Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had hoped to make cannabis legal by 1 July, but the government has said provincial and territorial governments will need eight to 12 weeks following Senate passage and royal assent to prepare for retail sales. Trudeau’s government is expected to decide a date that would legalise it in early or mid-September.
“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,” Trudeau tweeted.
Canada is following the lead of Uruguay in allowing a nationwide, legal marijuana market, although each Canadian province is working up its own rules for pot sales. The federal government and the provinces also still need to publish regulations that will govern the cannabis trade.
The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 52-29.
“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 criminalisation, 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 largest developed country to end a nationwide prohibition on marijuana use. In the neighbouring United States, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalised marijuana. California, home to one in eight Americans, launched the United States’ biggest legal marijuana marketplace in January.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould tweeted that it was a “historic milestone for progressive policy in Canada as we shift our approach to cannabis”
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor tweeted she was thrilled that the Senate approved the bill. “We’re on the cusp of a sensible, responsible and equitable cannabis policy,” she said.
The Canadian government largely followed the advice of a marijuana task force headed by former Liberal Health Minister Anne McLellan as well as the advice of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister.
The task force recommended adults be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of pot and grow up to four plants. It also said marijuana should not be sold in the same location as alcohol or tobacco.
The most controversial aspect of Canada’s move to legalise marijuana nationwide has been setting the minimum age for use at 18 or 19, depending on the province. That is lower than in US states that have embraced legalisation.
Advocates argued that putting the limit at 21 would encourage a black market and drive youths into the hands of criminals. But some health experts have worried that the lower age will encourage use of a substance that can have long-term consequences on still-maturing brains.
Conservative senators remained staunchly opposed to legalisation.
“We’re going to have all those involved in illegal marijuana peddling right now becoming large corporation,” Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos said. “When you normalise the use of marijuana and you’re a young person and you had certain reservations because of the simple fact that it was illegal, there’s, I believe, a propensity to have somebody be more inclined to use it.”