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BC unveils cannabis legalization options: An in-depth look

BC’s Solicitor General and Public Safety Ministry recently released their discussion paper on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.

This is part of BC’s public engagement plan on cannabis which also consists of a joint committee with BC municipalities and a public survey, available here. The deadline for the survey is Nov. 1, 2017.

The discussion paper goes over what’s in Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act; Bill C-46, an act to amend the Criminal Code; the recommendations from the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation; and BC’s options.

The big takeaway is that while the federal government is retaining its control over licensing cannabis producers and the medical cannabis system, that still leaves a lot for the provinces and territories to decide.

The BC government is looking for YOUR input on:

  • Minimum Age
  • Personal Possession
  • Public consumption
  • Drug-Impaired Driving
  • Personal cultivation
  • Distribution and retail systems

What it comes down to basically is that Bills C-45 and C-46 set the bare minimum, and the provinces and territories have the power to impose stricter laws if they wish.

For example, when it comes to the Minimum Age, the federal minimum is 18, but BC could set it at 19, 21, or even higher.

Let’s have a look.

Minimum Age

As mentioned above, the federal minimum is 18 years, but BC has the option to increase it to 19, 21, or higher.

We predict that BC will likely set the minimum age at 19, bringing it in line with the minimum age for alcohol and tobacco in BC.

Personal Possession

Bill C-45 set a personal possession limit of 30 g of dried cannabis for adults, and the paper explains that the limit was set in order to distinguish between lawful personal use and trafficking. BC can go lower, but it is recommended to go with the suggested 30 g limit in order to maintain consistency across the country.

Bill C-45 also allows for youths to possess up to 5 g of dried cannabis, even though they are not allowed to buy or grow. This is to avoid unnecessary criminalization of youths for small amounts. BC could decide to prohibit any possession by youths, similar to alcohol.

Public Consumption

Bill C-45 bans cannabis smoking and vaping in federally-regulated spaces such as planes and trains, but other than that, it’s up to BC to decide on whether to allow public consumption or not.

The federal Task Force recommends that cannabis smoking and vaping face the same restrictions as tobacco, and municipalities could further ban cannabis smoking and vaping in public parks and beaches. Cannabis smoking in public could also be banned altogether, with allowances for cannabis vaping because it is less intrusive. The last option is to prohibit both smoking and vaping in public, but allow licensed cannabis lounges for consumption.

The paper also notes how methods of cannabis consumption that don’t involve smoking or vaping (ie. edibles and topicals) are much harder to detect to enforce.

Drug-Impaired Driving

This is where Bill C-46 comes in as an act to amend the Criminal Code. The amendments would give the federal government the authority to set a blood THC limit as they have with alcohol, although “there is not enough scientific evidence to link a particular blood THC level with impairment”.

The proposed changes list penalties that range from a $1000 fine to 10 years in jail.

BC currently allows law enforcement to issue an Immediate Roadside Prohibition or Administrative Driving Prohibition to drivers under the influence of alcohol, and BC could choose to expand that to include cannabis as well. But, as it is harder to prove cannabis impairment than it is with alcohol, other measures would have to be taken such as more officer training for Standard Field Sobriety Tests and Drug Recognition Expert programs.

Personal Cultivation

Bill C-45 allows for personal cultivation of up to four plants per household, with a 1 meter maximum height. It is worth noting that Canadians can grow tobacco and make alcohol at home with few restrictions.

BC could impose tighter restrictions on plant number and size, set restrictions on where and how cannabis can be grown at home, and even require home growers to register.

Distribution Model

When it comes to distribution, BC is looking at 3 models:

  • Government Distribution: this is where licensed producers send cannabis directly to government distributors. This gives government the most control, but it can be costly to implement. This is similar to the system we have with alcohol.
  • Private Distribution: this model allows private business to warehouse and distribute cannabis, but would still require extensive government oversight.
  • Direct Distribution: this model allows licensed producers to send their products directly to retailers, and it would still require extensive government oversight while also making it incredibly difficult for smaller producers to compete in the market.


Given that the July 2018 date is fast approaching, the federal government has acknowledged that provinces and territories may not be able to establish a retail framework in time, so the federal government will be implementing an online retail system for the time being.

In terms of retail model, BC can choose a public, private, or mix of both systems. BC currently has a mix of both with regards to alcohol. We believe a private system would be best as it would allow some of the dispensaries currently operating to be integrated into the legal system. This stands in stark contrast to Ontario’s planned public system, which will force all existing dispensaries in the province to shut down.

BC could also require stand-alone cannabis storefronts or allow pharmacies and liquor stores to sell cannabis as well.

BC could also implement a direct-to-consumer mail order system, which is similar to the system used by Health Canada for medical cannabis.


BC has a lot of decisions to make before July 2018, and it’s important that everybody, including you, fill out the survey so your voices gets heard! Help shape our province’s policies so it’s inclusive and fair for everybody involved.

The survey is available here.