Senators have voted to pass the federal government's bill legalizing recreational marijuana by a vote of 52-29, with two abstentions, paving the way for a fully legal cannabis market within eight to 12 weeks.
"I'm feeling just great," said Sen. Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. "We've just witnessed a historic vote for Canada. The end of 90 years of prohibition. Transformative social policy, I think. A brave move on the part of the government."
Dean said he thought the Senate functioned well throughout the process and he was proud of the work the Red Chamber did.
"Now we can start to tackle some of the harms of cannabis. We can start to be proactive in public education. We'll see the end of criminalization and we can start addressing Canada's $7-billion illegal market. These are good things for Canada."
Initially, the government had planned for the bill to be passed by both houses of Parliament in time for retail sales to begin by July 1. That timeline was pushed back after the Senate requested more time to review the bill.
Now that the bill has passed, it's up to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet to choose the actual date when the legalization of recreational marijuana becomes law of the land. Bill C-45 comes with a provisional buffer period of eight to 12 weeks to give provinces time to prepare for sales of recreational marijuana.
The Senate and the House of Commons battled over the bill for months.
The Senate had proposed 46 amendments to the Cannabis Act. The Liberal government rejected 13 of those proposed changes last week — including one provision that would have affirmed the provinces' right to ban home cultivation of marijuana.
Quebec, Manitoba and Nunavut all want to forbid their citizens from growing recreational marijuana at home, even after cannabis is legalized federally. The Senate suggested the federal government affirm the provinces' right to do so in the Cannabis Act.
"We have a bill that has an overarching goal to reduce the marijuana use among young people in this country and what it does right off the get go is normalizes it," said Conservative Sen. Leo Housakos, former Speaker of the Senate.
"There's nothing in this bill that indicates to me that we're tackling the problem, which is increased marijuana use among young people."
News of the bill's passage drew immediate response from some of the government's critics on social media.
"One of the strong recommendations by experts was that we ensure personal cultivation of four plants at home," Trudeau told reporters last week.
"We understand there are questions and concerns about this, and we understand also that it will be important to study the impacts of what we're doing and whether there can be changes made in three years, but we need to move forward on better protecting our communities."
A motion was moved today that would have seen the amendment returned to the bill, but senators defeated it by a vote of 45-35.
Some amendments stripped away
Another significant Senate amendment that was stripped from the bill would have created a public registry of investors in cannabis companies. That amendment was crafted by Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan to keep criminal gangs from using offshore tax havens to invest in Canada's cannabis industry.
Another significant Senate amendment quashed by the government would have banned the distribution of branded "swag" by pot companies, such as T-shirts, hats and phone cases that display a company logo.
Independent Sen. André Pratte, who disagrees with the government's decision to force provinces to accept home cultivation, said he was angry the bill passed without the major amendments posed by the Senate.
"Of course I am disappointed, and also a little bit angry that they didn't take more time and of course did not accept the amendment. We believe that it was a reasonable and flexible solution to the problem," he said.
"[The Liberals] have to decide at one point; what kind of Senate do they really want," Pratte said. "Do they want a really independent, modern Senate? If so, well, they have to take our amendments into consideration seriously."
On Monday of this week, 205 MPs voted to send the bill, minus 13 of the 46 Senate amendments, back to the Red Chamber.
NDP MPs supported the bill, while those on the Conservative benches voted against it.