If you were planning a trip to Amsterdam in the near future, that’s so 2000-and-late.
Turn instead to our neighbor to the north, Canada. Now in its second year of legal recreational cannabis, Canada’s fast becoming a destination for green-minded travelers. But given that each of the 13 provinces and territories have their own set of rules — including where marijuana would be sold and consumed — knowing how to traverse Canada’s brand-new cannabis culture means doing a little homework.
Canada is the only country offering legal places to blaze (despite what you think you know, cannabis is pretty much illegal in the Netherlands). And while the Canadian cannabis industry got off to a rough start early on, business was booming: According to Stats Canada, as of July 2019 Canada’s cannabis sector contributed $8.26 billion to the country’s gross domestic product.
COVID-19 may have put further progress on hold, but cannabis is still alive and well in Canada. And future travelers who still want to have a stylish (and legal) experience once the pandemic is over can travel to Canada and do so with relative ease. Here’s everything you need to know on how best to navigate — and experience — Canada’s extensive cannabis culture.
How has COVID-19 affected cannabis in Canada?
The virus has left a huge impact on the industry as a whole, as Canadian public-health officials continue to change their guidelines on what lockdown procedures look like.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many provinces have tried to reexamine their regulations surrounding cannabis delivery. As of now, one thing that has been introduced is a click-and-collect ordering program: How it works is that you order online and pay, then pick-up in-store. Thankfully, a majority of Canada’s recreational cannabis stores have been ordered to stay open by their provincial governments during the coronavirus outbreak as they have been deemed essential businesses. While delivery programs are still not yet fully implemented, things could change in the coming months, so stay tuned.
Just this week Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned Canadians that due to the realities of COVID-19 and our social- distancing and self-isolation measures, some businesses and services may remain closed for another 12 to 18 months.
What this has meant for Canadians and businesses in the tourism sector, as well as the cannabis industry, on the whole, has been changing day-by-day. But if you’re planning on taking a cannabis-fueled vacation to Canada, temper your expectations for it happening any time soon.
How much cannabis are you legally allowed to purchase in Canada?
Are you ready for it? No matter where you are in Canada, you can legally possess, carry, and share (with other adults, obviously) 30 grams of cannabis. If you’re trying to wrap your head around just how much that is, it is about 60 to 75 pre-rolled joints. Depending on where you are in the country, it could cost anywhere from 160-400 Canadian dollars.
What’s the legal smoking age?
In most provinces across Canada, the legal age to purchase and consume marijuana is 19. However, in Alberta the legal age is 18, and the newly elected government in Quebec raised the minimum age to 21.
So can you just smoke anywhere you want in Canada?
We wish! Could you imagine if Canada was one big hot box? To date, nearly every province in Canada has banned smoking both cigarettes and cannabis in indoor public spaces, public-transit facilities, and at workplaces where smoking could take place.
In Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta, the law states that people can smoke cannabis where they can smoke cigarettes. Recently, Halifax designated 84 designated toking zones on municipal property throughout the Halifax region. The exact locations can be found via this map from the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Still unsure and don’t want to be fined or ticketed? This Wikipedia entry does a good job of breaking down province by province where you can smoke, without issue. Plus if you’ve got time on your hands, take a minute to read over the full Cannabis Act, province by province. It’s a long read, but a useful one if you plan to visit.
Where exactly can I buy cannabis in Canada, and how much is it?
Each province has its own specific rules on where to purchase cannabis. In nearly every province (except Nunavut), cannabis is typically sold in a government-run retail shop or a privately run dispensary, or a hybrid of the two. The most important thing to remember is: the only legal way to purchase cannabis is through these stores, and they typically have a seal displayed in the window to indicate they are approved by the Canadian government. For a complete comprehensive shop guide, visit Leafly or BudHub Canada, which break down the products, pricing, vibe and customer service experience at shops.
The purchasing experience can vary province-by-province. Here’s what to expect.
Nova Scotia: The Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation is the only retailer of legal cannabis. You can find all their store locations via their website. Right now, there is an online retail site, but you actually can’t access it until you obtain a special access code in-store and verify your age. The cards are free to obtain, but make it difficult to find out what kind of products are in-store before you arrive. Right now, there are 12 retail locations listed on the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation website. On average, you’re looking to pay $10.99 per gram for what they’ve listed as “core” or “premium” cannabis
Ontario: As of April 1, 2019, Ontario’s regulated retail market finally opened for business, with all legal cannabis becoming available for purchase via the Ontario government’s e-commerce website, the Ontario Cannabis Store. But things have changed drastically since that day, with more choices and options. The Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) lifted its private retail-licensing lottery and opened the floodgates to those who wanted to open a cannabis retail space. Currently, there are 33 cannabis stores authorized to operate in Ontario, with a full map provided here by the AGCO. Retail stores will sell flower, pre-rolls, cannabis oils, vapes, edibles, and capsules. Prices will range from $7.95-$13.25 per gram.
Quebec: Everything in Quebec will be sold in publicly run stores by the government-run Société Québécoise du Cannabis (SQDC). Currently, there are 41 cannabis stores around the province, which sell everything from flower, pre-rolls, cannabis oils, beverages, and capsules. As of press time, the SQDC had a note on their website that they were closed on Sundays, and now delivering via Canada Post. Prices range from $5.25 a gram, with all taxes included.
Alberta: One of the most surprising markets since legalization has been Alberta, with over 400 cannabis store licenses — more than any other Canadian jurisdiction — and 40 federal cannabis license holders. The Alberta Gaming, Liquor, and Cannabis agency has been praised for granting retail licenses quickly and efficiently, ensuring the consumers can purchase products such as buds, pre-rolls, edibles, cannabis oils, and capsules throughout the province. Prices range from $9.24-$15.42 a gram, depending on the retailer.
British Columbia: Many cannabis activists in Canada started out in British Columbia selling through compassion clinics. Now all legal cannabis can be found in privately owned dispensaries and in BC Cannabis Stores (BCCS) operated by the provincial government agency, the BC Liquor Distribution Branch. Right now, there are multiple locations listed via the website, and visitors can order via the e-commerce site. In each of the retail stores, there will be buds, pre-rolls, cannabis oils, and capsules. You may find accessories in some stores, like rolling papers, lighters, pipes, or bongs. Prices range on their website from $6.99-$16.28 per gram.
Statistics Canada has been collecting information on the average cost of cannabis across the country, and on average the average price of cannabis is $7.37 per gram.
What about delivery and online ordering?
If the thought of going into a retail setting overwhelms you, you have options! Some provinces and territories offer online cannabis sales where you can have it delivered to your hotel or Airbnb for arrival within a matter of days. The other option is delivery, which is available in Manitoba and Saskatchewan via Pineapple Express Delivery, a service that provides both business-to-business and business-to-consumer deliveries.
What about edibles and cannabis-infused meals?
Cannabis 2.0 products — which included vape pens, beverages, edibles, and topicals — first became available to consumers in some provinces in December 2019. Many people were anxiously waiting for this second wave of Canada’s cannabis legalization process to hit. In January alone the Ontario Cannabis Store generated approximately $4.3 million in sales from the second-wave of cannabis products, according to a statement issued to the Financial Post. Deloitte has estimated that edibles and other alternative cannabis products would potentially make $2.7 billion Canadian dollars. Although the rollout onto retailer shelves was slow but steady, consumers seem enthusiastic about what they’ve been able to get their hands on including gummies, chocolate bars, cookies, cannabis-infused tea, infused waters, vapes, and more.
So since you can purchase edibles in-store, does this mean you can go to a bar/restaurant and have an infused meal? Not quite. Similar to smoke lounges and compassionate clubs, Health Canada has said that the Cannabis Act will maintain control over all edible products made from cannabis mixed with food ingredients, which means restaurant meals would be excluded from legal sale.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t DIY or underground infused dinners taking place around the country or infused cocktails with CBD being made somewhere. In Toronto, byMINISTRY and dirt are two of the go-to high-dining and high-concept cannabis events in the city. In Edmonton, chef Daniel Huber hosts a pop-up dinner for guests via his Edmonton Cannabis Dinner Club, and Travis Petersen, a former contestant on MasterChef Canada, started The Nomad Cook, where he hosts dinners for guests across Canada on a pop-up basis.