New Zealand Law Society - Canada legalises marijuana use: how does the law work?

Canada legalises marijuana use: how does the law work?

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Recreational marijuana use is now legal in Canada.

After Uruguay, Canada is the second country in the world to legalise the use of both medicinal and recreational marijuana nationwide and, as of Wednesday, 17 October, anyone meeting the legal age requirement in the country can ‘partake.’

The Cannabis Act received the Royal Assent in June and was one of Prime minister Justin Trudeau’s campaigning points before his election.

The Act puts in place a strict framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada in an attempt to prevent Canada’s youth from accessing cannabis and displace the illegal cannabis market.

Alongside the federal law, Canada’s 13 provinces and territories are responsible for defining legal age (18 or 19) and how marijuana is distributed, consumed and sold within their jurisdictions.

Federal vs jurisdictional law

At a nationwide level, persons aged 18 and over will be able to

  • Carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis;
  • Grow up to four plants per residence; and
  • Consume cannabis, including smoking it, in public places like parks and sidewalks (however edibles and concentrates become legal for purchase in October 2019).

The Act has a strong focus on reducing marijuana use in youths and each province and territory implemented its own laws regarding legal minimum age (18 or 19), points of purchase, where it can be consumed and maximum possession limits, advertising and marketing laws and introducing much harsher penalties to those who sell to minors.

Every jurisdiction will have online sales available, however legal cannabis products are only sold through retailers authorised by the provincial or territorial government; these will be either privately owned certified operators or government dispensaries.

Trudeau’s government has emphasised the importance of citizens and lawyers knowing the laws in each jurisdiction to avoid run ins with the local authorities when traveling, and it is still illegal cross the Canadian/US boarder with marijuana.


Legal cannabis products have an “excise stamp” on the package. This stamp has security features to prevent forgery, much like those on bank notes, and each jurisdiction is allocated a different colour.

Along with the excise stamp and allocated cannabis symbol, products will also carry mandatory health warning messages to provide information on risks of use and marketing considered to be appealing or targeted to those under the age of 18 is prohibited.

The world will be watching Canada, the first G7 country to legalise marijuana, to see how successful the Cannabis Act is and how it progresses. Further changes are already planned for this time next year that will address the sale of cannabis edibles and concentrates.