Bill C-45, which will legalize recreational cannabis in Canada, passed second reading in the Senate on Thursday night, signaling yet another small victory for the Liberal government.
The bill, also known as the Cannabis Act, got a 44-29 vote and is now headed for further study by five separate committees, and then for a third and final reading.
C-45 would allow Canadian adults to legally possess and consume small amounts of recreational cannabis. The bill also sets out the parameters around the possession, production, distribution, safety standards, and sale of cannabis. It also provides new Criminal Code offences for the sale of weed to minors.
Before the vote, there had been growing concern about whether the bill will be able to secure enough support from the members of the Red Chamber. Had the bill been voted down, the Liberal government would be forced to draft a new version and start the whole legislative process over again, beginning at the House of Commons. This would also mean that the planned and the much-anticipated summer rollout of recreational cannabis would be pushed back.
Conservative senators vote against the bill
As expected, all of the 28 Conservative senators who were present in the chamber opposed Bill C-45.
Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu said that the Cannabis Act would not protect people nor “exclude organized crime,” and described it as “very badly written.” He also went as far as calling it “a piece of shit.”
Other Conservative senators also criticized the bill, saying it would endanger the youth, increase smoking rates, do little to curb the sale of pot in the black market, and make policing difficult.
Virtually all independent senators, who were mostly handpicked by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, supported the government and voted in favor of the bill. Independent Sen. Mike Duffy was the only hold-out and sided with the Conservatives.
There had been worries about the prospect of defeat because two Senate committees – the agriculture committee and the Aboriginal peoples committee – are out of town this week. This means that some Liberal and Independent senators who support the bill would not be present for the vote.
But to keep Bill C-45 from being defeated, Trudeau had urged these Liberal and Independent senators who were on the road to return to Ottawa for the vote. Some senators indeed flew back late night on Wednesday and early morning on Thursday so they could be around to back the Cannabis Act.
Trudeau had urged the senators to approve the bill, pointing out that illegal cannabis – which makes up a C$7-billion industry that pumps money into the hands of organized crime – will persist without federal regulations.
The Cannabis Act timeline
The crucial vote on Thursday had been scheduled beforehand as part of the Senate’s timetable for studying C-45. It can be recalled that in February, senators had agreed to set the second reading vote on or before March 22.
The bill will now advance to committee stage and the final vote is expected to take place on or before June 7. This means that the government’s July 2018 target date for the legalization of recreational cannabis is pushed back.
Bill C-45 has been with the Senate since November 2017. Now, it will be sent for further study to the Senate Social Affairs, Science and Technology Committee. It is also getting supplementary investigation from other senate committees: the Legal and Constitutional Affairs committee; the Aboriginal Peoples Committee; the Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committee; and the National Security and Defence Committee.
Senators in these committees will be hearing from experts and witnesses on all aspects of cannabis legalization before they report back with their findings, as well as their recommendations for amendments.