Cannabis IQ: A visitor’s guide to smoking legal marijuana in Canada

Cannabis IQ: A visitor’s guide to smoking legal marijuana in Canada
Visitors to Canada can now legally enjoy marijuana during their stay. But that doesn’t mean smokers can hotbox the Great White North.

Pot tourists might be disappointed with the legal marijuana laws in Canada, where local, provincial and federal laws can restrict or ban the use of cannabis in certain areas.

All three levels of government have a say in where marijuana can be sold, used or advertised. The result is a patchwork system in which the rules are different for every city and province, so visitors will need to do their research before lighting up a joint in public.

The province of Alberta, for instance, has some of the most liberal laws around smoking marijuana in public, but its largest city, Calgary, has banned public cannabis use except in designated areas.

All levels of government have been slow to release tourist-specific information about cannabis, according to cannabis tour operator Neev Tapiero.

“Coming across the border today, if a tourist asks where to buy cannabis [and] where to consume cannabis, there’s no information,” said Tapiero, owner of Canadian Kush Tours in Toronto.

“There’s very little infrastructure to support cannabis tourism.”

Tapiero offers custom luxury tours of Toronto’s marijuana hotspots, including many of its dispensaries. He’s already booked two American bachelor parties for after Oct. 17, he says.

Tapiero expects cities will eventually come up with more information geared toward tourists on marijuana, particularly after each province has fully implemented its cannabis retail plans. The market is also likely to shift a bit next year when edible sales are legalized.

He adds that the tourism industry is taking a “wait and see” approach to marijuana.

The Tourism Industry Association of Canada has scheduled a meeting to discuss pot driven-tourism at its congress in November. The group’s members include attractions, festivals, restaurants, concert halls, transportation and travel services.

Retail sales of recreational cannabis could approach $6.5 billion by 2020, according to an industry analysis released by CIBC in May. That would make it worth more than anticipated spirit sales and nearly as much as wine sales. However, the report did not include tourism-specific estimates.

The Canadian government has not released estimates on the potential value of pot tourism.

Canada will likely draw a “significant number of international tourists” interested in buying legal marijuana, according to a report from Marijuana Business Daily , a Colorado-based cannabis industry publication.

“Conservative estimates suggest tourist spending on recreational marijuana will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars,” the report authors wrote. However, they say it’s still too early to predict the size of the pot tourist market.

Here’s what tourists need to know about using marijuana as a visitor in Canada.

While this is a guide for tourists, it isn’t a legal guide. The rules are ever-changing and it’s best to check directly with the city and province you are visiting to know what the local laws are.

The minimum legal age to smoke or possess marijuana in most parts of the country is 19. However, Alberta has set the minimum age at 18. Quebec’s incoming government has vowed to set the age at 21, but the minimum will remain 18 until a new law is passed.

Adults must show valid photo I.D. regardless of where and how they buy cannabis.

The federal government prohibits giving or selling marijuana to minors, on penalty of up to 14 years in prison. Several provinces have also passed additional laws designed to protect kids from marijuana.

Some provinces, such as Saskatchewan, have even made it illegal for underage people to enter a marijuana store, so avoid taking minors along when buying pot.

Each province or territory is in charge of overseeing its own marijuana sales, so the rules differ from one region to another. Online ordering is legal everywhere, but it’s unclear how long delivery will take.

Regardless of where you’re visiting, don’t expect giant signs to point you to the pot shop. Most cannabis advertising is restricted or prohibited under federal law.

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario will allow private retailers to sell marijuana. However, Ontario won’t be ready to put marijuana in brick-and-mortar stores until April 2019.

Visitors to Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories can buy marijuana through retailers either licensed or run by the local liquor board.

It’s illegal in Canada to sell marijuana without a license, so anyone who offers to “share” their weed with you for a price is breaking the law.

Nevertheless, large cities such as Vancouver or Toronto still harbour many unlicensed dispensaries that sell a wider range of products than are permitted under the Cannabis Act.

Tourists won’t face charges if they unknowingly buy from an unlicensed seller, according to Paul Lewin, a Toronto-based cannabis lawyer. However, it’s still illegal for a person to possess “any cannabis that they know is illicit cannabis,” according to the Cannabis Act.

If you want to be safe, don’t buy any cannabis that you suspect is illegal.

Location is the biggest challenge facing visitors to Canada, because the only universally safe spot to smoke is at home — something tourists can’t do. Those found using cannabis in an illegal space can be fined hundreds or thousands of dollars under local bylaws.

It’s legal to consume marijuana at private residences across the country, both indoors and outdoors, unless a local bylaw, hotel or condo board prohibits it. However, some provinces have stricter rules than others when it comes to public consumption.

The startup Bud and Breakfast is already trying to get around the issue by offering Airbnb-style accommodations so visitors can smoke marijuana at a private residence.

“I think that’s going to be a big, booming business,” Lewin said. “People are going to want to consume in their hotel rooms.”

Users in British Columbia  and Alberta can consume marijuana anywhere it’s legal to smoke tobacco, except in cars, on boats and around places where children are often present. That means no smoking on the beach, at the park, at a soccer field, in front of a school or near a playground.

Nova Scotia prohibits smoking cannabis in most public spaces, particularly around children.

Saskatchewan , Manitoba , New Brunswick , Newfoundland and Labrador , the Yukon and Prince Edward Island have explicitly banned marijuana consumption in public spaces including sidewalks, office buildings, retail stores and patios.

Users in Quebec can smoke anywhere in public that tobacco is permitted — for now. The province’s new government has promised to ban marijuana use in public, and several major cities have already passed bylaws to that effect.

Adults can legally carry or share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent in other forms, according to the federal government.
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