What You Need to Know About Cannabis Legalization in Edmonton

Mark Mielke, a lawyer at Field Law in Edmonton, answers your burning questions about what cannabis legalization will look like in Edmonton—and Alberta—and what it means for you.

He looks at the impact of cannabis on driving regulations, healthcare, travel and more.

When does legalization take place and what’s going to happen?

Possession of less than 30 grams of certain variations of cannabis will become legal in Canada on Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018.

Back on Thursday, April 13, 2017, the Government of Canada sparked the beginning of cannabis legalization in Canada by introducing Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts (the Cannabis Act).

The stated purpose of the Cannabis Act is to create a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of recreational cannabis in Canada.

When enacted, the Cannabis Act will, amongst other things:

  • Decriminalize the possession of fewer than 30 grams of cannabis (or its equivalent)
  • Prohibit the unlawful sale or distribution of cannabis (including its sale or distribution to persons under the age of 18)
  • Prohibit the unlawful possession, production, importation and exportation of cannabis

In response, the Government of Alberta introduced Bill 26, An Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis (the “Alberta Legislation”). The Alberta Legislation largely brings the regulation of cannabis within the role of the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission by amending the Gaming and Liquor Act to license and regulate cannabis distribution in Alberta.

Who’s responsible for making the rules around cannabis?

Generally speaking, there are currently four main sources of law and regulation for recreational cannabis in Alberta: the federal government, the provincial governments, municipal governments and, in Alberta, the Alberta Liquor and Gaming Commission (AGLC).

At a high level, the breakdown of responsibility is:

  • The Federal Government will regulate the production of cannabis
  • The Provincial Government will regulate distribution and retail sales of retail cannabis
  • The Government of Alberta has largely delegated the regulation of the distribution of cannabis to the AGLC
  • The Municipal Governments will control zoning, public use and business license requirements

Is our legal system ready for the legalization of cannabis?

We are fortunate to live in a country with a robust and well-educated public service with a competent and effective legal system and police force.

In my view, the legalization process will proceed smoothly.

That’s not to say there won’t be a few speed bumps along the way. I think it’s safe to say we can expect multiple changes to the current legalization framework and future amendments and refinements in the years following legalization.

What does the new legislation mean for drivers and driving laws?

In any event, you can't be high and drive—that's for sure. Driving high is already a criminal offense. What will change are the blood-drug concentration limits for cannabis and cannabis/alcohol combinations.

The Alberta Administrative Licence Suspension program applies to all drivers, including those in the Graduated Driver Licensing Program (GDL) who have:

  • A blood alcohol concentration over 0.08 per cent (or 80 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood)
  • A blood drug concentration over 2 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood
  • A combination of 0.05 per cent alcohol (50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milliliter of blood) and 2.5 nanograms or more of THC per one millilitre of blood)
  • Refused or failed to provide a breath or fluid sample

All drivers that meet the above criteria—whether through alcohol, drugs or refusing to provide a breath or fluid sample—will be subject to the following sanctions:

  • Immediate 90-day license suspension where the suspended driver is unable to drive under any circumstances;  and
  • A further one-year driving suspension where the suspended driver may be eligible to drive on the condition that they participate in an Ignition Interlock program, opens a new window (if they choose not to participate, they will remain suspended during this one-year term with no ability to drive to legally)

In addition, drivers will also be subject to mandatory remedial education courses and:

  • A three-day vehicle seizure for the first offence
  • A seven-day vehicle seizure for second and subsequent offences

These sanctions are in addition to criminal charges and any and all penalties imposed by the court.

For graduated driver licensing (GDL) drivers (a.k.a. new drivers), there is zero tolerance for any level of blood-drug concentration. GDL drivers will face an immediate 30-day license suspension and an immediate seven-day vehicle seizure.

What do the new cannabis laws mean for workplaces?

As a general rule, employers are free to heavily regulate recreational cannabis in the workplace as they see fit.

Similar to alcohol, it is open to employers to prohibit the use of cannabis before, during and at work. Similarly, employers may even prohibit the simple possession of alcohol and cannabis at the workplace.

In my view, for employers and HR professionals it is important to have a strong alcohol and drug policy in place. Now is a good time for employers to review their policy to ensure that they set the rules and expectations.

Likewise, employers should also ensure that their employees are well aware of policies and, as the case may be, any changes to workplace policies resulting from the legalization of cannabis.

Will legalization make cannabis more accessible for medicinal use? What impacts might legalization have on healthcare?

From my understanding, access to medical cannabis is widely available. I`ve been told that there are a number of clinics in Edmonton that specialize in providing patients with access to cannabis for medical purposes.

That said, in my view, given some of the hurdles to obtaining medical cannabis, we may see a reduction in the amount of medical cannabis prescribed, because recreational cannabis will be readily available. The experience in other jurisdictions supports the view that the recreational market will subsume the medical market.

In terms of the impact on healthcare as a whole, there is no denying that smoking is bad and that smoking cannabis regularly is bad for your health.

I should note that edibles and beverages will not be legal when cannabis is legalized this year—edibles were added as a late amendment to the legislation and will likely not become legal in Canada until 2019. Edibles and beverages may allow users to access the benefits of cannabis without smoking it.

Does Edmonton plan to place restrictions on home cultivators, such as where they’re allowed to grow cannabis plants or how much they’re allowed to grow?

The current draft of the federal legislation contains a provision that would allow adults to grow up to four cannabis plants (up to 100 cm in height) per household for personal use.

Some provinces however—such as Quebec and Manitoba—have nevertheless chosen to prohibit homegrown weed.

To the best of my knowledge, Alberta currently doesn’t have plans to prohibit home-grown weed.

How will the legalization of cannabis impact travel?

This question largely depends on what approach our neighbours to the south take following legalization. If the last few months have been any indication of how Canada's relationship with the U.S.A. will be following legalization, we are in for a bumpy ride.

That said, while cannabis remains illegal in the U.S.A. at a federal level, many states have chosen to legalize cannabis at a state level (confusing I know).

Borders are controlled by the federal government so even if you are going to a state with legal cannabis, do not attempt to cross the border with cannabis, opens a new window, regardless of how you're travelling (driving, flying, etc.).

How will the sale and/or use of cannabis work in Alberta?

Distribution and retail sales of recreational cannabis in Alberta are regulated by the provincial government and the AGLC. The Alberta Legislation provides that all distribution of recreational cannabis will be under the control of the AGLC. This is largely similar to the current situation with alcohol where the AGLC controls the distribution of liquor in the province.

The Alberta Legislation also provides for private cannabis retail stores. This is different to most provinces in Canada that have opted for government-controlled and government-operated recreational cannabis stores. The sale of cannabis must be physically separated from alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals so we will not be seeing cannabis sold in gas stations or grocery stores anytime soon.

Similar to alcohol, the AGLC will control the licensing requirements for cannabis retail stores and provide training, via the Sellsafe mandatory certification program, to employees. Cannabis retail stores will have similar operating hours to liquor stores where cannabis cannot be sold before 10 a.m. or after 2 a.m.

The province has received hundreds of applications for recreational cannabis retail locations—so you very likely may see some cannabis retail businesses sprouting up in your area.

How will the sale and/or use of cannabis work in Edmonton? What might the impact be on businesses?

The City of Edmonton regulates the zoning of cannabis retails stores and production facilities, as well as the public use of cannabis.

The City of Edmonton has proactively updated their zoning by-laws for the upcoming legalization of cannabis. Pursuant to the current draft of the by-law in Edmonton, recreational cannabis retail outlets will be prohibited, opens a new window within 200 metres of schools, playgrounds and libraries, and within 200 metres of other recreational cannabis retail outlets. (Note that the 200 metre separation requirement does not apply to university campuses.)

It's too early to tell, what, if any impact there will be on surrounding businesses; however, the increase in pedestrian traffic to an area may be good news for other retail businesses. 

Where can cannabis be consumed in Edmonton?

In terms of public use, the City of Edmonton currently has one of the most progressive approaches, permitting the use of recreational cannabis in most places where (with certain exclusions) the use of cigarettes is permitted.

In Calgary, for example, public use of recreational cannabis is limited to certain designated areas and private residences.

Limiting the use of cannabis to private residences poses some problems as many Albertans live in apartments or condominiums which may prohibit the use.

One solution would be to permit cannabis lounges that, while not permitted in the current legislation, could allow for tighter restrictions on public consumption, while allowing people a safe space to use the legal substance. But we will have to wait and see whether the government will ever permit cannabis lounges.

Both the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary have stated that certain events, such as the Calgary and Edmonton folk music festivals, will be permitted to have designated smoking areas. However, as the legislation restricts the sale of cannabis from the sale of alcohol, you will not be buying cannabis in the beer gardens.

The Government of Canada also has information about cannabis legalization, including answers to even more of your questions, on their website. 

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Mark Mielke is an Alberta lawyer who works with business owners and corporations to provide legal solutions; find out more about him and his law firm in his bio, opens a new window

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