Cannabis could be legal this summer after all, after Senate agrees on timeline to pass bill

OTTAWA — The Liberals could meet their summer deadline to legalize marijuana after all, after Senate leaders agreed Thursday on a timeline to get federal legislation passed.

According to a plan approved by all groups in the Senate, including the Conservatives, senators would reach a final vote on the bill by June 7.

“This should give stakeholders, governments, businesses, law enforcement agencies and other Canadians a timeline for how and when the bill will be ultimately dealt with,” Sen. Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, said in a statement.

Second reading debate, currently underway, would wrap up by March 22 under the agreement. Then five Senate committees would study Bill C-45 and report back to the chamber before a final round of debate.

Earlier this week, Harder had expressed concerns that “partisan politics” could prompt Conservatives to unduly delay the bill. He suggested that if no agreement could be reached, he could propose time allocation, placing limits on debate over the legislation.

The agreement marks a compromise. Harder had originally sought a deadline of March 1 for second reading and proposed that three committees — on legal affairs, aboriginal peoples and social affairs — would study the framework for legal weed.

Upon consultation with his counterparts with the Conservatives, the Liberals (who do not sit in a caucus with government MPs) and the Independents, two more committees, on national security and foreign affairs, have been added to that list, and three additional weeks of second-reading debate have been allotted.

In a statement Thursday, the Conservative Senate leader, Sen. Larry Smith, said the extra time “will allow the Senate to have a thorough evaluation” of legislation.

Parliament’s calendar runs until late June. A vote by June 7 could, in theory, allow time for any back-and-forth between the houses if the Senate decides to exert its sober second thought with amendments to the bill.

Government ministers have said that actual implementation of a legal weed regime could begin six to eight weeks after the bill reaches royal assent.

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