Canada just made history by becoming the first G7 country to legalize the sale, possession and use of recreational cannabis. After tinkering with the Cannabis Act for weeks, the Senate passed the final revision earlier this evening by a vote of 52-29.
The bill now moves on to Governor General Julie Payette to receive royal assent - the final and mostly ceremonial step in every legislative process in Canada.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - who campaigned to legalize cannabis across the country during the 2015 federal election - praised the decision on Twitter, saying legalization would succeed where prohibition had failed time and time again. Although Canada's cannabis laws were designed to deter criminals from selling marijuana illegally and to keep it away from kids, prohibition never achieved the government's goals of suppressing the black market and stopping minors from smoking marijuana.
Trudeau believes that legalization will succeed where prohibition has failed.
It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana - and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate. #PromiseKept— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) June 20, 2018
The passing of the bill is a major win for cannabis advocates across the country. But they can't enjoy a celebratory joint just yet. After receiving royal assent, the implementation of the bill will be delayed for 8 to 12 weeks as provinces prepare for the new law. But after enduring almost a century of prohibition, cannabis connoisseurs can certainly hold their breath for a couple more months for their first puff of legal cannabis.
A surprising end
The Senate passed the latest version of the Cannabis Act within 24 hours of the House of Commons sending it back for approval. A surprisingly fast turnaround considering that the Senate had dragged its feet on the bill for months, insisting on taking its time to review the document carefully and adding dozens of amendments to satisfy concerns over public health and safety.
One of the most contentious issues was home growing. Under the original version of the Cannabis Act, Canadians across the country would be allowed to grow a small number of plants at home. Senators initially wanted to ban home cultivation completely, but they eventually decided to soften their position and instead give individual provinces the right to prohibit home grows if they chose. (A restriction that Manitoba and Quebec were already trying to put into law.)
But when the bill was sent back to the House last week, the government quickly nixed that amendment, saying it "respectfully disagrees" with the Senate's opposition to home cultivation.
"Our decision is based on expert studies and other jurisdictions that have put in place similar legislation. Canadians are allowed to make beer at home, or wine… It is already possible for Canadians to grow cannabis for medical purposes and we absolutely believe that the legislation should be consistent when it comes to recreational cannabis," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said last week.
With the House of Commons scheduled to rise for the summer this Friday, the stage looked set for a week of frenetic deal-making and heated exchanges as the government tried to get the Cannabis Act passed in time to meet the goal of rolling out legalization this fall. But instead of getting into a flurry of tense exchanges with the Senate, the House submitted the latest draft of the bill yesterday - which included home growing - and the Senate surprised critics by passing it.
Now the challenge falls to the provinces to implement the new cannabis laws effectively and efficiently so that the new regime doesn't stumble out of the gate when retail stores open in September.