Can I drive with cannabis in the car?

It’s a little over a year now since the legalization of cannabis here in Canada. Along with the decriminalization of recreational marijuana came a slew of regulations governing when and where you can possess and consume it, including cannabis in the car.

Here’s a guide to the main things you should know about what you can and cannot do when it comes to cannabis.

Infographic showing the cans and cannot of cannabis in the car

You will note that you cannot smoke inside a car, either as a passenger or driver (although I would hope the latter would be a no-brainer). This blog, however, will focus on a slightly different aspect of the law: having cannabis inside your vehicle. 

What does the law say about cannabis in the car?

Section 81 of the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act prohibits an adult from operating a vehicle if they have cannabis in their personal possession or if there is cannabis in the car. This applies whether or not the vehicle is in motion.

There are exceptions to the rule, however. Adults are permitted to drive with cannabis in their vehicles if it was produced by a federal producer and it is still in its unopened packaging. This is similar to the law against having an open liquor container in a vehicle here in BC. You can take the alcohol from the store to wherever you are going, but you cannot break the factory seal.

Another exception is if the cannabis is not readily accessible to the driver or any passengers in the vehicle. So it’s not a good idea to have it in your pocket or in the glove box because this may be considered ‘readily accessible’.

You are also allowed to have up to four cannabis plants in a vehicle, so long as they are not flowering or budding.

Private property defence

Since the cannabis laws are so new, there is very little case law that can guide us as to how the courts interpret the legislation. However, a case dealing with the offence of operating a motor vehicle while cannabis is inside recently came to light.

A conservation officer came across three people and a truck near a lake in BC. They were on a “cut block” off a forest service road. When the officer asked about the presence of cannabis, one of the people, Mr. Johb, indicated there was some in a Tupperware container on the back seat. This happened in October 2018, just three days after the effective legalization date of cannabis.

The officer issued Mr. Johb with a ticket for operating a vehicle while there was cannabis in the vehicle.

At court, the saving grace for the defendant was that the Court could not determine whether the officer issued the ticket on public or private land.

The judicial justice said that the aim of the legislation is to prevent people from driving under the influence of cannabis or being able to become under the influence, in places where there might be other members of the public.

The judicial justice added: “The comparison to alcohol restrictions is obvious to me. A person cannot legally be intoxicated in a public place, but may be intoxicated on private property.”

Since the Crown could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt the land was public, the Court dismissed the charge.


This case is interesting because it sets up a new defence if you have cannabis on private property. If you find yourself charged with operating a vehicle while there is cannabis inside, don’t panic. The Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt it was on a public highway. With the help of a good lawyer, you stand a chance of successfully challenging the charge.

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