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Senate votes to approve cannabis but with amendments

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Man with cannabis flag. Photo: Linda Flores/Flickr

Our Senate voted to approve the legalization of marijuana on June 7, voting 56-30, with one abstention, in favour of the move.

This brings Canada one major step closer to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's election promise that he would legalize at least the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Now passed back to the House of Commons, the move to legalize cannabis would end more than 90 years of prohibition and abandon what most people declare is the failure of the war on drugs policy brought forth by U.S. president Richard Nixon and followed by subsequent presidents with various degrees of enthusiasm.

Legalizing cannabis makes Canada the only country in the G7 to do so. It is also only the second country to legalize the consumption and sale of marijuana after Uruguay made the big leap in 2014. It should be noted that Canada's policy of liberalism around certain drugs is no way as radical as Portugal which legalized all drugs back in 2001.

Prior to the vote in the Senate, senators spent almost six hours giving passionate final pitches for and against legalization, with conservatives noting that Indigenous communities need to be further consulted with as they believe that Indigenous populations are already more vulnerable to addiction.

According to reports in the Toronto Star, Conservative Senator Dennis Patterson, who represents Nunavut, said "easy availability of this mind-numbing drug" will be devastating in remote areas where vulnerable Indigenous populations are already ravaged by addiction, mental health problems, violence and suicides.

Also noted are arguments for the legalization of cannabis, with Independent Senator Andre Pratte stating that C-45 taking a pragmatic approach to regulating cannabis is preferable to continuing the failed war on drugs.

"Do we take a deep breath, close our eyes and stick with a demonstrably failed, hypocritical, unhealthy, prohibitionist approach of the past or do we move forward, eyes wide open, and choose the alternative? ... I choose to open my eyes, rather than put on blinders," he said.

Things are not all smooth sailing, though, as the Senate added nearly four dozen amendments to the bill, which automatically sends it back to the House for reconsideration.

Moving ahead of his election promise, Trudeau's party introduced the legislation last year. Medical marijuana has already been legal in Canada for years. Some 100,000 Canadians currently use medical marijuana -- and the number is growing by 10 per cent each month, according to the Canadian National Medical Marijuana Association.

The legislation divided the responsibilities between the federal and provincial governments, with Ottawa responsible for regulating production while leaving it to provinces and territories to decide how the drug will be distributed and sold. For example, the province of New Brunswick is, "betting heavily on its potential to shake up an economy long dominated by fishing and forestry. We're very optimistic that we'll see significant investments and significant jobs created in the province because of it," said Brian Gallant, the Liberal premier of New Brunswick.

Again, concerning how provinces individually will have to work out how marijuana will be distributed and sold, one of Bill C-45's major amendment is around home-grow operations.

The bill states that individual households can have up to four marijuana plants for personal use, but some provinces are uncomfortable with this provision. For example, Quebec and Manitoba have already chosen to prohibit home-grown cannabis with zero tolerance for any plants from any form of home grow-op, but the amendment would erase the possibility of legal challenges to their constitutional authority to do so if the four plant, home grow-up remains.

Another amendment revolves around restrictions on advertising by Canadian cannabis companies on swag such as T-shirts and hats.

Yet another amendment revolves around rules for sharing cannabis with minors, making it a summary or ticketed offence to share five grams or less of marijuana with someone more than two years younger than you. It would also allow parents to share marijuana with their kids, just as they can with alcohol.

Analysis of Canada's cannabis industry could eventually be worth somewhere between $5 billion and $7 billion annually.

Due to these amendments and the bill having to go back to the House of Commons, Canadians can now expect sales of recreational marijuana to begin in August or September of this year, rather than the first of July like initially stated.

Photo: Linda Flores/Flickr

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