Canadians will be able to legally purchase and consume recreational marijuana by mid-September at the latest after the Senate voted Tuesday to lift almost a century-old prohibition on cannabis.
Senators voted Tuesday night to pass the government’s legislation to legalize cannabis — Bill C-45 — by 52-29. There were two abstentions.
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has said the provinces will need two to three months after the bill is passed before they’ll be ready to implement the new legalized cannabis regime.
“We have seen in the Senate tonight a historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition of cannabis in this country, 90 years of needless criminalization, 90 years of a just-say-no approach to drugs that hasn’t worked,” said independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the upper house.
Canada is the first industrialized country to legalize cannabis nationwide.
“I’m proud of Canada today. This is progressive social policy,” Dean said.
However, Dean and other senators stressed that the government is taking a cautious, prudent approach to this historic change. Cannabis will be strictly regulated, with the objective of keeping it out of the hands of young people and displacing the thriving black market in cannabis controlled by organized crime.
“What the government’s approach has been is, yes, legalization but also strict control,” said Sen. Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate.
“That does not in any way suggest that it’s now party time.”
Conservative senators remained resolutely opposed to legalization, however, and predicted passage of C-45 will not meet the government’s objectives.
“The impact is we’re going to have all those involved in illegal marijuana peddling right now becoming large corporations and making a lot of money and they’re going to be doing it at the expense of vulnerable people in this country,” said Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, predicting young people will have more — not less — access.
“When you normalize the use of marijuana and you’re a young person and you had certain reservations because of the smple fact that it was illegal, there’s, I believe, a propensity to have somebody be more inclined to use it.”
Earlier, Senators backed down on an amendment to the bill that would have recognized the authority of provincial governments to ban home cultivation of marijuana plants if they choose.
The Trudeau government rejected that amendment and senators then voted 45-35 against insisting on it.
The government rejected 12 other amendments approved by the Senate. Among the other Senate amendments rejected by the government was one that would have prohibited any marijuana-branded swag, such as T-shirts and ball caps.
But senators felt most strongly about the home cultivation one.
With senators bowing to the will of the elected House of Commons on that issue, that cleared the way for them to finally pass Bill C-45.
Quebec and Manitoba have already decided to ban home-grown weed, despite the fact that the federal bill specifies that individuals may grow up to four plants per dwelling.
The Senate’s amendment was intended to avoid legal challenges of the provinces’ constitutional authority to prohibit home cultivation.
On Monday, Sen. Peter Harder, the Liberal government’s representative in the upper house, argued that senators had done all they could to study the bill thoroughly and recommend improvements. He said it wa time to respect the decision of MPs, who would be accountable to their constituents in next year’s election.
“With cannabis legislation, Canadians are ready for us to move forward,” Harder told the Senate, predicting that “there may come a day, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, when we remember prohibition as absurd.”
That does not in any way suggest that it’s now party time
Harder argued that the approach the upper house took to the bill would be studied by students of history as a shining example of how the so-called chamber of sober second thought was supposed to operate.
In particular, he applauded Indigenous senators for raising concerns about the lack of consultation with Aboriginal communities. That forced the government to make a written commitment to more consultation and increased funding to help communities deal with the potential negative fallout from legalization and cash in on the potential economic windfall.
Harder said their role “demonstrated once again that the Senate has come into its own as an effective, influential and, indeed, indispensable platform in Parliament for the voices of Indigenous Peoples.”
Five different Senate committees minutely examined various aspects of the legalization bill, hearing from more than 200 witnesses.
The eyes of the world are turning to Canada to see how it handles legal pot.
“Canada is moving into a place that no country — other than Uruguay — has ventured to go,” Eric Costen, director general for the federal government’s cannabis legalization and regulation branch, told a conference last month.
Only Uruguay has made recreational marijuana legal at the federal level.
He said the federal government received valuable advice from Colorado and other U.S. states that have legalized recreational marijuana.
In Britain a major debate has sprung up about medical marijuana over the confiscation of medicinal cannabis oil, banned in the U.K., to treat a 12-year-old boy with severe epilepsy.
Former Conservative leader William Hague angered the prime minister’s office by writing in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that her government should legalize cannabis and create a regulated market for its sale. Currently the penalty for possession of the drug is five years in jail and for supplying it 14 years.
The ready availability of illegal cannabis on Britain’s streets showed that any war on the drug had been “comprehensively and irreversibly lost,” he wrote.
- News2018.10.18Federal government will make it easier to get pardon for minor marijuana convictions
- News2018.10.18Best of the Post’s cannabis coverage: Everything you need to make sense of legalization
- News2018.10.18Historic midnight legal cannabis purchases usher in new era for Canada
- News2018.10.17Chris Selley: Marijuana legalization is here to stay, even conservative opponents admit