Possession of Marijuana (No. 201)
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Paul Briggs, Paul Briggs Law in October 2018.|
It is legal in British Columbia for adults to possess marijuana (up to certain quantities). There are restrictions on where you can use it and how you can buy it.
- 1 Understand your legal rights
- 1.1 It is legal to possess marijuana (up to certain quantities)
- 1.2 Using marijuana in public
- 1.3 Using marijuana in a vehicle
- 1.4 Using marijuana for medical purposes
- 1.5 Buying marijuana
- 1.6 If you possess more than the legal limit
- 1.7 If you are charged with possession over the legal limit
- 1.8 If you are convicted of possession over the legal limit
- 2 Common questions
- 3 Get help
Understand your legal rights
It is legal to possess marijuana (up to certain quantities)
In October 2018, new marijuana laws came into effect. The combined effect of the federal Cannabis Act and the BC Cannabis Control and Licensing Act is that in British Columbia, it is legal for adults (age 19 or over) to carry up to 30 grams of cannabis in a public place.
Adults can possess up to 1,000 grams of cannabis in a non-public place, such as at their home. This limit is per household and is based on the expected yield from four cannabis plants. (Under the marijuana laws, adults can grow up to four cannabis plants per household.)
These maximum amounts apply only to dried cannabis. The amounts are different for cannabis in other forms, like fresh cannabis or cannabis oil. They’re also different for medical marijuana (as we explain shortly).
Using marijuana in public
Adults (age 19 or over) can generally smoke or vape cannabis in public spaces where tobacco smoking is allowed.
Under BC law, using cannabis is not allowed in the following public places:
- Playgrounds, sports fields, skate parks, swimming pools, or any deck, seating or viewing areas associated with these places.
- Public buildings, workplaces, or common areas of apartments or condos, and within six metres of doorways, windows and air intakes attached to these places.
- Within six metres of bus stops, transit shelters, train stations, ferry docks and similar places.
- Regional, provincial and municipal parks, except for designated areas.
- Public patios. (There are some liquor establishments in BC with a tobacco smoking area on their patio. Cannabis cannot be smoked or vaped there.)
Using cannabis is not allowed on school properties, as well as any adjacent sidewalks or boulevards.
Local governments can also put restrictions on the use of cannabis in public spaces.
Smoking or vaping cannabis is not allowed inside bars or restaurants in BC. This is because no one can smoke or vape cannabis in a substantially or fully enclosed workplace.
Using marijuana in a vehicle
Under BC law, you can’t use cannabis in a vehicle. That is so whether you are driving or a passenger. And you can’t operate a vehicle if another person is smoking or vaping cannabis in the vehicle.
There is an exception to this rule. You can use cannabis in a vehicle being used as a private residence and parked in an area where camping is allowed (a camper or trailer, for example).
Using marijuana for medical purposes
If you are authorized by a health care provider to use marijuana for medical purposes, you can possess higher quantities of marijuana in public places. You can legally have up to 150 grams of dried cannabis, or a 30-day supply, whichever is lower.
You need to:
- Have a medical document from a health care provider recommending cannabis to treat your symptoms (similar to a prescription).
- Register with Health Canada to produce cannabis for your own medical purposes, or register with a licensed producer who you buy your marijuana from.
Under BC law, there are exemptions for use of medical marijuana on school property, and on inter-city buses, trains and boats. You must meet specific requirements, such as carrying proof you can possess medical marijuana.
Cannabis is legally sold at licensed retailers and the BC government’s online store. Licensed retailers are required to display a valid licence where it is visible to the public.
All legal non-medical cannabis has an excise stamp attached to its packaging. Federally-licensed producers apply the excise tax stamp for British Columbia. Each province has a different coloured cannabis excise stamp for products sold in their jurisdiction. If the product does not have a British Columbia stamp it is not legal for sale in BC.
Cannabis edibles, extracts and topicals are not currently legal for sale in Canada. The federal government intends to legalize the sale of these cannabis products by October 2019. A draft set of rules were released as part of a public consultation.
If you possess more than the legal limit
Under BC law, it is illegal to possess more than 30 grams of dried cannabis in a public place. Breaking this law is not a criminal offence. Instead, it’s like breaking the Liquor Control and Licensing Act. The police can give you a ticket, which can result in a fine and possible jail time. But you don’t get a criminal record. For a first offence, the fine can be up to $5,000 and up to three months in jail.
(There is an exemption for medical marijuana. You can legally possess in a public place up to 150 grams of dried cannabis or a 30-day supply, whichever is lower. You must show proof you can possess medical marijuana.)
If you have more than 50 grams of dried cannabis in your possession, you can be charged under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. This is a criminal offence. It can result in a criminal record.
If you are charged with possession over the legal limit
In responding to a charge of possessing cannabis over the legal limit, you must decide how to plead. Pleading guilty means you accept responsibility for the offence. Pleading “not guilty” means the court will set a trial.
At the trial, the prosecutor (also called Crown counsel), must prove three things beyond a reasonable doubt: knowledge, consent and control. The prosecutor does this by proving that:
- you had control of the marijuana — for example, the police found it on you or in an area you controlled, such as your car, suitcase or bedroom, and
- you knew the marijuana was there, and
- you consented to having the marijuana in that place.
If the prosecutor proves all these things, the judge will convict you.
To prove these things, the prosecutor will have witnesses tell the court (testify) about the situation when they found the marijuana on you. You can question (cross-examine) each witness the prosecutor uses.
After the prosecutor finishes, you have the opportunity to tell the court what happened. To do this, you might testify (give evidence) yourself. You don’t have to. If you do, you take an oath promising to tell the truth. If you have any witnesses who saw what happened and can support your story, you can call them to testify. The prosecutor can cross-examine them.
You and the prosecutor then summarize your positions by making submissions to the court.
For more on the process, see our information on defending yourself against a criminal charge (no. 211).
If you are convicted of possession over the legal limit
Penalties for possession of marijuana over the legal limit depend on the amount of marijuana involved. The court typically gives fines for smaller quantities and up to five years in jail for larger quantities.
Penalties also depend on how the Crown proceeds in the case. Possession over the legal limit is a hybrid offence, meaning the prosecutor can treat it as a less serious (summary) offence or a more serious (indictable) offence. If the prosecutor treats it as an indictable offence, the penalties are higher: up to five years in jail.
If it is your first offence, you can ask the prosecutor to be considered for diversion. This program diverts you out of the court system to complete a probation period that may include community service work or counselling (for example). Or, if you go before a judge for sentencing, you can ask for a discharge. Like diversion, a discharge allows you to avoid getting a criminal record, which can prevent you from traveling to other countries, getting certain jobs, and applying for citizenship.
What is the legal limit for other forms of cannabis?
In the Cannabis Act, “cannabis” is defined as a cannabis plant or any substance that contains a cannabis plant. The legal limit of 30 grams is for dried cannabis. One (1) gram of dried cannabis is equal to:
- 5 grams of fresh cannabis
- 15 grams of edible product
- 70 grams of liquid product
- 0.25 grams of concentrates (solid or liquid)
- 1 cannabis plant seed
This means, for example, that an adult can legally possess 150 grams of fresh cannabis.
If I’m charged with possession over the legal limit, is the amount of marijuana important?
Yes — a small amount is less serious. The more you have, the greater the chance you may be charged with possession for the purpose of trafficking, a more serious offence with more serious penalties. The way the marijuana is packaged is also important.
Can I bring marijuana across the border?
No. It’s illegal to transport cannabis across the Canadian border. It doesn’t matter whether you’re leaving or entering Canada, or what the laws of your destination are. This prohibition applies even if you are authorized to use cannabis for medical purposes, and no matter how much cannabis you have with you.
What are the rules for young people?
If you are under age 19, it is not legal in BC to possess or use cannabis. (There is an exemption for medical marijuana, with proof you can possess medical marijuana.)
If you are under 19 and you possess more than five grams of cannabis, the police can give you a ticket. The penalty is a $200 fine. If you pay the fine in full, you won’t get a criminal record.
It is an offence to sell or supply cannabis to someone under age 19.
Finding a lawyer
The legal issues for possession of marijuana over the legal limit can be complex and a conviction can seriously harm you. You can call the Lawyer Referral Service to get the name of a lawyer. For $25 plus taxes, you can speak to the lawyer for 30 minutes about your case, to help decide whether you would want to hire them.
- Toll-free: 1-800-663-1919
- Web: cbabc.org
You can contact Legal Services Society to find out if you qualify for a free lawyer under legal aid. Telephone: 604-408-2172 in Greater Vancouver
- Toll-free: 1-866-577-2525
- Web: legalaid.bc.ca
If you can’t afford to hire a lawyer and you don’t qualify for legal aid, try to talk with a lawyer before deciding how to respond to any charge against you. On your first appearance in court or when you enter your plea, you can talk to duty counsel at the courthouse. These are lawyers who give free legal advice to people who have a case in the courthouse on that day.
- Web: legalaid.bc.ca
The BC government’s Get Cannabis Clarity website explains cannabis laws, including where you can buy, use or grow marijuana.
- Web: cannabis.gov.bc.ca
The federal government’s Cannabis in Canada website summarizes cannabis laws.
- Web: canada.ca/cannabis
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