As of October 2018, recreational cannabis use for age appropriate adults is legal in Canada, thus fulfilling a 2015 campaign promise by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The new legislation passed by Canada's Parliament is a far broader legalization than any that has taken place in the United States. As of now, it will no longer be illegal for adults to purchase, possess or grow recreational cannabis in Canada.
And though Canada's 13 provinces and territories are tasked with regulating the distribution and sale of cannabis, the federal government is responsible for licensing commercial cannabis growers and authorizing their products for recreational use. This includes everything from cannabis flower and concentrates, to edibles, seeds, and vape pens.
So, if your favorite form of cannabis consumption is cannabis vaporizers, and you find yourself in Canada, here is a guide to the rules surrounding vaping in the Great White North.
If you’re unsure what a vape pen is, or a clear understanding of vaping escapes you, no worries. Vape pens are easy to use, don’t produce any smoke, and emit little odor.
A cannabis vape pen is essentially an e-cigarette, but for cannabis instead of nicotine oil. A rechargeable battery powers a heating element, which vaporizes cannabis oil contained in a replaceable or refillable cartridge.
Cannabis concentrates usually consist of THC extract, or the less psychoactive component, CBD. They are sold in either liquid form or a waxy substance.
Cannabis vape pens could be found in several dispensaries across Canada. But even after Oct.17, it will still be illegal to buy and sell cannabis concentrates, buy and sell vaporizers strictly for cannabis concentrates, and make concentrates at home with organic solvents.
Federal, Provincial, and Local
When navigating the new laws surrounding recreational marijuana in Canada, be sure to check beyond the federal law and into your provincial and local ordinances.
For example, federal law allows adults to grow four plants for personal consumption (extending a rule for legal users of medical marijuana), but Quebec and Manitoba intend to ban personal growing outright.
All Cannabis Products Not Regulated Equally
Foods containing cannabis, such as cookies and candies, will remain illegal for recreational use throughout 2018-19, until the Canadian government completes its regulatory regime for edibles.
The federal government is also currently developing regulations for cannabis vape pens and concentrated cannabis oils, a government spokeswoman told the CBC, but like the regulations for edibles, regulations for vape pens in Canada won’t be ready for up to a year after recreational legalization.
Health Canada says more evidence is needed on the risks and harms of vape pens and cannabis concentrates.
“We have learned from U.S. states that have legalized and regulated access to cannabis that concentrates, including liquid vaping solutions that typically have potencies of 50-60 percent THC, present unique health and safety risks, and require careful study in order to develop appropriate regulatory safeguards,” a government spokesperson wrote in response to questions.
But in the vaping community, there’s a perception that using vape pens for cannabis gives a cleaner high because you aren’t inhaling burnt plant matter as you would if you were smoking a joint.
Calculating Chemical Risks
The Canadian government is concerned about excessively high potency and the chemicals and solvents that are used to extract the concentrated form of cannabis.
Cannabis concentrates are created by an industrial process, so they are not natural products. Chemicals and solvents are commonly used to extract the cannabis molecules from the flower to create the concentrates, according to Michael John Milloy, research scientist at the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use and assistant professor at UBC.
But there are some potential benefits, says Milloy. Getting a specific dose of cannabis is much easier with vape pens than by smoking it.
Rising Popularity in Canada
“Vape pens are super-discreet, so unlike smoking cannabis there’s very little odor,” said Lisa Campbell, a cannabis portfolio specialist with Toronto-based liquor and cannabis distributor, Lifford Wine & Spirits.
“It used to be something that was really not available on the Canadian market, it was more popular in legal (U.S.) states like Colorado, Washington, California… (but) even though it’s still a black-market product, it’s really being embraced, at least in Toronto, as a growing consumer trend.”
Consumer demand for cannabis vape pens has also grown on Canada’s West Coast over the past several years, according to Dana Larsen, director of the Vancouver Dispensary Society.
When vape pens are eventually regulated under the government’s legal cannabis regime, added Larsen, “those kinds of products, I think, will be more popular than smoking a joint for a lot of people.”
But since vape pens are currently an unregulated product category, it has created a black market for a popular product that is legal medicinally.
The Black Market
“If the government’s mandate is to protect children and stamp out the black market, this is the single biggest gift that the government could give the black market. To allow for certain forms of cannabis, and not all,” said Josh Campbell, president of Dosist, a California-based company that manufactures vaporizing products in Vancouver.
Campbell says the black market will move away from selling the cannabis flower, and begin creating oil, which has much higher value and concentration. Because concentrates are unregulated, the black market will have an opportunity to make money off of them.
According to a government spokeswoman, the politicians in Ottawa are well aware that cannabis vape pens are widely available on the black market, pointing to Health Canada’s 2017 Canadian Cannabis Survey. Twenty percent of survey respondents reported having used a cannabis vape pen in the past 12 months.
“The regulations for cannabis concentrates, including vaping products, will help to enable the availability of a greater range of quality-controlled product forms,” the spokeswoman further wrote.
Where Can You Vape in Canada?
Right now, the legal vaping of cannabis in Canada is dictated by The Smoke-Free Ontario Act of 2017, which includes the rules regarding the smoking and vaping of medical cannabis specifically.
But the Ministry of the Attorney General is considering regulations under the Cannabis Act of 2017 that would:
- Prescribe restrictions on where medical cannabis can be used in a form that is not smoked or vaped
- Clarify the places of use rules for recreational cannabis
- Provide exemptions to permit the consumption of cannabis in hotel, motel and inn rooms, vehicles and boats that are used as residences, and in private residences that are also workplaces
- Staying consistent with the approach under the Smoke-Free Ontario Act of 2017, and regulations proposed under that Act, the smoking or vaping of recreational cannabis would only be permitted in facilities under the same conditions in which tobacco smoking, the use of e-cigarettes and the smoking or vaping medical cannabis is permitted.
This essentially means that recreational vaping of cannabis concentrates is not legal yet. However, recreational vaping of dry herb is legal. And when cannabis concentrate vaporizers are legal in Canada, it will be treated with the same regulations as e-cigarettes and medical marijuana vaping.
Can You Still Buy Vape Products in Canada?
Buying cannabis concentrates is still legal for medical cannabis patients. There is no change to their status or ability to purchase or consume cannabis concentrates. Online purchases of medical vaping products can be made by companies like CanniMed by Aurora.
Of course, online, the sale of non-medical vape pens didn't stop on October 17th, and there are dozens of companies that offer discreet weed vape pens for sale.
But remember, those purchasing concentrates for recreational use will be taking a risk. And as Josh Campbell says, "Consumers will have no assurance of what is in the products until they are regulated."