Ontario launches website for selling legal weed, says Canada Post will handle deliveries

Ontario launches website for selling legal weed, says Canada Post will handle deliveries
In major shift, the U.S. says it wont ban Canadian pot workers
In a policy change made without fanfare Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) now says Canadians who work in the legal cannabis industry here will be free to enter the United States.

It’s a major reversal of a position announced in late September, when a CBP statement on marijuana legalization in Canada said that “as marijuana continues to be a controlled substance under United States law, working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in U.S. states where it is deemed legal or Canada may affect admissibility to the U.S.”

"A Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S., however, if a traveller is found to be coming to the U.S. for a reason related to the marijuana industry, they may be deemed inadmissible," the statement reads.

It now says that “a Canadian citizen working in or facilitating the proliferation of the legal marijuana industry in Canada, coming to the U.S. for reasons unrelated to the marijuana industry will generally be admissible to the U.S.”

“It’s a 180-degree turnaround from their statement two weeks ago,” says Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine, Wash.

Matt Maurer, a lawyer with Toronto firm Torkin Manes and vice-chair of the Cannabis Law Group, said he believes that while the update is helpful, it's worded to "give themselves some wiggle room." Phrases such as "will generally be admissible" allow room for interpretation, he said.

“I think this is a best-case scenario. It should make the Canadian government a lot more comfortable knowing that Canadians doing this in Canada won’t be denied entry. It still tells Canadians they can’t get involved with the U.S. cannabis industry, and a lot of these big companies will be, but at least it protects Canadians doing it legally in Canada.”

With legalization just days away on Oct. 17, the statement provides some clarity for the thousands of Canadians now working in the cannabis industry who have been left wondering if they'll ever again be able to take their kids to Disneyland or flee Canadian winters for warmer U.S. destinations. 

The ban potentially affected everybody involved in Canada’s legal cannabis industry, from retail workers to people involved in support activities like accounting.

In late September, B.C.s solicitor general Mike Farnworth pointed out that hundreds of provincial government employees involved in the legal cannabis industry in the province were in danger of being banned for life from entering the U.S.

Border Security Minister Bill Blair told CBC News last month that although "possession of cannabis is legal in some U.S. states, cannabis remains illegal under U.S. federal law." He warned Canadians travelling south that they need to respect U.S. laws.

READ MORE: Gov’t employees working in legal pot industry may be denied entry into U.S., says B.C. solicitor general

Chang, who specializes in cross-border issues, said it's unclear what activities would be considered unrelated to the marijuana industry, including whether going to a cannabis conference would be allowed, for example. 

The statement cautions that Canadians can still be banned at the border for trying to enter the U.S. for reasons related to the American marijuana industry. Although legal in a growing number of states, medical and recreational cannabis are both still illegal under U.S. federal law.

Language barring “abusers” of drugs banned in the United States, including marijuana, remains in place. Any level of use of these drugs is considered abuse.”

It does, however, make the point that anyone arriving in the U.S. who is found to be a drug abuser or who is convicted of violations of U.S. or foreign drug laws or regulations will be considered inadmissible.

On paper, this creates a situation where a cannabis store worker could be banned for using the pot that she is employed to sell — but not for actually selling it — but Saunders doesn’t think it will work that way.

Although all sales of cannabis remain illegal under U.S. federal law, Maurer points out that as more U.S. states legalize cannabis at the state level, U.S. customs practices may continue to evolve.

“It’s literally a week before legalization, and the Americans finally have taken a common-sense approach.”

However, the updated statement makes no mention of whether Canadians who admit to having legally consumed cannabis on this side of the border may be turned away or face bans from entering the U.S.

“Here they are, issuing statements that are vitally important to Canadians and the Canadian government, and you’d think the Canadian government would at least issue a press release and say ‘Hey, it’s not as bad as everyone was anticipating.”

The agency updated its website Tuesday, providing a measure of clarity after a vague statement last month left the industry and investors facing uncertainty about travel of any kind to the U.S.

The Ontario Cannabis Store has launched part of its website, which includes a ton of detailed and nuanced information about marijuana. OTTwp

Henry Chang, a partner at Toronto law firm Blaney McMurtry, said in an email to CBC this update is a "more reasonable" approach, but still leaves some uncertainties.

A week from now, Canada Post will be delivering plain packages containing pot to residents across Ontario.

The Crown corporation has the contract to deliver weed for the government’s online store that opens for business Oct. 17, the day recreational cannabis is legalized across the country.

Even so, some students are pushing back against their schools, such as at Brandon University, which announced more restrictive policies recently. Feel free to refer to us as a no-toking university, says Katie Gross, dean of students at BU. With slightly more than 3,000 students, the university has banned recreational pot use on campus, staying well within the lines of Manitoba provincial policy, which prohibits cannabis use in all public spaces. But in an interview with the Brandon Sun, Brandon University Students Union (BUSU) president Justin Shannon promised to raise BUSUs concerns about the policy with the universitys board of governors. BUSU wants recreational pot-smoking areas—after all, tobacco, a much more addictive drug, can be smoked in six areas at BU. And, though smoking both tobacco and cannabis is banned in BU residences, alcohol—a serious problem on many campuses—is permitted for those aged 18 and older.

The online store will be the only legal channel for Ontarians to buy cannabis for nearly six months after legalization.

That help has been available for some time, and more is coming, counters Tammy Jarbeau, a spokesperson for Health Canada. In addition to web-based resources, the department sent public education campaigns to music festivals, fairs and sporting events across Canada. On Sept. 7, it also started appearing at colleges and universities across Canada, beginning with Torontos Seneca College and Vancouvers UBC, and will continue to do so throughout fall. The total planned investment in cannabis public education, awareness and surveillance is more than $100 million over six years, says Jarbeau. This includes $62.5 million over five years, proposed in Budget 2018, to support the involvement of community-based organizations and Indigenous organizations that are educating their communities on the risks associated with cannabis use.

The provincial Conservative government plans to licence private businesses to operate bricks-and-mortar marijuana stores, but they won’t open until April 2019.

But deciding how to reflect community values is a hazy business at best. At Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, B.C., Wade Tomko figures TRU got it wrong for the 14,000 students on its campus. Though smoking tobacco is allowed in designated areas, and alcohol has long been served on campus at the licensed Campus Activity Centre and certain events, TRU is banning all recreational cannabis use on campus. I honestly think a lot of students see this ban as an infringement on their rights, says Tomko, 23, editor-in-chief of the student paper, the Omega. It doesnt really make sense to me that TRU is going to ban cannabis while at the same time allowing people to consume cannabis. But honestly, even with the ban, I think a lot of students are just going to ignore it.

Portions of the Ontario Cannabis Store website went live Wednesday night. You can find the website at ocslearn.ca/learn.

In addition to the policy that includes the recreational cannabis ban, Gross says the university will also have a responsible substance use and harm-reduction policy in place by Oct. 17. Under the policy, which covers a broad spectrum of impairments including cannabis, alcohol and prescription medication abuse, someone showing impairment could be asked to leave a room, take counselling or, in extreme instances, face suspension or expulsion. We are going to take a progressive punishment approach, says Gross. Well have a conversation first; find out if anything else is going on. Ninety-five per cent of the time we can resolve things informally. Suspension and expulsion are the last parts of that ladder.

Canada Post will deliver the dried flower, oil, pre-rolled joints and cannabis seeds that will be for sale on Day 1, according to the website.

Until recently, Reba partied on pot throughout her university education. When she was 18, she was diagnosed with ADHD and an anxiety disorder. Her doctor prescribed her non-cannabis medication. But at age 21, she recounts, I still had such bad anxiety, even with my meds. I couldnt focus, I couldnt sleep. I am just very anxiety-prone. In 2017, a cannabis dispensary opened in Kamloops, not far from the university. It was a place where people could bring prescription medications from their doctors that they didnt want anymore. Dispensary staff would then recommend cannabis-based alternatives and give customers a marijuana medical card so they could legally use them.

And there’s no need to worry the neighbours will find out. “When we ship orders, we deliver in discreet, plain packaging so the nature of your purchase is not revealed.”

Last October, Reba was involved in a car crash, and she still suffers severe neck and shoulder pain from the resulting whiplash. Now shes trying to use only medical cannabis derivative products. The Kamloops dispensary sold her cannabis oils to deal with her various conditions, which she smokes through a Flyte pen, a vaping device. Her pen gives off aromas such as blueberry, not the skunky stink of a joint. Lacking THC, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, her medical marijuana doesnt get her high. Its like a muscle relaxant in some aspects. Its just for my own personal wellbeing, she says. People at TRU arent really opposed to it when I use it.

A delivery agent will check ID when the package is delivered. If no one is home, packages will not be left at the door.

But according to various university officials who spoke with Macleans, its challenging for them to think critically about harm-reduction strategies with little or no help from the Trudeau government. Says Gross: I would have loved to have seen [the government say:] Here is a package of material. Here are the best ways to inform your faculty and staff of harm-reduction strategies for your students. We did not receive that yet. So we reached out to our agencies to receive the most accurate and current information. The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba was one of them. They were helpful. Those are my people, says Gross.

The Ontario Cannabis Store will be careful with personal information collected by customers, says the website. “We understand that our customers expect us to keep their purchases confidential, and so we have made a deliberate choice to protect personal information.

“We only collect information that is necessary for each transaction. We won’t use or share it for any other purposes and it will never be sold to third parties. All information will only be kept for the minimum length of time required by law, and then deleted as soon as possible.”

For the most part, says Pavlova, harm-reduction campaigns at universities have been student-led. CASAs Brown said in late September that his organization was close to finishing posters and other educational materials to give students more information about cannabis. He said CASAs posters will be edgy, with graphics and catchy slogans that engage students and help them, perhaps, realize they dont know as much as they should. Brown also thinks universities should get more help from the federal government through mandated awareness and harm-reduction plans.

The Ontario Cannabis Store has supply deals with 32 Health Canada-licensed cannabis growers who will provide the products.

In Calgary, however, where Mayor Naheed Nenshi, a former university professor, expressed concern about the negative impact of weed on young prefrontal cortexes, things are more restrictive. Calgary banned the smoking of marijuana in any Calgary public space. That, says Adam Brown, chair of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and a fourth-year commerce student at the University of Alberta, has really affected how Mount Royal and the University of Calgary, which are members of CASA, are designing their cannabis policies.

The online store will provide information about the content of THC, the chemical that makes users “high,” and CBD, a component that is not psychoactive and can have medical benefits. “Easy-to-use search filters” will allow customers to search for products based on their preferences, says the website.

As for any fears that reefer madness will break out in post-secondary institutions on Oct. 17, they arent shared by the student organizations and university officials Macleans spoke with. Its really unlikely the rates of use are going to change much, says the CSSDPs Pavlova. There may be a surge initially. But with more education, I suspect in the long term we will actually see students use cannabis less, because it will be a taboo being lifted. And a lot of the time youth do things either out of curiosity or rebellion.

The Ontario Cannabis Store has launched part of its website, which is packed with information. OTTwp

The website is packed with information. It explains the cannabis plant, including strain types and an explanation of THC, CBD and terpenes, which are responsible for the taste and smell of cannabis.

The website also outlines the health risks of using marijuana, includes guidelines for lower-risk use, and warns that the effects of using the common drug range from “pleasant to very unpleasant.”

People use cannabis to relax, feel happier, more social or more energetic, to become more focused, creative or productive, and to increase appetite and arousal, says the website.

However, “because cannabis interacts uniquely with each individual, it’s possible that you’ll experience something different than what you may expect.”

The information provided is detailed and nuanced. For example, the website explains that while it was once thought that the species of cannabis — sativa or indica — was solely responsible for the effect, that can be misleading. Many cannabis users are under the impression that sativa strains provide more energy, while indica strains are more calming or sedating.

“While some of this basic knowledge may still apply, now that hybrid strains have been cultivated by growers for so many years, references to the effects of pure species may no longer be relevant or helpful,” says the website.

“Today, there are hundreds of strains of plants ⎯ each bred for specific characteristics and often intended to produce specific effects for consumers.

“While many licensed cannabis producers are trying to cultivate new strains to reliably produce certain desired effects, the science of producing a product with consistent effects for every person is not yet well enough understood, and much more research will be needed before this is possible,” says the website. “This is another reason it’s not possible to completely predict the experience you will have.”