O Canada! One step ahead you land.
After more than a year of anticipation and months of debate, the “yays” have it.
With a hearty voice vote on Thursday night, the Senate of Canada passed the Cannabis Act. If approved by the House of Commons and signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming days, the historic legislation will make Canada just the world’s second nation to legalize cannabis for all adult use.
If C-45 sails through the House without further impediment–certainly possible, though not a given–Canada would become the world’s second nation to legalize for adult use behind only Uruguay, whose new laws went into effect in 2014. At worst, it seems, the House could choose to amend C-45, which would require another Senate vote.
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In any case, Trudeau is expected to sign the legislation, which would start a countdown clock on legal sales in Canada, expected to be three months or more after passage.
A moment months and years in the making.
Canada breaking ahead of the G7 pack on cannabis should come as little surprise.
Our neighbors to the north legitimized same-sex marriage in 2005, a full decade before the United States, and have had universal, single-payer healthcare of some kind since the 1960s. Canada had been eyeing a 2018 date for its own legal-cannabis legislation, and lawmakers began laying tracks more than a year ago.
Cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the United States federal government, but with Canada speeding toward legalization and nine states, including California, already operating licensed adult sales, the pressure on that status quo is as enormous as ever.
Even C-45 opponents were pretty cool with it.
When the bill came to the Parliament floor in Ottawa on Thursday, Sen. Larry W. Smith, leader of Conservative opposition in the Senate, expressed his party’s biggest concern: that policy, health and social-impact issues need to be examined more thoroughly before moving forward. But he acknowledged that his party had no desire to be obstructionist on the matter of cannabis legalization–and congratulated the chamber on its months of work.
Senator Marc Gold, speaking on behalf of the supporting Liberal Party, thanked the opposition leadership for “constructive and professional” criticism along the way, but was exuberant in his expressions of confidence that the time is right, and that the homework has been done.
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“This is an issue that thoughtful, experienced, serious people have been wrestling with,” Gold said. “And properly so! For decades! We didn’t come to it cold. So when the bill was being produced, it was based upon decades and decades of thoughtfulness, consideration and experience.”
But doing something to resolve the vast inequality around prohibition was perhaps the strongest driver of the Cannabis Act, which Liberal Party Sen. Art Eggleton said outweighed any potential unseen challenges.
“This is a harm-reduction bill, not a harm-elimination bill,” he said. “Our current approach is broken. It needs to be fixed. What we have before us today is a step toward a better approach.”
After several hours of debate, C-45 was put to a voice vote just before 9 p.m. local time. The “yays” weren’t just loud—they sounded pumped.
“It is my opinion that the yays have it!” said Senate Speaker George Fury.
And they did, with a tally that would be officially recorded as 50-36.