After territorial elections on October 30, 2017, the Assembly of the Nunavut territory scrambled to finalize cannabis policies just days after Liberal Party Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s federal government completed sweeping legislation that legalized recreational marijuana across Canada beginning Oct. 17, 2018.
Nunavut is Canada’s newest, largest, northernmost and least densely populated territory. Nunavummiut have the lowest per-capita cannabis consumption of in the country, according to Statistics Canada, and historically pay the highest costs per gram.
The government of Nunavut passed its Cannabis Act and Cannabis Statutes Amendment Act, which allow the government to regulate the use and distribution, cultivation and future requirements for opening cannabis stores and lounges. It also amends existing legislation restricting tobacco smoking to include cannabis.
In crafting the final legislation, the government worked off findings from a cannabis survey which supported legalization and a minimum age of 19 to purchase and consume cannabis.
The final provincial legislation included a couple of differences from what had been initially proposed, most notably reversing a ban on home cultivation. The plan to ban home cultivation, which was likely to face a court challenge, was replaced by wording that allows the territory to regulate home growing without yet setting a limit or restriction on what can be grown. Although federal legislation allows up to four (4) plants per household, it does not specify whether provinces or territories can ban home growing, leaving a legal gray area.
Another change in the legislation banned cannabis at all times in schools. The earlier proposal had to been to allow limited exemptions for non-smoked cannabis during special events.
Initially, there will be no cannabis storefronts in 2018, and proposed private stores must undergo a 60- to 90-day approval process, called a community consultation, before opening. The government will initially subcontract with vendors to sell online for two (2) years. The rechristened Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission is the distributor for the recreational cannabis, but has yet to post any information on its website.
Although the government is imposing a “zero-tolerance” policy for novice drivers for alcohol beginning in December, Nunavut will follow federal guidelines for drug-impaired driving.
Police can immediately suspend licenses for 90 days if their evaluation reveals impaired driving, or if a driver refuses to submit to testing.
Under federal guidelines, drivers face graduated penalties depending on levels of drug and/or alcohol concentrations, as well as previous offenses.
Federally, the legal limit for THC in the bloodstream is two (2) nanograms per milliliter. A nanogram is one-billionth of a gram. Concentrations between two (2) and five (5) nanograms result in a fine up to $1,000. Concentrations of 5 or more nanograms will result in a $1,000 minimum fine on the first offense, imprisonment of 30 days or more on a second offense, and 120 days or more on a third offense. Penalties for drug-impaired crashes can range from 18 months to as much as life in prison for a fatal accident.
Where is it safe to purchase weed in Nunavut?
Recreational cannabis will only be available for purchase under the direction of the new Nunavut Liquor and Cannabis Commission. The commission is expected to contract with an online vendor from another province for two (2) years, then consider a competitive government tender. Details of how to buy or receive online cannabis have not been released.
In 2019, cannabis stores and lounges will be allowed. However, they will be subject to approval through a community consultation process lasting up to 90 days. It is expected that chains such as Northern stores, the Western Convenience Store Association, and Arctic Co-ops may apply to sell and co-locate recreational cannabis in their existing stores. However, they will need to apply for licenses on a per-shop basis. Regulations for cannabis sales in existing stores have not been released.
Online customers will be permitted to buy a maximum of 30 grams, or 1.06 ounces, of dried cannabis at one time, or equivalents in fresh cannabis and cannabis oils.
Premade edibles and extracts will not be available until 2019, although consumers can create their own edibles as they wish.
Where is it safe to consume cannabis?
Smoking will be allowed in limited places indoors and outdoors where tobacco smoking and vaping are permitted. It will be allowed in private residences as long as odors cannot be detected from another dwelling. Smoking is not allowed in common areas for apartments and condos. Consumption is allowed in rentals unless prohibited by lease or property agreements.
Consuming cannabis in public is not allowed in most restaurants, bars, hospitals, schools, child-care centers, sports facilities, or public places. Consumption is prohibited within three (3) meters, or about 10 feet, of entrances and exits to such areas. Public consumption can be punished by fines from $200 to $2,000.
In 2019, the government will allow cannabis lounges. Although smoking of cannabis or tobacco will not be allowed, consumption of non-smokable forms of marijuana will be allowed.
It is illegal to consume cannabis while operating a vehicle for either drivers or passengers. The law applies regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion. In a vehicle, cannabis must be stored in a sealed container that is not accessible to the driver or passengers during transport.
The minimum legal age to buy or possess cannabis in Nunavut is 19, which is the same age for alcohol, and one (1) year older than the minimum age to buy tobacco. The province allows possession by adults of up to 30 grams, or 1.06 ounces, of cannabis in most public places.
The national government has set equivalencies for one gram of dried cannabis to equal:
- five (5) grams of fresh cannabis
- 15 grams, or one-half ounce (0.5 oz) of edibles
- 70 milliliters, or 2.35 fluid ounces, of liquid
- 0.25 grams of concentrate, and
- one (1) plant seed
No limit has been set for home storage, although the territorial government is considering limits to prevent stockpiling.
Minors are not allowed to possess cannabis and face forfeiture of the product, fines of $200 to $2,000 for less than five (5) grams, and criminal prosecution for more than five (5) grams.
By federal law, patients using medical marijuana are allowed to have up to 150 grams, or 5.3 ounces — 30 times the daily dose prescribed by an authorized health-care practitioner, either an authorized physician or nurse practitioner — of dried marijuana or its equivalent.
Is home cultivation allowed in Nunavut?
After proposing a ban on home growing, the territorial government decided instead to give itself the ability to regulate whether plants can be grown at home and in what amounts. With Quebec the only province to ban home growing and legal challenges expected, Nunavut may wait to see how courts will rule on the case.
These regulations do not apply for approved and licensed home-grown medical cannabis, which is governed by national laws.
Medical marijuana in Nunavut
Thousands of Canadians are federally licensed to possess and use medical marijuana. Until the new law is passed, Canadians must the qualify for the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations (ACMPR), which came into effect August 24, 2016.
Recipients must provide medical documentation confirming the diagnosis by a health-care practitioner.
Patients must not be convicted of a cannabis-related offense and be registered only once at a time.
Generally, patients can qualify for medical marijuana under two categories. One is to allow for compassionate end-of-life care, for alleviating pain symptoms relating to illnesses and injuries, or for side effects from cancer or HIV/AIDS medications. The second category is for patients suffering from other persistent debilitating symptoms. Among the ailments Health Canada lists as possibly qualifying are:
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Attention-deficit and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorders (ADD/ADHD)
- Back and neck conditions
- Brain injury
- Chronic nausea
- Chronic pain
- Eating disorders
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Crohn’s disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Hepatitis C
- Kidney failure, including patients receiving dialysis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle spasms
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Parkinson’s disease
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Severe arthritis
- Sexual dysfunction
- Sleep disorders
- Vehicular crashes
Information on eligibility and applying is available at the Canadian government’s medical marijuana website.
Authorized caregivers are allowed to possess fresh or dried marijuana or cannabis oil, and may transfer or administer the substances or provide a medical document. They may also transfer substances to an individual who is responsible for the patient under their professional treatment.
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