COLUMN: From the Hill -- Cannabis
On June 20th, the House of Commons rose for the summer break. One of the last votes we took dealt with the message to the Senate regarding their proposed amendments to Bill C-45, the bill to legalize marijuana. And the final motion to adjourn included a message to the Senate regarding Bill C-46, which covers new driving-while-impaired provisions. Both bills received Royal Assent the following day.
So, cannabis will be legal, but regulated, as of October 17th, and most of the drug- and alcohol-impaired driving changes will come into effect at the end of this year. What does this mean for Canadians and the cannabis industry?
First, Canadians will be allowed to grow up to four marijuana plants at home, and adults will be allowed to possess 30 grams of marijuana in public. Sales to youth under the age of 19 in BC will be illegal. You can make your own edible cannabis products from home-grown plants, as long as you don’t use solvents in their production, but retail edibles will not be legal until next year.
Second, the medical marijuana system will remain the same, except that there will now be a tax on medical marijuana. The NDP fought against this provision as it will be the only medicine that is taxed.
The provincial government will regulate the sale and distribution of cannabis. In British Columbia it will be sold through private or government retail stores or online. It will not be sold in stores that sell alcohol or cigarettes, except in rural agency stores. You will be able to smoke marijuana in many public spaces where smoking is allowed, but not in areas where children are frequently present, such as beaches, parks and playgrounds. Smoking marijuana in vehicles will be illegal.
Local governments will be able to set additional restrictions, and landlords and strata councils will be able to set restrictions on recreational cannabis use and cultivation on their properties.
Excise tax on cannabis will not exceed $1 per gram or 10 percent of the producers’ selling price, whichever is greater. Provinces will receive 75 percent of that tax revenue; the remainder will go to the federal government.
Drug-impaired driving will be illegal, as it is now. The federal government proposes the use of swabs to quickly check the concentration of THC—the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis—in the blood. Unfortunately, that concentration is known to have no meaningful relationship with impairment levels, so this will be problematic for charges relating to drivers alleged to be impaired by cannabis use.
However, a more serious problem is the legal status of the thousands of Canadians who have criminal records through the simple possession of cannabis. This includes 15,000 charged in 2016 alone. Since these people were never convicted of serious crimes, including dealing, and their actions are now considered completely legal, they should receive pardons so that they can apply for jobs and volunteer positions without facing prohibitions based on their past records. Unfortunately, the government has steadfastly refused to deal with this problem and these people will continue to suffer difficulties for no good reason.
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