Canada ushers in new era as recreational cannabis becomes legal

Canada legalise recreational cannabis Bill C-45 Justin Trudeau
Canadian adults can now legally purchase cannabis for recreational use.

Canada has finally achieved its long-held ambition to legalise recreational cannabis. As of today, Canadian adults can purchase and consume the drug from licensed producers across the entire country.

The country’s historic Bill C-45 was approved by Canada’s Parliament and Senate earlier this year but was quickly followed by a game of political see-saw as various provinces wanted their say on how cannabis should be regulated.

With all the nit-picking and legal wrangling finally settled, sales of marijuana for recreational use will commence across Canada as of today.

October 17th 2018 will go down in history as the country’s official legalisation date and could be celebrated like another 420 event that already attracts global celebration and activism every year.

The end of prohibition means it will be entirely legal for adults to consume cannabis, and under federal law, allows individuals to grow “limited quantities” at home.

Benefitting from cannabis

Not only do consumers stand to benefit, but so do businesses.

Dozens of companies including the large front-runners Canopy Growth, Aurora Cannabis and Tilray, have already rushed to the scene and raised bulky valuations, on a mission to monetise an industry that has spent decades in government dungeons.

According to cannabis-focused entrepreneurs (both in Canada and Australia), today marks “a historic time to be in Canada”, at the go-ahead moment of the drug’s legalisation.

Canadian lawmakers and the country’s incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau claim one of the key aims behind the bold move was to disrupt the existing black market cannabis industry that hauls in almost C$6 billion (A$6.5 billion) each year, around C$1,200 (A$1,300) per user.

Analysts suggest the size of the consumer pot market will be anywhere from $4 billion to $9 billion with between 3.4 million and 6 million people estimated to use cannabis recreationally in the first year after legalisation.

Canada’s impending marijuana market is expected to reap a large windfall for first-movers in the space, which has tempted several companies to invest in the cannabis market, as stigma fades around the drug’s use.

The peloton of cannabis companies that have sprouted across Canada is focused on generating significant revenues from not only growing cannabis but also seeking to create vertically-integrated supply-chains from production to end-user sales.

Even soft-drinks giant Coca-Cola is gearing up to get in on the act with a brand of cannabis-infused “wellness drinks”.

Furthermore, hydroponics equipment manufacturers are bustling with optimism – looking to selling shovels in a potential cannabis gold rush.

Not only that, most of the contenders want to supply the entire gamut of potential buyers including ongoing research laboratories and Canada’s medical healthcare sector which saw medicinal cannabis legalised way back in 2001.

However, there could be a sting in the tail for eager-beaver Canadian pot smokers due to significant variations in what’s legal (or not) across Canada’s 10 provinces and three territories.

Potential problems in paradise

To illustrate the potential problem lurking within Canada’s newly-established cannabis legislation, consider the following:

In Ontario, a person will be allowed to smoke marijuana wherever tobacco is allowed, but, public consumption will be prohibited in New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan. The legislative disparity paves the way for many Canadians to fall foul of the law and may find themselves severely restricted in terms where they can actually use the drug.

In Saskatchewan, public consumption of cannabis will incur a C$200 fine while in Manitoba the penalty will be C$672.

Travelling with cannabis is also set to be highly complex. In Manitoba, Canadians are required to keep the drug in a storage area (such as the boot of a car), while in Prince Edward Island, it can be kept in open packaging, but “out of the reach of the driver or passengers”.

In Canada’s north, residents of Nunavut are not permitted from transporting cannabis in any vehicles whatsoever. Stoner-favourite countrywide road-trips are therefore likely to resemble an egg-shell-walking and banana-skin-avoidance exercise rolled into one.

Access to cannabis is also set to be highly contentious. Nova Scotia’s population of almost 1 million, will have access to 12 stores, run in conjunction with the province’s liquor board, while British Columbia’s population of almost 5 million will have access to just one.

Another problem is retrospective amnesty. Canada’s lawmakers are refusing to allow an amnesty to more than 15,000 people prosecuted under the previous legal framework, charged for cannabis possession and/or distribution since Canada’s foremost cannabis-prohibition warrior, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, was elected in 2015.

Three years ago, Mr Trudeau campaigned (and won) his leadership, on the back of the populous vote generated by pro-cannabis campaigners and swathes of new-ager millennials.

The prime minister vowed that the new Liberal government would set about ending prohibition “right away” and replacing the archaic legislation with a fully-regulated policy to legalise the sale of cannabis – three years later, the baby-faced prime minister can mark it as a promise kept.

A green commercial future

Despite the critique that Canada has instilled more bureaucracy and, in effect, more legislation rather than less, Canadian consumers are now able to purchase cannabis like they’ve been buying alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs.

Canada becomes only the second nation globally to legalise recreational cannabis after Uruguay. And by being a G20 country, has set both an example and laid down a gauntlet for other major nations to follow – a gauntlet with a multibillion-dollar prize waiting at the end.

Portugal and the Netherlands have decriminalised the drug while nine US states have also chosen to legalise recreational marijuana (in addition to a further 22 states that have relaxed medicinal cannabis laws).

Australia is also drifting towards legalisation after easing medicinal cannabis laws over the past two years.

At face value, it would seem that Canada has legalised cannabis on a broad-based basis, but deeper evaluation suggests that a complex patchwork of associated legislation could actually make being arrested for possession of the substance more likely, not less.

With cannabis set to go on sale across Canada today, one thing is sure: Canada’s internal cannabis-sourced legal wrangling is set to flourish in parallel to the blooming cannabis industry.

George is an award-winning market analyst who has authored articles and editorial opinion pieces for multiple publications around the world. He has written about a wide variety of topics including financial markets, stocks, trading, politics and economics.