By Chelsea Cox

Recreational cannabis became legal in October of 2018 in Nova Scotia and across Canada. With its newfound legality, a host of new rules and regulations also came into effect. These rules cover a broad range of things; from how much cannabis you can carry with you at a time to penalties around drug (and alcohol) impaired driving. In Canada, we operate under a federated system, meaning that the Federal government is in charge of some things, while other decisions are left to each individual Province. This can lead to a diversity of Provincial rules which can be seen in our alcohol regulations, where in Alberta you can buy beer from the cornerstore, but in Nova Scotia you have to go to the Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC). 

This diversity carries over into cannabis, with the cannabis market in Halifax and Nova Scotia as a whole differing from what you would find in Montreal or Vancouver. Some differences in our access to recreational cannabis stems from Provincial decisions (that is, the Nova Scotia government), and others have to do with Municipal decision-making (Halifax region by-law for example). Everyone has a different role in the regulation of cannabis.  The different roles are summarized in Figure 1, below. 

Cannabis regulation touches a lot of different parts of everyday life and has rules around what’s allowed and what isn’t.  The rules are made at the Federal, Provincial, and Municipal level. This short post highlights the different sets of rules, says who is in charge of what, and leaves you with a better understanding of the complexities of cannabis legislation and regulation in Canada. 

Figure 1.  Summary of roles and responsibilities




  • Selecting type of distribution model
  • Licensing the distribution & retail sale 
  • “Issues of local concern” (ex. age limits, # plants)
  • Workplace safety  
  • Offences for youth possession 
  • Home cultivation
  • Personal possession



The push for cannabis legalization originated from the Federal government. Justin Trudeau made it a part of his campaign platform when he ran for Prime Minister in 2015 and followed through on his campaign promise to legalize and regulate cannabis. The Federal government had the job of creating the Cannabis Actwhich is a Federal law that gives us our rules that are the same across the country. 

These are summarized in Figure 1. The Cannabis Act creates a baseline of restrictions that the Provinces can then adjust as needed. For example, the Cannabis Act sets the minimum age of consumption at 18, but Provinces are free to rise it as they see fit. Most provinces have, including Nova Scotia, which raised the minimum consumption age to 19. 

Health Canada (a Federal Department) is the general overseer of cannabis policy in Canada and ensures quality control, seed-to-sale tracking, giving out licenses for growing and production, and maintaining the medical market. 

Finally, the Federal government restricts the types of products that can be sold. Edibles are currently excluded from sale across Canada but that is set to change in October 2019. This change, and the details of what will be allowed to be sold will come from the Federal government, which will provide a level of consistency across the country. 

A good thing about the Federal nature of the Cannabis Act is that you can travel domestically (within Canada) with your cannabis. So if you are getting on a plane from Halifax to Toronto and have cannabis with you at the airport – that’s okay. As long as you follow the rules of the place you are and place you’re going (and don’t connect in the United States or go to another international destination!). 


The Provinces were given the opportunity through the Cannabis Act to set up more context-specific and regional rules that make sense for their demographics and populations. What makes sense in Calgary may not make sense in Yarmouth. The Provincial responsibilities are captured in Figure 1. 

One thing to note is the type of market model that the Provinces could pick. Alberta selected a private model, meaning cannabis can be purchased through private businesses. The other is the opposite of this, and is the model that Nova Scotia has in place. Nova Scotia has a monopoly model run by a government Crown corporation - the NSLC. This mirrors the way we regulate alcohol. The middle ground to this a hybrid model where you have a mix of government and private, which is the route that British Colombia has taken. 

Finally, as highlighted before, Provinces can set the age limit for consumption higher than the minimum of 18 set by the Federal government. They can also decide how many plants per household can be grown. In Nova Scotia that number is 4 per single dwelling home. 


Each municipality is empowered to make rules that are directly linked to their jurisdictions. These types of things include where cannabis can be sold physically, zoning regulations (i.e. each cannabis point of sale must be x amount of meters away from a school), and where you can consume. There is overlap between the Provincial and Municipal responsibilities as many municipalities follow the rules within the Provincial regulations, rather than creating their own. Check with your own municipality to see whether they have created their own by-law about cannabis use or are just following Provincial regulations.

This article was written by Chelsea Cox, a third year law student at Dalhousie’s Schulich School of Law doing her Public Law Placement with Legal Info Nova Scotia, winter 2019.