Canada Task Force publishes recommendations for legalisation

In Canada, on 13 December 2016 the government-appointed Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation published its final report, which had been delivered to the ministers of justice, health and public safety on 30 November.

The Task Force was appointed on 30 June 2016 to prepare the ground for fulfilment of Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2015 election promise to legalise, regulate and restrict access to cannabis. It comprised nine members and was headed by Anne McLellan, a lawyer who has held several key ministerial posts. It was guided by a government discussion paper which set out nine public policy objectives, including protecting young people and keeping money from organised crime. The Task Force established its own guiding principles: protection of public health and safety, compassion, fairness, collaboration, a commitment to evidence-informed policy, and flexibility. The 112-page report is based on five months of consultation (nearly 30 000 online submissions and over 300 written submissions). The recommendations aim for a public health approach while minimising unintended consequences. The Task Force prefers the scientific term cannabis to marijuana.

The government is not obliged to accept any recommendations of the Task Force’s report.

In Canada, an estimated 24 % of Canadians aged 15 to 24 years of age have used cannabis in the last year (only three out of 28 EU Member States have a similar or higher prevalence of use among the same age-group, and the EU average is 16 %). Personal possession of cannabis (up to 30 grams) is a criminal offence punishable by up to 6 months imprisonment. The legal system is federal, although provinces and territories may have their own variations of some laws, for example the age limit to purchase alcohol may be 18 or 19. Medical cannabis has been available since 1999. Over time the regulations have evolved from initially providing individual exemptions to enable patients to possess cannabis for their personal consumption for medical reasons, to a system of federal licensing that allows patients, with the support of their physicians, to obtain cannabis from one of 36 licensed producers, to cultivate their own cannabis or to designate someone to cultivate it on their behalf. It may be distributed by mail or courier. While not legal federally, some cannabis wellness clubs and ‘dispensary’ shops have existed for several years in some regions.

Key aspects of the recommendations include:

  • A purchase age of 18 (or provincial alignment with that for alcohol)
  • Plain packaging with THC and CBD levels clearly marked
  • Prohibition of any product ‘appealing to children’ such as edible sweets
  • Tax levels based on potency, to encourage development of lower-potency strains
  • Government-regulated production, with seed-to-sale tracking system
  • Provincial-regulated wholesale distribution (similar to the local government alcohol distribution networks) and retail; possible mail-order for remote communities
  • Minimal co-location of cannabis sales with alcohol and tobacco products
  • Designated places for social consumption but not with alcohol
  • 30 g personal possession, four plants per private residence with max height 100 cm
  • Penalties to be proportionate, non-criminal and criminal
  • Further research to establish appropriate drug-driving limits
  • A surveillance and monitoring system with programme evaluation every five years

It was not part of the mandate to make recommendations related to Canada’s international legal commitments.