When recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada in 2018, some imagined the country would become a utopia for weed-lovers: Canadians could be sparking up doobs with impunity, drunk — or stoned — on the fact that they can do whatever they liked with the once-prohibited plant.
Not exactly. The Cannabis Act didn’t legalize cannabis in all its forms; it changed the way the plant was regulated. Thus, there are still a significant number of cannabis laws and bylaws that, when it comes to enforcement, range from largely frowned-upon by police to straight-up illegal – each with its own set of potential consequences.
Here’s a non-exhaustive list of weed-related offences that can land you in trouble post-legalization – and the subsequent penalties cannabis consumers or sellers may face if busted for bud.
Improper cannabis storage
Everyone knows that impaired driving is illegal, but similar to alcohol, there are very specific laws and restrictions pertaining to the storage of cannabis in a vehicle.
Even if you’re not smoking, rolling joints in the car, tossing roaches out of the window, improper storage of cannabis, and even smelling strongly of weed can be grounds for penalties ranging from stops to fines to charges.
The regulations for in-vehicle storage vary based on the province. In some regions such as Ontario, cannabis must be stored in a secure compartment, such as the trunk. In other provinces such as Alberta, it may be stored in the vehicle providing it is in a sealed container and/or out of the driver’s and/or passengers’ reach.
The exceptions are Quebec and New Brunswick, where there are no specific laws governing how cannabis for personal use must be stored in a vehicle. And in Saskatchewan, cannabis may be carried in the vehicle providing it is not being ingested.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, designated drivers risk facing charges if any passenger is rolling joints in the vehicle (although there are some exemptions for paid taxi and bus drivers).
Driving while impaired
While driving impaired is a clear risk to your life and others, the way police forces are evaluating impairment as a result of cannabis consumption is considerably more complex.
Roadside testing devices depend on saliva samples to screen for the presence of THC and other drugs — they do not test for impairment. And THC metabolites can be detectable in bodily fluids for months after consumption, particularly in frequent consumers.
To further complicate the matter, several studies have indicated that results provided by testing devices used by police are inaccurate, and may be triggered after ingesting substances as benign as poppyseed cake, per two B.C. lawyers.
While makers of roadside testing devices such as the DraegerTest 5000 stand by the efficacy of their products, Canada has yet to approve a device that can accurately deduce impairment.
A Nova Scotian medical cannabis consumer with multiple sclerosis says she learned this lesson the hard way. Michelle Gray says she was pulled over for a routine traffic check just over a year ago. She was unconcerned, as she had not consumed for at least six hours before getting behind the wheel, but a roadside screening device gave a positive result for THC. She was arrested and taken to a Halifax police station where she easily passed a more intensive sobriety test. No charges were laid, but she missed several days of work and had to pay $300 to retrieve her car. She is now challenging the law in court.
Fortunately, less invasive sweat tests that can accurately assess impairment — as opposed to the mere presence of THC metabolites — may be on the horizon.
Bringing weed across the border
But wait: What if the cannabis is for medical use, or maybe the flight unexpectedly diverted to the U.S.? Doesn’t matter. Travelling between Canada and a state where cannabis is legal? It still doesn’t matter.
There are zero exceptions to this rule, as a remote community in New Brunswick recently discovered. Residents of Campobello island — which is accessible exclusively by a bridge attached to the U.S. mainland for some months of the year — reported that American customs officials have been opening and searching their Canada Post mail. Cannabis NB has since issued a temporary moratorium on delivering to Campobello, leaving island residents dry (and not high) when it comes to accessing legal weed.
If travellers are caught by U.S. Customs and Border Protection attempting to enter the country with cannabis, they may face a lifetime ban from the U.S. – in fact, even working, disclosing that you’ve ever tried cannabis, or investing in the cannabis industry can earn individuals such a ban.
A house representative introduced the MAPLE Act of 2018 just over a year ago, a proposed bill that would protect non-U.S. citizens from being penalized at the border for working in the cannabis industry. However, the Bill has made little progress since introduced.
Selling without a licence
Although unlicensed dispensaries were often largely ignored by authorities pre-legalization, law enforcement has been cracking down on illicit sellers since October of 2018.
Some members of the cannabis community were outraged when the Victoria Cannabis Buyers Club, a decades-old, non-profit compassion club dedicated to providing affordable cannabis to medical consumers in need, was raided and subsequently shut down by B.C.’s Community Safety Unit.
On the other side of the country, residents of cities like Halifax have seen raids and numerous people arrested over the past year as a result of allegedly operating unlicensed dispensaries and consumption lounges.
Raids and busts have taken place on unlicensed businesses from coast to coast – be they on compassion clubs, for-profit dispensaries, independent sellers, or random dudes in parking lots (although some enterprises have proven more difficult to shut down than others).
Also under scrutiny are dispensaries on Indigenous territories. Some First Nations have lobbied the federal government to amend the Cannabis Act to include provisions so they may maintain independent jurisdiction of cannabis on reserve. Despite their right to maintain sovereignty , dispensaries on First Nations land have not been immune to raids by provincial law enforcement.
Penalties can range from a ticket to up to 14 years in jail, per federal law, but in practice the consequences have varied. In some cases, no arrests were made, whereas other illegal actors have been sentenced to serve time in jail for allegedly selling the drug sans licence.
Smoking weed at (or after) work
While it’s pretty much a no-brainer that most workplace managers won’t be thrilled if employees show up stoned (to say the least), workers may be subject to additional cannabis-related policies that restrict – or even forbid – the use of cannabis. Depending on the job, workers can face penalties for consuming off-duty.
In June, Transport Canada, banned flight crews from consuming cannabis within 28 days of reporting to work. Toronto-based Metrolinx went even further, issuing an outright ban on workers in “safety-sensitive” positions from consuming cannabis on their own time – ever. And an Alberta bus line followed suit, announcing a policy last June that forbids drivers from consuming cannabis, period.
These policies could pose a significant issues for heavy and chronic cannabis users, who may test positive for THC during drug screenings for months after ceasing consumption, and employees in safety-sensitive positions may find themselves subject to testing.
To compare: the Canadian military’s cannabis policy forbids members from consuming cannabis products for eight hours before reporting for duty, 24 hours if operating vehicles or heavy machinery, and 28 days prior to working on military aircraft.
Possessing too much cannabis
Is there such a thing as too much weed? Yes, according the law.
The federal Cannabis Act forbids the possession of more than 30 g of dried cannabis (or 150 g of fresh cannabis) in public. How much individuals can stash at home varies per province: While most do not have a specific amount in place — meaning one can fill a swimming pool with bud and Scrooge McDuck right on in if one so desires — pickier provincial regulators have set limits on how much residents can stash (Quebec, for example, has set their limit at 120 g of dried cannabis).
There is one exception, however. If you are in possession of more than 30 g of adult-use cannabis and require emergency medical or law enforcement assistance; are present or assisting at the scene of a medical or law enforcement emergency, you will not be penalized. This measure is in place to ensure that people are not deterred from calling for help or providing assistance while they or others are in serious distress.
Smelling like weed
It’s not illegal, but reeking of chronic can still result in irritating repercussions for cannabis enthusiasts.
In December, an Ottawa woman who consumes cannabis for medical purposes encountered a cashier at an Ottawa Loblaws who refused to sell her beer because she smelled like cannabis. The woman, who suffers from chronic pain, says that she hadn’t smoked at all that day, but her jacket may have picked up the aroma.
Another Ontario resident who was also trying to buy beer was denied service at the liquor store when a cashier refused to sell him a six-pack because of the pungent smell emanating from his person due to the fact that he was carrying at least one “dank nug.”
Smart Serve legislation in Ontario, where both incidents occurred, dictates that “no person shall sell or supply liquor or permit liquor to be sold or supplied to any person who is or appears to be intoxicated.” But the policy makes no provisions for the odour of cannabis — although it does cite a “glazed look in the eyes” as a sign of intoxication.
Laundering weed money
Even if Canadians don’t touch even a crumb of illicit cannabis, helping an unlicensed business conceal the proceeds of their sales can land facilitators of those transactions in serious legal trouble.
Multiple charges were laid in December when an alleged $15 million Alberta-based money-laundering scheme was busted by the RCMP. The unregistered, Edmonton-based money service, known as Moxipay, is accused of facilitating more than 80,000 transactions via e-transfers on behalf of an unspecified number of unlicensed online cannabis companies. The service would then transfer the laundered cash back to the illicit sellers, according to law enforcement.
Employees of the company, including four directors, are now facing charges that include commission of an offence for a criminal organization and laundering proceeds of a crime. Remember: Fintrac is watching.
Smoking in a rental home
While most people would assume that whatever legal things they do in the privacy of their own home are their business, that’s simply not the case when it comes to cannabis.
Provinces such as Nova Scotia and Ontario have enacted legislation that bans consumption in outdoor spaces such as personal balconies, and even bans smoking or vaping inside units altogether (although residents who moved in pre-legalization and have not signed a no-smoking agreement are likely to be grandfathered in).
A recent survey indicated that landlords are wary of allowing cannabis smoking and/or home cultivation, and in some cases renters can be issued penalties – or even be evicted – thanks to their cannabis consumption.
A wheelchair-bound medical cannabis user from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia experienced this first-hand when he faced eviction last year for smoking and vaping cannabis on the balcony of his rented apartment. He consumed the drug to control the severe chronic pain he experiences due to a genetic disorder.
A tenancy officer and small claims court have both ruled in favour of the man’s landlord, and he and his lawyer are now appealing the decision to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia.