Since April 2017, news about Canada’s legalization of cannabis for recreational has led to Canadian cannabis stocks soaring and eager entrepreneurs turning their resources to the Maple Leaf. The interesting thing about that momentum is this: until mid-June of this year, the bill proposing national legalization hadn’t actually passed into law. Before the bill was passed, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s administration made the forecast that recreational sales would be live by July 1. As that date approached, it became clear that sales would probably be delayed. Once the Senate officially passed Bill C-45, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that sales could begin on October 17, 2018.
Here’s an overview of the Cannabis’ Act’s legislative history, the reason for its delay, and what people can expect implementation of the law to look like.
A Time Line of Events Leading to the Passage of C-45, the Cannabis Act
In April 2017, C-45 was introduced to Canada’s parliament by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, former Health Minister Jane Philott, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, National Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier, and Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair. The introduction of this bill was well-received by the public, and interpreted by the world as Canada’s guaranteed step toward legalization.
In September 2017, the bill’s restrictions on the height of homegrown cannabis plants were removed after the House of Commons Health Committee heard testimony from over 100 witnesses. The amendments made to the bill had support from all parties.
In November 2017, the first round of legislation was won. The House of Commons passed C-45 in a landslide vote of 200 to 82. The next round would take place in the much more conservative Senate.
The cumulative 13 days of Senate debate over the bill began in December 2017.
In February 2018, the Senate passed a legislative timetable for the bill with a final vote scheduled to take place on or before June 7. It was at this point that it became clear that a July 1 sales date was unlikely.
The second legislative victory was won in March 2018. Although there was some doubt that the bill would move forward given the Senate’s more conservative approach, C-45 passed with a vote of 44 to 29. The bill was then sent to several committees for further feedback and revision.
In May 2018 and after numerous committee meetings, the bill was returned to the Senate with 40 amendments and several recommendations, including one that called for the delay of recreational sales by a year.
On June 19 and after 40 amendments, some of which were rejected by the by the government (including one that authorized provinces to ban home growing and another that prohibited cannabis growers from selling branded merchandise), the bill was passed once and for all by a vote of 52 to 29.
On October 2018, the new law will be implemented which means that, as long as the stores are ready to roll, recreational cannabis will officially be for sale.
What Caused the Delay?
Since the introduction of Canada’s Cannabis Act, several issues made it clear that the Provinces would need more time to implement the law than the July 1 deadline originally gave them.
A Lack of Consultation with First Nations
One of the greatest concerns was the inclusion of Indigenous peoples in the development and implementation of the recreational cannabis law. Given that Indigenous land would be used to house production facilities, members of the Senate’s Aboriginal people’s committee were prepared to propose a relatively well-supported bill that would have indefinitely delayed the implementation of C-45 until both houses of Parliament could outline exactly how the concerns and needs of Indigenous peoples would be addressed.
To appease the members of the Aboriginal peoples’ committee who were ready to put forth the delay bill, the Trudeau administration made several promises regarding the treatment of Indigenous people as regulation advances. Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott promised to provide a detailed outline addressing concerns in September and another one within a year. Additionally, the ministers agreed to provide more money to Indigenous mental health and addiction services, assistance to Indigenous peoples in navigating the licensing process, and ongoing consultation with First Nations regarding the sharing of tax revenue.
The Indigenous peoples’ committee senators believed that the pledges received by the Health Minister and Indigenous Services Minister gave them more than what they would have received had they proposed the bill delaying the passage of the Cannabis Act.
The Need for Law Enforcement to Prepare
Of the groups that supported a delay in implementation was law enforcement. The short time between June 7 (the deadline for the vote) and July 1 (the proposed launch of recreational sales) left law enforcement officials feeling strapped for time to prepare to enforce the new law.
The added months leading up to sales give law enforcement officials time to train and prepare the community for regulation.
“The extra time allows us just a bit of breathing room to get all our members, both sworn and civilian, trained on how the new legislation is going to impact us,” said Calgary Police Inspector Kevin Forsen. “It’s not just about enforcement for us. It’s a lot of community engagement and education and working with everybody to make sure the transition… works for everybody.”
Law enforcement officials will specifically have to become familiar with the differences in legality between provinces, what cannabis looks like in its varying forms, the amounts that are considered legal, the acts that are still considered illegal under the new law, and how the rules will impact First Nation peoples.
What Does the Cannabis Act Allow?
The answer to this question depends on the province. Canada is comprised of ten provinces—British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island—in addition to three territories—Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nanuvut.
The federal law empowers the provinces to refine the laws further. Some of the provinces have chosen to model their rules after the federal government’s while others have taken a more restrictive approach. Read this to see how legalization differs between provinces.