What are the rules around marijuana possession?

Cannabis is the most commonly used drug in Canada and has been legal since October, 2018. The Cannabis Act states that anyone 18 years of age or older can purchase and possess it, though provinces are allowed to set their own age limits. In Ontario, you have to be 19. That age limit rises to 21 in Quebec while dropping to 18 in Alberta.

In all parts of Canada, cannabis or cannabis seeds must be purchased from a licensed supplier, with citizens of legal age allowed to:

  • possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis, dried or equivalent in non-dried form in public;
  • share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adults;
  • buy dried or fresh cannabis and cannabis oil from a provincially licensed retailer or online from federally licensed producers;
  • grow, from licensed seed or seedlings, up to four cannabis plants per residence for personal use; and
  • make cannabis products, such as food and drinks, at home as long as organic solvents are not used to create concentrated products.

The possession limits in the Cannabis Act are based on dried cannabis. Equivalents were developed for other cannabis products to identify what their possession limit would be. One gram of dried cannabis is equal to:

  • five grams of fresh cannabis;
  • 15 grams of edible product;
  • 70 grams of liquid product;
  • 0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid); or
  • one cannabis plant seed.

This means, for example, that an adult can legally possess 150 grams of fresh cannabis. Medical cannabis is legal for people who have the authorization of their health-care provider.

What about edible cannabis?

On Oct. 17, 2019, edible cannabis products and concentrates became legal for sale. “Edibles” are cannabis-infused products that include beverages, cotton candy, dissolvable strips, gummy candies or baked goods. Edibles are sought out by those looking to avoid inhaling the smoke from joints or pipes. Health Canada warns that edibles can be more potent and affect you for longer periods of time than products that are inhaled, and it can take up to four hours for the effect to kick in.

What penalties are given for cannabis?

You can be charged if you are found with the equivalent of more than 30 grams of dried cannabis. If the Crown treats the charge as an indictable offence the maximum sentence is a prison term up to five years less a day. If treated as a summary conviction, the maximum sentence is a $5,000 fine, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.

If a young person (12-17 years of age) is found with the equivalent of more than five grams of dried cannabis, they can be charged with an indictable or a summary conviction offence, covered under the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA).

If adults are found to be growing more than four cannabis plants, the maximum penalty is a five-year prison term for indictable offences. If the charge is treated as a summary conviction, you may receive up to a $5,000 fine, six months in jail, or both. For youths, it can be either an indictable or summary conviction offence, dealt with under the YCJA.

If you are charged with giving or selling cannabis to a person under 18, you could face a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in jail upon conviction. The same penalty is given if you use a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.

Can I drive after consuming cannabis?

Any drug can impair your ability to drive safely. According to a government factsheet, the percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs now exceeds the numbers who test positive for alcohol. Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada, and drug-impaired driving is increasing.

Police officers are trained to detect drivers who are under the influence of drugs, and offenders may have their licence suspended, face fines or serve a jail sentence. According to information from the RCMP, if officers suspect a driver has alcohol and/or drugs in their system, a police officer can demand you to:

  • provide a sample of your breath, at roadside, on an Approved Screening Device;
  • provide an oral fluid sample, at roadside, on Approved Drug Screening Equipment; and
  • participate in Standardized Field Sobriety Testing.

You can be charged under s. 320.14 of the Criminal Code, which makes it illegal to operate any vehicle while impaired by alcohol or a drug. Provincial or territorial legislation also can result in administrative costs, licence suspensions, required training to renew your licence, and/or vehicle seizures.

Can I take it across the border?

While cannabis is legal for adults in Canada, it is still illegal to transport cannabis and products containing cannabis – including edibles, extracts and topicals – outside the country. According to government information, it does not matter how much cannabis you have with you or if you are authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes in any form, including cannabidiol. It also does not matter if you are travelling to a country or U.S. state where cannabis has been legalized or decriminalized.

If you try to travel internationally with any amount of cannabis in your possession, you could face “serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad,” notes the government information, including being denied entry at your destination country or other countries in the future. It is your responsibility to learn about the legal status of cannabis use and possession in your destination country, with more information about at this Travel Advice and Advisories webpage.

The Canadian government warns citizens to not attempt to bring cannabis into the United States. Although some states have legalized it, it is still a banned substance under U.S. federal law. “Previous use of cannabis, or any substance prohibited by U.S. federal laws, could mean that you are denied entry to the U.S. If you are travelling for business related to the cannabis industry, you may be deemed inadmissible,” the information reads.

Can I get my cannabis possession charge dropped?

You can apply directly to the Parole Board of Canada for a cannabis record suspension and you do not need to use a lawyer or third-party service provider. Step-by-step instructions are given in the Cannabis Record Suspension Application Guide with applicants responsible for any additional fees required such as fingerprint, criminal record, court and police checks.

Though this program has been in place since 2019, a news report states that “fewer than 400 people have successfully been pardoned.” The story adds that it is difficult to determine how many Canadians have prohibition-era records for cannabis possession, as many were prosecuted under a generic drug possession charge, though “when the program was being debated in Parliament, a figure of 250,000 was cited.”

Where can I use cannabis?

Each province has enacted rules for using cannabis, both medical and recreational. In Ontario, legislation states anyone 19 years of age and over can smoke and vape cannabis in:

  • private residences (this does not include residences that are also workplaces, such as long-term care and retirement homes);
  • outdoor public places, such as sidewalks and parks);
  • designated smoking guest rooms in hotels, motels and inns;
  • residential vehicles and boats that meet certain criteria (for example, if they have permanent sleeping accommodations and cooking facilities, and are parked or anchored);
  • scientific research and testing facilities (if the cannabis use is for scientific research and testing purposes); and
  • controlled areas in long-term care homes, certain retirement homes, residential hospices, provincially funded supportive housing and designated psychiatric facilities or veterans’ facilities.

Additional restrictions on smoking and vaping may exist in municipal bylaws, lease agreements and the policies of employers and property owners.

Quebec government information provides details on where people are not allowed to consume cannabis, stating it is “forbidden to smoke or vape cannabis in any public place, whether indoor or outdoor.”

It is also against the law to consume cannabis in buildings used for:

  • preschool education services, elementary and secondary school instructional services;
  • vocational training, general education, college or university education (with the exception of student residences);
  • child care and daycare centre; and
  • detention facilities.

Ottawa residents that cross the border into Quebec should also be aware that the only legal way to buy cannabis in that province is through the Société Québécoise du Cannabis. If you’re a tenant in Quebec, landlords can forbid you from consuming cannabis in your home when you sign your lease. If you live in a condominium, your condo board can also forbid you from consuming cannabis in the common areas. Boards can also forbid cannabis consumption in private areas if it bothers other residents.

In Ontario, residents are legally allowed to smoke recreational cannabis wherever it is legal to smoke tobacco.

Why you need my assistance

Even though cannabis is legal in Canada, the rules change from province to province and they are being updated as the law evolves. You may think you are abiding by legislation but may still find yourself being charged by police. If you find yourself facing charges, call me for a free consultation.

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