Drug Policies

Cannabis legal market in Canada

One of the largest countries in the world, Canada, was the first of the G7 to legalize and regulate cannabis. Here, we tell you how that process went and how the Cannabis market was established there!

In the last text, we delved into the subject of why drugs are prohibited, how prohibitionism started and unfolded. With this historical basis, we want to move forward a few years to the present and monitor regulatory and legalization processes in some countries. After all, even the country that declared the War on Drugs now has countless states where medical and even adult use has been regulated.

Science has advanced, proving the effectiveness of cannabis’ medicinal and therapeutic effects. Some countries saw the ineffectiveness of prohibitionism and its consequences, such as mass incarceration, others saw legalization as a very lucrative market. In addition to being able to levy taxes on legally sold marijuana and turn that money over to the population, legalization attracts investments from different sectors.

In this text, we’ll talk about how legalization works in Canada, the first G7 country to legalize recreational cannabis, and what are the effects of legalization in the country.

Come with us!

Why has Canada legalized recreational cannabis?

When weed was banned in Canada in 1923, there were almost no records of cannabis use and, consequently, few debates on the topic. In the 1960s, the famous devil’s herb began to gain popularity in the country. At the time, criminal punishment displeased users. The maximum penalty for the user for possession of cannabis was six months in prison and a $ 1,000 fine. It feels like another life when we think of Canada, doesn’t it?

There has always been popular pressure from doctors and psychologists to change Canadian cannabis laws. In 1972 a committee called Le Dain presented studies advocating legalization, but it was not until the beginning of the 21st century that laws began to change.

In 2001 medical cannabis was legalized for patients with multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, some types of cancer and AIDS, we’ll explain later how the market for cannabis patients works, but going back to Canada’s history, in 2002 Parliament hired two official commissions to study the issue of illicit drugs in Canada. Both committees recommended reforms to Canada’s drug policy and weed possession, use and distribution laws.

The population and the scientific evidence were in favor of legalization, but after legalization in some American states, it became evident to Canadian investors that cannabis could also be a commodity, and they also started the movement in favor of legalization.

In June 2018, Canadian Prime Minister Judis Trudeau, elected with pledges to legalize marijuana, C-45, which legalizes recreational marijuana. The “Cannabis Act” went into effect on October 17, 2018 – and Girls in Green was there! We will talk about this at the end of the text.

Joints donation in Canada

How does the market work?

The law is federal, but states have the autonomy to regulate each one in its own way. Anyone over the age of 19 (18 in Quebec and Alberta), including tourists, can buy up to 30 grams of cannabis at authorized stores.

Legalization brings a series of regulations – that is one of the advantages – and we will see more details of the process.


It is allowed to plant up to four feet of extension of cannabis, and up to one meter high, per residence. In the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba, cultivation is prohibited. There is a special permit that must be requested from the government by companies that wish to cultivate on a large scale.

Altogether there are 370 companies with some type of special license, 189 for cultivation. Most are found in the state of Ontario, where 86 companies are growing. Bianca *, who is a consumer and is in Canada, told us that it is a very big investment to become a licensed producer and this makes it very difficult for farmers, who want to regularize themselves, “You have to build a facility in the standards that the government asks before you can even apply to see if you can become a licensed producer or not. We’re talking about a million dollar investment!”


Distribution is done in authorized public or private stores, depending on the province. Online sales are also allowed across the country.

More than 100 private companies are already authorized for production and sale in the country.

Are there coffee shops in Canada?

The Canadian distribution model is another. Unlike the famous Dutch coffee shops, Canada’s authorized stores only sell the products, but users do not use them inside the establishments.


In addition to cannabis, different types of hash and extracts are sold, cigarettes already made, seeds and also CBD pills and oils, a cannabidiol without psychoactive effects, but with many medicinal properties. The value varies on average from six to ten Canadian dollars plus taxes, which make the product 10 to 15% more expensive.


  • The purchase of cannabis is permitted to any adult within Canadian territory. The purchase limit is the same as the ownership limit. The law determines the possession of up to 30g of dry cannabis and explains the proportion between the other derivatives and forms of the herb.

  • 5g of fresh cannabis, 15g of edible product, 70g of liquid product, 0.25 of concentrate and a cannabis seed.

  • This means that a user can have 30g of weed with them, but only 7.5g of hash!


  • Sharing joints between adults for free is allowed! Selling is prohibited under a maximum penalty of 14 years and a fine of 5,000 Canadian dollars.

  • Minors are also protected by law and it is strictly forbidden to offer cannabis to minors, even free of charge!

  • Driving under the influence of cannabis is also prohibited! The penalty is a fine of 750 Canadian dollars the first time and 30 days in prison for repeat offenders. If a driver is caught driving a third time or more, the sentence increases to 120 days in prison.

  • Many users question the test for drivers, as they say that chronic users report false positives even after 12h without smoking. However, there is no discussion. The traffic law is strict, and if there is an accident with victims, the maximum penalty for the driver under the influence of cannabis is life imprisonment.

  • The use of cannabis in public places is also regulated and follows the same restrictions as tobacco, that is, smoking where tobacco is already prohibited is also not allowed!

  • Leaving Canada with Canadian cannabis is another important consideration in law C-45.

  • Failure to comply with the amount allowed for possession and cultivation also has consequences, such as imprisonment and a fine!

Plants donation

Main consequences of legalization

What are the effects of legalization in Canada and how does it serve as an international model, considering that the country is one of the largest powers in the world?

With legalization, quality control is much greater, so the consumer knows the origin and type of all products sold in stores, and the products have the percentage of cannabinoids, THC and CBD defined. On the other hand, some consumers point out that cannabis must go through so much bureaucracy within the legal market, that when it reaches the consumer it is old and has already lost a lot of quality. Another positive aspect is the increase in tax collection. In the first five months of marijuana legalization, Canada raised $ 139 million from cannabis sales. In the first three months of 2019, the collection was 12.4% higher than in the last quarter of 2018.

The cannabis industry is very promising for investors. A year ago, its value was estimated at 8.6 billion Canadian dollars, about 0.3% of Canada’s GDP in 2018. There is still no balance between supply and demand, but the market is optimistic.

Regarding crime, the legalization of marijuana has not led to an increase in disorder or visible crime in cities. On the contrary, after legalization, the rate of crimes associated with cannabis plummeted. The average across the country was 29% lower, but in some provinces the figure was up to 39% less. On the other hand, marijuana-related import and export incidents increased after legalization by 22%.

The legalization of cannabis is not perfect. Unpredictable consumption and the imbalance between supply and demand is a problem. Sometimes the store’s stock is not enough to meet demand. The consequence is long lines, mainly in the capital Ontario, and frequent depletion of stocks. When demand is lower, as it was at the end of 2019, companies, like Canopy Growth, lose a million Canadian dollar stock.

Another issue is that the legal market did not end the illegal one. In fact, the lack of demand shows that there is a lot of consumption within the irregular market. Legalized marijuana is more expensive, lacking outlets and most are concentrated in city centers. These are some reasons why users, especially those who live further away from urban centers, choose to continue buying from the illegal market. Bianca highlights these negative points “The government did not make it easy for people to obtain licenses. The suits and ties have no passion for the plant that the grower in the irregular market has.”

Dr. Susan Boyd, Phd in criminalistics and professor at the Faculty of Human and Social Development at the University of Victoria, points out some points that need to be improved in legalization. According to the expert, the country should offer more options for small producers and retailers to enter the legal market. A more inclusive policy for small farmers is important to end the illegal market and make selling accessible to lovers of cannabis culture, and not restricted to large companies and lobbyists.

Medical cannabis in Canada

Medical cannabis has been legalized in Canada for two decades. Patients with multiple sclerosis, glaucoma, epilepsy, some types of cancer and AIDS gained access to the right to treatment with medical cannabis in 2001.

The market is already so consolidated in the country that medical cannabis in Canada serves as a model for other countries, and since 2016 the company Tilray exports medical cannabis to Europe.

The regulation of medical cannabis is made by Health Canada, which created a regulation called ACMPR (Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations), which sets high standards for safety for producers and enforcement of patients, which must be licensed by the agency to purchase and also to grow the plant.

The amount that the medical cannabis patient can carry and the number of plants that he can grow changes according to each person’s medical prescription. The values are all defined by ACMPR. In addition to the quantities, another difference in relation to the recreational market is that in the medicinal one the sale of cannabis oil with THC is allowed, as long as it does not contain more than 30mg / ml.


With the pandemic caused by the coronavirus, the world has been quarantined and only essential services continue to function. For the peace of mind of Canadians, even during quarantine, medical cannabis production and distribution services will be maintained. An important question that we have to ask is this radical change in the government’s attitude towards cannabis. What was once considered a “devil’s herb”, today is a service, an essential product of society.

In Nova Scotia, sales increased 76% in the first week in a state of emergency because of the coronavirus. Producers expect demand to remain high during quarantine, as they are all at home in a legalized country.

Girls in Green in Canada

October 17, 2018 made history, and luckily we were privileged to follow it up close. One of us was present on the day, along with hundreds of activists and supporters of the cause, in front of the parliament in Victoria, British Columbia.

It was very exciting to witness a country like Canada changing its drug policy and bringing safety and quality to cannabis use to the population. The type of legalization that was introduced, which we will also talk about soon, with the release of a video and interview made with Steve Rolles, placed public health as a priority, and not marketing interests as in the USA (with advertisements, etc).

The reason that brought us to Canada was the most interesting: we were invited to present part of our work on Harm Reduction and the dissemination of this information on social media. What a privilege it was to share part of what we do in a country that served as a model of inspiration for how to deal with the complex phenomenon that is humanity and the use of drugs.

Keep following our posts and soon we will publish a very interesting material recorded with a person who played an essential role in the role of legalization! It is time to dive a little into the information about this country that, besides being beautiful, and legalized, works based on human rights and on Harm Reduction strategies.


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Official platforms:






An Illustrated History of Prohibition in Canada; More Harm Than Good: Drug Policy in Canada, SUSAN C BOYD,Fernwood Publishing,2017

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