Bill C-45: Legalizing and regulating cannabis in Canada
This new law sets out controls for the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis in Canada.
The Cannabis Act was introduced in the wake of a 2015 federal election campaign promise to end of the era of cannabis prohibition, which has penalized Canadians with criminal sanctions, leading to marginalization, stigmatization and restricted employment opportunities. The Government convened the Task Forces on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation on June 30, 2016 to consult with Canadians, experts and organizations. The final report identified a framework for the most effective approaches to cannabis legislation to address public health and safety concerns.
The bill was designed to end an ineffective policy that failed to protect young people from the particular harms and risks of consuming cannabis at a young age. Instead, the Government committed to develop a public education model that has been extremely successful in reducing smoking rates for tobacco. Further, by legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis, the legislation aimed to transfer a $7 billion market operated by organized crime to licensed Canadian producers, who are required to meet quality assurances, with no harmful contaminants, and to deliver products accurately labelled for potency.
The Senate’s Role
The Cannabis Act arrived in the Senate in November 2017. Senator Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, encouraged a comprehensive and ordered review process “through the lens of community health and harm reduction.” As part of its study, the Senate opened its doors to three ministers and a parliamentary secretary for a televised hearing on the legislation. The Senate then leveraged the expertise of five different committees for an exhaustive review of the legislation, hearing collectively from 240 witnesses, including key ministers, over the course of nearly 50 meetings. The Senate also agreed to an innovative model to organize third reading debate by theme leading up to a final vote on the legislation on June 7, 2018. Following nearly seven months of study, the Senate sent the bill back to the House of Commons with 46 amendments, including technical modifications, as well as key changes.
The House of Commons agreed with several key Senate changes, including amendments that:
- require a review of the new regime after three years;
- clarify that the legislation does not override the Youth Criminal Justice Act;
- and clarify that gardening supplies, pesticides and fertilizers would not be defined as “cannabis accessories.”
Aside from accepting a number of amendments, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Indigenous Services also committed to continue to consult with Indigenous communities and organizations as the legalization of cannabis is implemented, in response to concerns raised by the Senate Aboriginal Peoples Committee. The House of Commons did reject other Senate amendments, including one that would allow provinces and territories to ban home cultivation of cannabis. The Government explained that allowing home cultivation was part of the plan to dismantle the illicit market, as well as to ensure those in rural and remote communities could be able to grow and access cannabis. Though some Senators expressed disappointment that the House rejected some Senate amendments, the appointed chamber deferred to the will of the elected commons. The bill received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018.