In less than a week, Canadians will be able to buy weed legally. That’s about the only certainty as the country ends a century of prohibition against pot.
Will the pot-starved or curious come out by the millions to purchase their first legal joint? Or will legalization day be anticlimactic, considering anyone who wants to smoke pot is probably already doing it?
Whatever happens on Oct. 17, it’s just the beginning of the public policy experiment that makes Canada only the second country to legalize recreational marijuana. (The first was Uruguay, which legalized pot in 2013 and started selling cannabis in pharmacies in 2017.)
The results will unfold for years, as Canada legalizes a wider variety of products and discovers how legal cannabis changes our economy and our society.
But for now, all eyes are on Day 1. Ontario has the country’s largest market, but the rollout will be more subdued and probably more confusing in this province than the rest of the country. That’s a consequence of the Conservative government’s last-minute decision to introduce legislation that changes key cannabis policies adopted by the previous Liberal regime.
There won’t be any lineups at stores in Ontario, because there won’t be any stores. The province will start with online sales only.
The Conservative government ditched the planned government-run outlets operated by a branch of the LCBO in favour of privately run pot shops. The licensing rules still have to be worked out. Bricks-and-mortar stores won’t open until April.
But once the stores arrive, there will be lots of them. In another dramatic about-face from the Liberal approach, the Tories have decided not to limit the number of stores that can receive licences. The free market will be unleashed to vanquish the illegal pot shops and make shopping convenient.
Government officials estimate the province may end up with 500 to 1,000 marijuana stores. The Liberals had planned to start with 40 outlets, expanding to 150 by 2020.
The Conservatives also promise to relax the rules on where people can smoke pot. How that plays out across the province remains to be seen, because municipalities will be allowed to slap their own restrictions on public consumption.
As Ontario approaches legalization, there’s still a lot of haze in the air. Much is simply not known, from which municipalities will decide to ban stores within their borders to what brands of pot will be on sale and how much they’ll cost.
Here’s what we know so far:
Where can you buy cannabis?
Sales on Day 1 will be online only from the Ontario Cannabis Store. The OCS is run by an agency of the provincial government. Some information has been posted on the website: ocslearn.ca/learn/
The store’s e-commerce platform is powered by Ottawa’s own Shopify.
Can you whip out your laptop or phone to place that first order at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 17? Yes. The website will be open for business then, and continue to operate 24/7. Only people with a delivery address in Ontario can shop at the store.
What will be on sale?
Dried flower, pre-rolled joints, cannabis oil and gel capsules filled with oil. There will be no seeds or seedlings on sale to start.
The OCS has supply deals with 32 cannabis growers, including Tweed in Smiths Falls and Hexo in Gatineau. Products from all those growers will be sold. Initially the store will offer 70 strains, but that will increase to more than 150 eventually.
The cannabis oil is usually mixed with a carrier liquid such as grapeseed oil. It can be eaten on its own — a drop under the tongue is one common method — or put into homemade food or drinks. However, “intimate oil” products will not be on sale on Day 1.
You’ll be able to buy cannabis accessories, too, including bongs, pipes, vaporizers, lockable stash boxes and grinders.
How will you sort through all the products?
Information about the products will be on the website. That will include the type of plant — Indica, Sativa or hybrid — and the amount of THC, the chemical component that causes the “high,” and CBD, a non-psychoactive component that can have medical benefits. You’ll also find tons of general information about cannabis and how to use it responsibly.
Expect to see dozens of new brands competing for your attention. Some of the brands aim to associate their products with health and wellness. Others suggest what activities you might want to indulge in while indulging — Walk the Dog, TGIF. “Premium” brands target those who know their pot.
A taste of what to expect: One major grower, Aphria, will have two brands for sale in Ontario on Day 1. Solei (slogan: “Find your moment”) offers products called Renew, Unplug, Balance, Sense, Gather and Free. The other brand, RIFF, is a “high-potency offering for the experienced user.”
The OCS website will stick to the facts, though: Don’t expect to see anything that suggests cannabis will make you healthier or happier.
What will the cannabis packages look like?
The brand names might be fanciful or fun — Spinach, Trailblazer — but the packages most definitely are not. Health Canada rules call for packages to be child-resistant and dominated by health warnings and a standard THC symbol inside a red stop sign. Companies can pick a single background colour and add a small brand logo.
Many of the containers are plastic, while at least one company will use a large envelope. All of them must be odour-proof.
How much will cannabis cost?
That’s not known yet. One of the major goals of legalization is to drive the black market out of business, so officials aim for a price that’s competitive with illegal dispensaries and dealers but not so cheap that it encourages consumption. There will probably be a range of prices, depending on the quality of the bud.
What about vape pens and pot brownies?
Not for sale yet. Edible cannabis products and cannabis concentrates, including the substance used in vape pens, will not be legal on Oct. 17. Health Canada is coming up with guidelines for what will be allowed, and those products must be regulated within one year of legalization. The possibilities are endless, from cannabis drinks to mints and topical creams.
However, you can make your own pot brownies, infused salad dressing or anything else using the oil for sale at the Ontario Cannabis Store.
What personal information do I have to reveal to buy pot online?
Some people are worried about a paper trail that connects them to cannabis consumption, especially since U.S. border guards can bar Canadians from entering that country for life if they admit to using pot.
The OCS says that only “limited, required information” will be collected when you buy online. You’ll have to provide a name, address, email and credit card number. Customers won’t have to create an online account; each purchase will be as a “guest.”
And unlike other online stores, the OCS promises to have “the lightest possible touch on consumer data.”
Your purchase information won’t be sold, shared with third parties or used for any other purpose. “It will be kept for the minimum length of time required by law, then deleted as soon as possible.”
Data will be stored in Canada.
How does the online store confirm I’m not a minor?
Visitors must enter their date of birth and check a box confirming they are 19 before being allowed to see contents on the website. A pop-up box asks for another age confirmation at check out.
How is the pot delivered?
Canada Post will deliver your pot. It will take one to five days, depending on where you live, and there will be a flat $5 fee for shipping.
The experience will be similar to buying alcohol online from the LCBO. No packages will be left at your door. You’ll have to show ID and sign to collect the package, although the delivery agent won’t take a copy of your identification. If you aren’t home, a notice will direct you to the place where you can pick up the parcel.
Will the package have any markings to indicate it contains cannabis?
How old do I have to be to buy pot?
Age 19 in Ontario. An interesting twist has developed in neighbouring Quebec, where the previous Liberal government had set the legal age to buy cannabis at 18 to co-ordinate with the drinking age. That led to speculation that 18-year-olds from Ottawa might cross the bridge to Gatineau to shop for pot. However, now it appear the cross-border shopping might run the other way.
Quebec’s newly elected premier, François Legault, has promised to raise the legal age to buy cannabis to 21.
When will stores open?
Where will they be located?
Some municipalities may not have any at all. Municipalities will be given a one-time chance to opt out of allowing stores inside their borders. The deadline for deciding is Jan. 22. Municipalities can start by opting out and opt in later, but they can’t seesaw back and forth — once stores are running, there’s no going back. The decision will be one of the first orders of business for the new municipal councils that will be elected on Oct. 22.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has said he doesn’t favour opting out.
However, Watson and other municipal officials are lobbying for cities to have more control over how many shops are allowed and where they are located. They were alarmed by the province’s legislation, which prohibits municipalities from singling out marijuana stores for special zoning.
Several councillors say they don’t want several stores on the same street, clustered in certain neighbourhood or allowed in residential areas.
The legislation does give residents and municipalities 15 days to offer written comments on proposed store licences.
And the province has said it will come up with buffer zones to keep shops away from schools. There will be consultations in the next couple of months around licence regulations, including what hours the stores will be open and what training staff will receive.
How many stores will there be?
The province has put no limit on the total number of licences. Officials estimate the province may end up with 500 to 1,000 marijuana stores.
Who will run the stores?
Private businesses, licensed by the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario.
Large cannabis growers, such as Tweed in Smiths Falls, had planned to apply for licences to run as many stores as possible. But the landscape changed when the government tabled the legislation, which restricts licensed growers and their affiliates to operating one retail site. Growers are frantically searching for workarounds, and waiting for a definition of “affiliate.”
But plenty of other companies are interested. In other provinces that allow privately run stores, competition has been fierce.
Ottawa’s National Access Cannabis is a likely contender for opening a string of Ontario stores. Its Meta Cannabis Supply Co. shops are being set up in Western Canada, and it aims to expand. The firm has a deal with Second Cup to convert some coffee shops into cannabis stores.
What will the stores be like?
Expect modern, clean designs, with tablets for customers to do research. The products will be sold from behind the counter. Don’t plan to bring your kid along when you run in to pick up pot, though, as no one under 19 will be allowed entrance.
Can I grow my own cannabis?
Yes. As many as four plants per residence. And they must be grown in the residence. One Ottawa entrepreneur is advertising an industrial grow-op that provides locked containers for people to grow four plants each after legalization. That would be illegal.
And you must buy the seeds or clones from a legal source such as the Ontario Cannabis Store. So don’t plan your garden yet, as the seeds won’t be on sale on Day 1.
Can I share what I grow?
Yes, you can share as many as 30 grams of weed with another person 19 or over. Don’t even think about providing weed to minors, though. The federal cannabis law creates new offences for giving or selling cannabis to youth, or using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence (such as asking them to sell drugs). The maximum penalty for both offences? Fourteen years in jail.
How much marijuana can I possess in public?
30 grams of dried flower. A typical joint contains about 0.5 to one gram of cannabis. The equivalent amount in a liquid cannabis product such as oil is 2,100 grams. Or 30 seeds.
When you make purchases at the Ontario Cannabis Store, the online system will automatically alert you when you’ve reached the 30-gram limit.
Where can I smoke pot?
The Conservatives changed course on that, too. The former Liberal government planned to ban consumption in all public places, basically restricting people to lighting up at home.
The Conservative plan is to allow people to smoke pot wherever they can smoke tobacco under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act. So pot smoking would be allowed on sidewalks and in public parks and beaches, for instance.
In some places across the province, anyway.
Municipalities can pass bylaws to further restrict cannabis use, so a patchwork of rules could emerge.
Ottawa, for example, already has a bylaw banning smoking at city parks, beaches, sportsfields and on municipal property. That bylaw applies to both tobacco and cannabis, city officials say.
Ottawa’s new council will wrestle with that issue.
Can I smoke pot in my apartment or condo?
Not if there is a no-cannabis smoking clause in your lease or a policy adopted by your condo board. Medical marijuana users are a different matter, however, as landlords have an obligation to accommodate medical needs as long as the person doesn’t substantially interfere with neighbours.
Can I take pot on a plane?
On flights within Canada, you will be allowed to take up to 30 grams of cannabis with you, says Canada’s transportation minister, Marc Garneau. The details on how passengers will get through security are still being worked out.
But don’t stash recreational pot in your luggage if you are flying outside Canada. That includes the U.S. Although some American states have legalized recreational pot, taking cannabis across the U.S. border is illegal and possession of the drug is illegal under federal law in that country.