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Canada: Recreational Marijuana Is Legal in Canada: Key Legislative Changes that Employers Need to Know

The federal Cannabis Act, which received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018, makes recreational cannabis a legal in Canada as of October 17, 2018. This article provides a short summary of what employers need to know to prepare for this new legislative change.

Key Facts

  • For individuals under 18 years of age, it is still illegal to possess, buy, use, grow or make cannabis products.
  • Cannabis edible products and concentrates will not be legal for sale until approximately one year after the Cannabis Act has come into force on October 17, 2018.
  • The use and consumption of recreational cannabis is limited to certain locations.
  • The new laws do not affect medical use of cannabis, which was already legal in Canada.
  • Driving while under the influence of cannabis remains illegal.

A Few Comments on Legislative Changes Related to the Legalization of Cannabis

Even after recreational cannabis is legalized on October 17, 2018, an individual cannot consume recreational cannabis in the workplace or be under its influence when they perform their work. Employers should build on existing policies to ensure that recreational cannabis is contemplated in existing drug and alcohol policies. Employees should also be adequately informed, instructed, and supervised on their respective policies.

Generally, recreational cannabis should be treated the similarly to alcohol, medical cannabis and medications that cause impairment. Employers should establish clear rules set employee expectations and ensure compliance with legal obligations, including with respect to occupational health and safety and human rights legislation. This includes taking every reasonable precaution to minimize risks caused by employees who are impaired or potentially impaired by cannabis. It may also include addressing how medical cannabis and recreational will be treated in the accommodation process mandated by human rights legislation.

The Ontario government introduced Bill 36, the Cannabis Statute Law Amendment Act, 2018 on September 27, 2018.  Once passed, Bill 36 will introduce the new Cannabis Licence Act, 2018, amend the Cannabis Act, 2017, and amend other provincial statutes. Some of the key amendments contained in Bill 36 are as follows:


  • The Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 currently refers to both medical and recreational cannabis. Bill 36 will remove this distinction. All references in the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 will simply be to “cannabis”;
  • Under the Cannabis Act, 2017, cannabis consumption was generally restricted to private residences. Bill 36 amends the Cannabis Act, 2017 to allow the consumption of both medical and recreational cannabis in locations where smoking tobacco is permitted under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017. These amendments also allow the consumption of cannabis in certain public outdoor spaces including sidewalks and parks; and
  • Smoking or vaping cannabis would be prohibited in enclosed public spaces, enclosed workplaces, the indoor areas of condominiums, apartment buildings, university and college residences, and in non-smoking rooms of hotels, motels or inns.

While the Smoke-Free Ontario Act, 2017 is not currently in force, once it comes into force it will require that employers must:

  • Comply with the obligations on smoking or holding lighted medical cannabis in enclosed spaces;
  • Provide notice to employees regarding the restrictions;
  • Post signs throughout the workplace; and
  • Ensure that employees or persons who do not comply with the above requirements are removed from the space.