The federal government’s much-debated legislation to legalize marijuana is being punted back to the Senate, it was confirmed on Wednesday, with a few key changes in its wording and a stern warning from the prime minister that Conservative senators should quit playing “games.”
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What this means, in practical terms, is that the parliamentary wrangling over Bill C-45 will probably continue for at least another few days (it may be Monday before the bill is back before the Senate, insiders suggest).
The House of Commons is scheduled to break for the summer in just over a week, so the time crunch on this major Liberal promise has suddenly become very real.
One thing, however, remains certain: you won’t be able to buy legal marijuana at your local cannabis store on July 1. Nor will Canadians suddenly be able to find it for sale online on Canada Day.
A more realistic start-date? Labour Day.
Here’s what you need to know about what happens now, and what to expect over the next few months.
Why isn’t pot going to be legal on July 1?
The Canada Day goal was always a moving target for Ottawa when the government first tabled Bill C-45. But it became firmly entrenched in the minds of most Canadians who were looking forward to legal weed.
Last winter, when it became clear that Parliament wouldn’t meet that deadline, officials began talking about late summer or “sometime this summer” as a new goal.
WATCH: Expect marijuana legalization this summer, says Trudeau
The reasons for this are largely procedural.
The Senate took a long, hard look at Bill C-45 over the winter and spring, and proposed over 40 amendments before finally passing it last week and sending it back to the House of Commons.
On Wednesday, the Liberals decided they could live with most, but not all, of those changes.
As a result, the government is going to slice out a few of them – including the one that would forbid branding non-pot products like T-shirts with marijuana company logos, and the one allowing individual provinces and territories to ban home-grows.
“It is critically important to permit personal cultivation in order to support the government’s objective of displacing the illegal market,” the health minister explained.
Senators may cut their losses and sign off on the new, government-approved version of the bill next week, or they may decide they want to engage in a standoff.
The bill legalizing assisted-dying in Canada went back and forth between the House of Commons and Senate over the course of two tense weeks in June 2016 before the Senate finally relented.
The independent senator who sponsored the pot bill, Tony Dean, told Global News on Wednesday that he was “somewhat disappointed” in the government’s decision, adding that the Independent Senators Group worked “hard and diligently to develop thoughtful amendments.”
“This was particularly the case on home cultivation of cannabis,” Dean noted.
“However, the government ultimately makes the decisions here and is held accountable for the outcomes of the legislation. In a year or two as people assess what is working well and perhaps not working so well, they will not ask, ‘why did the Senate do this?’ Accountability always flows to the government of the day.”
Trudeau slams Tory ‘games’
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that he understands that “there are questions and concerns” lingering, and acknowledged that changes might be made to the rules surrounding legal marijuana once the new reality sets in.
But he also issued a warning.
“It’s been months that Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, has been telling his Senate caucus, the senators that he still controls, to play games to slow this down, to interfere with the will of the House,” Trudeau said.
“It’s time that he stopped using his senators this way.”
READ MORE: Quebec adopts long-awaited cannabis law
Scheer, in response, said that “if the prime minister is upset about the pace of legislation — he needs to talk to his own House leadership team and his Senate leadership team.”
The Conservatives no longer hold the majority of votes in the Senate. They’re outnumbered by the Independent Senators Group who, in theory, can vote as they please.
If and when an identical version of the bill is approved by both houses, it can move to royal assent. That’s the last step, and it can take place quite quickly at the discretion of the government.
Ok, then what?
The legislation is then considered the law of the land. But in this case, there’s a catch.
The federal government has been saying for months that it will wait eight to 12 weeks after the legislation is passed before officially lifting the near century-old prohibition on cannabis.
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That’s so producers have time to get their products onto shelves and the provinces and municipalities can look at the final set of rules that will govern legal weed and make last-minute adjustments.
So, at minimum, actual legalization of marijuana in Canada won’t happen until mid-August. A more likely target might be Labour Day.
A battle over home-grows
If the final version of the law allows for home-grows across the land, then the federal government may have a new problem on its hands.
Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut have all said they oppose the plan to allow four plants per household. And Quebec, at least, is already gearing up for a fight.
“If there is a legal battle to wage, we will wage it,” provincial Health Minister Lucie Charlebois told reporters in Quebec City on Wednesday.
“The provincial law has precedence over the federal law.”
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