Canada is poised on the edge of a cultural revolution and dramatic social experiment as it prepares to legalize marijuana on Wednesday.
Although the move has been planned since Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, the country is scrambling to get ready for the big day because while the federal cannabis act sets a broad skeleton, Canada’s 13 provinces and territories set their own rules — including where marijuana will be sold and where it can be consumed.
Not all of those rules have been announced yet. And they conflict from one part of the country to the other, leaving many Canadians confused.
Here are answers to some of the questions tokers and nonsmokers alike are asking as Canada gets set to make history:
In some provinces, weed will be legally sold only in government stores; in others, only in private stores; and in others there will be a mix. No bar or restaurant will be able to sell marijuana, at least not at first.
Ontario, Canada’s most-populous province, will have privately run stores starting on April 1. Until then, cannabis will be available legally only online, from a government-run site.
Most shoppers in British Columbia will also buy from the government, and mostly online as there will initially be just one store, in Kamloops.
Quebec will have 12 government-run dispensaries open on Wednesday. Cannabis counselors — government employees — will advise on, among things, which marijuana strains induce relaxation or euphoria, as well as possible harmful effects.
Saskatchewan will have 51 stores, all privately run. Alberta will have 17, all private also, but the government will offer online sales.
On legalization day, only fresh or dried flower, seeds, plants and oil will be available. Legal marijuana will have lower levels of THC, the chemical that brings on the buzz, than most products now on the black market.
The law will not allow cannabis-infused edibles and concentrates until next year. So those craving pot-infused gummy bears, baked goods, barbecue sauce and drinks will have to wait to buy them legally.
It is unclear whether cannabis creams and cosmetics will ever be approved.
That will depend on quality.
Quebec shops plan to have many strains available at around $ 7 or less in Canadian dollars (about $ 5.40 in United States dollars) per gram to remain competitive with the black market.
A special marijuana excise tax, to be divvied up between the federal government and the provinces, will be included in the price; sales tax will be added at the cash register.
Illegal drug dealers across the country have already responded by lowering their prices. Some in Montreal, for example, are offering two joints for the price of one.
[For future coverage of marijuana legalization in Canada and other Canadian news, subscribe to our weekly Canada Letter newsletter.]
The legal age for marijuana use will be 19 in most provinces, and 18 in Quebec, although its newly elected government has vowed to raise the minimum age to 21.
It will be a federal crime to supply marijuana to minors — with a penalty of up to 14 years in prison.
Canadians will be allowed to possess, carry and share with other adults up to 30 grams of marijuana. That’s enough to roll roughly 60 normal-size joints.
Canadians hoping for pot-fueled revelry anywhere they like will be sorely disappointed. Like drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco, the smoking of marijuana in public places will be circumscribed, depending on the province.
In Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta, outside Calgary, people will be able to smoke weed where they can smoke cigarettes. In Ontario, that means streets as well as parks, but in British Columbia, smoking isn’t allowed in parks or on community beaches.
In Halifax, there will be designated toking zones.
“Somebody has to build an app that will give guidance on what the rules are in that specific geographic area, because it is confusing,” said Trina Fraser, an Ottawa-based commercial lawyer who specializes in cannabis. “People will figure it out where they live, but where it will get complicated is if you are traveling for business or pleasure.”
Across Canada, many hotels and rental landlords are banning marijuana.
But illegal marijuana cafes and lounges have thrived for years in Canadian cities like Vancouver, Toronto and Windsor, Ontario. Taming them will not be easy.
Still, in much of the country, most marijuana consumption will take place in homes, behind closed doors. And if you are homeless, or a renter, in a province where outdoor consumption remains illegal, you “will have nowhere to smoke it,” said Jack Lloyd, a lawyer who specializes in cannabis cases.
The law, he said, gives permission but not a constitutional right to use cannabis.
[More than 40 percent of Canadians have tried marijuana. Read more on how legal pot will change the culture of Canada.]
Aspiring pot cultivators will be allowed to grow up to four plants per household in most parts of the country, though Quebec and Manitoba have banned do-it-yourself marijuana production.
If you are in British Columbia, be sure to keep your plants far from the backyard fence or streetside window. Any plants that can be viewed from a public space solicit a fine of 5,000 Canadian dollars or three months in jail.
Smoking marijuana in workplaces is illegal. But the severity of enforcement will depend on your job.
Employees who handle dangerous products or operate heavy machinery may face stepped-up or new drug tests. Airline pilots face tough restrictions on how near to the start of shifts they may use marijuana.
The armed forces will have specific orders for its members and the Calgary Police Service has banned pot use by off-duty officers.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and Toronto’s police force will ban most officers from using marijuana within 28 days of reporting for a shift.
You will face a fine of at least 1,000 Canadian dollars. Penalties can also include up to five years in prison for cases that do not result in injury or death, or life for cases causing death.
Most police forces will rely on roadside sobriety tests. Others will use roadside saliva tests. But most people suspected of driving while high will ultimately be given blood tests. Refusing any of the tests will be a crime.
Training for police officers is lagging, however, and the federal government has acknowledged that most forces, including its own Royal Canadian Mounted Police, still don’t have the ability to perform blood tests.
Around 330,000 Canadians are registered to receive medical marijuana, which has been legal in Canada since 2001, and many will continue to get their weed through that system because medical marijuana may be cheaper, and some drug plans cover it.
Medical users can carry far more than recreational users — 150 grams versus 30 grams.
The Canadian Medical Association is skeptical about marijuana for medical purposes because it is largely untested. It considers recreational use a potential health risk like drinking.
“Canadians are entering this new reality,” said Dr. F. Gigi Osler, the association’s president. “One of our messages continues to be: Just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe.”
The government has vowed to shut it down, but hundreds of illegal dispensaries exist across Canada, and some are determined to remain. In British Columbia, for example, many illegal pot purveyors do not want to pay for expensive government licenses.
In Toronto, the bohemian Kensington Market area is peppered with illegal dispensaries. Most people expect the police to have extra motivation to close them now, given that the government will profit from legal marijuana sales and taxes.
[What should Canada expect when it legalizes marijuana? Thomas Fuller, a New York Times correspondent, shares some lessons from California, where the black market still dominates.]
Big. We’ve written articles about it. You can read them here, here and here.
About 500,000 Canadians are believed to have criminal records for marijuana possession, according to Bill Blair, the cabinet minister on cannabis and a former Toronto police chief.
There has been a vocal movement calling for amnesty for those people. So far, it has gone unanswered.
But according to a government official, a program to make it easier for Canadians convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana to obtain a pardon will be announced on Wednesday.
The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that because several details must still be worked out, the program will not become active immediately. Pardons are to be available only for people convicted of possessing 30 grams of marijuana or less, the legal limit under the new system.
To get a government license to grow or sell pot, you must first pass a stringent security check that eliminates anyone convicted of drug trafficking, corruption or violent offenses. .
Canadians who admit at the border to using marijuana may be refused admission, according to the United States border authorities. But the border agency said it would not routinely quiz Canadian travelers about their cannabis habits after Wednesday.
Employees of marijuana companies and their investors will generally be allowed to enter the United States, the agency said, if they are not coming on marijuana-related business. But the agency said those people might no longer be able to obtain or hold cards that speed up border crossings.
Funny you should ask. Canada’s young and telegenic prime minister, Mr. Trudeau, has admitted to smoking pot a few times, including once while he was an elected member of Parliament. But he said he never really liked it.
What are your unanswered questions around marijuana legalization in Canada? Let us know in the comments below.
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