Cannabis Legalization in Canada

Canada is set to become the first G-7 nation to legalize and regulate cannabis marijuana for personal consumption; following through on its campaign promises, the Liberal Government has introduced proposed legislation that will fully legalize recreational marijuana1, although it will be subject to tight controls. It is expected that the new laws will come into effect on July 1, 2018.

Contrary to what some may believe, possession of marijuana, even in very small quantities, is currently illegal across the country except where an individual holds a license issued by Health Canada permitting them to possess and consume marijuana for medicinal purposes2. Trafficking (selling) marijuana in any quantity is illegal; current holders of a medical marijuana license are permitted to purchase products only from a Health Canada licensed dispensary3.

Under the proposed legislation, Canadians will be permitted not only to purchase and consume marijuana from regulated retailers, but will be allowed to grow a small number of plants themselves for personal use, to a maximum of 4 plants per household. Canadians will be permitted to possess up to 30 grams (roughly 1 ounce) of marijuana in public and may share that with other adults of legal age4.

The direct sale of edible marijuana products will not be authorized initially, although studies are ongoing to assist in drafting appropriate regulations surrounding edibles. Individuals will be permitted to convert marijuana into edibles themselves provided no dangerous combustible solvents are used in the process.

Each Canadian province will be required to enact their own legislation to implement cannabis legalization. This legislation will clarify how and where marijuana can be purchased and consumed, and by whom, within each province.

It is important to note that the proposed legislation will continue to criminalize possession of and trafficking in cannabis marijuana where it is outside of the legal framework set out5. Additionally, providing marijuana to a person under the minimum age will become a new criminal offence and significant tightening of existing laws around driving while impaired by drugs is expected. It will remain illegal to import marijuana across the Canadian border, although transporting it inter-provincially will be permitted.

Cannabis marijuana is currently the only controlled substance that is under consideration for legalization in Canada. The introduction of Bill C-45 will have no impact on the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as it relates to other substances such as cocaine, heroin, fentanyl or methamphetamine. 

1. Bill C-45 (“Cannabis Act”), full text available at

2. Cannabis marijuana is included as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

3. Many dispensaries and “compassion clubs” currently offering the sale marijuana for medical purposes are not licensed by Health Canada and could be subject to criminal prosecution if investigated and charged.

4. Determination of minimum age for purchase and consumption of marijuana will be left to each province, as with the legal drinking age. The Government of Alberta has proposed the age of 18 as the minimum age for this province.

5. For example, possession of over 30 grams of marijuana may result in a ticket and no criminal charge; for larger amounts exceeding the limit, it will continue to be prosecuted criminally with a maximum penalty of 14 years’ incarceration.

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