Canada’s Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that legalizes marijuana in the country, making it the second country to allow marijuana nationwide.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have long pushed for legalization. The party’s platform blamed illogical and punitive laws against pot for causing many relatively harmless people to face serious criminal charges. Pot has been prohibited in Canada for 90 years.
Since the legislation, called Bill C-45 or the “Cannabis Act,” had already been blessed by Canada’s House of Commons, it is ready to become a law, a mari usque ad mare, or “from sea unto sea,” as Canada’s official motto says. The bill passed 52 to 29 in the Senate.
It will still take time, likely several months, for the provisions of the new law to be implemented. The actual date of legalization has not been announced by Trudeau’s government.
Bill C-45 legalizes marijuana use and possession for adults and allows them to grow pot at home. It also legalizes sales of the product.
Canada’s federal authorities and provincial governments will divide between them oversight and licensing of marijuana businesses in the country. Individual provinces will be able to tinker with the rules to suit local conditions – e.g., they may raise the age at which people can buy pot. Meanwhile, federal authorities will control the criminal enforcement of remaining rules, such as those prohibiting sales to underage people.
This federal oversight should keep Canada from the kind of schism that has afflicted the marijuana industry in the United States, where pot is legal either medically or recreationally in multiple states, but still illegal under federal law.
Trudeau said after the bill passed that under prohibition, it was “too easy” for children to get marijuana, while the money they spent went to criminal gangs. He hopes that legal regulation of cannabis will change that.
No other nation as large and populous as Canada, which has 37 million inhabitants, has legalized marijuana. Previously, recreational pot was made legal in Uruguay, a South American nation with about 3.5 million people.
South of Canada’s lengthy border nine U.S. states have allowed recreational use of pot, while about 30 states permit medical use in some form. However, some tension between Canada and the United States – two countries already bickering over cross-border trade and tariffs – could arise if legal Canadian pot is carried across into parts of the U.S. where it is prohibited.
Both Canada and the United States are party to international treaties on drugs which ban the legalization of marijuana.
The debate over legalization’s benefits and dangers is likely to continue in Canada, just as it has in parts of the United States south of the border where pot is legal or being considered for legalization. Proponents of legalization point to the elimination of crime and violence plus the increase in taxes that should follow changes in the law. Opponents continue to caution that marijuana, whether legal or illegal, can be an addictive drug that has its dangers.