Last October, we started putting cannabis in a category kind of, sort of similar to alcohol.
But through a series of cultural and legal accidents — or just lawmakers of different generations making decisions in different decades — we treat them differently in any number of ways. Nearly always, they involve being stricter about cannabis, though it’s arguably the safer of the two.
Do any of them make sense? Read on, and draw your own conclusions.
Social sharing with under-18s (Don’t. Just don’t.)
Last summer, the Senate debated putting a similar provision into the federal Cannabis Act.
“Parents have a responsibility to parent their children, and they should be able to teach their teens appropriate use of cannabis without fear of criminal penalty,” Independent Sen. Wanda Bernard told a Senate committee. “It would be sharing of a legal substance, not an illicit substance. I would see it as being similar to sharing a glass of wine in one’s home.”
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The amendment was defeated so, at least on paper, a parent who shares a joint with their teenager a day before their 18th birthday risks a sentence of up to 14 years in prison.
Would that actually happen in the real world? We’d rather not find out.
Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em?
Canada is, in general, far more restrictive with cannabis than alcohol.
Public consumption, however, is an exception in some provinces. Ontario’s PC government ditched laws made by its Liberal predecessor and allowed pot smoking wherever tobacco smoking is allowed. That means that you can’t have a glass of wine in a park, but lighting up the biggest, fattest joint you can roll is perfectly fine.
Ordering pot in a restaurant (or consumption space)
There’s no provision, so far, for consumption lounges, or the equivalent of a licensed establishment that sells cannabis. (There are a few that work on a bring-your-own-weed basis — one in Toronto was allowed after detailed scrutiny of the legal definition of a patio.)
The more difficult problem may be restrictions on not cannabis as such but smoking or vaping in indoor spaces.
Edibles would get around the smoking-related issues, but they take a long time to kick in, as much as an hour and a half. That means a lot of waiting around.
(Several U.S. states license cannabis lounges.)
When cannabis beverages made with water-soluble THC (which gives quick feedback) are introduced, there will be new questions. They’ll include forms of de-alcoholized wine and beer with THC added.
In principle, it should be possible (once the law catches up) to order a bottle of wine with dinner at a restaurant that has no alcohol but 10 milligrams of THC. But we’re not there yet.
How old is old enough?
When can you start (legally) consuming? Mostly, at 19, which is mostly the same age you can start legally drinking. The exceptions are Manitoba, where the drinking age is 18 and the cannabis age is 19, and Quebec, where the drinking age is 18 and the cannabis age will soon be 21. In Alberta, it’s 18 for both.
(For generations, Ottawa teens have gone to Hull to buy alcohol legally. Once Quebec raises its cannabis age, we have the prospect of young adults from Quebec going the other way to Ottawa to buy legal weed.)
Cannabis containers: hard to design, hard to open, hard to recycle
Cannabis containers are subject to a long list of rigid rules.
The containers have to have a matte finish, opaque or translucent and be child-resistant (and there is a whole separate set of rules for what that means). The rules go so far as to forbid certain kinds of ink. (The child-resistance rules are one reason pot containers can be so hard to recycle.)
Bottles of alcohol, on the other hand, are often sealed with a simple screw cap, though they can contain enough alcohol to send a child to hospital.
Worrying about the U.S. border
Canadian governments aren’t the only ones interested in Canadians’ cannabis consumption.
There have only been a tiny handful of Canadians banned at the U.S. border for cannabis-related reasons since legalization, and they had to do with either prohibition-era possession convictions or connections to the federally illegal U.S. cannabis industry.
However, U.S. federal law bans “abusers” of drugs banned in the United States, including marijuana, from entering the country. “Abuse” refers to any level of use, regardless of the legality where it took place.
One thing this seems to have led to is a reluctance among Canadians to use credit cards for cannabis transactions (credit card data is stored in the U.S.). In turn, that has become one of the factors shaping the Canadian cannabis economy. Since you can only avoid using credit cards in bricks-and-mortar stores, provinces with few physical stores sell far, far less weed.
None of these mysterious shadow games, needless to say, apply to alcohol.
Weed buyers buy Canadian, whether they want to or not
A liquor store of any size offers a tour of the world of sorts. Quebec’s SAQ offers products from 65 different countries, including El Salvador and Moldova.
Every last gram of legal cannabis sold in Canada was grown in this country, though. The federal Cannabis Act forbids imported recreational weed and only allows medical cannabis to come into the country under very restrictive special licences.
As more countries — including NAFTA member Mexico — legalize, this could eventually turn into a trade dispute.
Pot stores (often) kept away from schools, though it’s not clear why
Many provinces restrict where cannabis retail stores can be sited. In Ontario, for example, a store can’t be closer than 150 metres from the nearest property line of a school.
Cornwall, Ont., went further, “discouraging” cannabis stores within 150 metres of, among other things, libraries, hospitals and daycares. Is there a danger of toddlers slipping out during nap time to buy some prerolls? It seems improbable.
But it’s never been made clear, if these rules are intended to prevent a harm, what that harm would be and how it would work.
Licensed stores have fierce and rigid ID checks to even enter the building. So a group of kids in Grade 6 who went out at lunch hour to check out the weed store wouldn’t get through the door, and wouldn’t come back with anything except perhaps a public health pamphlet about the effects of THC on the developing brain. Worse things, as they say, happen at sea.
The practical issue is that if you start drawing radiuses around buildings, eventually it gets harder and harder to find places for legal stores.
Licensed establishments, on the other hand, are next door to schools and daycares all over the country, and no harm seems to result.