Canadians looking forward to lighting up legally should be able to do so before the end of September.
In an interview with The West Block, the parliamentary secretary for the minister of public safety said the government remains on track with its timeline to legalize marijuana and expects to have a framework in place to let Canadians buy it legally across the country before summer wraps up.
“We’re working closely with the Senate and we feel confident, at this time, in that timeline of end of summer that we’re going to see a regime that will control and legalize cannabis,” Mark Holland said.
Legalizing marijuana formed a key plank of the 2015 Liberal campaign pledge and C-45, the legislation to do just that, was introduced in the House of Commons in April 2017.
It was referred to the Senate in November 2017 and has faced fierce opposition from Conservative senators.
On Thursday, it passed through a Second Reading vote and will now be sent for in-depth study in committee.
Senators will be able to propose amendments to the bill while at committee.
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Holland praised the Senate for its examination of the bill so far. But he did not indicate the extent of changes the government is prepared to consider.
Conservative senators have repeatedly raised concerns about the time frame of legalization, arguing the bill will leave police unprepared and calling for more time to let law enforcement get ready.
Holland pushed back at that suggestion.
“The problem is, it’s happening right now,” Holland said, pointing to the billions that marijuana funnels into criminal coffers on the black market currently.
“It is a massive problem on our streets and our police are absolutely ill-equipped to handle it. Our cannabis rates are among the highest in the world. So we can put our head in the sand and pretend the problem doesn’t exist, or we can turn the corner and finally start doing something about it.”
The government has reached an agreement with Senate leaders to get the legislation through the Red Chamber by June 7 in order to give the provinces time to roll out their own cannabis control regimes.
While the federal government has set the core criteria for legalization across the country, the provinces are coming up with their own plans to structure the venues that will actually sell pot to consumers.
One of those federal rules is that companies must use plain packaging, and that has ruffled feathers among those in the cannabis industry who say it will limit their ability to market their products.
Holland says that’s exactly why the government is putting the rule in place.
“Sure, I understand that folks are going to be perturbed by that because it is going to limit how they can sell to young people or be attractive to young people – but that’s the very point of what we’re doing,” he said.
“We’re standardizing the packaging. We’re making sure that it isn’t attractive to young people. We’re making sure the warnings are present there, and that they can’t use marketing as a tool in the way that tobacco has.”
The Senate Standing Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology is set to begin its study of the legislation on Wednesday at 4:15 PM.
Health Minister Ginette Petispas Taylor will be appearing.