Year in Review: Veil lifted on cannabis prohibition in Canada

By Tyler Marr
December 24, 2018 - 8:00am

As 2018 draws to a close, paNOW is taking a look back on the most important and impactful stories of the year, as selected by our reporters and editorial staff.

 

Canada made history in 2018, becoming only the second industrialized nation to lift the veil on cannabis prohibition and fully legalize the plant.

But the process leading up to Oct. 17 was shrouded in haze for much of the year as federal, provincial and municipal authorities attempted feverishly to establish satisfactory rules.

Initially, details from Ottawa on when exactly marijuana would be legalized were fuzzy. The Liberals had aimed for July 1 - Canada Day - but procedural issues and delays prevented them from hitting the date. But in June, Justin Trudeau confirmed the long-awaited date during Question Period.

This came after a late-night passage of Bill C-45 in the Senate the week prior, after tense weeks of parliamentary ping-pong between the House and Red Chamber.

In January, the province announced its initial rules around cannabis sales, detailing how the wholesaling and retailing of cannabis would be regulated by the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) and distributed to residents via private retailers.

SLGA issued 60 permits in 40 municipalities and First Nations communities with populations of at least 2,500. 

In March, Health Canada outlined the strict regulations for legal cannabis packaging to mixed reaction, with some lambasting the limited wiggle room for merchants to advertise and differentiate their products.

June saw the province announce the winners of the provincial lottery for permits, which included a mix of private business owners and entrepreneurs, federally licensed cannabis producers and retailers alongside a handful of First Nations. 

 

Over 1,500 parties expressed interest in the permits.

In July, the provincial government outlined its structure for cannabis-related offences.

Ticket amounts ranged from $200 to a maximum of $2,250. Some of the ticketing offences include a $200 ticket for consuming cannabis in a public place, possessing or giving out more than 30 grams of dried cannabis in a public place and possessing or consuming cannabis in a campground when a prohibition is in effect.

A $1,000 fine will be given out for consuming cannabis at school, on school grounds or at a child care facility and a $2,250 ticket will find its way to a permittee or employee of a retail location if they fail to ask for proof of age or sell or distribute cannabis to a minor. A similar fine will also be given out to those selling to someone who appears intoxicated. A $750 ticket will be in place for anyone caught selling or giving cannabis to a minor.

Later in the summer, Saskatchewan outlined how drug-impaired drivers would face tougher penalties.

A zero-tolerance policy for drug-impaired driving was announced – meaning people should not get behind the wheel with any level of drugs in their system detectable by a federally-approved screening device, or a standardized field sobriety test.

Penalties included an immediate licence suspension, the vehicle being seized for up to 60 days and – if convicted – a licence suspension for up to five years.

During this time, municipalities scrambled to get appropriate zoning regulations in place to accommodate the impending applications for retail, wholesale, and production facilities.

What caused controversy in a few cities across Saskatchewan concerned the cost for cannabis retail business licences. Both Prince Albert and Saskatoon City Councils hashed out steep fees for budtenders.

North Battleford, Meadow Lake, Lloydminster and most other municipalities across the province opted for fees not dissimilar to the cost of a regular business licence.

Prince Albert ping-ponged between $5,000 and $30,000 at pointsultimately settling on $20,000.

Then finally came the day Canadians could buy cannabis legally from coast-to-coast-to-coast. However, only a handful of stores were open in the nation, and just five in Saskatchewan - two of which were in the Battlefords.

Over 30 people stood eagerly inline outside Fire & Flower Cannabis as passersby honked and hollered in support on Oct. 17.

“Welcome cannabis,” Jim Davey said while wielding a massive set of scissors to snip the ribbon on the door of his cannabis retail outlet in North Battleford.

 

Among some of the first customers through the door was Moe Brondon, who likened the day to Christmas and said he was glad to see it finally arrive. He is appreciative to finally be able to carry a little bit of marijuana with him and not get arrested for smoking it at home.

“There are all sorts of great things about it,” he added.

He said too many people for too long have been marginalized and was eager to see Canada lead the world in liberalizing the plant.

Earlier in the day, standing huddled together with coffee in hand and toques on head, residents in Battleford were eagerly waiting for the doors to open.

“It is a whole new world,” Zack Jones said, never believing this day would come in his lifetime.

But suddenly legal bud supply issues sparked up.

“It will absolutely become an issue,” David Thomas, co-owner of Jimmy's Cannabis said. “That’s been reported on pretty consistently across the country. Oct. 17 is great for everyone to try and be open and try to be ready. It was really cart before the horse in a lot of ways. We’re really hoping that supply will level out in the next couple of weeks so we can provide a consistent experience for our customers.”

Even two months after legalization, reports are swarming across the nation of legal pot shops limiting store hours or even giving up on opening as shortages persist across the country.

In an end-of-year interview with The Canadian Press, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau predicted the problem would be resolved “during the coming months and perhaps the coming year.” He noted the scarcity of cannabis was most pronounced in Ontario and Quebec.

Prince Albert's first cannabis retailer opened up earlier this month.

 

tyler.marr@jpbg.ca

On Twitter: @JournoMarr

Be wary of choking risk over the holidays

Join the Discussion

We are happy to provide a forum for commenting and discussion. Please respect and abide by the house rules: Keep it clean, keep it civil, keep it truthful, stay on topic, be responsible, share your knowledge, and please suggest removal of comments that violate these standards. See full commenting rules.