar distribution models and set a minimum age that is consistent Canada-wide.

We also know that Provincial Finance Minister Cameron Friesen has indicated that Manitoba feels that the legalization process is rushed and has asked the Federal Government to push back its July 1, 2018 target date for legalization. We also know that is not going to happen.

Ontario

Canada's biggest province isn't showing its cards yet when it comes to cannabis legalization. Both Premier Kathleen Wynne and the Attorney General have said that Ontario is looking at "all options on the table". In fact, even attempting to ascertain when some sort of announcement may be made is proving difficult with the Finance Minister stating that the government will make its announcements "when the time is right".

What we do know is that Premier Wynne has previously voiced support for a government operated retail system, that a working group has been struck with the Ministries of Finance, Health and the Attorney General, and that Ontario has agreed to work together with Quebec in rolling out its legislation. Wynne has stressed that the province is taking their time to make a decision and is placing personal and community safety at the core of all decision-making.

On the municipal level, the Toronto Board of Health has adopted a report which included a request to the federal government to immediately decriminalize the possession of recreational cannabis for personal use until legislation to legalize and regulate cannabis comes into force.

Ontario's next provincial election will take place on June 7, 2018. We expect that the July 1st date for federal recreational legalization will impact the parties' platforms in their campaigns for that election.

Quebec

Quebec has struck a new cabinet committee which includes officials from several different ministries to discuss possible policies relating to cannabis.

Quebec has announced that it plans to table cannabis legislation in the fall after holding public consultations and hearings province-wide. The Public Health Minister, Lucie Charlebois' main concern is public health and security.

Consultations are set to begin at the end of August and run until mid-September. Included in these public hearings will be input on how distribution and sales of cannabis should be regulated. Couche-Tard, Quebec's largest chain of convenience stores, is currently lobbying the government to ensure its involvement in the distribution of cannabis. Charlebois has already indicated that she does not believe that cannabis should be co-located at Quebec Liquor Corporation stores, so it is possible that we will see legislation that permits distribution in convenience-store retail outlets.

New Brunswick

The political statements coming out of New Brunswick demonstrate that it will likely be far and away the most cannabis friendly province. New Brunswick views the cannabis industry as an important creator of jobs and revenues and announced back in March that cannabis would be a pillar of its economic strategy. New Brunswick's cannabis friendly ways pre-date this recent announcement. The province has given financial incentives to attract licensed producers and has developed a community college program for cannabis technicians.

The provincial government has been working since 2015 to prepare for the inevitable legalization of the recreational market and plans to be fully ready by the anticipated July 1, 2018 federal roll-out date. The province has created a multi-departmental committee which will provide its recommendations on issues such as distribution and retail sales by September, 2017, with an interim report set to be released this coming summer.

Most recently, the New Brunswick Medical Society has issued 14 recommendations to the provincial government, including setting the legal age for purchasing cannabis at 21. It has stated that it prefers 25 but recognizes that is unrealistically high.

Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil has indicated that his province will be ready to start selling recreational cannabis by the anticipated July 1, 2018 federal roll-out date. The provincial Liberal party has repeatedly stated that a set of unified rules, which would include those relating to age, pricing and distribution ought to be implemented across Atlantic Canada. Mr. McNeil has also indicated that all four premiers from the Atlantic provinces are on the same page with respect to working together to create a set of unified rules.

Prince Edward Island

With a population of under 150,000, P.E.I. has said it has no intention of taking the lead when it comes to setting rules relating to recreational cannabis. In fact, Premier Wade MacLauchlan has stated that P.E.I. will likely wait and see what other provinces do first. Mr. MacLauchlan has also indicated that he would like to see a clear and consistent approach among the provinces and territories, especially so among the four Atlantic provinces.

Newfoundland and Labrador

Like in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador's provincial government has released a public questionnaire on cannabis to obtain residents' views on how the government should approach legalization. Answers to the survey will be used by the government to establish local regulations with respect to where cannabis may be sold, who may purchase it, and whether certain laws should be updated or changed in the interests of public health and safety. Submissions for the online questionnaire will close on June 30, 2017.

The Territories

The Government of the Northwest Territories has established a multi-departmental cannabis working group and has indicated that it intends to be ready for the federal roll-out date of July 1, 2018.

The Yukon has indicated that it supports legalization and regulation. The territory has also established a working group and has indicated that it intends to work closely with other provinces and territories in setting its legislation.

Meanwhile, in Nunavut things will likely be on hold for the time being. The legislative assembly dissolves on September 24, 2017, with a new election being held on October 30th. Sometime around mid to late November, a Premier, Speaker and the Cabinet will be elected. December to January brings a lengthy holiday period for the government. As such, the civil service is not expecting to receive any meaningful direction until at least February, 2018, if not later.

Originally published on Slaw by litigator Matt Maurer.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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