Alberta Passes a Hybrid Framework for Cannabis Legalization


Alberta’s approach regarding cannabis legalization has resulted in one of the most unrestricted private markets of all the provinces so far. Bill 26, An Act to Control and Regulate Cannabis, passed in December of 2017, will bring about substantive changes to the Gaming and Liquor Act, renaming it to the Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis Act.

Cannabis in Alberta will be sold in private retail outlets, with no limit on the number of stores. The sale of cannabis will be licensed and regulated by the Alberta Gaming and Liquo r Commission, analogous to the way private liquor stores are run. The retail outlets will be stand-alone dispensaries as cannabis will be prohibited from being sold where liquor, cigarettes, or pharmaceuticals are sold. This differs strongly from some approaches taken by other Canadian provinces. For example, Quebec will have a new government agency that will control the sale of recreational cannabis. On July 1, Quebec will only have 15 stores and aims for 150 within two years, although there are currently 801 state-run liquor stores.

Alberta’s private retail outlets must be 100m away from schools and provincial health care facilities. It will be left to municipalities to decide if there should be further barriers from these or other facilities. The extent of the municipality discretion, however, is unclear. Furthermore, like alcohol, sales will be restricted to individuals above the age of 18. Cannabis will be allowed to be smoked anywhere cigarettes are smoked. The only difference will be in regards to motor vehicles, where everyone, including passengers, will be prohibited from smoking cannabis.

While retail outlets will be privately operated, the online sales of legal cannabis will be exclusively controlled through the government of Alberta’s website. According to Justice Minister, Kathleen Ganley, leaving online sales to the government will aid rural and remote communities in accessing legal marijuana. Some retail dispensaries expressed that they would have issues providing for many rural areas. Furthermore, the government’s control of online sales would potentially address concerns of minors having access to marijuana. Access to marijuana is also addressed by allowing adults to grow a maximum of 4 of their own plants as long as the plants are grown indoors.

The hybrid model of government controlled online sales and private retailers was a response to online consultation with the Alberta public. More than 60, 000 Albertans took part in an online survey. Alberta commissioned a massive synthesis of evidence, called the Cannabis Evidence Series, in order to guide the development of policy. The study focused on five key topics: health effects and harms, medical cannabis, advertisement and communication regulations, experience with legalization in other jurisdictions, and the current Canadian context.  The Alberta government partnered with researchers such as the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the University of Calgary and met with diverse groups of stakeholders to inform their policy decisions.

The measures will come into effect on July 1, 2018.

For more information on Alberta’s System for Legalized Cannabis:

The Future of Cannabis in Alberta

Bill 26

Alberta Cannabis Framework and Legislation

This blog post was written by a CCLA-PBSC RightsWatch student. Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCLA or PBSC.