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

November 28, 2017
(Dougall_Photography/iStock)
Following November’s passage of the Cannabis Act by the House of Commons—where MPs voted 200-82 to approve the bill and shot down a proposal to delay the July 1st deadline—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 now 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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Randi Druzin

Randi Druzin is an author and journalist in Toronto. She has worked at several major media outlets, including the National Post and the CBC, and has written for dozens of publications, such as The New York Times, Time magazine, ESPN The Magazine, and The Globe and Mail.

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  • Clay McCann

    The “final hurdle” will more likely be the Supreme Court, as Ontario trots out the seemingly unenforceable (or very expensive to enforce) CSFORSSLAA2017, permitting such absurdities as warranting cameras on school buses to “monitor” teens to make sure they don’t smoke reefer on the way to school. The tabled bill has also been written to eradicate illicit dispensaries (read: ALL dispensaries), effectively shuttering some 300 locations and putting approx. 2000 people out of work. What else? Cops can pull over (mostly teens) with impunity, search and seize without warrants. The bill makes no mention of the federally-mandated 4 plants per household. But it does work hard to absolve the LCBO ahead of the roll-out for any massive F-ups they may commit, such as NOT retailing oils, tinctures or edibles. Also, also, smoking cannabis in public is banned–but how to enforce edibles in public? And then there’s the absurd ruling that MJ consumers must keep MJ in a locked room in their residences (Whaaaaat????), away from teens and infants who might break in during the night, like weed zombies from Saturn, and rifle through the nugs.

    I HAVE WRITTEN ONTARIO’S AG, MINISTER OF FINANCE, AND TOP HEALTH OFFICER ABOUT THESE CONCERNS AND, YOU GUESSED IT: ZERO RESPONSE. WHY? BECAUSE THE ONT. LIBERALS DON’T EXPECT TO WIN THE NEXT PROVINCIAL ELECTION (JUNE 8, 2018), JUST PRIOR TO LEGAL RECREATIONAL ROLL-OUT (JULY 1, 2018). So they’ve produced an untenable “act” for the next government in which to wrap fish-heads. Why? Don’t bother asking your elected officials. Most haven’t even SEEN the CSFORSSLAA2017, or C-45. Enjoy your “legal MJ,” Ontario!

    • Rudy Corkin

      Well said! That said, this is still the drug war, albeit the final epic battle. Thus, I love my opponents to be arrogant and lame – Sun Tzu

    • Rob Woodside

      This is what happens when Reefer Madness know nothings make the law. Since the War on Drugs has failed so miserably, the Reefer Madness Crew are abandoning prohibition and opting for control and regulate with as much delay as possible.The desire seems to be to get revenge on the dispensary folk and tie everything up with ridiculous regulations (4 plants less than 4 feet tall, etc.) Where are the pardons for those convicted of pot crimes?

      Trudeau is making such heavy weather out of this. Edibles and all could have been legalized with in a year of his election. But no he takes forever to pass a bad law that leaves the unpleasant details that excite the Reefer Madness Crew to the provincial governments. The courts will have to correct Trudeau’s mess..

      • Clay McCann

        Don’t forget saddling the municipalities with considerable expenses, zoning headaches, and re-regulating enforcement.

  • Who cares? Assuming that the somewhat legalization of weed is passed on the Liberal government’s arbitrary timetable I don’t think that overnight we’ll become a nation of potheads, nothing really changes on July 1. In Ontario most people can’t get to these new retail stores that will no doubt resemble a Soviet era VD clinic, because with only a store per one hundred thousand people it’s logistically not possible.Medical users will not set foot in these places, and for the underage who can’t buy it anyway it’s a novelty. For the rest of us nothing much changes. Those who have clandestinely grown weed will continue to do so. Others will order online but mostly people will still buy from the same people they have bought from for years, decades in some cases. No one is going to be interested in dealing with an uninformed and ill-informed store staff just for the opportunity to grossly overpay for absolute low quality product.

  • bob

    stupid to think they have any say in reality….been doing it for decades

  • lovingc

    The thing of it is the longer you wait to legalize the longer the money goes to the black market. Cannabis is nothing new here but one of the first thing said by the anti legalizationists what about this or that. The fact is that it is there and happening right now. The longer you wait to legalize the longer your children are at risk. Legalization protects underaged people from buying cannabis. The nation wide legalization is what is needed to end the black market. Of course excessive taxing and regulation will also support the black market. Support legalization for your children’s sake.

  • Power Storage

    I lost a son to schizophrenia and suicide and it all started with some strong BC Bud. Yes he had other reasons to cross that psychosis line but according to many studies Young men are still susceptible to drug onset psychosis until they’re in their early twenties. The age should have been set at 21 not 19. So much for looking after our children Mr. Trudeau

    • Clay McCann

      Um, no? Med MJ has shown efficacy in mental health contexts, specific to potency/frequency; CBD may, in fact, be neuroprotective, by slowing or even halting the loss of neurons (National Academy of Science, Engineering, & Medicine, 2017) and may also protect against structural brain harms, e.g. hippocampal neural integrity and volume loss in cannabis users (Lorenzetti, V. et al., 2016; Yucel, M. et al, 2016; Volkow, ND et al., 2014).

      Long-term damage to the brain: Preliminary evidence shows that THC exacerbates, whereas CBD protects from, such harmful effects (see Lorenzetti; Hermann, D. & Schneider, M., 2012). Increasing CBD counts could reduce some of the harmful effects of cannabis, without compromising the effects users seek (The Lancet, Mar.1, 2017). “Daily use of MJ is not associated with brain morphometric measures in adolescents or adults,” Weiland, B.J. et al. 2015, Journal of Neuroscience35(4),pp.1505-1512: There is no association between MJ use and standard volumetric or shape measurements of subcortical structures…Other studies have found equivocal results (Lisdahl et al., 2014; Lorenzetti et al., 2014). MJ use has been associated with both increased (Cousijn et al., 2012) and decreased (Yucel et al., 2008) volumes of such structures, but these studies were not designed to determine causality, which would require a longitudinal design to establish temporal precedence.

      “There were no differences between nonusers and daily users in the specific regions of interest [nucleus accumbens, amygdala, hippocampus, and the cerebellum–areas high in cannabis receptors]. We found no evidence of differences in volumes b/t daily users and nonusers, adults or adolescents; alcohol consumption is associated with volume loss in the brain globally; even modest alcohol abuse may be associated with morphological changes and may represent an important confounding variable in studies on the effects of cannabis. And, “Cannabis use is not associated with structural changes within the brain as a whole or the hippocampus in particular” (Tzilos, G.K. et al., 2005, “Lack of Hippocampal Volume Change in Long-term heavy cannabis users” in American Journal of Addiction #14, pp.64-72).

    • klw

      Why does Trudeau have to watch your kids for you?? It’s called PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY Gomer. If they want it they will get it, are you stupid or just ignorant?? It affects everyone differently, what is wrong with you people? Smoking pot is not the cause of anyone’s death, that’s just bs and you should stop lying. Lot’s of things out there are bad for us, pay attention and get informed.

    • klw

      On the age thing, it should be 18 a no brainer there people. If being 18 allows me to buy cigarettes and booze in some places legally and the biggest reason is that if being 18 also lets me get shot at while serving in our Military and or dying then I should be able to do anything I want legally anyway. The fact you can die in a war or accident from many things just being 18, then I should be able to make up my own mind. It’s ridiculous that an 18 yr old can get shot and killed in our Military but can’t buy weed, booze or cigarettes it’s bs.

    • Turner Kayston

      First of all, I would like to say that I am sorry to hear about what happened with your son and I mean no disrespect for you, or anyone…

      The symptoms you describe, we do know are directly caused by alcohol – a far more harmful drug (found in wine and beer) and considering the known harm differences between the two, alcohol I think should be 25+.

      As per the 2002 liberal senate report, I too believe Cannabis should be 16+ – if we are to look at the real science, not the lies.

      Just because your son may have been using Cannabis, does not mean you should follow the dogmatic, outdated ‘gateway’ theory. In my
      opinion, you’re conflating correlation with causation, since I would guess your son was seeking a way of self-medicating his unfortunate, subjective state of mind. It’s unfortunate that you’re only taking a one-way view into the last days of his life, which to me is just as sad, but perhaps there really is more just one way to look at it, while he may still live in your heart and mind.

      Maybe you should read the book, “ISBN: 1906860165”, it might open your eyes a little.

  • Brian Guimond (Llapo)

    Where I’m living in N.B. they are proposing a dollar a gram tax on it plus GST and having to lock it up as tight as guns.. yeah, just no. It’s better off being illegal at this point. It’s an herb, if you dry it you can consider it a drug because it can get you high. But I’d still rather see this sold in my local tea aisle than by N.B. Liquor being taxed to high heaven.

  • klw

    Come on you guys, stop with the excuses already. It’s been legal in several places now for several years so stop with the bs. Lot’s of growing pains just like anything this new and this big. Ask questions do some friggen investigation for Christ sake. It seems like we the US do NOT have the market cornered on stupid people in the Gov or otherwise although it sounds more like Gov caused bs, gee go figure.

  • Joseph Muhammad

    Every law against cannabis is a violation of fundamental human rights. The research on the human endocannabinoid system and the numerous health benefits of cannabis prove this. In many nations, including the United States, the anti-cannabis laws are also fundamentally unConstitutional violation of civil rights that protect things such as our persons, papers, property, and effects.

  • Chris Raithby

    Ok first off I get Legalization, and the blackmarket concerns. But I believe even before it becomes legal, there are other serious issues to be dealt with first.
    1. People like myself that are Prescribed Patients, through a Canadian Licensed Medical Physician. Have no other choice but Medical Weed, as I am a survivor of 10 plus years from opioids. Cannabis is the medication that has saved my life and family. #EXPIDITEDINCANNIBAS Health Canada needs to start thinking about people and their Health before making money is that not fair to ask as a patient whose Human Rights have been abused enough. Forcing me and others that are certified to buy a medication the actually works. Government will have its time and Make A WHOLE lota money.
    But please Health Canada Expidite the DIN for Medical Cannabis it truly saves lives. oh ya writing it off in our income taxes should of just SPIT or SLAPPED us in the face. HELP YOUR PEOPLE MR. TRUDUE

  • Chris Raithby

    I believe to fix the blackmarket LP’s should have already dropped their prices. I can find it a lot cheaper other places. I love being satisfied have tested product but too expensive!!!!!

  • Alan McLemore

    …and yet you’re welcome to swig a quart of Wild Turkey whiskey while armed to the teeth, no problem at all.

    Idiots.

  • Dante-the-cat

    At this point, consumers, fledgling businesses and startups, and even the provinces are gearing up for legalization. Any blocking attempts by the tories would cause a massive backlash against them. Legalization is coming – the PCs need to either embrace it or get the hell out of the way/