Alberta’s cannabis plans: Some Good, some bad, still better than Ontario

Alberta released its cannabis framework yesterday, and the public has until Oct. 27 to give its feedback on it. When it comes to legalization, the province’s biggest concerns appear to be keeping cannabis away from children, deterring its use through public education and PSA’s, and eliminating the black market.

In the framework, Alberta’s Gaming and Liquor Commission will be the only wholesaler, which the province claims will help ensure that large producers don’t dominate the market at the expense of smaller growers.

Right now, Alberta is seeking your input in a survey to help make decisions about the retail model, restrictions on home-grows, and whether to allow cannabis lounges, among others.

According to CBC, Alberta’s proposals include:

  • Minimum age of 18
  • 30 gram limit for public possession limit and per purchase
  • Dedicated cannabis storefronts
  • Cannabis smoking and vaping to fall under tobacco laws
  • 4 plants per household with 1 meter height limit
  • Banned outdoor growing 

Will Alberta blaze its own trail?

Alberta’s premier hinted the retail system might go private, just like its liquor stores did in the early 90’s. It’s worth noting that over two decades later,  Alberta is still the only province with a fully private liquor market.

Some are saying that since Albertans are so used to a private system when it comes to alcohol, it would be easiest for cannabis to follow that model- it would also likely be easier and cheaper to implement. Others are saying that a government-controlled system would be better to fight the black market and protect the children.

Alberta is also open to the idea of cannabis cafes and lounges, although at the outset of legalization, they will be illegal. It may be introduced later on if there’s enough public support. 

In terms of public consumption, Alberta is proposing to place the same restrictions on cannabis smoking and vaping as tobacco.

Compare that to what’s going on in Ontario, where cannabis consumption will be banned everywhere but private residences and all private dispensaries will be shut down.

Legal for adults, criminal for minors

Although Alberta plans to follow the federal age minimum of 18 years, it wants zero-tolerance for minors caught with cannabis. That means under 5 grams can result in seizure, their parents being told, and a ticket. Over 5 grams means criminal charges!

That means a kid in high school could face criminal charges, and a year later they’d be able to possess 6X as much. Although this may be to deter teenagers from selling to other students at high school, we should ask ourselves if cannabis was truly legal, would we be criminalizing minors for possessing relatively small amounts? Or is this just another example of the double standard between cannabis and alcohol? We don’t throw kids in prison for having a two-six! 

It’s also interesting to note that in the survey

If 18 sounds too young to you, keep in mind that Alberta, along with Quebec and Manitoba, has the lowest minimum age for alcohol in Canada at 18. So Alberta is only making the minimum age to purchase alcohol and cannabis the same.

A gram is how much?

Price isn’t discussed in the framework because the taxes haven’t been decided yet. The only thing we know about taxes so far is that the province wants to keep as much as possible for itself- but that’s not surprising as the federal government has left the responsibility and cost of figuring out legalization largely up to the provinces.

Aside from taxes, the pricing will also aim to hit the illegal market. Hopefully that will mean lower prices for the public but we’ll have to wait and see.

What are other provinces doing?

Other provinces have different plans for their retail models. New Brunswick is creating a new crown corporation specifically for cannabis, Ontario’s Liquor Control Board will have a monopoly, and BC is considering a mix of public and private.