Long since known for its brutal winters, a love for hockey and appreciation for all activities in which beer can be entered into the equation, Canada is now on the verge of bringing cannabis into the mix. The northern nation has become the second country on the planet — the first of the Group of Seven — to put a law on the books allowing adults all across the country to cultivate, possess and purchase marijuana for recreational use. It is a historic move in the realm of international cannabis reform, one that could eventually force the United States government to give consideration to a shift in its drug laws.
On Tuesday the Canadian Senate put it’s seal of approval on the final draft of the Cannabis Act (C-45), which brought an end to decades of cannabis prohibition in the Great White North. The measure was approved in the House of Commons last year, but it caught some snags in the Senate. The concept of bringing pot out of the underground was a bit hard for some Conservatives to swallow, so they dragged their feet for as long as possible. The upper chamber finally came to terms a few weeks ago on how the law should shake out, making around 40 amendments to the proposal before sending it back to the House for concurrence. Some of those changes were accepted without issue, while 13 of them were discarded before being sent back to Senate for a final vote. By a margin of 52-to-29, the Cannabis Act was passed into law.
“I’m feeling just great,” Senator Tony Dean, who brought the Cannabis Act to the Senate, told CBC News. “We’ve just witnessed a historic vote for Canada. The end of 90 years of prohibition. Transformative social policy, I think. A brave move on the part of the government.”
“Now we can start to tackle some of the harms of cannabis,” he added. “We can start to be proactive in public education. We’ll see the end of criminalization and we can start addressing Canada’s $7-billion illegal market. These are good things for Canada.”
Canada has been waiting for this mega-reform to its drug laws for more than a year. The push to take weed off the black market was based on a campaign promise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and toss a wrench into the gears of criminal organizations. Trudeau never once wavered from his mission to make cannabis a legitimate part of the country’s nation commerce, even though he swore throughout the entre affair that financial gain was not a factor.
“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 on Tuesday following the Senate vote.
Although the Canadian government previous said that recreational marijuana sales would begin on July 1 (Canada Day), some of the hiccups in getting the measure over through the Senate have brought about some setbacks. Provinces and territories have said they need up to 12 weeks to hash out their respective regulatory issues. The federal government has its version of the law, but the language of C-45 gives local jurisdictions the freedom to make up their own rules with respect to certain aspects, like legal age. But Bill Blair, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice, told CTV News earlier this week that “We’re probably looking at a date of implementation somewhere towards the beginning of September, perhaps mid-September.”
The foundation of Canada’s new recreational marijuana law makes it legal for adults 18 and older to possess up to 30 grams of weed in public and grow up to four plants at home for personal use. But the cannabis scene will likely fluctuate to some degree, as each province has been given the right to establish its own rules with respect to regulations. So, while the federal government has deemed it acceptable for 18-year-olds to purchase cannabis, some jurisdictions will bump the legal age up to 19.
There was some concern that the law would end up giving provinces the right to ban home cultivation, as well, but that amendment was one of those dropped by the House of Commons.
Just because marijuana is now legal throughout the northern nation doesn’t mean the federal government will have leniency when it comes to those who violate the terms of the law. There are stiff fines and even jail time to be had for anyone who is caught with more than the 30-gram limit or more than the four plants allowed per household. Driving under the influence of marijuana is still considered a serious offense, even though it is not immediately clear how law enforcement will be directed to police the issue. As of now, there is no accurate detection device to gauge cannabis impairment.
The laws pertaining to marijuana and minors are no joke either. Anyone caught selling weed to underage kids could be sentenced to up to 14 years in prison.
The Cannabis Act still requires Royal Assent before becoming law. But this final phase of the legislative process is expected to happen at some point later this week. From there, the country will ready itself for the coming of what some analysts predict will become a $22 billion cannabis industry by the time it is up and running at full capacity.
It remains to be seen whether Canada’s decision to end marijuana prohibition nationwide will inspire the U.S government to take similar action. In the end, it may have no choice.
Although Congress has been apprehensive to so much as consider cannabis reform in the past, conflicting pot laws between the two nations could spawn an uprising in across border drug trafficking. This could be especially taxing on law enforcement resources.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in Buffalo, New York recently told ABC-affiliate WKBW it “will continue to be on the lookout for” people bringing marijuana from Canada into the U.S.
“A concern will be,” border agent Aaron Bowker explained, “will there be some people who go up there to recreationally use it and might possibly leave a small amount in their car to bring back? Absolutely.”
There are presently several pieces of legislation lingering in the halls of Congress designed to end marijuana prohibition in the U.S. The one that has the most traction, since President Donald Trump said he would “probably” sign it is it landed on his desk, is one in the U.S. Senate called the STATES Act. But the bill really only serves to give states the freedom to legalization marijuana without federal interference. It would not eliminate cannabis from the DEA’s Controlled Substances Act. Still, none of the measures on Capitol Hill seeking to legalize marijuana nationwide have been scheduled for a hearing.
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