Nfld. & Labrador

N.L.'s new Cannabis Control Act sets driving penalties, fines for public and underage use

The federal government hasn't yet set a legalization date for recreational marijuana, but the provincial government plans to be ready.

Province will be ready when federal government sets the date, says justice minister

Finance Minister Tom Osborne and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons announce Newfoundland and Labrador's Cannabis Control Act in St. John's on Monday. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Much of Newfoundland and Labrador's new recreational marijuana policy focuses on cannabis and driving, as the province gets ready for legalization by the federal government.

"We're making great progress and we will be ready for whatever date is set," said Justice Minister Andrew Parsons on Monday as he announced the provincial Cannabis Control Act and changes to related legislation, including the Highway Traffic Act, the Smoke-Free Environment Act and the Liquor Control Act.

"This legalization of cannabis for recreational use is one of the most significant policy shifts for Canada since we joined Confederation," said Finance Minister Tom Osborne at the news conference in St. John's.

More than 2,600 residents of Newfoundland and Labrador submitted a provincial questionnaire about the upcoming legislation, which is the largest response for any provincial questionnaire to date, Parsons said.

Changes to Highway Traffic Act

The public consumption of cannabis will be punishable of a fine between $50 and $500 with the exception of consumption in a vehicle, which will carry a fine of between $300 and $10,000.

There will be significant changes to the Highway Traffic Act when legalization comes into effect.

Novice drivers, commercial drivers and drivers younger than 22 will be under a zero-tolerance policy for cannabis.

Testing for driver impairment remains a challenge, one that all jurisdictions are facing, Parsons said.

There is still no approved roadside screening device for drug impairment, the government said, but several are being tested that could detect the presence of drugs, not the level of impairment.

Drug impairment is currently determined by field sobriety testing by a trained police officer, and blood and urine testing will be done if a driver is deemed impaired.

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and the RCMP are using money previously announced by the federal government for officer training, said Parsons, who added that the province is in a good position on field sobriety testing and he is comfortable with current training numbers.

Rules on possession of pot or plants

Under the new legalization, a person will be prohibited from possessing more than 30 grams of cannabis, or a flowering or budding cannabis plant, in a public place.

People will be allowed to have up to four cannabis plants, and adults can share up to 30 grams of cannabis, which must be purchased from an NLC-authorized producer and sold in approved containers. 

The four-plant limit mirrors federal legislation, Parsons said.

A licence will be required to sell cannabis, and no more than 30 grams can be sold at a time. A hand-rolled joint for personal use contains about a half a gram of cannabis.

People under the age of 19 will be barred from entering or working in cannabis stores, and from buying or selling cannabis or cannabis accessories.

The fine for youth possession will be $100. The sale of cannabis to someone under the age of 19, or to an intoxicated person, will be punishable by a fine of between $500 and $100,000 and up to two years in jail.

As there will be a variety of products sold once legalization comes into effect, there isn't specific pricing information available to share now, Osborne said.

A mix of old and new legislative approaches

The legislation required a unique balance between rules already in place for two other highly regulated substances, Osborne said.

"Cannabis is a different kind of product from others we've regulated," he said.

"We must treat it in a similar fashion to achohol given its capacity to impair, but we must also treat it like cigarettes that can be smoked or vaped and can affect people secondhand."

Both ministers also acknowledged the new and changing reality of legal recreational marijuana in the country and the province.

As a means of addressing that, the Cannabis Control Act will need to be reviewed at least every five years.

"We know that we'll need to be nimble in our legislative approach so we have the flexibility to respond to issues as they arise in this new industry," Osborne said.

With files from Terry Roberts