A Guide to Canadian Cannabis Regulations

MedLock | September 27, 2021


A gavel beside a nugget of dried cannabis flower conveying the topic of cannabis law
As more and more countries begin to legalize cannabis, stringent rules and regulations are being put in place with the intention of increasing safe product use. Canada is one of them.

Canadian Cannabis Rules and Regulations: A Brief Overview

In 1923, the use of cannabis was officially outlawed in Canada. It took until the year 2000 for the court ruling to pass that granted Canadians the constitutional right to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Finally, one year later, Canadians suffering from life-threatening and debilitating illnesses were granted legal access to cannabis for medical purposes.


With the the help of the academia, researchers, physicians, scientists, and patients, enough findings were brought to light that substantiated the health benefits associated with cannabis consumption. In late November 2017, the House of Commons passed the Cannabis Act, Bill C-45. By 2018, Canadians had legal - although heavily controlled - access to cannabis products.


The Cannabis Act is a rigid legal framework for the regulation of the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis across Canada. The Act was set up with the following core purposes:

  1. Keeping Canadian youth healthy by preventing them from accessing cannabis.

  2. Preventing youth and others from being persuaded to use cannabis.

  3. Deterring the illegal production and sale of cannabis and related illicit activities.

  4. Regulating cannabis production and sale to reduce the likelihood of Canadians purchasing cannabis illegally.

  5. Reducing the burden that cannabis-related offences have on the criminal justice system.

  6. Putting quality control measures in place to ensure consumers know exactly what they are consuming.

  7. Bringing public awareness of the potential health risks associated with cannabis use.

* Taken from Government of Canada Justice Laws Website for the Cannabis Act

(https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/c-24.5/page-1.html#h-76878).


This article will provide a brief overview of the Canadian Cannabis Act, the regulations being enforced to ensure public health and safety, and differences across provincial laws. The core focus is on how the rules and regulations affect consumers, with a brief look at how packaging and product laws affect licensed producers and dispensaries.


Regulations Related to the Possession, Sale, and Distribution of Cannabis


Legal Age to Purchase

The Canadian Cannabis Act states that adults can legally purchase, use, possess, and grow recreational cannabis. In Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, this means Canadians age 18 and older are legally able to purchase, use, possess, and grow cannabis. In all other provinces and territories, the legal age remains 19 years and older.


Place of Purchase

In Canada, cannabis can only be purchased legally by government registered, owned, or operated facilities, licensed dispensaries, and online via government websites. The Ontario Cannabis Store - or the OCS for short - and its designated retailers are the only places Canadians may legally purchase cannabis. Purchasing cannabis from unauthorized individuals or organizations is still considered to be illegal. Selling cannabis to a friend, even those of the legal age, is a crime. Selling cannabis to a minor comes with even more severe charges, including up to 14 years in prison.


Maximum Amount in One's Possession

In public, the maximum amount of cannabis Canadians can legally purchase or carry at a time is 30 grams. However, the legal amount of cannabis one can keep in their private place of residence varies between provinces. For example, residents of British Columbia are legally allowed to keep a maximum of 1,000 grams of cannabis in their homes. However, some provinces are more strict and some are more lax when it comes to the amount of cannabis you can keep in your home. In stricter provinces, like Quebec, residents are only allow a total of 150 grams of cannabis per household. Conversely, in Manitoba, there is no limit to the amount of cannabis one can possess and consume within private residences.


It is important to note that the possession limits described above specifically refers to 30g of dried cannabis flower OR the equivalent. Different cannabis products have different possession limits, depending on the physical composition and potency of the product. One gram of dried cannabis is therefore equivalent to the following (in grams):

  • Fresh cannabis - 5g

  • Edibles - 15g

  • Liquids - 70g

  • Concentrates (solid or liquid) - 0.25g

  • One cannabis plant seed

As long as the products in your possession do equate to 30g of dried cannabis flower, residents can carry whatever product format they desire.


Growing Cannabis at Home

Across most of Canada, residents are allowed to grow cannabis at home for personal use. Generally, there is a maximum limit of 4 plants per household. There are, however, more rigid regulations in certain provinces. In Manitoba and Quebec, it is illegal to grow cannabis plants at home without a license. This is particularly strange for those in Manitoba as individuals in this province may keep an unlimited quantity of legally purchased cannabis in their homes, but they cannot grow plants at home for personal use. While most of these regulations make sense, we are still trying to wrap our heads around that one.


It seems worth mentioning that many home growers have been robbed in their own backyards. Unfortunately, many people still think it is great fun to break into someone's yard and remove branches or dig up entire cannabis plants. It is therefore recommended that growers use cameras and other security systems that could aid in preventing this type of criminal behaviour. Stealing cannabis is a crime that usually goes unpunished since the culprits cannot be identified or apprehended.


Rules Regarding Place of Consumption

Where Canadians can legally consume cannabis is another factor that varies provincially. In many provinces, cannabis can be consumed in any designated tobacco smoking area. Although, this is subject to variation based on local bylaws, premise owners, and so on. Some provinces, like Prince Edward Island, restrict cannabis consumption to private residences only.


In British Columbia, people are allowed to consume cannabis in designated public spaces. Cannabis cannot, however, be consumed in public recreational facilities, parks, public workplaces, apartments, condos, within six metres of bus stops or transit shelters (or any other similar public space), public patios (unless otherwise specified), health board properties (except in designated smoking areas), and other similar areas.


Cannabis Consumption and Vehicles

Of course, it is illegal to drive under the influence of cannabis. As such, cannabis is not to be consumed in cars, it cannot be within reach of anyone in a vehicle, and may not be consumed around children. In Nova Scotia, individuals can receive a fine of $2,000 for not following the these rules.


In terms of driving with cannabis products in a vehicle, rules vary slightly from province to province. For example, in Nunavut, residents may transport cannabis in a car as long as it is kept secured from all passengers. Residents of Prince Edward Island may keep their cannabis in open packaging, but passengers and drivers should not have access to it. Manitoba takes this a step further by enforcing that cannabis is kept in the trunk of the vehicle while driving.


Driving under the influence of more than five nanograms of THC can lead to stiff penalties. Critics have claimed that this arbitrary limit is not backed by science. Take, for example, habitual cannabis users. Over time, individuals who regularly ingest cannabis will develop higher concentrations of THC in their bloodstream, hair samples, and so forth. Even if an individual has not consumed cannabis within 24 hours of operating a vehicle, habitual users are still significantly more likely to exceed the legal limit.


Regulations for Other Cannabis Product Formats

In October 2019, new regulations were implemented permitting the production and sale of cannabis extracts, oils, topicals, capsules, and edibles. Since these formats are often more concentrated, and therefore more potent, additional rules were put in place to ensure products were being sold with safe amounts of THC.


Cannabis Edibles

Cannabis edibles must adhere to the following requirements:

  • No more than 10 mg of THC per single package.

  • Up to 30 mg of naturally occurring caffeine (e.g., chocolate, coffee, tea).

  • No nicotine.

  • No added alcohol.

Cannabis Suppositories

Yes, cannabis suppositories are real and have evidence-based medical benefits. For females suffering from endometriosis, vaginal cannabis suppositories with high CBD levels have been shown to decrease physical discomfort associated with this disease. For anal and vaginal suppositories, products must also adhere to a maximum of 10mg of THC per unit.


Cannabis Extracts and Topicals

Cannabis extracts, oils, and other concentrates - regardless of whether they are ingested or inhaled - can have up to 1,000 mg of THC per package. Cannabis infused topicals and cosmetics - regardless of whether it is for hair, skin, nails, etc. - must also adhere to the maximum THC amount of 1,000mg.


In addition, extracts, oils, concentrates, topicals, and cosmetics must also refrain from:

  • Making health, dietary, or cosmetic claims (e.g., "low fat", "suitable for joint pain").

  • Including elements associating the product with alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, or vaping products.


Cannabis and Minors

There are few things to note with regards to cannabis and minors. The first, and most obvious, is that cannabis cannot be sold to minors. In Alberta, Manitoba, and Quebec, this means it is illegal to sell cannabis to individuals under the age of 18. For the rest of Canada, this means no one under the age of 19. In addition, cannabis cannot be consumed in the presence of minors.


Furthermore, children and youth are not allowed to enter legal dispensaries, even when with an adult. As stated, there are also various regulations concerning cannabis marketing and advertising in that it cannot appeal to youth (e.g., limited branding and logos, limited colours, engravings, advertising restrictions, etc.).


Travelling with Cannabis

It is illegal to cross the Canadian border (travelling internationally) with cannabis, regardless of whether the country being travelled to has legalized cannabis use. However, when travelling provincially, you must adhere to the legal age of consumption in the province you are visiting and cannot carry more than 30g of dried cannabis or its equivalent.


Don't Forget Cannabis Packaging Regulations

In Canada, there are strict regulations and standards that cannabis packaging must adhere to for full compliance with the Canadian Cannabis Act. Regulatory compliance rules have several functions. The most important function is public health and safety. All cannabis products are required to be packaged in tested and certified child resistant packaging. If the product's primary packaging is non-child resistant, it must be packaged within child resistant secondary packaging.


While tamper evident caps and closures are not mandatory for compliance, tamper evident elements are an added safety feature commonly included in cannabis packaging. Tamper evident caps, closures, and other features have the core purpose of establishing chain of custody with regards to the contents of the package. This allows consumers to determine if the contents of the package may have been accessed prior to purchase. Tamper evident features are important for perishable items, like cannabis products.


The most heavily contested requirements for packaging compliance have to do with the visual appearance of the packaging. The primary purpose of this requirement is that packaging, branding, colours, imagery, and labels cannot appeal to youth.

  • Must be simple in appearance, including labels.

  • Must not show an individual, character, or animal (real or fictitious).

  • Must not have any emotional or visual branding (e.g., praising cannabis use).

  • No fluorescent colours.

  • No engravings.

  • No metallic features.

  • Packaging must be opaque with no windows revealing the contents of the package.

Regardless of these rules, most cannabis brands are opting for colourful packaging that better represents their brand.


Issues with Compliance Regulations

The Canadian Cannabis Act was developed with the purpose of promoting public health and safety. Requirements like child resistant caps and closures are incredibly important for harm reduction. Like any pharmaceutical, packaging must keep children safe. However, many Canadians are frustrated with this requirement as some child resistant packaging is complicated to open and requires a great deal of dexterity.


With more elderly Canadians opting to try CBD and THC products to help relieve arthritis pain and other ailments, compliant cannabis packaging poses a huge problem. In fact, older cannabis users commonly report having to return to dispensaries to have a bud tender open the package, having to wait for a household member to help, and using various tools (knives, scissors, screwdrivers) to access the purchased cannabis product.


This is an unfortunate problem that cannabis packaging designers have been trying to work around. While many individuals have found pop top tubes and containers to be relatively easy to open, those suffering from severe arthritis still struggle with this packaging format. It is our sincere hope that Canada will amend these regulations to be more consistent with alcohol packaging requirements. This double standard seems highly unfair given the greater negative impact alcohol consumption has on health than cannabis does, especially CBD products with little to no THC.


Lastly, we hope that the Canadian government will soon pass legislation to pardon those previously caught in possession of fewer than 30 grams of marijuana. Cannabis Amnesty, an activist group notes that around 500,000 Canadians have a criminal record because they were caught possessing small amounts of marijuana when it was still illegal. Now that it’s legal, we hope that their records will be cleared. This will be an act of common sense shown by the government.

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