Bill C-45, What Consumers Should Know

Bill C-45 or “An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts” received its first reading on Thursday, April 13, 2017.

The stated objectives of the Act are to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis, to protect public health and public safety and to impose serious criminal penalties for those operating outside of the legal framework. At section 7, the Bill lists these objectives in greater detail, explicitly stating as a goal the enhancement of “public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.”

Before commenting on the Bill, I’ll provide here a summary of what the Liberals intend that legal framework to be for private, recreational consumers. Let’s break things down as follows:  

(1)    consumer rights

(2)    criminal sanctions against users operating outside of the legal system

Let's remember that nothing I write here should be taken as gospel, and you should absolutely consult with a lawyer. Don't rely on anything I've written, especially if you are reading this sometime in the future. Also, keep in mind that this Bill isn't law yet, so don't go starting a cannabis farm on me. I’ll put together a future post about what the regulated sale of cannabis is going to look like, as well as a discussion of the impaired driving laws the Liberals are packaging with this Legislation. Both those topics are too dense to cover here. 
 

What rights will a recreational consumer of cannabis have? 

Under the Act, a recreational user over the age of 18 will be able to possess, in a public place, an amount of cannabis equivalent to 30 grams of dried cannabis. This cannabis must not be illicit, which means that it must be produced by an authorised supplier.

 
Dried Cannabis or jarred death according to Health Canada.

Dried Cannabis or jarred death according to Health Canada.

 

Consumers may also produce up to four plants in their home for personal consumption but will face criminal charges if they bring any plant into a public place that is budding or flowering. This means that it will be a crime to transport a cannabis plant while it can be harvested.

If more than two people live in the same house, they share the limit of four plants. This means that there can be no more than four cannabis plants in any one residence. The plants may not be more than 100 cm in height, not including the roots of the plant.

This seems slightly out of place, but no organisation may possess cannabis without a license. The above applies specifically to private citizens.

 Reference: Section 8 of the Act (possession), Section 12 (growing cannabis).

Consumers may “distribute” dried cannabis and up to four plants that are not budding or flowering to another private citizen over the age of 18. Distribution here does not mean selling. Unless expressly authorised by the Act, the recreational consumer may not sell or possess for selling either cannabis or cannabis plants.

Reference: Sections 9 and 10 of the Act (distribution and sale)

Criminal Sanctions

This Act isn’t just permissive – which was how the Liberals sold the concept of cannabis legalisation during the 2016 election. It introduces a host of new criminal sanctions, justified by the stated objectives of the Act.

If a recreational consumer is found to possess:

(a)    more than 30 grams of cannabis produced by a licensed supplier;

(b)    any amount of cannabis they know has not been provided by a licenced provider;

(c)     more than four plants; or

(d)    a budding or flowering plant in a public place;

They are guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and are liable to a penalty of no more than $5,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both.

Reference: Section 8(2) of the Act (sanctions for possession)

If a recreational consumer distributes more than 30 grams of cannabis, distributes cannabis they know has not been produced by a licensed supplier or distributes cannabis to an organization, they are guilty of an offense punishable on summary conviction and are liable to a penalty of no more than $5,000.00 or imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or to both.

The consumer faces the same punishment if they distribute a cannabis plant that is budding or flowering or more than four cannabis plants that are not budding or flowering.

If a recreational consumer distributes cannabis to someone under the age of 18 they are guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction and are liable to a penalty of not more than $15,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than 18 months, or to both.

Under the above, the Crown also has the option of seeking a conviction on indictment, which carries a maximum prison term of 14 years. This means that repeat offenders may find themselves facing over a decade in jail.

References: Section 9(5) of the Act (sanctions for distribution)

Lastly, it is an offence, punishable on summary conviction or by indictment, to sell or possess for selling cannabis unless explicitly authorised. Unlicensed sellers of cannabis or plants may find themselves facing fines of $5,000.00 or between six months to 14 years of imprisonment.

References: Section 10 of the Act (Selling)

Summary

Under the Act, a recreational consumer can possess:

  1. up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or equivalent, produced by a licensed supplier for personal consumption or sharing with any person they have reasonably ascertained to be over the age of 18.
  2. In their home, up to four plants of no more than 100 cm (not including roots) for personal consumption or distribution. If other people live with them in the same residence, they must share that limit with their roommates or family.

Consumers cannot take flowering or budding plants out of the home, so they can only transport plants that are not in a condition to be harvested.

Users possessing more than the equivalent of 30 grams of dried cannabis, or more than four plants, may find themselves fined $5,000.00 or spending six months in prison. The same goes for any consumers who transport budding or flowering plants outside their homes, or who try to sell cannabis without a license.

Those who sell cannabis to someone under 18 years of age may face a $15,000 fine or imprisonment for a term of not more than 18 months, or to both.

Repeat offenders may find themselves charged with an indictable offence, and are looking at a maximum term of 14 years.

Commentary

Let’s start with what’s right about this Bill. See, I’m not always hating on Justin Trudeau and his gorgeous hair.

First, this is a huge step that will improve the lives of countless Canadians. I suspect our economy will benefit from a new and lucrative commodity, and the medical infrastructure has just been waiting to expand into the recreational market. Companies like Tweed and Bedrocan will provide a lot of jobs at a time when they are sorely needed. This Act will also greatly reduce the burden on our Criminal Justice system. 

I like that consumers will be able to grow plants at home. Medical users have been able to do this for some time by obtaining an ACMPR Registration Certificate (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Registration Certificate) from Health Canada. Cannabis is a natural product, and the means of its production should not be restricted to corporate sellers.

I haven’t reviewed the HANSARD reports, but I have no idea why a limit of four plants would be placed on the consumer. It seems arbitrary and particularly harsh given the sanctions. I’ve never grown cannabis, so I’m not exactly sure whether four plants will produce a sufficient yield for a single user. I’m also flummoxed at the household limit. Why shouldn’t two recreational users who live together have the right to grow their own plants for their own use?

This is particularly irritating, given that different strains of cannabis have very different purposes. Medical users of cannabis will generally keep a variety of buds on hand. One strain of cannabis may alleviate pain with few psychoactive effects – such as Israeli producer Tikun Olam’s Avi-Dekel Sativa-dominant strain – while others may have strong mood lifting effects to combat depression or improve sleep.

I would like to see a justification for the limitation on the private cultivation of cannabis, but the fact that the Act permits it is an encouraging development.

 
This is your brain on Liberal Drug Policy

This is your brain on Liberal Drug Policy

 

Now let’s talk about what I don’t like, and what I think most people who know a little something about cannabis won’t like – the criminal sanctions.

First, let’s make it clear what it is we’re sending people to prison over.

Cannabis is a plant that has been cultivated and consumed by human beings since pre-history.  It has enjoyed a place in Chinese Medicine for over 10,000 years. In many respects, the evolutionary history of cannabis is written in our guts. Our bodies are almost built to benefit from the many beneficial effects of its ingestion.

The endocannabinoid system (“ECS”) is a group of endogenous receptors located throughout our brain and nervous systems that help us regulate our pain-sensation, appetite, mood, memory, and sleep. It is actually the process responsible for feelings like “runner’s high” we might experience after a good workout.

There are two compounds in cannabis, Tetrahydrocannabinol (“THC”) and Cannabidiol (“CBD”). CBD is almost chemically identical to the compound produced by our own ECS, which is why it has no side effects, beyond improving the job our bodies are already doing reducing inflammation and pain, and improving mood. THC is what provokes the psychoactive experience upon ingestion or inhalation of the cannabis flower. Each operates together or separately to produce a host of medical benefits, from pain relief to anxiety reduction, along with a euphoric experience that couples well with Pizza and Mario Kart. 

There are certainly some side effects, such as temporary reduction in memory and the possible precipitation or exacerbation of existing mental illnesses, but these effects are minimal compared to the pharmaceutical alternatives and almost laughable in the face of alcohol, which has caused almost endless misery in our society.

It's also important to note that nobody has ever overdosed on cannabis. There is no dosage which would cause irreparable harm to someone, as far as I'm aware. I'm open to seeing peer reviewed literature that suggests otherwise. 

Used responsibly, I am convinced that cannabis is not only safe but of benefit to the average healthy consumer. Of course, I’m not a physician, and I recommend that people speak with their primary care provider before making an informed decision about their own use of cannabis.  

There are certainly strong arguments against its consumption by young people, and I fully support the provisions of this Act that limit its sale to those over the age of 18.

In light of the above, I have absolutely no idea why there would be a limit of 30 grams for possession. 30 grams is certainly plenty of cannabis for one person, but I don't see the Liberals suggesting a raid of peoples' wine cellars. I know people with enough Sauvignon Blanc to drown a whale. 

Of course we know why the Liberals are insisting on a limit for possession.

This Act continues the long history of groundless vilification and slander to which cannabis has been exposed. This is a racial and classist history, beginning in the early 20th century with the coining of the term “Marijuana” by white supremacist Americans hoping to associate cannabis with Mexican immigrant communities. In Canada, the stigmatisation of cannabis has been closely tied to the stigmatisation and suppression of opium, generally as a means of marginalising Chinese immigrants in the West. If you don’t believe me, look up the Race Riots of 1907 in Vancouver. I suspect that story won’t be making it into our 150th celebrations.

If you don't take this leftist lawyer’s word for it, listen to former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman’s recounting of the war on drugs:

"You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalising both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders. Raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course, we did.”

This Act is a partial answer to the long and unjustified history of the criminalization of cannabis, but its criminal sanctions are, to put it plainly, a continued means by which the marginalised and small may be crushed by the powerful. I expect those first in line to distribute cannabis will be the same pharmaceutical, corporate entities that tried to keep it out of the consumer's hands for so long. This Act "Respecting Cannabis" doesn't really respect it at all. 

Regulation of a substance as harmless as Cannabis does not require 14 year jail sentences. Fines? sure. Blacklisting from approved suppliers? Why not. But someone who gets caught with 40 grams of cannabis shouldn't spend a day in prison. 

I'll entertain prison sentences for offenders who sell to minors. 

Make no mistake, the peddlers of legal cannabis will be, for the most part, white wealthy Capitalists.  Expect the police to continue to drag people of colour and the have-nots into Court. Expect the privileged to bend the rules. The people who sold cannabis before this Bill will not be the ones selling it after. While the Liberals will tell you this means fewer criminals pocketing your hard-earned loonies, it ignores a history of racist drug policy. 

In short, business as usual under Capitalism. At least there will be a little more green to brighten our days.

Read the Act for yourself here