The legalization of recreational cannabis in Canada on October 17 put an end to nearly a century of prohibition and was undoubtedly one of the biggest news stories of 2018.
But we’re really at the tip of the iceberg in terms of the shift to a legal regime. Here are some key weed stories to watch out for in the new year:
Provinces across the country were varying degrees of prepared for legalization, in terms of setting up their retail schemes. Notably, Ontario and BC, the provinces with the largest grey market dispensary scenes, had zero and one brick and mortar weed store open in time for legalization, respectively.
In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford’s government decided to go with a private retail model, initially saying there would be no cap on the number of pot stores in the province. But the province has since changed course, stating only 25 stores will be allowed to open by April, 2019. That’s fewer stores than what Kathleen Wynne’s plan allowed for—40 province-run stores in 2019, followed by 80 in 2019 and 150 by 2020. Ontario Finance Minister Vic Fedeli told Global News the province decided to go with a phased retail system in response to the shortage of cannabis across the country. The province is also allowing municipalities to opt out of hosting retail shops; so far more than a dozen have decided to opt out.
Vancouver’s first weed store will open this weekend. In an interview with the Victoria Times Colonist, BC Premier John Horgan said the province will reassess its retail system—which allows for public and private stores—to try to accelerate the transition.
Cannabis shortages have plagued the legal system since October 17. In Alberta, where there is a private retail system and 65 licensed shops, the province has stopped handing out licenses because there is not enough supply. In Quebec, government-run stores have reduced their hours due to a lack of supply.
Industry insiders and experts have previously told VICE the shortage is due to a number of reasons: Health Canada not handing out licenses to producers quickly enough; an underestimation of demand; logistical issues with getting product onto the shelves; and challenges that come with mass producing cannabis, which is susceptible to crop loss. The government has stated one of its main goals in legalization recreational weed is wiping out the black market, so resolving the supply issues will be crucial in working towards that goal.
Health Canada recently released its draft regulations for edibles sales, which are to be legalized no later than October 17, 2019. Some of the proposed rules include a limit of 10 milligrams of THC per package for edible cannabis in solid and beverage forms; a limit of 10 mg of THC per unit for ingestible extracts and 1,000 mg per package; plain, child-resistant packaging; a ban on mixing with alcohol or nicotine; and a ban on products that are appealing to kids.
One of the key concerns with the draft rules is the 10 mg THC limit per package. In Colorado and Washington State, there is a 10 mg THC limit per dose (e.g. one gummy), but it is legal to have multiple doses in one package.
The ban on products that appeals to kids is also potentially confusing. According to the Cannabis Act, no legal weed can have “an appearance, shape or other sensory attribute or a function that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons.” However, it’s not clear if this means that something like chocolate or a cookie version of an edible would be prohibited.
Beverages are an area in which there’s been a huge amount of interest. Constellation Brands, home of Corona beer, is investing $5 billion in licensed producer Canopy, and Molson Coors Canada has teamed up with Quebec LP Hydropothecary Corporation to develop weed drinks. Earlier in the year, Trait Biosciences, a biotechnology research company, told VICE the key to successful cannabis beverages will be making cannabinoids water soluble, so that they kick in faster (like a glass of wine) and their effects are more reliable.
Once they’re legal, edibles are expected to take up a sizeable chunk of the legal weed market. A Deloitte report from June found that six out of 10 consumers are expected to choose edible cannabis products, and the edibles industry is already worth billions in the US.
The Canadian government is accepting feedback on its proposed regulations until February 20, 2019.
The federal government passed a host of new impaired driving regulations in 2018, to coincide with weed legalization. Some of the key points of the new regulations:
- Cops can now pull any driver over and breathalyze them without suspicion of impairment
- Tougher penalties for drunk driving
- New blood/THC limits, with punishments of up to 10 years in jail depending on the level of THC in the blood
- Cops will now be allowed to use oral fluid tests roadside to determine the amount of THC in a driver’s body
Lawyers claim there are several issues with these laws, and that pulling over a driver and breathalyzing them without suspicion is unconstitutional. There is also no definitive link between the THC level in someone’s blood and impairment. In addition, there are concerns about the oral fluid testing devices not being fully accurate in all temperatures. Expect to see some of these laws challenged in 2019.
Facing mounting pressure, the federal government finally announced a plan to expedite the process of pardoning Canadians with criminal records for simple pot possession.
Specifically, the government said Canadians who have served their time for possession will not have to face the $631 pardon application fee, nor will they have to go through the waiting period (five to 10 years) after serving their sentence to apply for a pardon. The expedited process will likely get underway next year, however its efficiency remains to be seen.
Amnesty advocates argue the government isn’t going far enough because it isn’t offering to expunge the records of those convicted, meaning they will still have a criminal record.
There are an estimated 500,000 Canadians who have criminal records for weed possession and a VICE News investigation found that black and Indigenous Canadians are disproportionately arrested for possession.
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