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Published on April 19th, 2017 | by Elliott Silverstein

‘Rolling’ Out the Details on Proposed Marijuana Legalization.

It was an announcement that was anticipated by many since the 2015 federal election.  On April 13, 2017, the federal government introduced legislation in the House of Commons that would legalize recreational use of marijuana in Canada.  If passed, the legislation would legalize and regulate the production, usage and sale of cannabis across Canada no later than July 2018 (Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act), while also strengthening impaired driving laws (Bill C-46) to ensure that the public is better protected.

While much of the public conversation has revolved around the legalization of cannabis, the proposed legislation extends beyond recreational use.

Background

During the 2015 federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the federal Liberals ran on a commitment that, if elected, they would take measures to legalize the use of cannabis across the country.  Armed with a majority government, the Prime Minister and his team embarked on turning his election platform into policy.

What is proposed in Bill C-45 – the Cannabis Act?

The Cannabis Act, while enabling recreational use of marijuana, also focuses on public safety issues.  This includes highlighting the need for public education campaigns, setting minimum age requirements for possession, and empowering the provinces to have discretion locally on where cannabis can be consumed, sold, and distributed.

  • The Cannabis Act will enable people over the age of 18 to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis (fresh or dried)
  • Each province has the discretion to raise the minimum age for possession
  • Adults over the minimum age requirement will be permitted to purchase cannabis and cannabis oil from retailers that are regulated provincially
  • At the outset of legalization, only dried and fresh cannabis would be available for sale along with cannabis oil. Other products such as edibles will be addressed at a later date
  • Canadians will be able to grow up to four plants per residence (for personal consumption only), with the height of each plant not exceeding one metre
  • The federal government will establish a public education campaign targeted at youth, highlighting the risks and harms of cannabis use. Through the federal Budget unveiled in March 2017, there was a commitment to develop education and awareness campaigns.
  • The Cannabis Act would create a new criminal offence for giving or selling cannabis to youth. The proposed maximum penalty would be 14 years in jail
  • For youth under the age of 18, they would not be subject to criminal charges for possession or sharing a small amount of cannabis (less than five grams)

Strengthening Impaired Driving Laws

Alongside the introduction of the Cannabis Act, the federal government took steps to address issues around impaired driving.  Through Bill C-46, if passed, changes would be made to the Criminal Code of Canada designed to deter impaired driving by alcohol and/or drugs.

Three new offences would be created for those who are found to have a have a specific level of a drug in their blood within two hours of driving.  Penalties would be dependent on the drug type, along with the level of drug or combination of drugs and alcohol.  The new offences are:

Type of Offence
Details
Penalties
Summary conviction criminal offence
2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per ml of blood within two hours of driving
Maximum fine of $1,000
Hybrid criminal offences

5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood within two hours of driving.

Combination of Alcohol and THC
Mandatory $1,000 penalty for a first offence.
Mandatory penalties to escalate for repeated offenders including jail time (30 days for a second offence, 120 days for a third offence).

Through Bill C-46, some penalties for alcohol impaired driving would also increase based on high blood alcohol concentration readings.  Below is a summary of the proposed mandatory fines for first offences:

Blood Alcohol Concentration Level
Proposed mandatory minimum penalty
BAC of 0.08 to 0.119%
$1,000 fine
BAC of 0.120 to 0.159%
$1,500 fine
BAC of 0.160 and above
$2,000 fine
Refusal of testing
$2,000 fine

The Bill also proposes strengthening enforcement tools:

  • Police have oral fluid screeners available to assist in detecting drug-impaired driving.
  • Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) would be recognized as experts in a trial.

Are there any specific rules/laws in Ontario?

Through the federal legislation, each province will be able to determine how cannabis will be distributed and sold, provided it meets the minimum federal requirements.  This could include issuing licenses for cannabis sales, and restricting where marijuana can be consumed.  Currently, the provincial government has not indicated how or where cannabis would be sold, but additional information should be available in the coming months.

In Ontario, the provincial government amended the Highway Traffic Act in 2016 to mirror the penalties for drug-impaired driving offences to those for alcohol-impaired driving offences.  The rules which took effect in October 2016 comply with the federal allowance that each province can amend traffic safety laws related to drug impairment.

Have the laws changed with the introduction of the Cannabis Act?

Although the Cannabis Act has been introduced in the House of Commons, it is currently illegal for the general public to buy, sell or produce cannabis in Canada.  Cannabis will continue to be illegal in Canada while the legislation is debated. If the legislation is approved by Parliament, the bill could become law around July 2018.

The legislation is subject to debates among Members of Parliament, committees and the Senate, so amendments to the legislation could be made before it becomes law.

What is CAA’s role?

As long standing advocates for road safety, CAA is monitoring this unprecedented discussion, and its impact across the province.  CAA Members have highlighted impaired driving, alongside distracted driving, as the road safety issue that concerns them most.  Ensuring that road safety remains at the forefront of efforts to legalize cannabis will continue to be part of CAA’s focus.

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