Written by Lachelle Arevalo.*
Canada is poised to become the second country in modern history to decriminalize the consumption of recreational cannabis. Come October 17, 2018, recreational marijuana will be legal across the country.
The phrase “legal cannabis” may sound so unusually liberating that the “freedom” it connotes could be misconstrued.
To make matters ostensibly complicated to the average recreational marijuana user in Ontario, two statutes were enacted recently and consecutively – one provincial, the other federal – both called Cannabis Act.
While both legislations clearly define their objectives, which include among others, to “protect public health and safety” and “deter illicit activities in relation to cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures,” it is prudent to examine both Acts and essentially protect oneself from inadvertently committing a federal or provincial offence.
Federal law: Cannabis Act
Although cannabis legalization dominates news feeds of late, the subject matter was set off by the Liberal Party when they proposed the legislation in 2012 and made it one of their major campaign platforms led by then Prime Minister hopeful Justin Trudeau.
Shortly after Trudeau became Prime Minister in 2015, a task force was created to study the feasibility of legalized marijuana in the country, taking into consideration examples from forerunners, such as Washington State and Colorado, as well as Uruguay – the first country to legalize recreational cannabis in 2013.
Accordingly, the Cannabis Act (or Bill C-45) passed first reading in April 2017 and ultimately received Royal Assent in June 2018.
Provincial law: Cannabis Act, 2017
In the summer of 2017, Ontario led province-wide consultations about cannabis legalization. Within the succeeding months, the provincial government introduced the Cannabis, Smoke-Free Ontario and Road Safety Statute Law Amendment Act, 2017 (or Bill 174).
The other three Schedules that comprise Bill 174 include the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation Act, 2017, Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017, and Amendments to the Highway Traffic Act, respectively.
Comparison between federal and provincial cannabis laws
Cannabis lawyer Harrison Jordan admits that “there are a lot of misconceptions” surrounding the legalization of recreational marijuana. Each legislation is quite extensive, and when read together, can be relatively daunting.
Jordan enumerates some points that an average individual might potentially overlook:
The federal statute prohibits the sale and distribution of recreational cannabis to persons under 18. In Ontario, one needs to be 19 and older to “buy, use, possess and grow recreational cannabis,” which is the same age restriction for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in the province.
Places of consumption
“In Ontario, you will not be able to spark up in public – that’s going to be a provincial offence,” Jordan clarifies.
Section 11, subsection 1 of the provincial legislation clearly identifies where one cannot consume recreational cannabis in Ontario: “a public place; a workplace within the meaning of the Occupational Health and Safety Act; a vehicle or boat; or any prescribed place.”
The federal statute defines a “public place” as including: “any place to which the public has access as of right or by invitation, express or implied, and any motor vehicle located in a public place or in any place open to public view.”
According to Jordan, there is a law against public display of recreational cannabis in some U.S. states and he finds it interesting that “in Ontario, so far, there’s no such law against public display. So, it won’t be illegal to display marijuana publicly or carry it around with you – provided that you don’t consume it in public.”
The federal statute is also silent regarding public display of recreational cannabis, but includes a provision on the prohibition of cannabis display specifically for authorized retailers, wherein they cannot “display [cannabis], or any package or label of cannabis, in a manner that may result in the cannabis, package or label being seen by a young person.”
The federal Cannabis Act includes the word “transporting” within the context of distribution. However, the Ontario legislation provides a stricter provision to persons who wish to transport recreational cannabis for personal use.
Section 12, subsection 1 of the provincial statute provides that “No person shall drive or have the care or control of a vehicle or boat, whether or not it is in motion, while any cannabis is contained in the vehicle or boat.”
This provision, however, comes with an exception. “If you want to transport your cannabis from Point A to Point B, you have to make sure that the package containing your cannabis is firmly fastened closed,” Jordan explains.
The idea behind this provision is to make sure that the cannabis remains inaccessible or not readily available “to any person in the vehicle or boat.”
Err on the side of caution
Consider the following questions:
Scenario 1: Jason is an 18-year-old Toronto resident. He would like to buy cannabis. Can Jason go ahead and buy?
Scenario 2: Mel is at a park, sitting on a bench, relaxing. She looks around, and no one was there but her. She has a joint in her pocket. Can she smoke it?
Scenario 3: Sarah, 19, of Ottawa, is planning her weekend. She has cannabis that she wants to share with her 18-year-old boyfriend, Jason, from Toronto. Sarah decided that she would put two sticks of marijuana in the pocket of her purse and drive to Toronto to meet up with Jason. Can she go ahead with her weekend plans?
The above scenarios may seem obtuse to some, but real people do get caught up in the grey area between legal and illegal. When in doubt, at least on matters concerning recreational cannabis, err on the side of caution.