The legalization of cannabis is new in Canada. The rules are different depending on where you live, and there is a lot that still remains to be seen as far as how the law will develop. If you have questions about the legalities of cannabis use, consult a lawyer. The following is not legal advice and does not take the place of speaking to a licensed lawyer in your area.
Cannabis has been getting a lot of air time recently, but despite all of the discussion, there are still some unanswered questions. What we know for sure is that the government intended to regulate cannabis use, and has done exactly that. This is why there are so many rules around who, how and where Canadians can use cannabis.
What is legal?
One of the complicating factors is that, although cannabis is legal federally, each province and territory has the ability to make its own rules with respect to many of the ways cannabis is used (such as who can sell it, who can buy it, etc.). In most of the country you have to be 19 years old to buy cannabis, though the age is 18 in Quebec and Alberta. In terms of where to buy it and where you can use it, the rules are different province by province. The good news is that each province and territory has made this information very easily available, and a quick online search for your province will bring up the rules you need to be aware of.
The issue gets even more interesting, though, when we consider the fact that there are other sources of rules regarding cannabis besides the federal and provincial governments. For example, your employer or your condo building may have rules that mean you can’t use cannabis even though it is legal.
Employers typically have drug and alcohol policies in effect for their workplaces. Just as an employer would not want you to show up to work if you were drunk, many also don’t want you to be under the influence of cannabis while working. Many employers updated their drug and alcohol policies in anticipation of legalization, and you would have to abide by these rules. The failure to follow the rules could lead to being fired or, depending on the type of work you do, to criminal charges. You should always make sure to understand your employer’s policies and, if you are the employer, to make sure there is clear communication about the rules.
In your condo and apartment
When it comes to apartment or condo living, this is another case where you may not be able to do something that is legally permitted. Many buildings pre-emptively updated their smoking policies to include a ban on cannabis that was formerly applied only to smoking tobacco. In condos and apartments, people are living so close together that it is nearly impossible to prevent smells from traveling. When you factor in different residents’ allergies, health issues, personal sensitivities, etc., the easiest rule is often that tobacco and now cannabis are outright banned. Sometimes medical marijuana users are exempt from the rules and, depending on when the policy came into effect, sometimes existing users are grandfathered until they move out of their unit. But more and more we are seeing complete bans of tobacco, and the rules for cannabis have followed suit.
A note on growing cannabis plants. According to the law in most provinces (not Manitoba or Quebec), recreational cannabis users can have up to four plants per household. However, here again many condos and apartment buildings have disallowed this. Growing can cause flooding, fires and the growth of mould. Many condo insurance policies require a ban on growing, so it is often an easy decision for condo boards. When buying a condo, it is really important to make sure you understand all of the condo rules. If you care about an issue like cannabis use one way or another, you want to make sure you understand if this is something that is permitted or not.
Traveling to the U.S.
Another major issue with legalization is travel to the United States. Federally, the U.S. does not permit the use of cannabis. And since border agents have to try to make sure nothing illegal is going to happen within the U.S., they’re given broad discretion to turn people away if they think there’s a chance that those people will do something illegal (in this case, using cannabis). There’s no hard and fast rule because of the discretion involved, but we’re told a few things that may help to set expectations.
Firstly, if you admit to using cannabis or having used cannabis, you may be denied entry. You could also be banned from entering in the future. This has always been the case, but the issue has been brought to the forefront of people’s minds because of legalization. You shouldn’t lie at the border – doing so could get you in more trouble – but if you’re concerned you should speak to a lawyer in advance of your trip or simply choose your travel destinations accordingly.
If you work for a cannabis company, there may be a difference between traveling on business and traveling for personal reasons. If you are traveling on business, chances are you’ll be denied entry. For personal reasons, you may be admitted to the U.S., but then again you may not. It really is impossible to say with certainty, and we’re going to have to let a bit of time pass to see the data on admission, rejection and bans. We’ve been warned that even owning shares in a cannabis company could raise alarm bells at the border, and again we’ll have to wait and see how this plays out.
It goes without saying that you should never travel to the U.S. (or anywhere) with cannabis on you. Just because it’s legal in Canada doesn’t mean that you can have it on you when you go to another country. You could get in lots of trouble, and you would be subject to the rules of whatever country you’re visiting.
Legalization in Canada has brought with it a number of questions that we still can’t answer. Always make sure you know the rules where you live, and follow them. There are tough penalties in place for people who break the rules, and not being aware of the rules does not excuse you. When it comes to living in condos and apartments, be prepared for bans because of the nature of those buildings and how close everyone lives to their neighbours. And when it comes to travel, consider your destinations carefully. You shouldn’t lie at the border (and remember that border agents can look you up online or on social media!). If you use cannabis or are involved in the industry, there’s no guarantee that you will be allowed into another country. Just do your diligence about the places you are going to visit, and consider whether you’re prepared to risk being turned away.