Marijuana – Actually not a “grey” area of Canadian criminal law.

Ever since the federal Liberal government announced that it would table legislation legalizing the sale and use of cannabis marijuana for recreational purposes we’ve taken many calls and met with many people who talk about the legal “grey area” that they believe exists. To be clear, there is no grey area. Marijuana is illegal in Canada.

Granted, it is an easy area of law to be confused about, especially considering the developments in the Vancouver area. So, we will attempt to clear it up for you.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have been operating in Vancouver in one form or another for about 20 years. Starting with the Compassion Club on Hastings Street in the 90s, they have proliferated to the point where there are now dozens of dispensaries operating all over the city. Some no longer even require a prescription to make a purchase.

In 2016 the City of Vancouver decided that due to the prevalence of unlicensed businesses operating as marijuana dispensaries the city would begin to regulate and issue business licenses to marijuana dispensaries. In May of 2016, the City of Vancouver began issuing business licenses to approved dispensaries and attempted to close down unlicensed dispensaries.

In January of 2016 the Police Complaints Commissioner requested that the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) make an official policy regarding the enforcement of marijuana dispensaries. Although this was brought before the Vancouver Police Board, we see no information to confirm that an official VPD policy exists. Anecdotally, it seems the VPD has a general policy of allowing licensed dispensaries to operate, but they do raid dispensaries from time to time. In June of 2017 the VPD – working at the request of the Toronto police and in conjunction with their investigation – raided several high-profile dispensaries in Vancouver. The result was numerous criminal charges against workers in those stores. The VPD was able to make those raids because marijuana remains illegal. 

The federal Liberal government tabled Bill C45 “The Cannabis Act” earlier this year. If it is passed it will allow for the legal sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes. This Bill has not been passed and has no authority as of yet. The Bill needs to be passed by both the House and the Senate. Passing it in the House shouldn’t be a problem as the Liberals hold a majority of seats. Bill C45 is currently being reviewed by the Senate and there seems to be no shortage of senators who take issue with the bill itself or of the government’s timeline to implement it. The federal Liberal government has set a timeline of July 2018 to pass the Bill into law. There is no guarantee the Bill will pass, much less that there will be recreational marijuana being sold legally in Canada anywhere close to that timeframe.

Until such time – if it ever does come – that the Bill is passed and put into force, marijuana remains illegal in Canada – everywhere.

We currently represent clients who face criminal charges of producing marijuana; possessing marijuana for the purposes of trafficking; and simple possession of marijuana If you, or someone you know, are facing such charges, we’d be happy to discuss your options and what we can do to help.