Alberta’s Cannabis Guidelines: 18 to Buy, Liquor Commission in Control

Published on October 4, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
View of the city of Calgary from a hill in the afternoon. A river liven up this scene.

Earlier today, Alberta officials revealed their initial plans for dealing with adult-use recreational cannabis, which is scheduled to become legal across Canada by July 2018. Unlike Ontario, which plans to create retail stores run by the provincial government, Alberta will allow private retailers to enter the market.

“The Alberta Cannabis Framework paints a picture of what legalization in Alberta may look like after proposed federal legislation becomes law,” wrote Kathleen Ganley, Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, in the Framework’s introduction. “This document will guide our government as it considers all aspects of legalization—with a sharp focus on public safety and protecting the health of all Albertans. Ultimately, our government will make responsible choices that reflect the values of everyone in our province.”

Drawing upon online feedback from 45,000 Albertans and meetings with over 100 stakeholder and sector associations (from indigenous groups to health care providers to law enforcement), today’s preliminary draft of the Alberta Cannabis Framework presents four main goals:

  • Keeping cannabis out of the hands of children
  • Limiting the illegal market for cannabis
  • Promoting safety on roads, in workplaces, and in public spaces
  • Protecting public health.

Among the proposed specifics:

The Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will oversee everything

From ensuring only legally produced, federally regulated cannabis products are sold to serving as a central wholesaler for all such products, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) will oversee and regulate the wholesaling and distribution of cannabis products in the province.

Worth noting: The claim that “[The AGLC] will ensure a level playing field for large and small producers,” and the description of the government agency as a “central wholesaler” of cannabis products, rather than the only wholesaler, as will be the case in Toronto. Will Alberta find a way to involve the existing dispensary scene, with its knowledge- and experience-packed growers and budtenders, in Alberta’s legal cannabis industry? That question remains unaddressed in the report.

Only specialized cannabis stores will be allowed to sell cannabis products

Cannabis is forbidden to be sold alongside alcohol, tobacco, or pharmaceuticals, so there will be no cannabis sold at liquor stores, convenience stores, or pharmacies. Instead, Alberta will allow an unspecified number of cannabis-specific stores, which will be subject to standard provincial zoning buffers and hours of operation. Employees of such stores must be 18 or older and undergo standardized training, and standard information on safe cannabis use must be available at all points-of-purchase.

Notable quotes: “Municipalities will be able to further restrict based on local needs” (which means commercial and neighborhood associations may have a say in where and how cannabis is sold), and “Online sales may not be part of [the] initial system,” as Alberta authorities are still investigating how to guarantee age verification at point of purchase and delivery.

To purchase and consume adult-use recreational cannabis, you must be 18 or older

While other provinces mull cannabis age limits of 19 and 21, Alberta’s sticking with 18, the same age limit the province places on the purchase and consumption of alcohol. Once legalization hits, those 18 and up can publicly possess up to 30 grams of cannabis. (According to Alberta authorities, this is the equivalent of roughly 40 joints.) As for those under 18: “Alberta will have zero-tolerance for youth possession,” with underage possession under five grams subject to seizure, citation, and notification of parents/guardians, and underage possession over five grams subject to the federal criminal code.

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Home grow is a go

“Alberta will maintain the federal limit on number of plants per household and height restrictions”—which means each household may grow up to four cannabis plants no taller than one metre. Also, plants must be kept inside, as growing cannabis for personal use outside will be illegal. (Chalk this last stipulation up to the Framework’s aim to keep cannabis out of the hands of children, who might feasibly raid outdoor cannabis gardens.)

Public consumption will be tightly restricted

“Public cannabis use will be restricted to protect children and limit second-hand exposure,” proclaims the Framework, stipulating the many places were cannabis consumption will be forbidden: on hospital grounds and school properties, in motor vehicles, and anywhere near areas frequented by children. Also: “Cannabis lounges will not be considered in Alberta until the federal government provides clarity on edibles regulation.”

You may find the full Alberta Cannabis Framework here. Albertans are invited to provide feedback on the government’s draft framework until Friday, Oct. 27. A final version of the framework and legislation is expected to be introduced later this winter. 

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Dave Schmader
Dave Schmader
Dave Schmader is the author of the book "Weed: The User's Guide." Follow him on Twitter @davidschmader
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