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Critical Vote Today in Canada’s Parliament Impacts Cannabis Legalization

Canadian cannabis flag

One thing I hear a lot from newcomers to the cannabis world, is “legalization is inevitable.” It’s a phrase that makes anyone who has spent much time fighting the battle to change cannabis laws cringe and gnash their teeth. Policy is slow and messy and time-consuming. It quickly becomes very dramatic and can swing like a pendulum.

Today, the non-inevitability of legalization appears to be playing out in Ottawa where final negotiations are still being worked out to formalize Canada’s end of cannabis prohibition.

Bill C-45, which would put adult-use cannabis legalization into full action, may be killed in the Senate today. The bill is due for a second hearing in the Senate, according to a previously agreed upon timetable, and would theoretically continue through the normal channels of passing legislation, ending up with full passage by “summer”, as defined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Tories, which hold 33 Senate seats and represent Canada’s conservatives, would like to stop legalization before it starts, and if they can gather enough votes to defeat C-45, the whole process will have to begin from scratch.

From CBC:

“Most Independent and Liberal senators generally support the bill, and together they hold 54 of the chamber’s 93 occupied seats. But that doesn’t guarantee that all of those members will vote together as a block or be present when the vote is recorded.

“New senators have been appointed as Independents — leaving the Liberal government with no mechanism to whip votes or force them to attend sittings in the chamber.

“Moreover, two Senate committees are on the road: members of the agriculture committee are meeting with stakeholders in Calgary, while the Aboriginal peoples committee is in Winnipeg. That means as many as 20 senators — most of them Independent — will be out of the mix today when a vote is held. Others, like Independent Quebec Sen. Jacques Demers, are not expected to be in attendance because of illness.”

Experts call the move unusual for such an early stage in a bill’s process, but formal procedures laid out in the chamber’s guidebook stipulate that bills which are defeated at this stage may not be reintroduced in the same parliamentary session. That means either an entirely new cannabis bill would have to be written in short order, or Canadian cannabis consumers will have to wait another year to purchase their products legally.

Policy-making IS messy, for sure. But it’s important and necessary to wade into the swamp of advocacy if we want our freedoms. I refer you to cannabis heavyweight Kris Krane of 4Front who published an article in Forbes this week and will be speaking at the next International Cannabis Business Conference in Berlin, Germany next month:

“It is true that many of the new business people in the cannabis industry never outwardly supported reform in the past. But the fact is that this new industry has allowed us to attract more people to support reform than ever before. Once people enter the cannabis industry, they must support broad reform goals, whether out of altruism or to protect their bottom lines. Ending cannabis prohibition means opening new markets and reducing business roadblocks, aligning the interests of activists and entrepreneurs.”

I’ll be crossing my fingers for the activists and entrepreneurs in Canada, and hope they are able to maintain enough pressure to keep this important policy change moving forward.

We’ll keep you posted how the vote turns out in Ottawa today. In the meantime, get involved at every level of cannabis change. Support organizations working to change federal policies such as the National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access, and NORML, and take part in the International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC), with events happening in Berlin, Germany on April 1–13; Vancouver, BC, Canada in June; and Portland, Oregon, USA in September. Tickets are on sale now!

Featured photo credit: abdallahh/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed

Jacques Demers, Justin Trudeau, Kris Krane, National Cannabis Industry Association, Students for Sensible Drug Policy