Selling and Taxing Marijuana: Plans From Ottawa and the Provinces

A marijuana plant at the AmeriCanna Edibles facility

Selling and Taxing Marijuana: Plans From Ottawa and the Provinces


UPDATED March 19, 2018 4:29pmET

This afternoon, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and parliamentary secretary Bill Blair released the outcome of Health Canada consultations on cannabis regulation.

Here’s more from February on the federal and provincial outlook for taxing and regulating legalized cannabis once Bill C-45 becomes law:

Excise Tax Sharing

Finance Minister Bill Morneau and his provincial and territorial counterparts announced an agreement in December on excise tax sharing.

The federal government will keep 25% of revenue, up to an annual limit of $100 million. The rest goes to the provinces and territories.

Ottawa originally proposed a 50/50 revenue split with the provinces, who argue they will bear more responsibility in implementing the legalization of cannabis — from health care to policing — beginning next year when Bill C-45 is expected to take effect.

Here’s more on the tax breakdown:

Watch the finance ministers’ full Dec. 11 news conference:

The federal government confirmed its plan for an excise tax on legalized cannabis in November: $1 per gram up to $10, with a 10% rate on prices above $10.

That’s in addition to existing sales tax.

The excise tax, paid by manufacturers, would apply to all legally available cannabis products. That includes flowers, seeds, and seedlings for use by home growers. It also includes the sale of cannabis for medical use, which the NDP opposes as “misconceived, unfair to patients, and damaging to public health.”

Bill C-45 makes Ottawa responsible for duty collection and the licensing of cannabis cultivation and manufacturing. The provinces and territories oversee distribution and the retail market, according to Finance Canada.

Consumers would be responsible for paying GST and HST. Retail products would require a federal excise stamp, similar to what you see on a pack of cigarettes.

So according to Ottawa, one gram of dried cannabis with a price of $8 would see a $1 excise duty, followed by the application of sales tax, for a final retail price of $10.17:

Dried Cannabis: one gram pre-duty price  $8.00
Excise Duty  $1.00
Subtotal  $9.00
GST/HST (13%)  $1.17
Total  $10.17

Seeds or seedlings would be taxed on a dollar-per-seed basis. And “a lower rate per gram will be applied for trim in relation to flower.”

Residents of a province or territory without a retail system in place by the time of legalization would be able to buy online from a federal license holder.

Cannabis imports or exports would be banned, except for government-authorized medical or scientific use.

Cultivation, Distribution, Possession and Sales

Read Health Canada’s proposed regulations for cannabis cultivation and distribution

Here’s what Trudeau told journalists in October after raising the issue with premiers:

And the response from Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil:

In November, the Newfoundland and Labrador government stated it “does not believe the Federal Government’s proposal of a 50/50 split on taxation revenue is sufficient and will continue to dialogue and insist on a fairer distribution of taxation revenues aligned with the actual cost burdens.”

Statistics Canada estimates 4.9 million Canadians (aged 15 and older) spent between $5.0 and $6.2 billion on cannabis in 2015, with consumption pegged at 697.5 tonnes and a price range between $7.14 and $8.84 per gram.

The parliamentary budget officer concluded last year that:

On revenue:

  • “the government may have little fiscal space to apply tax without pushing the price of legal cannabis significantly above the illegal market price.”
  • “At the outset of legalization, fiscal revenues from regular retail sales taxes (HST/GST/PST) are expected to be modest – in the hundreds of millions of dollars, rather than the billions of dollars. About 60 per cent of sales tax revenues will accrue to provincial governments, and the remaining 40 per cent to the federal government.”
  • As the legal cannabis market matures, the potential for government to capture fiscal revenues will grow. Production costs for the legal industry are expected to decline, creating space for government to collect a portion of the cost savings without increasing the legal retail price. Further, a potential consumer shift to more value-added cannabis products could create a larger tax base. Finally, as the legal market becomes more entrenched, more Canadians may opt into the legal market, resulting in higher revenues.

On the market:

  • “When the average legal price is less than or equal to the average illicit price, almost all consumption (98 per cent) is projected to shift to the legal market in 2018. However, as the legal price increases above that of the illicit price, the market share of legal cannabis progressively decreases. One, two and three dollar legal price premia are associated with declining estimated legal market shares of about 65, 56, and 42 per cent respectively.”
  • “The impact of price on consumption may be even more pronounced among young users. They are likely to be more sensitive to higher prices than the user population as whole, Therefore, higher prices may cause a disproportionately larger decrease in youth consumption compared with the rest of the user population.”

On an excise tax:

  • “If government also applies excise tax to cannabis, and the federal/provincial revenue sharing is similar to that for tobacco, then the provinces will collect most of the revenues. In 2016, PBO estimates approximately two thirds of tobacco excise tax revenue goes to provincial governments; the remaining third is collected by the federal government.”

Here’s what provincial governments are offering in terms of cannabis distribution, possession, and sales:


Bill 26, introduced on Nov. 16, would make the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) responsible for distribution and oversight.

There would be a combination of government online sales and AGLC licensing of privately-owned and operated cannabis stores.


The BC Liquor Distribution Branch will be responsible for distribution, with a planned mix of private and public retailers.

The legal age for possession, purchase, and consumption would be 19.


Private retail sales would be permitted in cannabis-only stores, but distribution and licensing would remain under the provincial government’s auspices (Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries Corporation and the Liquor and Gaming Authority).


The newly-formed Cannabis Management Corporation would oversee sales. NB Liquor would operate online sales and stand-alone retail operations through a subsidiary: up to 20 locations in 15 communities.


The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corporation (NLC) would oversee the cannabis market, with sales through licensed private retailers. (The NLC would initially be responsible for online sales).

The legal age for possession and purchase would be 19. Recreational use would be restricted to private residences.


A Dec. 7 statement proposed a legal age of 19, with cannabis sales online and through existing Nova Scotia Liquor Corporation (NSLC) retail locations.


Under November’s Bill 174, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) would oversee a subsidiary with sole responsibility for both distribution and sales (the Ontario Cannabis Retail Corporation), through online transactions and cannabis-only retail stores. (40 in 14 cities by July 2018, 80 by July 2019, and 150 by 2020.)

Medical and recreational cannabis would be regulated separately.

The proposed penalties for unlicensed cannabis sales: a fine up to $250,000 for businesses, and up to two years in jail and a $100,000 fine for individuals.


The government has proposed a legal age of 19, similar to alcohol and tobacco.

Sales would be limited to government-operated retail stores and e-commerce, via the PEI Liquor Control Commission.

Usage would be restricted to private residences.


Bill 157, introduced in November, would create the Société québécoise du cannabis (SQC) as a monopoly for buying and selling marijuana, with sales outlets and an online portal.

Fifteen stores would open by July 1, 2018, with the number rising to 150 over the subsequent two years. The SQC would be a subsidiary of the SAQ, Quebec’s Crown corporation responsible for alcohol sales.

The bill would also institute a ban on growing plants at home for personal consumption.


The Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA) plans to oversee up to 60 private retail stores in municipalities and First Nation communities with a population above 2,500. Those same permits would allow for online sales.

What taxes have American states implemented for marijuana sales?


A 15% sales tax for retail marijuana sales – though medical customers only pay the state’s regular 2.9% sales tax. Colorado also has a 15% excise tax for transactions between growers and retailers.


Consumers pay sales tax plus a 37% excise tax. Certain medicinal sales are exempt from tax.


Consumers pay a 15% excise tax, while growers pay a per-ounce cultivation tax. Certain medicinal sales are exempt from tax.


Consumers pay a 17% state tax. Municipalities can add an additional 3% tax if voters approve.


A per-ounce excise tax on marijuana transferred from a grower to retailers or a manufacturing facility.


Consumers pay sales tax and a 10% excise tax. Medical users are exempt from the latter. There’s also a 15% excise tax for wholesalers.

-Andrew Thomson