OTTAWA — Liberal pot laws announced Thursday form a framework for the legalization of cannabis, but some of the most significant details are still up in the air.
We don’t know yet how the federal government plans to tax marijuana. We don’t know the details of packaging. We don’t know if or when the sale of edibles will become legal. And much has been left to provinces to determine: what age you’ll have to be to purchase pot, how much you can carry around, where you’ll be able to buy it.
Here’s what we’re left wondering about after the Liberal government tabled its 131-page Bill C-45 in the House of Commons.
There’s not much clarity on edibles, or foods that contain cannabis. Fresh or dried bud will be available right away, as well as cannabis oils that can be used for cooking and baking. But in July 2018, you won’t be able to walk into a store and buy a brownie.
Pre-packaged edibles will be up for sale “later,” and that’s about as detailed an answer as we can expect from the government at this point. An official said Thursday, “it’s something that will be studied.”
Retail and packaging
Who gets to sell weed and where? Will you be able to buy weed and alcohol at the same store? Other than prohibiting vending machines, feds are leaving that to other jurisdictions — although people will be able to buy online from federally licensed producers as soon as laws take effect.
Legislation prohibits promotions, packaging or labels that “could be appealing” to youth, include a testimonial or endorsement, contain false information, include “a depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional” or that seem to promote a certain lifestyle. Although it’s not in the bill, a government infographic says packaging will be “childproof” and require “warning labels.”
But how should a package ]actually look? How big? What colour? That falls under regulation, and has yet to be determined. Plain packaging for tobacco is being debated in the Senate, and Health Minister Jane Philpott said this may inform what happens with cannabis.
Who gets the bud?
Provinces have considerable leeway to restrict weed more than the federal government. They can increase the federal minimum age of 18 — to align it with minimum ages for alcohol, for example. They can limit the amount you can carry around, and they can lower the number of plants you can grow at home.
It begs the question: what if a province wants a minimum age of 50 and a maximum possession of zero grams? Ministers seem confident provinces will fall in line with what the feds propose, however, since a major goal is to cut off illicit producers.
On a hypothetical question about a too-restrictive provincial situation, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould noted, “in any jurisdiction where a law is passed where a citizen deems the law is unfair, we have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Show me the money
Nothing in the bill has to do with taxes or pricing. An official said Thursday the finance minister will provide details on a tax scheme “in the future.”
Right now, cannabis purchased for medical use is subject to federal tax, an official noted. Provinces could also use tax or ticketing to make money off the system. New producers, in addition to the 41 currently operating, will be able to obtain licenses, and it follows that competition would also influence price. “It would be our goal to obviously let the market continue to influence the development of this industry,” Philpott said.
Show me the science
A new law tabled at the same time as the Cannabis Act says police who suspect a driver has consumed drugs can compel a saliva sample, and further to that, a blood sample and other tests.
Specific limits are being proposed for regulation, ostensibly based on “careful consideration of the available scientific evidence”: the presence of two to five nanograms of THC (a chemical present in weed) in a millilitre of blood would be a fineable offence, and more THC could result in more serious prosecution.
But the government’s own cannabis task force reported in November that “more research is needed to help define an acceptable per se limit for THC” and “while scientists agree that THC impairs driving performance, the level of THC in bodily fluids cannot be used to reliably indicate the degree of impairment or crash risk.” The task force added THC affects different users in different ways, and the chemical can stay in someone’s system for days or weeks after intoxication has worn off.