The London Free Press cannabis reporter Dale Carruthers has spent the past six months focused on marijuana legalization — an issue that becomes reality today when Canada becomes the world’s second country (after Uruguay) to legalize pot. Here are the cannabis basics, and key questions:
HOW’D WE GET HERE?
Two words: Justin Trudeau. Three years ago, in the federal election, he promised to legalize recreational pot use. After the Liberals won, the new government immediately set about to fulfill that pledge.
WHERE CAN I SCORE?
In Ontario, at least for now, you can only buy legally online from the government-run Ontario Cannabis Store. The delivery service sells dried cannabis, capsules, oils and pre-rolled joints. Retail stores won’t be licensed to open until April. Buyers must be at least 19 years old, the same as to buy alcohol or cigarettes, and customers must verify their age when the pot is delivered from the provincial service.
No packages will be left at the door. The former Liberal government had wanted to keep the pot business entirely in provincial hands, but the new Progressive Conservative government says it will license private retail stores. The application process doesn’t start until December, but experts expect several hundred pot shops will open. Municipalities will be allowed to ban pot sales, with some in Southwestern Ontario already moving that way. Selling or giving the drug to minors is a criminal offense that carries penalties of up to 14 years in prison.
SMOKING IN PUBLIC
For now, recreational marijuana users can only light up or vape in private homes, unless their landlord forbids it. But once Bill 36 becomes law (the bill has passed at the second reading), pot use will be allowed wherever cigarette smoking is permitted. That includes homes and most outdoor public spaces. But not workplaces, restaurants, bars, patios, near playgrounds or at public sports facilities, where doing so means risking fines of $1,000 to $5,000. Unlike tobacco, pot can’t be used in moving cars or boats. Municipalities can impose additional restrictions through bylaws.
WHO’S GROWING THE STUFF?
With legal pot sales expected to hit $1 billion in the final months of this year, and estimates that up to five million Canadians will buy it, a huge industry has sprung up almost overnight to feed the demand. In Southwestern Ontario alone, from Brantford to Windsor, at least 16 producers have already set up or plan to, supplying the recreational or medicinal pot markets or both. One of the largest producers in the country is Leamington-based Aphria.
GROWING YOUR OWN
Ontarians 19 and BC but other places in Canada at age 18 are allowed to grow up to four pot plants per home, no matter how many people live there. Seeds will only be sold through the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corp., though they’re not available until the spring when private retailers will also be allowed to sell them. Growing more than four plants is a criminal offence, packing penalties that range from a fine to 14 years in prison.
HUNGRY FOR EDIBLES
Don’t expect to munch on pot brownies or sip cannabis-infused sodas just yet – unless you take a do-it-yourself approach. The federal government is talking to cannabis producers, food makers, and other stakeholders before it plans to green-light the sales of edibles and concentrates by next fall at the earliest. Until then, making marijuana-laced treats for personal consumption is allowed in your home.
KNOW YOUR LIMIT
You’re allowed to buy and possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, the equivalent of roughly 90 medium-sized joints. Beyond that, you’re flouting the law and could be charged.
There are many. Employers, schools, and municipalities, for starters, will have to police the fine line between the ability of adults to legally use pot and their own rules about drug use, impairment and, in the case of municipalities, where pot can be sold.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
One of the biggest worries ahead is pot-impaired driving. The law against impaired driving was recently beefed up to give police authority to conduct roadside intoxication tests, including oral fluid drug tests, and to make it illegal to drive within two hours of being over the legal limit of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component in the pot.
Having between two and five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood carries a criminal conviction and a maximum fine of $1,000 while having more than five nanograms could bring a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Don’t expect to see joint-smoking sloths or a blazed Bob Marley making pot pitches. The government has strict rules on advertising and packaging cannabis, banning companies from promoting their products through sponsorship or endorsements, marketing to minors or using celebrities or characters to sell marijuana.
Like cigarette packages, cannabis containers will include only basic information like the amount of THC and cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive, chemical content.
Taking cannabis between provinces is allowed, as is packing pot on domestic flights. But taking it across international borders, including into the United States, is illegal. Recreational marijuana use is legal in nearly a dozen U.S. states, but the American federal law against marijuana applies at border points.
Anyone caught trying to bring it into the U.S. can be denied entry to the U.S. for life. American border agents have also slapped Canadians with lifetime bans for admitting to past cannabis use.