Canada’s Recreational Dispensaries Open
Posted by Glenn Beierle on 11/02/2018 in International Resources
Updated on December 6, 2018. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
This summer, we reported that Canada legalized recreational marijuana on a national level. The Canadian government promised to put the legalization into effect on October 17, 2018. They kept that promise, and the country’s first recreational cannabis dispensaries opened on that date.
What do these laws mean for recreational marijuana in Canada? Where do they leave patients who participate in the medical cannabis program? Most importantly, how do these changes improve access to medicinal cannabis care in Canada? Read on to learn the answers to these questions and more.
If you pay attention to cannabis laws, you already know that legalization involves plenty of nuances. While Canada has legalized recreational marijuana, they allow it only in certain situations. You need to keep these details in mind when you visit a recreational dispensary. Under the new laws, you can do the following activities at age 19 or over — or 18 in Quebec and Alberta:
- Possess up to 30 grams of marijuana
- Buy flower, seeds, plants or oil from a dispensary or legal online source
- Grow up to four plants at home, except for in Quebec and Manitoba
Regardless of your age, you cannot:
- Buy concentrates or edibles (legalization date TBD)
- Buy topicals or cosmetics (legalization not discussed)
- Use marijuana at work or drive while high
Canadians who plan to use recreational cannabis should check the country’s laws before doing any potentially illegal activity.
How Do Provincial Dispensary and Usage Laws Differ?
When the federal government legalized recreational marijuana, they left many of the details up to each province. Provinces can decide on factors like legal age of use, and many aspects of dispensary operation. These laws impacted which stores could open on October 17. Some of the province-related considerations to know include:
- Alberta: While the government will sell marijuana online, private owners will run dispensaries. You cannot use cannabis in your car or spaces that ban smoking.
- British Columbia: Both the government and private businesses will own dispensaries.
- Manitoba: Only private retailers will sell cannabis. You cannot grow marijuana at home or use it in any public space.
- Newfoundland and Labrador: Private stores regulated by the government will sell cannabis products. You may use marijuana in private homes only.
- New Brunswick: Only the government will sell cannabis online and at retail stores. No public use allowed.
- North West Territories: Government-run liquor stores will sell recreational cannabis first. Private shops will eventually join in.
- Nova Scotia: Physical stores may only have government management, and private retailers can sell online.
- Nunavut: In 2018, you can only buy marijuana online through the government.
- Ontario: Until private stores open in 2019, you can only get cannabis from an online government store.
- Prince Edward Island: All dispensaries have government ownership only, and you can’t use cannabis in public.
- Quebec: Only the government can sell marijuana. You cannot grow plants at home, but you can own up to 150 grams at a time in most cases.
- Saskatchewan: You may only buy cannabis from private retailers and use it in private.
- Yukon: Government dispensaries only will sell marijuana until retail stores open.
What Role Did Medical Dispensaries Serve Before Recreational Dispensaries?
Before Canada had legal recreational cannabis, they had a medical marijuana program. In fact, patients still take advantage of the benefits provided to them as members. Through the medicinal cannabis program, patients can order premade medicine from providers, who operate differently than dispensaries. A patient signs up to use a provider’s services and makes orders based on their recommendation. While dispensaries can sell plants and seeds, medical patients must get them from Health Canada.
Where Do These Changes Leave Medical Marijuana Program Providers?
While recreational sales will likely become popular, medicinal cannabis providers still have some advantages over dispensaries. A major deciding factor is insurance coverage. Drug plans will not cover recreational purchases, but some of them do include medical marijuana. Also, medical cannabis may cost less than its recreational counterpart. Canada additionally lets registered patients carry 150 grams of cannabis, no matter where they live.
Long story short, providers aren’t going anywhere. However, they may see some losses in sales now that adults over 19 have dispensaries. Under the medical marijuana program, your doctor decides how often you need to update your registration. With the maximum time between renewals set at one year, certified patients have frequent appointments to make. Meanwhile, you don’t need to visit a doctor to get recreational marijuana.
How Does This Affect Medical Cannabis Access in Canada?
Since Canada’s medical marijuana program will stay the same, adding recreational cannabis as an option will increase access to cannabis medicine. Patients who cannot register with the government can go to a retail dispensary instead. Canadian dispensaries sell similar products to those offered by providers and stock growing materials. When edibles and concentrates become legal, patients will have more product types to buy at recreational dispensaries than from providers.
However, patients have to vet their dispensary choices carefully. During the transition to legal recreational marijuana, some black market dispensaries may continue to operate. Some of these locations acted responsibly before legalization and plan to become licensed. Meanwhile, others may not put their products through adequate quality testing. Check with your province’s recreational marijuana authority if you don’t know the status of a dispensary.
An Exciting Day for Cannabis Advocates
On October 17, Canada took one step closer to safe and legal access to medicinal marijuana. We can’t wait to see how this development will affect Canadians and other marijuana programs around the world. Although Uruguay was the first country to legalize recreational cannabis, Canada has much more global influence. Whatever happens next in the world of Canadian marijuana could shape the way other countries see cannabis.
While we wait and observe, you can always count on us to keep you updated on the world of cannabis medicine. You can find the links to our social media pages to the right of the search icon in the top menu. If you prefer quick summaries, join our newsletter to get an email with the most important news every month.