Alberta's Proposed Cannabis Framework

Legislation expected to be introduced later this year

With the Canadian government expected to legalize cannabis by July 2018,1 provinces and territories are rolling out individual regulatory frameworks to meet the requirements of federal legislation and respond to local needs. Distribution and wholesale, retail models, retail locations and rules, regulatory compliance, public consumption, impaired driving, public health, education, taxation, and workplace safety are all aspects of cannabis regulation that fall within provincial and territorial jurisdiction. Ontario was the first province to unveil its proposed cannabis framework.2 On October 4, Alberta released its draft cannabis framework which will be open for public consultation until October 27.3 Legislation is expected to be introduced by the end of this year.

What You Need To Know

Consistent with the stated objectives of the federal government, Alberta's policy priorities include keeping cannabis away from youth, protecting public health, promoting safety on roads, in workplaces and public spaces, and limiting the illicit cannabis market. Key aspects of Alberta's draft cannabis framework include the following:

  • Minimum age. The minimum age to purchase and consume cannabis will align with the province's legal age for alcohol and tobacco of 18 years.
  • Retail outlets. Alberta's cannabis distribution system would be similar to its alcohol distribution. Rules on operation and location of stores, age of staff and training, and the initial number of outlets will be established in the future.
    • Format of outlets. Alberta is currently considering two approaches to government-regulated cannabis distribution, either government-owned and operated stores, or licensed and regulated private sales. The former approach is similar to that proposed by Ontario, which allows for greater oversight and control of the market, but has significant up-front costs to the government. The latter approach is more analogous to Alberta's current alcohol distribution system, which allows for flexibility in meeting consumer demands, but requires extensive oversight and regulation and possibly less government revenue and market control. The sale of cannabis will be physically separated from alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals. Online sale of non-medical cannabis will not be available initially, but may be considered as the province better understands the market and develops strategies for age verification online.
    • Retail staff. Retail staff would be at least 18 years of age. They are responsible for complying with customer age verification requirements and other purchasing rules. Retail staff will receive appropriate training to educate customers about the potency of products and the risks associated with cannabis use.
    • Educational features. To educate customers, retail outlets will display point-of-purchase signage and other materials on the risks of cannabis use and making responsible choices.
  • Edibles. Alberta has not introduced rules regarding edibles, but may soon do so with the proposed amendments to the pending Cannabis Act (Act).4 The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health proposed to amend the pending Act by including edibles in the classes of cannabis permitted for sale. If the inclusion of the amendments are accepted and the Act is enacted as law, the sale of edibles would be set for implementation within a year of the Act coming into force.5
  • Price. The pricing and taxation of cannabis continues to be debated. Alberta notes the price for legalized cannabis needs to be calibrated low enough to compete with the illicit market. The province will work with the federal government in establishing a coordinated approach to cannabis taxation.
  • Location of use. Cannabis consumption in Alberta will be restricted to homes and some public spaces where smoking tobacco is permitted. However, cannabis consumption will be banned in vehicles, areas frequented by children, school properties, hospitals, and cannabis retail outlets. Alberta will not initially introduce venues specific to cannabis consumption (e.g., cafes or lounges), but may revisit this issue in the future.
  • Private growth. Alberta will allow adults to grow a maximum of four plants per household for personal use, 100cm in height, in line with the federal government's proposed legislation. Renters, condo-dwellers and persons living in multi-family dwellings may be restricted from private growth of cannabis by rental agreements or condominium bylaws. The government will educate landlords, renters and condo boards on the options available to them.
  • Possession. Aligning with the proposed federal legislation, the maximum allowed cannabis possession in public will be 30 grams.
  • Public awareness. Alberta will work to create more public awareness about the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis and the legal consequences of drug-impaired driving. The province will also work with employers, labour groups and workers to ensure occupational health and safety regulations adequately address impairment issues arising from cannabis use.
  • Advertising, labelling and packaging. The proposed federal legislation includes strict rules on advertising, labelling and packaging of cannabis that mirror restrictions on tobacco. Alberta will continue monitoring the specifics of the legislation and work with the federal government to address any issues or gaps in policies that may arise.

What's Next

The Albertan government has already met with more than 100 stakeholders and sector groups, including Indigenous groups, private industry, municipalities, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission, health-care providers, law enforcement, and members of the transportation and labour sectors. Alberta will continue to seek feedback from the public regarding the proposed cannabis framework before introducing legislation. Alberta's draft cannabis framework will remain open for public consultation until October 276 and legislation is expected to be introduced by the end of this year.

The Albertan government has indicated its intentions to closely monitor the new legal market as it evolves. Annual reports on the regulatory system will be prepared and a more fulsome review in five years will follow to ensure the system continues to meet all of Alberta's policy priorities.

We will bring you updates on the cannabis framework in Alberta and the rest of Canada as they become available.

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1 See: https://www.torys.com/insights/publications/2017/04/breaking-ground-canadas-cannabis-framework

2 See: https://www.torys.com/insights/publications/2017/09/monopoly-on-cannabis-ontarios-plan-for-retail-sales

3 See: https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=487130ECA192F-C1D5-2C21-E4DA8B6A8BAF672A

4 See: https://www.torys.com/insights/publications/2017/10/proposed-amendments-to-canadas-cannabis-act

5 See: https://www.torys.com/insights/publications/2017/04/breaking-ground-canadas-cannabis-framework

6 See: https://www.alberta.ca/release.cfm?xID=487130ECA192F-C1D5-2C21-E4DA8B6A8BAF672A

To discuss these issues, please contact the author(s).

This publication is a general discussion of certain legal and related developments and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require legal advice, we would be pleased to discuss the issues in this publication with you, in the context of your particular circumstances.

For permission to republish this or any other publication, contact Janelle Weed.

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