One question that Canadians can’t stop asking is whether legalization of recreational cannabis is a done deal. Is it really going to happen? Or is the Liberal government dangling this promise in hopes of re-election in 2019?
Lessons from past decades show us that government initiatives pertaining to pot—even those introduced in the House of Commons—don’t always flourish as expected.
A short history of cannabis in Canada
In 1969, the LeDain Commission, a federal government initiative, re-examined the criminalization of cannabis. The commission’s 1972 report recommended removing criminal sanctions on cannabis possession, and although the conclusion received some support, it lost momentum and didn’t go anywhere.
In 2003, Jean Chretien’s Liberal government announced its intention to decriminalize recreational cannabis. Those apprehended with less than 15 grams of marijuana would be punished with a fine, while those found with between 15 and 30 grams would either be ticketed or arrested for a summary criminal charge. However, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) was unimpressed, and some reports say U.S. officials threatened Canada with border hold-ups if the legislation went through.
Chretien’s bill stalled, although it was re-introduced by the Paul Martin government in 2004. But when the Martin government was defeated in a vote of non-confidence, the bill died again. The Conservatives came to power shortly thereafter, dashing any hopes that the bill would go through.
And now, in 2017, we are being promised that—yes!—cannabis will finally be legalized.
Next steps for passing the new bill
This is promising news for the half of Canadians who believe recreational marijuana should be legal, but in an interview with Lift, public policy expert Will Stewart warns supporters not to get too excited yet.
“I think it’s very dangerous to consider this a done deal at this point,” Stewart told Lift. “The legislative agenda has changed radically in the last 10 years. It used to be that a majority government with a majority in the Senate could pretty much pass anything that they wanted.”
Stewart cites Stephen Harper as an example: even with a majority in the House of Commons, he was challenged to pass bills in the Senate.
Stewart believes the Liberals may face similar challenges. “I think it will get through the House of Commons with relative ease, but I think once we hit the Senate any number of things can happen.“ Some senators have already promised that they’ll try to undo some of the bill’s provisions, including the minimum age of 18, which some see as too low.”
Watch the full segment with Will Stewart in the video below.
Will Stewart is a managing principal at public relations firm Navigator.