Legal pot in Yukon: What we know, and what we don't

The federal government says cannabis will be legal later this summer, but there will still be plenty of rules about who can use it, and where.

The federal government says cannabis will be legal later this summer. But how legal?

The Yukon government is making its final preparations for going into the legal marijuana business. (CBC)

If the federal government's plans come to pass, Yukon will join the rest of Canada later this summer in implementing new marijuana laws.

While many people expect it will then be easier to purchase and use marijuana, it won't exactly be a free-for-all. The cannabis industry will be far more regulated than alcohol, for instance.

Here are some of the knowns and unknowns about Yukon's plans for legal pot. 

How legal is it?

Yukon's Cannabis Control and Regulation Act will allow people to legally use marijuana products in their homes or the homes of others who have consented to the use — but nowhere else.

Patricia Randell, a director in Yukon's Department of Justice, says the new laws do provide certainty for how people can legally possess and consume cannabis, and where they can't. 

Landlords can prohibit smoking or vaping, and growing cannabis plants, within rental properties.

Just don't do it when you're a teenager.- Andra Smith, University of Ottawa professor and neuroscientist 

"Criminal law still plays a very large part in the whole process," says Eugene Oscapella, a lawyer and lecturer at the University of Ottawa.

"What the government has done is essentially carved out a small area where activity is going to be legal, and much of the activity outside that area is going to remain criminal. And in some cases, the penalties are very, very significant." 

A handout card from the Yukon government explains '10 things you will need to know.' (Government of Yukon)

The amount of marijuana that Yukoners will legally be allowed to possess in public will be 30 grams of dried pot or equivalent, but there is no limit on how much can be kept at home.

Oscapella says he also wants to know whether the federal government will erase the convictions that have "criminalized hundreds of thousands of Canadians over the years."

He says the federal government's efforts would be better focused on encouraging responsible use.

How will laws be enforced?

In Yukon, a lot of the information about the enforcement of the new laws is still under wraps. The regulations that will provide the teeth to the Yukon Cannabis Control and Regulation Act have not been released yet.

Those will list the various fines that will apply to various offences, such as smoking pot in public.

Yukon's legislation does make clear that there will be big fines for corporations who try to sell or distribute marijuana products illegally.

Yukoners could eventually purchase marijuana grown in the territory if local growers get federal licences. (Jae C. Hong/The Associated Press)

The RCMP will likely do most of the street-level enforcement. Officers will have the discretion to give a warning, seize the cannabis, or issue a territorial ticket and fine.

Could pot lead Canadians to drink less?

Time will tell whether legal marijuana will have any impact on Canadians' alcohol consumption.

Oscapella argues that alcohol is often associated with violence, while marijuana — except for some of the high-potency strains — rarely is.

He doubts legalization will lead to more widespread use of pot, after the novelty wears off.

"I'm not going to run out and use cannabis — never tried it, never used it when it was illegal, have no interest in trying it when it's legal," he said.

There will be no change in the rules for medical marijuana users when the new laws take effect.

Can I share a joint with my kids?

Parents allowing their teenaged children to enjoy a glass of wine or a beer on special occasions is not unusual in Canada; in Ontario, for example, young people under 19 can actually legally drink alcohol in their homes when it is supplied by a parent.

There is no such accommodation for marijuana in Yukon, or in the new federal marijuana legislation.

Providing marijuana to a person under the age of 18 will carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in prison — something Oscapello argues is too severe.

He favours some kind of accommodation that allows parents to teach their children responsible use of cannabis.

Is pot harmless?

University of Ottawa professor and neuroscientist Andra Smith says there are reasons for parents to be concerned about marijuana use, and young people should be concerned as well.

Smith says she always tells people, "I don't care what you do when you're 45, but just don't do it when you're a teenager."

One Canadian neuroscientist says she doesn't want to see a generation of young Canadians harmed by heavy marijuana use. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

She says research on young people who use a lot of cannabis shows similar affects to young people who drink large amounts of alcohol.

Smith says it interferes with executive functioning in the brain. It affects decision-making, planning, and being able to control emotions. She said people with poor executive functioning correlates with poor success in life.

The affects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana is what's most harmful, she said. THC is the chemical compound in pot that produces the high many people enjoy.

She adds that THC should not be confused with cannabidiol (CBD), another chemical compound in cannabis. Smith said CBD is not harmful and has potential medical benefits.

Neil Closner of MedReleaf poses for photographs at the growing facility in Markham, Ont., in 2016. Medical marijuana users in Yukon will not see any changes to the system they've been using, after the laws for recreational use take effect. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Can I get rich selling legal pot?

It's hard to know how profitable selling pot at the retail level will be.

The Yukon Liquor Corporation will be the sole distributor of cannabis products in the territory. It's opening a temporary store with a tentative opening day of Sept. 1, on Industrial Road in Whitehorse, and will also sell online.

The corporation says the goal is to close the government-run store once private retailers are operating. That may take a while, as the government still has to develop regulations for retail operations.

Another way for Yukoners to get into the business is through growing pot.

The liquor corporation says it will buy locally-grown cannabis if the owner has a federal licence and there's demand for the product.


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