Recreational cannabis has overcome its final hurdle with the Cannabis Act recently passing in the senate. Within three months, it will be legal for Canadians to use cannabis for recreational purposes.
Senators passed the federal government’s bill with a vote of 53 to 29. The three-month lead time gives the police and industry time to prepare for the new laws.
Senator Tony Dean sponsored the bill in the Senate and said he was happy it had passed. He said this was a historic move for Canada that ends 90 years of cannabis prohibition. He told the CBC the government was making a brave move.
The purpose of the legislation is to address the negative issues of cannabis in a $7 billion illegal market.
Canada is only the second country in the world to legalise cannabis for recreational use and the first country in the G7. It first became illegal in 1923 but legalised it for medical use in 2001.
As of October 17, recreational cannabis will become legal in an attempt to stop profits flowing to organised crime. This means that people between the age of 18 and 19, depending on where in the country they live will have legal access marijuana. They can grow up to four plants at home and carry up to 30 grams of dried cannabis for personal use. People can also make cannabis edibles at home. Anyone caught with more than this or supplying people underage will face severe penalties.
Analysts estimate cannabis sales will reach up to between $5 billion and $7 billion a year. This will also give a significant boost to the country’s tax revenue. More than 200 retail outlets will sell cannabis in Alberta. And, the New Brunswick government will supply cannabis through its retail outlets called Cannabis NB.
Battle to pass recreational cannabis
There was a major battle over the Cannabis Act in the House of Commons and the Senate for months. The were 46 amendments proposed to the Act with the Liberal government throwing 13 of these out.
Some provinces wanted to ban their citizens from growing cannabis at home after it becomes legal. This is one of the amendments quashed by the government. But, this was not readily accepted by some in the senate. Some senators suggested it was the right of provinces to prohibit growing cannabis at home.
Former Senate Speaker Conservative Senator Leo Housaks said the bill aimed to reduce cannabis use among the country’s young people. He pointed out that, instead, allowing people to grow it at home normalised cannabis right from the start.
Growing cannabis at home in Canada
Growing cannabis at home is strongly criticised by some. But, one of the bill’s recommendations was to allow people to grow up to four plants for personal use.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he understood these concerns. The effects of the bill will be the subject of a study. He said they would assess the impact of this in three years to see if the bill needs amending.
Senators defeated a motion to have this amendment returned to the bill was by a vote of 45 to 35.
Amendments dropped from the bill
One amendment dropped was the creation of a pubic registry listing investors in cannabis companies. Conservative Senator Claude Carignan proposed the amendment. Its purpose was to stop criminals from investing in Canada’s recreational cannabis industry.
Another major amendment the senate quashed was a ban on branded merchandise. They wanted to ban things such as hats and t-shirts carrying logos of cannabis companies
Independent Senator Andre Pratte is angry at the government. He does not agree with the government forcing all provinces to allow home cultivation. He was also disappointed about dropping other amendments proposed by the senate. He believed these were reasonable solutions. He felt the government should have taken their amendments more seriously. He said the government wanted to remain an independent, modern Senate but this was not the way to do it.
A bid to end the counterculture
Trudeau said the current approach to cannabis has not worked to protect Canada’s young people. It has also done nothing to stop organised crime making billions from the cannabis market. He said the bill intended to completely replace the black market over coming years.
The government intended retail cannabis sales to start in July. Trudeau said the government listened to the states and provinces requests for more time to prepare to start selling it. He said the government want to get this right. Cannabis producers also need more time to prepare for a successful implementation of the new laws.
There are still unanswered questions. Things like how police will test drivers if suspected of being under the influence of cannabis. And, how the legislation will affect the 400,000 people a day crossing between the US and Canada. There are still no clear answers to these questions.
Pardons for pot prisoners
The government is also under pressure to pardon pot prisoners and those with previous cannabis convictions when the laws change. Currently this is not under consideration. National Democrat Party Member of Parliament Don Davies was critical of this. He wants to know if the government will consider an amnesty for anyone with simple cannabis convictions.
Trudeau recognises this as an issue. But said it did not make sense to consider this before the laws came into effect. Once the laws come into effect the government will address the fairness and what is responsible in the future.
While Canada has been less punitive than America, it has still penalised people for cannabis misdemeanours. This criminalises Canadians and makes life tough for those caught up in the current laws.
Health Canada has been supplying medical cannabis for several years. As of July 1, it opened a network of retail outlets to supply adults 21 and over. Also, Canadian businesses have openly been selling cannabis against the law. They have not faced penalties even though the police, media and lawmakers have full knowledge of these practices.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintain a national database so it should be easy to wipe out people’s records. All they need to do is to tell computer programmers to do it. But, it may not be as easy as that in reality. Cannabis offences are often classified in the same way as other drugs. Also, police do not always record what the drug actually is in people’s criminal records. This means that erasing cannabis possession records is not as easy as it seems. It will turn into a painstaking, manual process to go through each and every record to get it right.
Whatever the government decide to do, this issue is a bureaucratic one. Most believe this is also a key part of the new laws that needs addressing straight away.
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