Following extensive public consultations with Canadians, provincial and territorial governments and Indigenous communities, Bill C-45 — or the Cannabis Act (Act) — passed in the Senate on June 19, 2018 and received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018. This historic vote paves the way to make recreational cannabis use officially legal on October 17, 2018 — making Canada the first industrialized country to legalize cannabis nationwide.

Prior to passing the Act, the Senate proposed 46 amendments, including one that would have recognized the authority of provincial governments to ban home cultivation of marijuana plants. The House of Commons had rejected that Senate-recommended amendment, saying home cultivation would aid in displacing the illegal market. The Senate also proposed other recommendations that were also rejected by the House of Commons, including one that would prohibit marijuana branded swag, such as T-shirts (the House of Commons said it would restrict or prohibit competition) and the need for a public registry of cannabis company licenses (the House of Commons said measures currently exist to restrict criminal activity).

What the Act means for Canadians and Canadian employers

For Canadians over the age of 18 (or 19, depending on the province), cannabis purchase and use will be legal as of October 17, 2018, as will possession of up to 30 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) and the home cultivation of up to four plants per household for personal use.

However, just because it is legal does not mean that cannabis will not be strictly regulated. In Ontario, for example, the provincial government has determined that marijuana will be sold at standalone cannabis outlets controlled and overseen by the LCBO. The objective of legalizing cannabis is to keep it out of the hands of young people and to displace the thriving black market in cannabis, which is currently controlled by organized crime.

Cannabis and employment policies

For employers, it’s important to review and revise your existing workplace policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with the legislative changes. Keep in mind that until the Act becomes law, marijuana remains illegal other than for medical purposes (in which employers have a duty to accommodate). However, whether used for recreational or medical purposes, employers must also consider how the use of marijuana may affect both the health and safety and the expectations of employees.

Just like the consumption of alcohol is restricted in many workplaces, as an employer, you will need to ensure that your policies and procedures reflect your company’s position on the recreational use of marijuana — including specifying how and to what extent (if any) it will be tolerated.

If you have questions, speak to a lawyer. These are not trivial matters. Furthermore, ensure that you, as an employer, communicate what’s acceptable and engage in active dialogue with your employees.