Alberta unveils marijuana framework, calls for minimum age of 18 to buy

​The minimum age to buy and consume marijuana in Alberta will be 18, and public possession will be limited to 30 grams when it is legalized by the federal government next year, Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley said in unveiling part of the province’s draft framework.

Public feedback sought until Oct. 27 on proposed rules

Alberta Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley has announced the province's draft framework for marijuana legalization. (CBC)

Alberta has unveiled its proposed framework for marijuana legalization, which calls for a minimum age of 18 to buy or use cannabis. 

Other proposed rules include:

  • Public possession limit of 30 grams (with no limit on possession in private residences).
  • Sales will be in specialty stores, separate from alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceuticals.
  • Limit of 30 grams per purchase.
  • Smoking and vaping in public will fall under existing tobacco laws. 
  • No smoking or vaping in vehicles, including passengers.
  • Four plants can be grown per household, to a maximum height of one metre each.
  • Outdoor growing will be banned.

Albertans will have until Oct. 27 to give feedback on the rules.

Hours of operation and buffer zones for stores will be standardized by the province, but haven't been set yet.

The province has yet to decide whether stores selling marijuana will be publicly or privately run, but the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission will serve as the central wholesaler for all products, ensuring "a level playing field" for large and small producers.

"Some of the pros with respect to a government-owned system would be that it allows us slightly greater control in terms of ensuring product isn't flowing in and out from a black or grey market, and it allows us a little bit better control of ensuring we're keeping it out of the hands of minors," said the province's Justice Minister Kathleen Ganley.

"With respect to a private system, it's a little bit easier to set up. It's likely there would be a little bit more risk and a little bit more cost up front with a public model."

Speaking on The Calgary Eyeopener a few hours before the rules were announced, Alberta Liquor Store Association president Ivonne Martinez said sales should be done by liquor retailers, but in a separate space. 

"The best way to describe it is portioning off part of a liquor store, so separate walls, separate entrance, separate business altogether," she said. "So they'll be side by side in the same location, but two different businesses.

"Our businesses are all already sound municipally to sell a controlled substance, to be away from schools and playgrounds, as well as, all of our owners go through background checks."

Online sales will not be allowed, at first.

"We recognize the importance of this option being available, but we want to be absolutely confident we can verify the person ordering cannabis and the person accepting delivery is of age," said Ganley.

For those who want to produce their own marijuana, Albertans will be able to grow up to four plants per household, to a maximum height of one metre, and outdoor growing will be banned.

No price set

The proposed price of marijuana has not been set under the draft framework, and will depend on taxation, which is still being discussed by the federal government and the provinces, said Ganley.

Pricing will be set with the goal of reducing the black market.

The province also wants to keep a majority of the tax revenue from marijuana sales, which Ganley said is not expected to cover the cost of setting up and running the system.

"There's a couple of factors, one is that in order to ensure we move as many people as possible from the illegal market to the legal market, we can't set the tax rate too high," she said.

"And given that the provinces are bearing the majority of the costs of setting up this system, we are suggesting most of that revenue should be coming to us."

Where cannabis can be used

Public consumption will be restricted, and locations where it can be smoked or vaped will fall under existing municipal smoking laws, meaning hospitals and school grounds will be off limits, along with areas frequented by children like playgrounds, sports fields, zoos, public washrooms and skateboard parks.

Consumption will also not be allowed in retail stores, meaning no sampling.

Cannabis cafés and lounges will be outlawed initially, but the province is seeking feedback from Albertans on that issue.

Legislation surrounding drug-impaired driving will be introduced before the July legalization.

Zero tolerance for minors

There will be zero tolerance for cannabis use by minors.

Possession of less than five grams by anyone under 18 will result in the marijuana being seized, parents being notified and a ticket, while possession of more than five grams will result in criminal prosecution for minors.

Ontario was the first province to unveil its rules around marijuana, about a month ago.

Feedback gathered will be used to draft legislation for marijuana use, which Ganley said will be presented by the province later this year.

Anti-smoking lobby concerns

The province's anti-smoking lobbyists worry talk about legalizing cannabis could normalize smoking once again.

"To a five-year-old, it doesn't matter whether it's someone smoking cannabis or e-cigarettes or a water pipe or a real cigarette, it's all smoking," said Les Hagen, executive director of Action on Smoking and Health.

"So those are all impressions. Over time, those impressions weaken the resolve of children, and they do contribute to the uptake of tobacco use among kids."

With files from The Calgary Eyeopener