On June 19, 2018, the Senate voted to pass Bill C-45, the federal government’s bill to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis in Canada. This paves the way for Royal Assent. After a “buffer period” to allow provinces and municipalities to complete preparations, legalization is expected to take place sometime in the Fall of 2018. Regardless of personal opinions, legalization will likely have far-reaching consequences on the Canadian insurance industry.
Generally, the proposed Act will allow adults to purchase, share, and possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, grow up to four plants per residence for personal use, and make cannabis products including food or drink. Certain rights can be modified by corresponding provincial legislation, such as Ontario’s Cannabis Act 2017, SO 2017, c. 26, Sched. 1, which restricts the age of purchase to 19 as opposed to the federal minimum of 18.
In addition to legalizing the possession and production of recreational cannabis, Bill C-45 provides a regulatory framework for the distribution and management of the cannabis supply in Canada. It grants significant powers to a Cabinet designate to levy administrative monetary penalties on individuals who are in violation of various provisions. Significant restrictions will also be placed on marketing, branding, and advertising targeted at youth.
Additionally, new criminal penalties will be imposed on the illegal distribution or sale of marijuana outside of the regulated systems put in place by the provinces, possession over the 30 gram limit, or production of cannabis beyond the personal use limits. These penalties will range from modest tickets and fines for small infractions to up to 14 years in prison for more serious offences. Notably, the act of taking cannabis across Canada’s borders carries with it a penalty of up to 14 years in jail.
It will be up to the individual provinces to determine how cannabis will be distributed in their respective jurisdictions. Ontario has opted for a centralized government monopoly where cannabis will be sold through the Ontario Cannabis Store (“OCS”). Nova Scotia has put in place a similar government monopoly. In contrast, Manitoba plans to allow a cluster of four private companies to distribute cannabis. Similarly, each province and municipality will be entitled to restrict the consumption of cannabis on public property.
After 95 years of prohibition, insurance policies and practices have generally excluded anything to do with cannabis. It was only recently that some insurers have begun to include medical cannabis in their group benefit plans, despite medical cannabis having been legalized many years previous. Previously, losses arising from fires caused by growing cannabis were excluded as arising from criminal acts. With the legalization of home growing, questions remain as to whether failing to tell your insurer about your four cannabis plants would be sufficient to constitute a material change in risk. Certain independent adjusting firms are also rolling out specialized claims services for the cannabis industry in an effort to get ahead of the coming changes. Although the full impact of legalization remains to be seen, disputes involving coverage under home owner policies, reasonable medical expenses, and human resources practices will likely be quite common in the initial transition.
The full text of Bill C-45 can be found here.
Devan Marr’s practice has focused on bodily injury, long term disability, statutory accident benefits, and employment claims.