Canada has moved a step closer to becoming the first G7 nation to federally legalize recreational cannabis.
The Senate passed the Cannabis Act tonight, with 56 senators voting in favour, 30 voting against and one abstaining.
It was an amended version of the landmark legislation, which means it now goes back to the House of Commons for final approval.
Bill C-45 endured a bumpy ride through the Red Chamber. Senators of various political stripes took aim at the legislation. They passed 45 amendments overall, including 12 that are substantive.
The amended version of Bill C-45 could have a bumpy ride in the lower house, too. Some legislators there feel the amendments are untenable—and they may not vote to support.
Among those is an amendment that would allow provinces to regulate home cultivation and even prohibit it altogether. (Quebec and Manitoba have both stated their wish to ban home cultivation.)
Another amendment would establish a public registry of cannabis industry investors and directors with the aim of keeping organized crime at bay. Supporters of the amendment want to prevent organized crime from using offshore tax havens to get involved with the recreational cannabis market. But critics argue that the amendment raises privacy concerns.
Senators also passed an amendment that would allow cannabis to be shared among parents of minors and teens that are more than two years apart in age. (Laws regarding alcohol are similar.)
Indigenous senators were the most some of the most vocal detractors of the bill. They said government officials had not adequately consulted with First Nations, Metis, and Inuit before introducing the legislation.
Indigenous leaders have been lobbying for excise tax powers and a public health campaign to educate their young people. They also want a one-year delay in implementing the bill.
Their opposition prompted Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas-Taylor to send a letter to them Wednesday morning, assuring them that the government would conduct more consultations if the bill was passed. After that, Indigenous senators did not push for further revisions.
The Trudeau government couldn’t afford to lose the support of Indigenous senators given the staunch opposition to the bill among Conservative senators.
The day before the vote, the Conservative leader in the senate, Larry Smith, slammed what he described as the Trudeau government’s “rush to legalize marijuana.” A few days earlier, Conservative Senator Denise Batters said Canada is not ready for legalization.
Tony Dean, an independent senator who sponsored Bill C-45 in the Senate, attributed much of the opposition to partisan politics.
“There has been political posturing since Day One. Conservatives on the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs are determined to reduce the scope of the bill or delay it,” he told Leafly early last month.
Last fall Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer told La Presse Canadienne that Senate Conservatives were “focused on the goal” of “blocking” C-45, and would use “all the democratic tools” to do so.
In March, Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu went as far as calling the bill “a piece of shit” that wouldn’t protect people or “exclude organized crime.” He said the bill had been written “very badly” and added that it would be “a very good exercise” to rewrite it.
The amended version of Bill C-45 could have a bumpy ride in the lower house, too. Some legislators there feel the amendments are untenable —and they may not vote to support.