The Cannabis Act

  • June 01, 2018
  • Brandon D. Hastings

High time for change?

Possessing any amount of cannabis, except for prescribed purposes, is an offence under section 4 and Schedule II of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, SC 1996, c 19 (“CDSA”). Despite the CDSA, the Globe and Mail says there are more than 100 organizations selling cannabis satvia (cannabis) in Metro Vancouver,1 all of which are illegal because they operate outside of the federal government’s medical marijuana program.2

In summer of 2015, the City of Vancouver became the first city to regulate dispensaries in Canada,3 despite their illegality. Dispensaries, therefore, are manifestations of deliberate, systematic, and government-sanctioned lack of rule of law. Perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising in Vancouver – a city whose international criminal supercluster,4 | 5 is so advanced that Australian authorities have coined the “Vancouver Model” of transnational crime.6 Rule of law advocates be at ease, though, because the province will get serious about enforcing cannabis laws, around the same time as the federal Cannabis Act7 | 8 is expected to pass, which will create a framework for a Canadian recreational cannabis industry and give the province a better avenue to take its cut. As cannabis becomes commonplace, it’s important to understand a few things about the drug itself, and the global industry that will soon surround it.

NOT ALL POT IS CREATED EQUAL

Scientific understanding of cannabis is generally naive. The number of identified compounds in cannabis increased from 489 to 537 from 2005 to 2009, and the number of identified cannabinoids (compounds that interact with the brain) increased from 70 to 109 (56%) during that same period.9 THC and CBD are traditionally cited as the major cannabinoids, and though their primacy is by no means unanimous, 10 | 11 they are well studied and well understood. What we do know suggests important differences.

THC can cause intoxication, memory impairment, anxiety, sedation, cravings, dependence and withdrawal, though these effects are mostly observed through anecdotal or correlative evidence in heavy recreational users.12 CBD, conversely, may be able to minimize THC’s negative effects, does not make the user feel “high,” and has no known negative side-effects.13

As of this writing, there are 104 medical marijuana producers in Canada.14 One such producer, CanniMed, lists the CBD and THC concentrations available in its products,15 and others do similarly. 16 | 17 Under the Cannabis Act, the medical marijuana program will continue, so medical users’ supply will continue untainted. Cannabis Act provisions around recreational pot include information-type advertising (THC and CBD concentrations), a required “THC” symbol, and a standard or maximum amount of THC “per serving.” The Cannabis Act also allows for up to four cannabis plants per residence. The minimum age for purchasing cannabis will be 18, though experts recommend a minimum age of 25. Legislators say this is a response to the already chronic use of young people, and a desire to steer them away from black market weed.18 Provinces can of course legislate alongside the federal framework, within their own bailiwicks.

Canada is blazing a trail in the recreational cannabis industry. As with any experiment, there will be bumps along the road. How to effectively police roadways against cannabinoid-intoxicated drivers, for example, remains an open question. At the same time, we are enticed by exporting to a global cannabis industry, which is expected to present an over $34-billion USD opportunity by 2021 19 (about 2% of the global oil industry 20), and a pragmatic first step is domestic legalization. Whether Machiavellian, pragmatic, or otherwise, maybe Vancouver played it right all along 21 – one could be forgiven for thinking that Ottawa is now following Vancouver’s lead.


  1. "Vancouver's marijuana dispensaries in limbo until 2018The Globe and Mail, Oct 10, 2017 |
  2. "Pot shops: Everything you need to know about marijuana dispensariesThe Globe and Mail, June 10, 2015 |
  3. "Vancouver becomes first city to regulate pot dispensaries in Canada" The Globe and Mail, June 24, 2015 |
  4. "On Our Doorsteps: Money Laundering in Canadian Real Estate" Adam Ross, White Label Insights |
  5. "How BC casinos are used to launder million in drug cash" The Vancouver Sun, Jan 15, 2018|
  6. "How Chinese gangs are laundering drug money through Vancouver real estateGlobal News, Apr 20, 2018|
  7. "BC vows to crack down on illegal marijuana dispensaries with helpThe Globe and Mail (subscription), Apr 26, 2018 |
  8. Or more properly, Bill C-45: “An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.” |
  9. Potency Trends of Δ9‐THC and Other Cannabinoids in Confiscated Cannabis Preparations from 1993 to 2008 Wiley Online Library|
  10. Innovative development and validation of an HPLC/DAD method for the qualitative and quantitative determination of major cannabinoids in cannabis plant material Journal of Chromatography B, Dec 2009 |
  11. Evaluation of the Cyclooxygenase Inhibiting Effects of Six Major Cannabinoids Isolated from Cannabis sativa Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, 2011 |
  12. The adverse effects of cannabinoids: implications for use of medical marijuana, Canadian Medical Association, June 2008 |
  13. Cannabinoid concentrations in Canada's regulated medical cannabis industry Addiction, Apr 2017 |
  14. Authorized Licensed Producers of Cannabis for Medical Purposes, Government of Canada |
  15. Medical Cannabis Active Ingredients: THC and CBD, CanniMed |
  16. Broken Coast Cannabis Ltd. |
  17. CannTrust CBD Drops |
  18. Introduction of the Cannabis Act: Questions and Answers, Government of Canada |
  19. "The Global Marijuana Market Will Soon Hit $31.4 Billion But Investors Should Be CautiousForbes, Nov 7, 2017 |
  20. "The Oil Market is Bigger Than All Metal Markets Combined" Visual Capitalist, Oct 14, 2016 |
  21. "Marijuana dispensary regulations approved in Vancouver" CBC News, June 24, 2015 |

Brandon D. Hastings (bhastings.com) is a lawyer and mediator at Quay Law Centre, CBABC Provincial Council member, and co-founder of Vancouver Legal Hackers.