Canada’s Senate Advances Legalized Cannabis Bill

Thursday was a tense day for those invested in the Liberal government’s plan to legalize cannabis, as there was much uncertainty over whether Bill C-45 would pass its second reading in the Senate or face being dismantled.

There was concern over the amount of Senate support the Liberals would be able to collect in the face of Conservative opposition, whose aim has been to kill the bill. CBC News even went as far as labeling Thursday mornings vote as a ‘live-or-die’ decision, where the future of legal cannabis in Canada hung in the balance.

Ultimately, the margins of the vote were rather slim, 44-29 in favour of the bill passing. Every Conservative Senator voted in opposition, while almost all Independent Senators chose to side with the Trudeau government.

Prior to the vote, some Canadians seemed to expect that Bill C-45’s passing in the Senate was a done deal, but in reality, it was anything but.

Many in the Liberal government were worried about a negative result because two Senate committees who support the bill were not available to participate in the vote. Even though only 33 of the 105 seats in the Senate are held by Conservative Party senators, Liberals feared their numbers might be too slim to win the vote.  Luckily, many Independent Senators were able to fly back just in time to appear in support of Bill C-45.

A negative result would have been disastrous for legalization and forced the Liberal government to start over with new legislation in the House of Commons. At the very least, this would have jeopardized the government’s plan to legalize marijuana sometime this summer.

The bill passed and is now on its way to five separate committees for further review.

“I think it’s an important statement by the majority that this bill must advance,” Peter Harder, the government’s representative in the Senate, told reporters after the vote.

“I’m happy that we have the decision I think Canadians expect of us. We’re here to do work, examine the legislation, hear from experts, provide our advice and judgment,” said Independent Ontario Senator Tony Dean.

Conservative senators are expected to tear into the bill as they attempt to introduce significant amendments during the process of examination by the various committees. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged all senators to act responsibly and pass bill C-45, citing the need for federal regulation of the $7 billion illegal cannabis industry.

“[The current legislation] does not protect our young people, and it sends billions per year to organized crime and street gangs. We need a new system,” Trudeau said. “That’s why we are pushing forward with legalization and control of marijuana, and I’m confident that all Canadians, including the senators, will understand that.”

Conservative senators are not buying Trudeau’s rhetoric though, citing that they are worried marijuana legalization could endanger the youth of this country, complicate the policing system, create massive backlogs in the courts and increase the smoking rate. They are also skeptical of whether legalization will do much of anything in the way of deterring organized crime.

“This government has decided to steamroll ahead, refusing to listen to the recommendations of medical experts, law enforcement experts, and even other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana,” said Senate Conservative Leader Larry Smith.

Regardless, the bill has now moved forward to the committee review stage, which is the next stop on the road to legalization. That portion will end in a final vote, which is scheduled to take place no later than June 7, 2018.  

For now, the progress is positive and Justin Trudeau has said he is expecting full cannabis legalization by the summer of 2018.