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5 Takeaways From Ontario’s Proposed Cannabis Law

Published on November 2, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
The ornate Senate Chamber within the Centre Block structure of the Canadian Parliament Building.

As Canada’s federal cannabis legalization bill winds its way through Parliament, the province of Ontario yesterday unveiled the text of their cannabis regulation efforts as it passed through its first reading in the provincial legislature.

Under the new rules, law enforcement can close illegal dispensaries and block all public entrances until a judge issues a final judgement on the charges.

In a confusing twist, the province has called the new bill the “Cannabis Act, 2017,” which is nearly identical to the name of the federal legislation that’ll legalize cannabis nationwide. Even more confusing is some of the legalese contained within the province’s proposed law. That’s why we at Leafly have decided to put on our policy-analysis hat and bring you some of the most significant bits of the upcoming provincial law.

1. Dispensaries and landlords are going to face some huge monetary penalties

As reported earlier by Leafly, individuals who sell outside the legal system could face fines of up to $250,000, while corporations could be fined up to $1 million. These penalties apply to both the dispensaries that lease space and the owners of the property. Plus, those figures come into play on just the first offence. On subsequent offences, penalties could be even more crippling: Individuals would be subject to daily fines that max out at $100,000 per day the offence continues, while corporations will face fines of up to $500,000 per day of the offence. Beyond fines is the prospect of jail time, with individuals facing up to a year in jail for a first offence and two years for subsequent offences.

2. Dispensaries can now be shut down after being charged

Until now, police have been able to search dispensaries pursuant to warrants and arrest individuals inside—but there hasn’t been an effective, legal method to force closure of the shops. While some dispensaries closed after being raided, others quickly re-opened, sometimes in a new location and with a new staff.  Under the new rules, if someone is charged with illegally selling cannabis at a specific location such as a dispensary, law enforcement now has the ability to close the store and block all public entrances until a judge has made a final judgement on the charges, which, as anyone who has ever been involved in the court system knows, can take a protracted amount of time. Once a judge convicts the person that used the premises to illegally sell cannabis, courts will now have the ability to order that the premises be shut down for a period of up to two years.

3. The province did not enact a law against “public display” of cannabis
In some of the early legalization states south of the border, it’s illegal to open your bag of legal cannabis and display it in public, including in Colorado (where’s it’s considered a ‘petty’ offence) and in Washington (where it’s punishable by a fine). There’s no similar offence in Ontario’s proposed bill, despite the fact that public consumption will be outlawed. So, is this a blind spot within the new law? Potentially, though it could be dealt with as the bill winds its way through the provincial Legislature. In addition, municipalities may try to take it upon themselves to implement such a prohibition within their boundaries.

The province is seeking changes to the Highway Traffic Act that would require certain drivers to have zero trace of cannabis in their systems.

4. Young and novice drivers cannot have any cannabis in their system when operating a motor vehicle
The province is seeking changes to the Highway Traffic Act that would require certain drivers to have zero trace of cannabis in their systems. All young drivers, defined as those under 22 years of age, and all novice drivers (including any driver with a G1 and G2 licence) must remain drug-free. Under federal law, the police will be able to take an oral swab upon having reasonable grounds to believe the driver is impaired. Under the proposed provincial law, a positive result on the swab could be used to determine that a young or novice driver does in fact have traces of cannabis in their system. Young drivers who violate this offence for the first time will face a fine of between $60 to $500 and a license suspension of 30 days. Novice drivers will face the same fine, but license suspensions would be up to the Registrar in accordance with regulations. Interestingly, the province is exempting medical cannabis users from this offence, though the federal government is still going ahead with prohibiting anyone from driving with 2ng/ml or above of THC in their blood. Also, take note that the province (and federal government) still both have strict offences against impaired driving which apply to all drivers, not just the young and novice ones.

5. Authorized medical cannabis patients may be exempt from consumption laws in certain circumstances
Think of the all the places where either alcohol or tobacco consumption is currently prohibited in Ontario. It will be illegal to consume cannabis in those same places. However, there appears to be some wiggle room for federally authorized medical marijuana patients. Under the new law, medical cannabis would be allowed in residential hospices and care facilities, designated psychiatrist facilities, and scientific research and testing facilities under certain conditions. Hotels, motels, and inns will now have the ability to accommodate medical cannabis use in fully-enclosed sleeping suites, though this exception doesn’t carry over to non-medical cannabis users.

Just like the federal bill, the provincial bill could be subject to change as it snakes through the legislature. Stay tuned.

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Harrison Jordan
Harrison Jordan
Harrison Jordan is a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and enjoys reading and writing about the regulatory affairs of cannabis in Canada and around the world.
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