Legal pot in Canada: Five things to consider

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OTTAWA – The Liberal government introduced long-awaited legislation Thursday to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but many of the finer points and logistical questions remain unanswered or up in the air. Here are five of them:

1.What happens if a U.S. border guard asks if you have ever smoked marijuana? Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale was asked that question — whether the Liberal government had sought assurances from the U.S. that someone who admitted to using cannabis legally would not face the same fate. Each country sets its own rules, said Goodale, but he suggested Canada might get on the phone if it became a big deal. “If there appears to be a pattern of examination at the border that just does not accord with appropriate, professional, reliable, consistent conduct, then obviously that’s the sort of thing that we should raise at a governmental level to make sure people are treated appropriately.” Canada, he added, would also “make the very strong point” that its new legal regime would be better at protecting children and keeping illegal cash away from organized crime. “Our system will actually be the better one.”

2. How much will it cost and will you be charged GST? The bill does not include any information on how pot will be priced or taxed, as much of that will be left to the provinces. Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, acknowledged getting the price right will be key to reducing the role of organized crime on the market. There was no direct answer to a question on whether cannabis customers will have to pay a federal sales tax. National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier said discussions are underway. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that any revenues from the taxation of marijuana should be directed to addiction treatment, mental health services and public health education — initiatives Goodale said would be a key priority. “We recognize our obligation to make sure that this regime is properly financed and properly supported to make sure it is effective.”

3. How old do you have to be to buy marijuana? The new law would set the national minimum age to legally buy cannabis at 18 years old, but it will be up to the provinces as to whether they restrict it further. The marijuana task force led by former Liberal justice minister Anne McLellan had acknowledged provinces and territories would likely harmonize it with the age limit they currently have in place for alcohol and tobacco. When Wilson-Raybould was asked whether there was anything to stop provinces from setting the age limit as high as they want, she suggested they might face constitutional challenges. “In any jurisdiction where a law has passed that a citizen deems unfair, we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” she said.

4. What will the packaging look like? The marijuana task force had recommended plain packaging — devoid of any real branding — that would list only the name of the company, the strain of cannabis, the price, the levels of THC and CBD and warnings. Those specifics are not in the bill, but the proposed legislation does give the government the authority to bring in regulations on packaging, advertising and other practices. The bill does say, however, that it would be against the law to sell cannabis in a package, or with a label, that could be interpreted as being appealing to children and youth. It will also be illegal to include endorsements, testimonials or feature a person, animal or other character.

5. Will you be able to buy pot brownies at the store? No, or at least not yet. The new legislation would allow adults to buy fresh and dried cannabis, as well as seeds and plants to grow at home. Other products, such as cannabis-infused edibles like cookies, lollipops or honey would remain out of reach until the federal government develops and implements regulations for their production and sale. It is not yet known whether those future regulations will allow the sale of candies. Meanwhile, anyone who wants to use legally purchased or cultivated cannabis bake their own batch of brownies, however, would be allowed to do so.

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