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Canadian senate passes weed bill but legalization delayed

UPDATED: Tue., June 19, 2018

A demonstrator smokes a marijuana joint on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit / AP)
A demonstrator smokes a marijuana joint on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 20, 2010. (Pawel Dwulit / AP)
By Rob Gillies Associated Press

TORONTO – Canada’s Senate gave final passage Tuesday to the federal government’s bill to legalize cannabis, though Canadians will have to wait at least a couple of months to legally buy marijuana as their country becomes the second in the world to make pot legal nationwide.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had hoped to make pot legal by July 1, but the government has said provincial and territorial governments will need eight to 12 weeks following Senate passage and royal assent to prepare for retail sales. Trudeau’s government is expected to decide a date that would legalize it in early or mid-September. A spokesman for Trudeau said they are not in a rush to do it.

“It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits. Today, we change that. Our plan to legalize & regulate marijuana just passed the Senate,” Trudeau tweeted.

Canada is following the lead of Uruguay in allowing a nationwide, legal marijuana market, although each Canadian province is working up its own rules for pot sales. The federal government and the provinces also still need to publish regulations that will govern the cannabis trade.

The bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 52-29.

“We have seen in the Senate tonight a historic vote that ends 90 years of prohibition of cannabis in this country, 90 years of needless criminalization, 90 years of a just-say-no approach to drugs that hasn’t worked,” said independent Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the upper house.

Canada is the largest developed country to end a nationwide prohibition on marijuana use. In the neighboring U.S., nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana. California, home to one in eight Americans, launched the United States’ biggest legal marijuana marketplace on Jan. 1.

The Canadian government largely followed the advice of a marijuana task force headed by former Liberal Health Minister Anne McLellan as well as the advice of former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the justice minister.

The task force recommended adults be allowed to carry up to 30 grams of pot and grow up to four plants. It also said marijuana should not be sold in the same location as alcohol or tobacco.

The most controversial aspect of Canada’s move to legalize marijuana nationwide has been setting the minimum age for use at 18 or 19, depending on the province. That is lower than in U.S. states that have embraced legalization.

Advocates argued that putting the limit at 21 would encourage a black market and drive youths into the hands of criminals. But some health experts have worried that the lower age will encourage use of a substance that can have long-term consequences on still-maturing brains.

Conservative senators remained staunchly opposed to legalization.

“We’re going to have all those involved in illegal marijuana peddling right now becoming large corporation,” Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos said. “When you normalize the use of marijuana and you’re a young person and you had certain reservations because of the simple fact that it was illegal, there’s, I believe, a propensity to have somebody be more inclined to use it.”

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