Article by Alberta
The Alberta Cannabis Framework outlines what Albertans can expect when cannabis becomes legal in our province by next July.
Our approach will set the stage for the responsible use of cannabis by Albertans. It will ensure adults who choose to consume cannabis will have reasonable access to purchase and consume it legally, while continuing to protect the health and safety of all Albertans.
Our government will provide clear oversight over all aspects involving the sale of cannabis in all parts of the province. In the early stages, government will have stricter direct control of sale and consumption so we can carefully manage legalization and enforce the rules surrounding it.
It’s important to recognize that the approach proposed in this framework represents a starting point. As we learn more about what legalized cannabis will look like in our province, the system will likely evolve over time.
Alberta will set the minimum age for purchase and consumption of cannabis at 18. We know youth are already accessing it; nearly half of Canadians in Grade 12 say they have used cannabis. At the same time, research suggests that people under 25 who use cannabis face a greater risk of health impacts, including a negative effect on brain development.
Setting a minimum age of 18 will help balance the health risks to youth with the need to eliminate their interaction with a sophisticated and potentially dangerous illicit market.
Many Albertans we engaged with agreed that 18 is the age when most people can make “adult” decisions. Like in many jurisdictions where cannabis is legal, Alberta’s minimum age would be consistent with the legal age for alcohol and tobacco, making it easier for police officers to enforce. A strong focus on public education will be an important tool to encourage responsible use and create awareness of cannabis’s impact on health.
Safeguards for cannabis sales
Albertans of legal age will be able to purchase cannabis products from retailers that will receive their products from a government-regulated distributor. Most Albertans agreed that government should provide clear oversight over distribution to ensure that only legally produced products (from federally regulated producers) are sold in our province. The distribution system would be similar to the system Alberta currently has in place for alcohol.
Government-regulated distribution can also ensure a level playing field for large and craft producers, and prevent small communities from being penalized for delivery costs by making sure product is shipped at the same price no matter where it’s going.
There may not be online sales of non-medical cannabis initially. It will be considered as part of next steps once we understand more about the market, and we are confident we can ensure age verification.
Only specialized retail outlets will be able to sell cannabis, up to a maximum of 30 grams per purchase, and will not be able to sell cannabis if they sell alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceuticals. Albertans were overwhelmingly in favour of having no co-location of cannabis.
The provincial government will establish rules that guide hours of operation and location of stores (for example, the minimum distance retail outlets must be from schools, community centres, liquor stores and each other), age of staff and training, and controlling initial growth in the number of outlets.
Staff who work at cannabis retail outlets would have to be at least 18 years of age and have appropriate training to educate customers about the potency of products and the risks associated with cannabis use. Staff must also be trained to uphold the rules around the purchase of cannabis, including checking customers’ identification to make sure they are of legal age.
Consumer education will be embedded in the retail of cannabis, and retail outlets will display point-of-purchase signage and other materials to educate customers about risks and making responsible choices about cannabis.
We heard from Albertans that, as a legal market is introduced into our communities, we need a system that can effectively meet our policy objectives.
As such, we are seeking further input before we make a decision on who will own and operate cannabis retail outlets.
Albertans and stakeholders both recommended that in the early stages of legalization, government should provide strong oversight and direction for retail cannabis sales. We recognize that different types of control may be better (or worse) than others at addressing certain risks impacting the potential success of the retail system.
With that in mind, we are considering two potential approaches:
- Government-owned and operated stores
Ontario has announced that cannabis stores in that province will be government owned and operated. This approach is consistent with how alcohol is sold in Ontario.
One benefit of this approach is government would have greater oversight and more control of how the legal market is established. For example, government would have direct control over the price of cannabis. Public retail would also be able to consider the health and safety of the public when choosing which products to carry, and offer more consistency in products available.
This approach would involve up-front costs to government, which may or may not be recoverable depending on how the legal market develops. However, over the long term revenues from a public system may be higher than under a privatized model.
- Licensed and regulated private sales
The alternative is government could license and regulate private retailers. Alberta has extensive experience with this approach as it’s consistent with how alcohol is sold in Alberta. It’s also how beer and wine are sold in some other provinces.
This approach would require extensive oversight and regulation to ensure there is no black market infiltration, but it could be more flexible in meeting consumer demand. Therefore it may encourage cannabis users to purchase from the legal market, instead of continuing to buy from current black market sources.
Other benefits of a private approach are that it may be more responsive to customer needs, provide more access and offer more opportunities for people to start small businesses. However, although it would require fewer up-front costs for government, it could potentially result in less revenue for the government over the long term and less control over the market as it emerges.
As the price for legalized cannabis needs to be low enough to compete with the illicit market, it is unlikely that legalized cannabis will be a significant new revenue stream for the province.
We will work with the federal government in an effort to establish a coordinated approach to the taxation of cannabis. Provinces and territories will need resources to address extra costs related to the legalization of cannabis, whether through tax revenue or specific federal support.
We also recognize that our municipal partners will incur additional costs directly attributable to legalization, and we will continue to discuss the most appropriate ways of mitigating these pressures.
Albertans will be allowed to consume cannabis in their homes and in some public spaces where smoking tobacco is allowed, but use will be banned in cars.
Although many Albertans said they supported having cannabis cafes or lounges, Alberta will not initially have any venues specific to consuming cannabis. We will revisit this issue once our system for cannabis is established and once the federal government makes decisions about edible cannabis products.
In an effort to protect children and limit second-hand exposure, public smoking or vaping of cannabis in Alberta will be restricted from areas frequented by children, from hospitals and school properties, from vehicles and from any place where tobacco is restricted. There will also be no consumption of cannabis at any cannabis retail outlets.
Our approach to consuming cannabis will continue to restrict where smoking – of cannabis or tobacco – can occur. We will continue our efforts to keep smoking out of enclosed spaces and away from workers and others who may be exposed to second-hand smoke.
Making sure Albertans can access legal cannabis is an essential part of our strategy to eliminate the illicit market.
Allowing adults to grow their own cannabis plants at home with seeds purchased from cannabis retailers will help reduce the need for Albertans with limited access to legal cannabis (e.g., people who live in remote and rural locations) to turn to the illicit market to buy cannabis.
However, there will be limits on where cannabis can be grown at home. Alberta will align with the federal government’s decision and allow adults to grow up to four plants per household for personal use, up to a height of 100 cm, but will restrict growing them to inside homes. Albertans will not be allowed to grow cannabis plants outdoors, where children and youth would have easier access to them.
Renters, condo-dwellers and those who live in multi-family dwellings may be restricted from growing cannabis in their homes based on rules established in rental agreements or condominium bylaws. Government will work to educate landlords, renters and condo boards on the options available to them.
In Alberta, adults over 18 will be allowed to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis in a public place aligning with the federal government’s proposed possession limit for adults.
Young people — those under the legal age of 18 — will not be allowed to purchase or possess any cannabis. This zero tolerance approach means that youth who possess more than five grams of cannabis will continue to face criminal charges. Youth who possess less than five grams will not face criminal charges (which could negatively impact their future), but will be subject to seizure of the cannabis, notification of parents or guardians, and penalties similar to those for underage possession of alcohol or tobacco.
Driving while impaired, whether by alcohol or cannabis or other drugs, is a serious crime and puts the safety of everyone at risk. Albertans told us they were concerned about the risks of drug-impaired driving and, over the next few months, our government will work with law enforcement and the transportation industry to keep Albertans safe on our roads.
We will ensure police officers have the tools they need – including introducing new tools – to expand the ways officers can address drug- impaired driving.
Education will also continue to be a critical part of our strategy to address drug-impaired driving. We will create more public awareness about the risks of using cannabis and getting behind the wheel, and will inform Albertans that drug-impaired driving is still impaired driving, with the same consequences as driving while impaired by alcohol.
Impairment in workplaces
Workers who are impaired on the job – whether by alcohol or drugs – are a danger to their coworkers and themselves.
Alberta already has rules and programs in place to address impairment on the job and keep workers safe, but before July 2018 we will review occupational health and safety regulations and work with employers, labour groups and workers to ensure the rules continue to address impairment issues. This may include developing additional regulations, education or training programs.
Advertising and packaging cannabis
The federal government has proposed strict rules about advertising, labelling and packaging cannabis.
We will continue to monitor the specifics of the program they are proposing as additional rules are developed and will work with the federal government to address any issues or gaps in policies should they arise.
Restrictions on cannabis advertising and packaging will generally mirror what is in place today for tobacco. Advertising will be restricted to locations where there are no minors, and there will be limits on displays and in-store promotion.