The Canadian Cannabis Act’s Final Hurdle: A Contentious Senate

Canadian cannabis producers, investors, and advocates are celebrating the impending legalization of recreational marijuana—but don’t be too quick to uncork the champagne. For the Cannabis Act to become law, it must pass the Senate—and there’s a chance that might not happen in time to meet the July 1st deadline set by the federal government.

“There are too many unanswered questions, too many issues that have not been addressed, for us to rush into what is an historic change.”

Manitoba Premier Brian Palliste

At least one senator, André Pratte, has expressed the same concerns about Bill C-45 that have been voiced by other members of parliament, including the proposed age limit (18 years) being too low and police not yet being properly prepared to enforce the new law.

“It’s not a court that imposed that deadline [of July 2018]. It’s the government that set that deadline,” Pratte, who is not affiliated with any party, told the CBC. “We have to take it into account but we also have to do our job seriously and that’s what we’ll do.”

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Tony Dean, an independent senator who is sponsoring the bill in the upper chamber, said he is prepared to dig in his heels to ensure the bill is passed in time to meet the deadline set by Prime Minister Trudeau’s government.

“We have to take (the July 1 deadline) into account but we also have to do our job seriously.”

Senator André Pratte

In an interview with Leafly, Dean said the concerns that Pratte cited are not new and were carefully considered by the Cannabis Legalization Task Force before it submitted its recommendations to the Trudeau government last year.

Dean doesn’t agree that the legal age proposed by the task force and included in the bill is too low. “The reality is that the higher in age you go, the further away you get from the largest group of cannabis users in this country,” he said.

Dean said the bill should be passed as soon as possible because the black market is thriving, which puts many young Canadians at risk of health and legal problems.

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“The Prime Minister took steps to legalize cannabis because it’s a very serious problem in this country. We have to keep that in mind and I think a lot of people aren’t. This [bill] is about recognizing of harm of cannabis medically and criminally. [Prohibition] hasn’t worked and recreational cannabis is ubiquitous,” he said. “Legislators have looked the other way. Now someone has decided to tackle the problem.”

“The higher in age you go, the further you get from the largest group of cannabis users in this country.”

Senator Tony Dean, on setting minimum-age restrictions

Dean said he has been preparing for the bill’s arrival in the upper chamber for months. “My staff and I have been doing a lot of research on the various issues and I have shared that information with my fellow senators. To take that step before the arrival of the bill is unusual in the senate,” he said, adding that he would like the senate to set a calendar for the debate so the bill doesn’t languish in the upper chamber indefinitely.

His words are echoed by Colette Rivet, executive director of Cannabis Canada Association, which represents the majority of licensed producers of marijuana for medical purposes. “We think time is of the essence when it comes to legalization, especially if we want to remove the black market from the equation,” she told Leafly.

Senator Dean would like the senate to set a calendar for the debate so the bill doesn’t languish in the upper chamber indefinitely.

“In terms of age concerns, it’s a balancing act,” she added. “You have to consider health concerns and all the other issues experts have raised but you also have to take into consideration that young people are already consuming cannabis. They’re getting it on the black market. It would be better for them to consume cannabis that is clean and comes from reliable sources.”

But senator Pratte is not swayed by those arguments, at least not yet, and his reservations are shared by other lawmakers. One of the most vocal proponents of a delay, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, put it succinctly at a premiers meeting four months ago: “There are too many unanswered questions, too many issues that have not been addressed for us to rush into what is an historic change.”


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