Legal Cannabis and your Liquor Licence

On October 17, 2018, non-medical cannabis was legalized in Canada. In December, 2018, British Columbia’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch published an information guide to help liquor licensees understand how legalized cannabis may impact their businesses.  A copy of the guide can be found here.

The following topics covered in the publication are of particular interest to readers of Alcohol & Advocacy:

  • Licensees in British Columbia are not permitted to add CBD oil to alcoholic beverages or food. The Federal Cannabis Act prohibits the sale of any mixture of substances that contains cannabis and alcohol, and the British Columbia Cannabis Control and Licensing Act prohibits the sale or supply of non-medical cannabis outside of non-medical retail licensed stores.  Therefore, establishments with liquor licences cannot add cannabis to their food or beverages.
  • No smoking or vaping of medical or non-medical cannabis is allowed on the patios of food primary, liquor primary or manufacturer patios*. This prohibition is not a product of British Columbia’s liquor licencing regime, but rather is consistent with prevailing legislation in British Columbia that prevents smoking in substantially or fully enclosed work places (*there are some liquor establishments in British Columbia with a tobacco smoking area on their patio.  Cannabis cannot be smoked or vaped in those locations).
  • Licensees can have a house policy that prohibits cannabis smoking or vaping on its outdoor property (e.g. parking lot), but because smoking or vaping cannabis in a private place, or in an open public place that isn’t a patio, park or playground is not against the law, enforcing a house policy prohibiting smoking or vaping cannabis is the responsibility of the licensee.
  • A person 19 years of age or older can carry up to 30 grams of dried non-medical cannabis, or its equivalent, anywhere in a public place.  There is no provincial law against patrons bringing these products into a liquor establishment and in this way cannabis is no different from tobacco.  It is open to a licensee to establish a house policy with respect to possessing cannabis (e.g. can patrons roll joints on your tables?),  just as licensees are entitled to have house policies with respect to other legal activities.  Enforcing such a house policy is the responsibility of the licensee. Alcohol & Advocacy cautions licensees to obtain legal advice before implementing such a policy as it may have employment law or human rights implications.

Cannabis and Intoxication

Liquor licensees in British Columbia are responsible for ensuring that intoxicated patrons do not “enter or remain” in their service areas and that patrons do not “become intoxicated” while in their establishment.

If an individual in your establishment appears to be intoxicated you must refuse that person service, have the person removed, and ensure they depart safely. Licensees, as a term of their licence, are also required to write down all incidents of intoxicated patrons and the responsive actions taken in an “incident log”. That log book must be made available, upon request, to a liquor inspector or police officer.

Practically speaking the legalization of cannabis has changed little:

  • Individuals have always attended licensed establishments having previously consumed alcohol or other intoxicants elsewhere; and
  • Even before non-medical cannabis became legal in Canada, “intoxication” under the Liquor Control and Licensing Act always included intoxication from drugs and/or alcohol;

What has changed is that patrons may be more open about their use or possession of cannabis.

Licensees should review with their staff practices and procedures with respect to admitting individuals who have recently used cannabis (for instance they have the smell of cannabis on them) whether or not they are showing signs of intoxication. Bar staff regularly face this situation when patrons arrive with the smell of liquor already on their breath although they may not be showing signs of intoxication.  The existing law neither permits nor prohibits the liquor licensee from refusing entry under these circumstances.

Alcohol & Advocacy urges all licensees to work with their legal team with respect to a policy on this issue until further guidance becomes available from the Branch or the courts.

If you need assistance understanding or complying with British Columbia’s liquor laws, or your establishment has received a contravention notice, or a notice of enforcement action, contact Dan Coles at Owen Bird.

*Alcohol & Advocacy publishes articles for information purposes only. They are not a substitute for legal advice, and persons requiring such advice should consult legal counsel.

Dan Coles
Retired bartender. Young lawyer. From the East, living in the West. Interested in British Columbia's producers and purveyors of wine, beer and spirits.