What are the cannabis laws in Alberta?


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After cannabis was legalized in October 2018, multiple stores selling the drug have opened in most Albertan communities. Before visiting one of these retailers, take the time to familiarize yourself with the myriad of rules governing the sale of this product, which vary from province to province. Here is an overview of cannabis laws in Alberta.

IS CANNABIS THE SAME AS MARIJUANA?

Though many people use the two words interchangeably, there is a difference. Cannabis is a term used to describe the psychoactive plant's Cannabis sativa and Cannabis indica, along with hybrids of the two.

Marijuana refers to only the dried flowers, leaves, stems and seeds of the cannabis plant.

The Alberta government and other Canadian regulators use the term cannabis to describe the array of available products since licensed retailers also sell edibles, oils, seeds, sprays, and other items made from it.

WHO CAN GO TO CANNABIS SHOPS?

Alberta is the only province where 18-year-olds can legally purchase cannabis from government-regulated retailers.

The minimum age in most of Canada is 19, except in Quebec, where it is 21.

If a staff member at a licensed retailer in Alberta believes you are under 25, they must ask for government-issued identification. It must include a photo, such as a driver’s licence. If they feel the identification you are showing is not genuine, they have the right to refuse to sell you any product and can demand you leave the store.

Anyone under 18 is not permitted in a retail cannabis store in Alberta, even those accompanying an adult.

CAN I BUY CANNABIS ONLINE?

Yes. Go to Albertacannabis.org and choose from more than 1,400 legal cannabis products, which will be delivered to your door. But before that happens, you must complete a pre-registration that includes an age verification process. Most people are verified with a soft check with Equifax that confirms your age only, not your credit score. If that is not successful, you can verify your age in person at a Canada Post location with a barcode that will be provided to you.

Once the order arrives at your residence, someone 18 years or older must show identification and sign for it.

HOW MUCH CANNABIS CAN I BUY?

Anyone 18 or older can buy the equivalent of 30 grams of dried cannabis during each visit, which is also the legal public possession limit in Alberta. To help consumers determine how much that is when buying cannabis in other forms, a provincial guideline offers this advice. It notes that one gram of dried cannabis is equivalent to:

  • 5 g of fresh cannabis
  • 15 g of edible product
  • 70 g of liquid product
  • 0.25 g of concentrates (solid or liquid)
  • one cannabis plant seed

This means, for example, that an adult can legally possess 150 grams of fresh cannabis at one time or two grams of edible product.

You can be charged if you are found with the equivalent of more than 30 grams of dried cannabis. If the Crown treats the charge as an indictable offence, the maximum sentence is a prison term up to five years less a day. If treated as a summary conviction, the maximum sentence is a $5,000 fine, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.

WHERE CAN I CONSUME CANNABIS?

If you live in a single-family residence in Alberta, you can enjoy cannabis at home. But if you rent or live in a condominium, the rules around consumption are set by your municipality. It is your responsibility to know what the regulations are.

Likewise, municipalities can set their own rules around the public smoking or vaping of cannabis. Generally speaking, those activities are prohibited in any place where tobacco use is restricted.

Across Alberta, cannabis consumption is illegal in any location where children might be present, such as a hospital, schoolyard, playground, sports field, zoo, outdoor theatre or a splash pad.

Festival organizers can apply for permission to create a designated cannabis consumption area, which would be similar to a beer garden. These open-air, fenced-off zones would only be open to those 18 and over.

CAN I TRANSPORT CANNABIS IN A VEHICLE?

Yes, but the drug must be in a sealed package or Ziploc-type bag and out of reach of all occupants of the vehicle. If you are driving alone, storing it under the rear seat would be legal if the package is out of your reach. If you have passengers in your back seat, you should store the cannabis in your trunk, the box of your truck, or anywhere that is not accessible.

If the police pull you over, and the officer can see that the cannabis is not being stored properly in your vehicle, you could be arrested, searched and may face a fine.

These same rules apply to all motorized vehicles, such as snowmobiles, ATVs, motorcycles, boats and airplanes. An exception would be if the vehicle were being used as a residence, such as a parked RV.

CAN I GROW MY OWN CANNABIS?

Yes, as long as you buy your seed or seedlings from a licensed retailer. Federal law stipulates that only four cannabis plants can be grown per residence (not four plants per person) for personal use. Those who rent apartments or own a condominium may not grow their own cannabis if that is stipulated in their rental agreement or condo bylaws.

If you are found to be growing more than four cannabis plants, the maximum penalty is a five-year prison term if the charge is treated as an indictable offence. If the charge is treated as a summary conviction, you may receive up to a $5,000 fine, six months in jail or both.

WHAT ABOUT EDIBLE CANNABIS?

The term “edibles” includes cannabis-infused products such as beverages, cotton candy, dissolvable strips, gummy candies or baked goods. They are a popular choice if you want to avoid inhaling the smoke from joints or pipes. But keep in mind that edibles can be more potent and affect you for longer periods than other cannabis products.

CAN I DRIVE AFTER CONSUMING CANNABIS?

Generally speaking, no, as any amount of a drug can diminish your ability to drive safely. Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada, and officers are trained to detect drivers under the influence of narcotics. If you are caught, you could have your licence suspended, face fines, or you could be given a jail sentence. It is not worth the risk.

CAN I TAKE CANNABIS ACROSS THE BORDER?

While some states have legalized cannabis, it is illegal to transport products containing cannabis outside the country under Canadian law. If you are caught with cannabis at the U.S. border, you will be denied entry on that date and possibly in the future. Don’t try to board a plane with it either. You could face serious criminal penalties both at home and abroad if you are caught. You will also be denied entry at your destination country.

DO I NEED LEGAL ASSISTANCE IF CHARGED?

The rules dealing with the possession and consumption of cannabis are relatively new and complex. The penalties associated with the drug can be harsh and may include a criminal record that will hurt your employment prospects. Don’t take that chance. If you are facing charges, contact me for a free consultation.