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What are the laws around marijuana use in Canada?

Marijuana (cannabis) will be legal for certain uses on October 17, 2018. Medical marijuana will still be legal, and the laws regarding its use remain the same. The new Cannabis Act will change the laws regulating recreational use of marijuana.

Changes under the Cannabis Act

The Cannabis Act was passed and received Royal Assent in June 2018.

The government previously said that it would see to it that is not legal for use by children and that it not be used for criminal profit. Under the new Act, giving or selling marijuana to a person under 18 is as serious a criminal offence in Canada as aggravated assault, facilitating a terrorist act, human trafficking, threatening to commit a nuclear offence and torture. All are punishable by up to 14 years in jail. An adult using a person under 18 in a drug scheme faces the same punishment.

People under 18 face criminal sanctions for matters that may only earn an adult a ticket. A person under 18 commits an offence if they possess more than 5 grams of marijuana, or try selling it to anyone. 

Both are either indictable offences or summary conviction offences under the Act.

But if adults possess up to 50 grams of marijuana, or sell that amount or less to other adults, the police may choose to only give them a ticket. 

The existing law

Several sections in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act deal with prohibitions on the owning and selling of marijuana. These prohibitions are set out in Schedule II of the act. The act itself is a federal drug control act that repealed the Narcotics Act in 1996, and substituted it.

Under the act, it is set out that anyone who owns or traffics in marijuana is guilty of a serious (indictable) offense.

Penalties for adults possessing more than 50 grams of marijuana which are currently still valid are pretty steep.

Producing the plant can see people face a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison and minimum penalties for six months and more, depending on how many plants are produced. 

For example, if the number of plants produced is more than five but less than 201, then the minimum punishment for the offence upon conviction is six months in prison. If a person produces more than 201 plants but less than 500, there is a minimum penalty of one year in prison.

If, however, the number of plants produced exceeds 500 in number then the minimum prison term a person can receive is two years.

For possession of marijuana, the minimum sentence a person can get is a fine of up to $1,000 or a prison term of up to six months. The maximum a person can receive is five years.

Trafficking carries a much steeper sentence than mere possession as a person could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

The medical marijuana exception

The law makes an exception for the possession of medical marijuana though it is strictly regulated.

As of August 24, 2016 people are allowed to grow a limited amount of marijuana but they have to register with Health Canada.

It is legal to sell or possess medical marijuana, according to the law, as long as:

  • The person who is growing their own medical marijuana is only growing it in a limited amount as prescribed by the law and Health Canada;
  • Someone grows it on behalf of the medical marijuana user in the prescribed limited amount but that person has to undergo a background check showing they haven't been convicted of a drug offence in the last 10 years; 
  • The seller of marijuana is a licensed producer who has to follow a strict list of guidelines; and
  • The buyer has been prescribed medical marijuana by a healthcare practitioner and presents proof of authority to possess marijuana for medical purposes.

There is also currently a limit as to how much medical marijuana a person is allowed to possess. 

If you have been charged with an offense relating to marijuana you should consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Possession of Marijuana

Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

Cannabis is legal - now what?