Legal Cannabis in Canada
General Overview of the Legal Status of Cannabis
As of October 2018, cannabis became legal throughout Canada with the Federal Cannabis Act. Each province and territory have set rules and regulations on how cannabis is sold and used. The Federal Cannabis Act says that Canadians can possess up to 30 grams of legal cannabis. This act also states 30 grams can be shared, and only purchased from a provincial or territorial retailer. Canadians can grow up to four plants per residence, but this is different within each province.
However, each province and territory does have its own rules surrounding cannabis, which include the legal minimum age, where adults can buy it, where adults can use it, how much adults can possess, and if plants are permitted to be grown in a residence. The purpose of the Cannabis Act is to prevent youth from accessing cannabis and displace the illegal cannabis market. The Cannabis Act prohibits products that are appealing to youth and does not allow packaging or labeling cannabis in a way that makes it appealing to youth. Cannabis is prohibited from being sold through self-service displays or vending machines, and it is illegal to promote cannabis that could entice young people to use it.
Statistics of Cannabis Use in 2018
Cannabis is the second most-consumed substance in the country after alcohol. Since 2008, cannabis use among the Canadian general population increased in 2013, and again in 2015. As of 2018, the rate of cannabis use among the general population has remained steady. Since the recent legalization, there has been increased use in the individual provinces. Every three months throughout 2018 and 2019, Statistic Canada conducts a National Cannabis Survey. Each province is consistent with how the numbers go up and down. The third-quarter results of the 2018 survey indicate that 20% of the residents 15 years or older in British Columbia used cannabis in the past three months. 23% of the residents in Nova Scotia who are 15 years old or older have used cannabis in the past three months. These two provinces consistently have the highest cannabis use among their general population who is 15 years old or older.
During the third quarter of 2018, 6% of the Canadian population who are 15 years old or older reported daily or almost daily use of cannabis. 14% of cannabis users with a valid driver’s license, reported driving within two hours of using cannabis. 5% of Canadians reported being a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had consumed cannabis within two hours of driving. Most Canadians who use cannabis once or twice do no spend anything, and get it from friends and family. 54% of daily or almost daily users spent over $250 on cannabis during this third-quarter survey. Before cannabis became legal, 21% of Canadians said they might try to increase their consumption. Whereas 24% said they might try new products, and 50% said they will purchase cannabis from another source.
Legal Does Not Mean Safe to Use
There is often a familiar misconception that legal narcotics or drugs, such as cannabis are still safe to use. This is common among young people as it is taught that all illegal drugs are harmful, and rightfully so; and legal drugs such as alcohol and cannabis should be used in moderation and used safely. Legal cannabis does not mean it is safe to use; the primary psychoactive component in the cannabis for recreational use being sold, is still tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
THC will produce euphoria and relaxation, which can become addictive, and is the primary reason why cannabis is used recreationally. THC will cause changes in perception, a distortion in time, and deficits in attention span. The drug will also negatively impact the ability to divide attention and results in deficits in memory, along with impairing motor functions and cognitive abilities.
Heavy Use of Cannabis
The heavy use of THC in cannabis can lead to anxiety and depression, which can eventually force someone to continue to use it. The effects of THC in marijuana can also cause paranoia and panic attacks, and it is not uncommon for marijuana users to experience a bout of extreme paranoia.
The chronic and long-term use of cannabis will lead to breathing problems and respiratory conditions, and the carcinogens in cannabis smoke will damage the lining of the lungs. The effects of THC in marijuana will not change, now that cannabis is legal. The recreational use of legal marijuana will still create its desired effect for first-time or long-time users, and the risks associated with it will still be the same.
Long-Term Problems with Legalization of Cannabis
When cannabis became legal in Canada, many legal experts in the country began to predict that Canada will eventually pay a heavy price. The twelve months before legalization, one in seven Canadians over 15 years of age were using cannabis; these are 4.4 million people. By the end of 2018, the spending on legal cannabis will be over $1 billion dollars. Since cannabis has become legal, there has been a slight rise in use within some provinces per quarterly results.
As it stands in 2018, young people between 15 and 24 are still the most frequent and heavy users of cannabis. Much of the fear stems from young people starting to use cannabis, as the brain does not become fully developed until someone is 25 years old. Other fears in the field of addiction treatment include the potential with the increase in demand for drug rehabilitation, within the public sector across the country.
Law Enforcement Agencies & Legalization of Cannabis
Law enforcement agencies in Canada have hammered down hard on impaired driving since the legalization of cannabis. There is a legitimate concern that legal cannabis will lead to more people driving while impaired. It will be important to understand the degree to which recreational marijuana will affect traffic safety outcomes. The THC in marijuana will dull the perceptual and cognitive abilities required for safely operating a motor vehicle. The state of Colorado in the U.S. is a prime example with looking at a long-term trend connected to traffic safety outcomes. In January of 2014, Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana, followed by Washington and Oregon shortly after.
A study that was based on the 2018 Highway Loss Data Institute, estimated that the legalization of marijuana was associated with a 6% increase in insurance collision claims. This study was done with the states that had legalization and used other states with no legalization as a control. Police reported crashes were investigated, and crash rates were compared between January 2012 and December 2016 within the control states and the states with legalization. The results did show there was a 5.2% higher rate of police-reported crashes in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, which are associated with the legalization and retail sales of marijuana.
Legalization of Cannabis in Canada
Legalization is still recent in Canada, and each province and territory, along with federal authorities will monitor traffic-related incidents associated with marijuana. However, the Traffic Injury Research Foundation in Canada compiled information about marijuana use among drivers in Canada, between 2000 and 2015. The trends within this study look at marijuana use among fatally injured drivers. In 2000, there were 82 fatally injured drivers who tested positive for marijuana, and in 2015, there were 172. Between 2011 and 2015, 79.3% of fatally injured drivers were tested for drugs, compared to only 49% who were tested between 2000 and 2010, which could increase these numbers.
Despite this being only one study looking at this trend, drugs and alcohol contribute to a significant amount of motor vehicle fatalities each year. Recreational marijuana is a legitimate concern for law enforcement agencies, and in fact; many provinces have begun to stiffen impaired driving laws. Millions of dollars are being invested in new training and roadside sobriety testing, such as new equipment. For example, the province of Alberta has taken a zero-tolerance approach, and anyone pulled over at a roadside stop in Alberta will be tested for drugs and alcohol.
December 31, 2018 – Government of Canada – “What you need to know about cannabis”
December 31, 2018 – Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction – “Cannabis”
December 31, 2018 – Government of Canada – “Cannabis Stats Hub”
December 31, 2018 – Traffic Injury Research Foundation – “Marijuana use among drivers in Canada, 2000 – 2015”