The long-awaited decision by the Canadian Senate to legalise cannabis and its use nationwide was made yesterday, with news of the milestone decision trickling through to Australian shores this afternoon.
With almost a two-thirds majority, Senators voted to pass the Trudeau government’s landmark legislation to lift Canada’s 95-year-old prohibition on recreational cannabis by a vote of 56 to 30.
Canada’s Bill-C45, better known as the Cannabis Act, has already been passed by the nation’s House of Commons but requires additional approval in the Senate before it can become law – and importantly for consumers, for cannabis to commence sales across the country in the same vein as alcohol and tobacco.
Acting the part
The Cannabis Act legalises access to cannabis while controlling and regulating how it is grown, distributed and sold. Canadian regulators suggest that, if passed and signed into law, sales are likely to commence 10 to 12 weeks post-legalisation.
However, both cannabis producers and potheads may still have some waiting to do before they see THC-laden cannabis products hitting store shelves.
The Senate has decided to include almost 50 amendments with some being more major than others. Most of the Senate’s amendments are minor, but about a dozen are significant, including one to allow Canadian provinces to prohibit domestic cultivation of cannabis if they choose – rather than accept the four marijuana plants per dwelling allowed under the bill.
The House of Commons must now decide whether to approve, reject or modify the changes before returning the bill back to the Senate for another vote. This could potentially ignite constitutional sovereignty arguments between Senators and MP’s thereby delaying cannabis legalisation.
However, it’s also quite plausible that the House of Commons is pleased with the current bill, passes it, and sends it to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s desk to be signed into law.
It’s also possible that the House of Commons makes adjustments of its own, which would once again mean sending the bill back to the Senate for another vote. Should this latter scenario occur, it has the potential to delay the launch of recreational cannabis sales.
Cannabis-powered future in Canada
Canada would be only the second country in the world (after Uruguay) to fully legalise cannabis. It will also be the first major G20 nation to do so if both its Senate and Commons legislators agree on a final bill later this year.
According to market analysis from Deloitte, Canada’s cannabis legalisation could pave the way for around $7 billion in sales in Canada alone.
In a recent report, Deloitte said that it expects $4.3 billion to come from recreational sales, $1.7 billion from medicinal sales and approximately $1 billion from the black market.
Deloitte also predicts total cannabis spend could surge by as much as 58%, with regular marijuana consumers increasing purchases by up to 22% under the new law.
If and when the law passes, Canada’s Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor has said that provinces and territories will need “two to three months to prepare” before retail sales of legal cannabis are actually available.
According to Canada’s public health agency, marijuana products will be sold in plain packaging with limited branding. Packaging will include a health warning with a red stop sign indicating that the product contains cannabis, in addition to information on the particular strain and THC content.
Under the legislation, adults would be permitted to purchase up to 30 grams from distributors that have been licensed by the federal government.
The nation’s shift towards cannabis acceptance has been led by its youngest ever prime minister Justin Trudeau, who campaigned (and to a large extent won) his post on the back of a pledge to legalise cannabis.
His policy stance has been echoed by many other politicians in the developed world including Greens senator Richard Di Natale in Australia.
According to Mr Trudeau (and echoed by Dr Natale), “Canada is focused on the control and legalisation of marijuana because the current system cannabis is not working.”
The ongoing see-saw legislative between Canada’s Senate and House of Commons has set off a rush of investment activity including several ASX-listed companies looking to take early stakes in the country’s future cannabis bounty.
In Australia itself, similar investment decisions are being made as Australia’s policymakers soften their stance towards cannabis with analysts expecting full-blown legalisation to occur in a similar vein to Uruguay, Canada and some US states, in the coming years.