Justin Trudeau confirms official date for legal weed in Canada

The prime minister says recreational cannabis will be federally legal on October 17, 2018.

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Okay, Canada. While many of us are itching to take that nice, long pull from a celebratory joint, don’t bust out your rolling papers quite yet.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in the House of Commons Wednesday (June 20) the country’s official legalization date is October 17, 2018.

The Cannabis Act, Bill C-45, cleared its final parliamentary hurdle with a landslide vote (52 to 29, with two abstentions) in the Senate on Tuesday (June 19).

After more than a year of debate and scrutiny in both houses of Parliament, Canadians will have to wait four more months before they are able to purchase and consume recreational cannabis. Until then, weed is still illegal for non-medical users.

In early talks, the Liberal government was aiming for a July 1 deadline, but that date was delayed to allow provinces more time to prepare. Trudeau then issued a statement in May saying he intended to stick to a summer deadline despite mounting pressures to allow for a one-year delay.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, alongside Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor and Parliamentary Secretary Bill Blair, also delivered a statement to reporters Wednesday morning.

“C-45 marks a wholesale shift in how our country approaches cannabis. It leaves behind a failed model of prohibition, a model that has made organized crime rich and left our young vulnerable,” said Wilson-Raybould.

She urged Canadians to proceed with caution over the coming months, reminding the country that the recent political developments are not a cart-blanche to smoke pot.

“The law still remains the law,” she said, advising potential consumers to stick to the existing legislation, which prohibits the use of non-medical cannabis, until the new bill comes into force.

Wilson-Raybould also took time to draw attention to Bill C-46, the companion bill to C-45 that updates current impaired driving laws. She says the new legislation is set to “create among the toughest impaired driving laws in the world” and includes regulations for new oral fluid detection devices, roadside tests, and consumption limitations.

The bill, which was introduced alongside C-45, is awaiting the final stage of debate in the Upper Chamber and the Liberal government expects it to pass “very soon”.

She added: “I would like to also remind the public that driving while impaired by drugs is, and will remain, illegal.”

Amnesty for pre-legalization offences

When asked whether or not the government intends to pardon individuals charged with minor cannabis-related crimes, Wilson-Raybould said she and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale are taking it under “consideration”.

“The minister and I have had conversations about this. Our focus has been and is the coming into force of the Cannabis Act and ensuring all the regulations around the legalization of cannabis are in place,” she said.

Wilson-Raybould said once the new framework is in effect, Goodale will revisit the question of amnesty.

Trudeau also addressed this point while speaking to reporters in Ottawa earlier, stating: "There is no point looking at pardons while the old law is on the books. We've said we will look at next steps once the new coming-into-force happens. Between now and then, the current regime stays."

Youth access still a concern

The announcement of an official date gives provinces 17 weeks to prepare for legalization, including tightening up any regulations surrounding home cultivation and public consumption. One of the most prominent concerns, which was brought up countless times during the bill's legislative process, focused on the threat of increased youth access now that cannabis will be allowed in personal residences.

Blair told reporters that any lingering concerns surrounding the threat of youth access to cannabis is now in the hands of the provinces and territories to mitigate, but the federal government expects the laws to translate to parents.

“Every province and territory has the authority and jurisdiction to enact such regulations to ensure personal cultivation under any circumstance will be done safely,” he said.

“Frankly, not only do we expect good parenting but the law requires that any adult who is in the lawful possession of cannabis, for personal cultivation or something they purchased, has a responsibility not to make it available to children.”

While cannabis consumers won’t feel the tangible effects of legalization until October, the Senate’s vote approving C-45 was undoubtedly historic. After 95 years of prohibition, Canada will become the second country worldwide and the first G7 country to federally legalize recreational cannabis.

The bill is expected to receive Royal Assent within days.

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