Canadians have more to learn about cannabis laws, and here are the resources to help
October 1, 2019
This Op-Ed was originally posted by the Globe and Mail on September 26, 2019 and was written by Dr. Bill Howatt of the Conference Board of Canada.
One could be forgiven for being confused about Canada’s cannabis laws. Federally, the Cannabis Act sets the framework for how cannabis can be produced, distributed, sold and possessed in Canada. But each province and territory has its own rules, and municipalities also have the power to enact their own bylaws. This has created a patchwork of laws across the country.
In a survey conducted by cannabis education organization Responsible Cannabis Use (RCU) earlier this year, Canadians were tested on knowledge of the legal age of use in their province, possession limits, smoking area laws and impaired driving penalties.
Overall, the national average score was 71 per cent, but there are notable regional differences. Residents of Prince Edward Island demonstrated a good understanding of cannabis laws, achieving an average score of 80 per cent. On the opposite end of the country, British Columbians scored 56 per cent.
Penalties for violating cannabis laws, even unknowingly, can be hefty. That’s why it’s important that Canadians have a firm grasp on what is acceptable and what will get them into legal hot water, especially in these key areas:
LEGAL AGE TO PURCHASE AND CONSUME
All provinces and territories, except for Manitoba, have the same age to purchase and consume cannabis as they do alcohol. Criminal penalties for giving or selling cannabis to a person under the legal age can be sizable – ranging from fines to up to 14 years in jail in the most serious cases. Nearly everyone in New Brunswick knew the legal age in their province. But in Manitoba (the only province where the drinking age is 18 but the legal age for cannabis is 19), only 52 per cent got it right.
The laws around smoking areas are different from province to province. Some provinces allow cannabis to be smoked anywhere tobacco is allowed, while others only allow consumption on private property. In Manitoba, where smoking cannabis is only permitted on private property, 86 per cent of respondents were aware of the laws. In Nova Scotia, where cannabis is allowed anywhere cigarettes are allowed, respondents scored only 38 per cent. You can be fined up to $2,000 for a smoking violation in Nova Scotia, so it is well worth knowing the law.
Possession limits are set at 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent across all provinces and territories. New Brunswickers had the strongest knowledge of possession limits, scoring 90 per cent. British Columbians, however, scored 43 per cent on questions about possession limits, and Manitobans scored only 34 per cent.
Possession over 30 grams carries serious consequences – a maximum sentence of up to five years in jail.
Statistics Canada reported that 646,000 Canadians tried cannabis for the first time in the first three months of 2019. But who is responsible for helping these people learn the law? The federal and provincial governments have significant roles to play, as do organizations working in this newly legal market, including employers, university, colleges, and cannabis retailers.
What role does the employer play? Recent research by the Conference Board of Canada shows that only 32 per cent of organizations said they would provide employees with education on cannabis. The report also noted that employees might be hesitant to ask their employer about cannabis because they “may not want to risk being associated with the … stereotypes that have been attributed to cannabis users.”
These laws are new for everyone. They are still developing, provincially specific and hard to figure out. Many don’t know where to look for information, but there are resources available to help. RCU has created a campaign called dontbesorry.ca that summarizes key federal and provincial laws. Others need to take more action as well.
- Employers should educate their employees on cannabis impairment and how it affects the workplace. They should also cover topics such as duty to disclose and duty to accommodate.
- Cannabis retailers, having the most contact with cannabis consumers, can educate people on relevant laws at the checkout.
- Colleges and universities can run campaigns on social media educating students on the rules for on and off campus. They can use resources like dontbesorry.ca to supplement their education efforts.
Whether stakeholders are in or out of the cannabis industry, and whether they are for or against cannabis legalization, they all have an interest and a role to play in cannabis education. We’re all learning together, but we don’t have to do it alone.
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Chief of Research, Workforce Productivity
COO at RCU - Responsible Cannabis Use