Cannabis report card: How's the legal pot regime working for Canadians?
A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a "Wake and Bake" legalized marijuana event in Toronto on Wednesday, October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Two months after recreational cannabis was legalized, Canada’s new pot regime is still working out kinks in the supply chain and the enforcement of new rules.
Before the cannabis legislation came into force, the federal government listed its key objectives for the historic shift. Those goals include keeping cannabis “out of the hands of children and youth,” curbing illegal marijuana sales, and ensuring a safe supply of quality pot across the country.
More than 60 days after the first legal cannabis sales were made on Oct. 17, are those objectives being met? CTVNews.ca takes a look at how reality measures up against some of the government’s main promises.
Keep cannabis away from children
The Cannabis Act states that only adults aged 18 or older can legally purchase, possess and grow small amounts of weed. Provinces and territories were allowed to impose their own age restrictions, and the majority have set 19 as the legal age.
Quebec’s new Coalition Avenir Quebec government made good on its election campaign promise and tabled legislation that would raise the province’s legal cannabis consumption age to 21 – the highest in Canada.
Of course, those age restrictions don’t guarantee that younger teens and kids won’t be getting their hands on pot. It remains to be seen whether legalization will actually reduce cannabis consumption among minors.
Reduce number of Canadians with criminal records
One of the main pillars of the Cannabis Act is reducing the burden on the Canadian justice system by eliminating criminal charges for simple pot possession. But what about those who were charged or convicted of the crime before Oct. 17, 2018?
In October, the federal government announced its intention to issue pardons to Canadians who have criminal records for possession of 30 grams of cannabis or less.
The legislation “to make things fairer” was expected to be tabled before the end of 2018, but that did not happen before MPs wrapped things up in Ottawa for the holiday break. When it eventually becomes law, those eligible for pardons will be able to apply as soon as the law is in effect, with no waiting period or application fees.
The Liberal government, however, has been criticized for not opting to expunge the criminal records of Canadians convicted of simple possession. An expungement would remove any record of a criminal conviction, while a pardon seals the record but does not erase it.
Safe supply of cannabis
The federal government pledged to “establish and enforce a strict system of production, distribution and sales” of cannabis, with a focus on regulation of quality and safety.
But some Canadians have reported receiving mouldy cannabis.
One cannabis manufacturer, RedeCan, recalled its B.E.C. strain in November after receiving reports of mould in some products sold in Ontario and British Columbia.
Under federal regulations, cannabis producers have to keep a sample of every batch they send to market.
Eliminate illicit pot sales
This is another long-term objective of the Cannabis Act, but numerous hiccups in the legal cannabis supply chain have done little to curb distribution of illegal weed.
Despite numerous warnings to illegal cannabis stores – and police raids in several cities across the country – some illicit dispensaries say they’ve been busier than ever since Oct. 17.
Some consumers told The Canadian Press they continued to get their weed from illegal dispensaries or elsewhere because of delivery delays like the ones that plagued the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) in the first month of legalization.
The OCS attributed delays to high demand for cannabis products, but the nationwide rotating strikes by Canada Post workers were also blamed for slow deliveries.
The online OCS is currently the only legal outlet for recreational cannabis in Ontario, with brick-and-mortar stores expected in 2019.
In the first few weeks of business, the office of the Ontarioombudsman received more than 1,000 complaints about the OCS, related to delivery delays, poor customer service and issues with billing.
By the third week of November, the provincial government said the OCS had eliminated its backlog and deliveries were “back on track.”
British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick also reported varying degrees of cannabis shortages.
New Brunswick was forced to temporarily close more than half its stores in early November, and the Quebec Cannabis Corporation had to reduce its store opening hours due to shortages.
Access to medical cannabis
One of the government’s principal objectives in legalizing recreational pot was to provide “access to quality-controlled cannabis for medical purposes.”
But medical cannabis users have complained that, since Oct. 17, they’ve experienced persistent product shortages and shipment delays.
Users of medical cannabis can only buy products from specific licensed producers if they want their health insurance to cover the cost. When their preferred strain or product is not available, they either have to go without, or pay out of pocket for products from a recreational pot retailer.
Health Canada admitted last month that there have been localized shortages of medical cannabis since legalization, and said they are expected to continue for months.
Protecting public health and safety
The federal government has vowed to strengthen laws aimed at punishing “more serious cannabis offences,” including selling and distributing pot to children and youth, and driving under the influence of cannabis.
Legislation known as Bill C-46 sets prohibited blood drug concentrations of THC, the main psychoactive compound of cannabis, for drivers. It also outlines penalties for drug offences, which range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the severity and number of offences committed.
As a result of Bill C-46, police can now demand a sample of saliva for roadside drug screening. However, the only device approved for roadside drug testing in Canada has been met with criticism, with some police forces even saying they will not be using it at all.
Critics say the Drager DrugTest 5000 doesn't work in sub-zero temperatures, is too bulky for roadside tests and takes too long to produce a sample. But the federal government has defended the device, saying its approval was based on scientific recommendations of the Drugs and Driving Committee.
Bill C-46 also amended Canada’s drunk-driving laws to allow police officers to conduct mandatory roadside alcohol breath tests without requiring a suspicion that the driver had been drinking.
With files from CTVNews.ca’s Rachel Aiello and The Canadian Press