Canada is set to legalize cannabis on October 17, becoming one of the only countries in the world to do so. But as America’s northern neighbor finally makes its stance on the notorious leafy green plant official, there’s a number of items it has left up in the air.
Legal cannabis country-wide sparks many questions: Where will people consume? What forms of cannabis are allowed? What about all of the people who’ve gotten in legal trouble already for cannabis? And where does a legal recreational market leave medical cannabis at?
Originally, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians that cannabis would be legal by July 2018, later pushing the date. As the true date arises, though, the United States’ neighbor to the north still has quite a few kinks to work out. The Fresh Toast interviewed two people whose careers hinge on the cannabis industry in Canada to get their input on what the country has left to puzzle out as the big day approaches.
Despite Canada legalizing cannabis, edibles will stay unregulated when legalization hits. This means that those wishing to consume edibles—including medical cannabis patients—will have to make their own or turn to the black market.
From cookies to gummies, the edibles black market is thriving for now.
Justin Loizos is a medical cannabis patient and the owner-operator of Just Compassion, a medical cannabis compassion club in North York, Ontario. Loizos, who has been in the industry since 2013, said especially with medical cannabis patients, there’s a need for edibles to be available.
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“We’re left to our own—just buy it from a medical producer and make your own,” Loizos explained. “That’s not fair.”
Lisa Campbell, who has been in the industry a half-decade and is the CEO of Lifford Cannabis Solutions, said it’s important for edibles to be available since these are a non-smoking option for consumption.
She said she thinks “it’s been complicated for the government to figure out how to blend cannabis regulations with commercial food regulations.”
Campbell referenced how dosage can be complicated with edibles, but said that the government not addressing edibles right out of the gate points to them seeing this form of consumption as a novelty.
Some provinces, including Canada’s most populous one that is home to Toronto—Ontario—will not have brick-and-mortar legal dispensaries come October 17. That means many Canadians will have to wait if they want to purchase their cannabis in-person legally. Instead, product will be available for purchase legally online.
That said, Ontario will let private retailers sell cannabis—a reversal from its initial plan. However, this private retail model isn’t scheduled to be completed until spring 2019, about six months after legalization.
Each Canadian province and territory has its own plan for legal cannabis, from age of purchase to where residents can buy product, comparable to legal adult-use states in America. Alberta will have licensed stores and cannabis available for purchase online exclusively through a provincial website. British Columbia, long home to a burgeoning cannabis market, has decided on public and private sales, though approval of retail licenses will only be possible with local government support.
Limitation on access, such as only allowing legal buying online or having few licensed stores, is likely to push people to use black market options, such as unlicensed dispensaries that have long been operating since plans for legalization were announced or before.
Even though Canada is on the verge of legalization, it didn’t decriminalize cannabis beforehand. This, and nearly a century of cannabis prohibition, has led to people being charged, convicted, and even incarcerated for cannabis-related activities.
“I think the government will table a bill after legalization that will address pardons,” Campbell said.
In the meantime, though, Canadians affected by prohibition will have to play the waiting game. Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale spoke around the possibility of pardons in June, making no promises.
“At the moment, the law has not changed,” Goodale said. “The existing law that has existed for 100 years is still in place. When that law changes… Then the government will turn its attention to those issues.”
Goodale said the Canadian government wants to make “sure that it is fair, both in current terms and historic terms, to everyone.”
Consuming in your own home isn’t necessarily an option with condos and apartment buildings across Canada looking to ban smoking cannabis in these dwellings. Public spaces are up for scrutiny as well, with provinces planning to ban smoking and vaping of cannabis in these areas.
So where can Canadians light up? It seems as if they’ll be restricted to non-apartment, non-condo private residences not beholden to restrictions by landlords for now.
Campbell said Canadians should have “consumption lounges in the same way you’d have a bar.”
Related Story: Inside The Cannabis Machine As Canada Goes Legal
Post-legalization, though, consumption lounges—which already exist in some places—will sit in a murky legal area. Though they’re not disallowed federally, they’re not explicitly part of the framework either. Loizos’s compassion club includes such a lounge.
“I don’t think this is fair,” he said. “We need safe spaces, especially for medical patients. In apartments and condos, they’ll be cracking down.”
The Grey Market
Though medical cannabis has been left relatively untouched by the Cannabis Act, Loizos’s compassion club, which is for medical patients only, exists in a grey area.
That said, he’s had a good relationship with local law enforcement to date.
Loizos said that once upon a time, it could’ve been a slap on the wrist for somebody with a grey-area establishment. Come October 17, though, “You could really be put in jail for a long time for providing people medicine,” he explained.
“I’m waiting to hear, waiting to see, and wondering how I can protect my patient base best,” Loizos said. “I have some optimistic outlooks. But for the immediate future it is troubling, and I am nervous because we are looking at this hammer that is apparently going to come down on the seventeenth.”