Legalization point man says July 1, 2018 implementation date is highly speculative

Blair emphasizes legislation must first pass through 'rigorous debate' in parliament before becoming law, and a need to work with provinces, territories, and municipalities

A CBC Report made waves Sunday night by claiming to have inside information about the projected date the Liberals are expected to present legislation in parliament: April 10 of this year. The article also claimed the new legislation will ‘make the sale of marijuana legal by July 1, 2018’.

The article also goes on to offer ‘insight’ into the the details of the proposed legislation, although the bulk of it is simply reiterations of well known task force recommendations from last December—namely a four plant limit for personal production and an age limit of 18 or 19, provinces managing distribution etc. Anyone who has paid any attention to this subject or actually read the task force report is well familiar with these suggestions.

This, predictably, triggered a cascade of articles repeating a myriad of variations of this information, but it’s important to note that the information is all based on one single claim of an inside source. No official confirmation from the government has been made. It’s also important to note that the projected date of legal marijuana sales on July 1, 2018 can be considered a target date, but the process of passing legislation through Canada’s parliament is unpredictable.

Though in a recent interview, legalization point man Bill Blair called these dates ‘highly speculative’.

"I have not discussed with anyone the date at which the legislation may be brought forward, except to say that our government has made a commitment to bring legislation forward in the spring of 2017, and that's all I've said to anyone on the subject," Blair said.

“And with respect to when it might be enacted, I have to tell you, that’s highly speculative. I recognize that in order for this to be done right, we have to bring these regulations before Parliament. They will be the subject of vigorous debate in Parliament, I am certain. It will then go—assuming it gets through the first stages of Parliament—before committee. The committee will hear from experts and collect evidence and report back to Parliament before Parliament makes a decision. There’s also the important process that will take place in the other place, in the senate. We respect those processes and that they will take as much time as they take.”

Blair also goes on to mention the importance of the provinces, territories and municipalities in this process, one more step in ensuring a fully functional legalization system.

For legislation to become law in Canada, it must pass through the House of Commons and Senate, three readings, and debate, before royal assent. This process could take several months or more, especially with house not sitting in July and August. If the Liberals introduce something in the early spring, it could be debated and passed before the summer break, but it’s also possible that the debate will continue on into the fall or even winter session.

While the Liberals have a majority in the House of Commons, the Conservatives hold the most seats in the upper chamber in the Senate. The 105 seats in the Senate are currently dominated by 40 Conservative Party senators. Another 35 are part of an independent senators group, 19 part of ‘Independent Liberals’ and seven non-affiliated seats. Four seats are currently vacant.

The Independent Liberals, or the Senate Liberal Caucus or Senate Independent Liberal Caucus, are independent Liberal senators. Senate Liberals were part of the parliamentary Liberal Party caucus until January 2014 when Justin Trudeau removed all Senators from the caucus with the purpose of their becoming independent. The independent senators still sit as a group and refer to themselves as the Senate Liberal Caucus.

Conservatives in the Senate have already been making hay out of the Liberals’ legalization plans, citing concerns with drug impaired driving, access to children, and more. The debate in Senate has the potential to drag on for a long time. In addition, opposition parties in the House of Commons like the NDP and CPC have an interest in dragging the debate out if they can frame it to voters as the Liberals’ fault.

The NDP, for their part, have been pressing the Liberals to hurry up and table legislation, calling for immediate decriminalization. Last June, the NDP introduced a bill calling for the immediate decriminalization of personal possession in Canada as part of an Opposition Day motion. If the NDP want to use the debate in the House of Commons to press their point of decriminalization, and the Liberals continue to resist this suggestion, that could also drag the debate out further.

None of that is to say this is a certainly. The path from legislation to bill can be very different depending on the bill and issue, and it is certainly possible all the parties will work through the proposed legislation and it will be passed and implemented by July 1, 2018. But it’s important to remember that no single party can control that process, and it’s far more likely that the fine tuning of this momentous legislation will take many years to complete.

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