Canada’s ministers of Justice, Public Safety and Health appeared at the Senate today to defend its government’s Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) as part of ongoing deliberations about how legalization will be implemented this summer. Senators grilled Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, cannabis task force head Bill Blair and Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor with questions about potential links between tax havens and licensed producers; criminal code amendments (C-46) which focus on impaired driving and cannabis use; and the potential of a youth use increase in the wake of legalization.
“Right now, it’s easier for kids to go behind their school and buy cannabis than it is for them to go and buy tobacco at the store,” declared Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor, an MP for Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe. She emphasized that, so far, prohibition laws haven’t effectively prevented enough teens from using cannabis: Canadian teenagers currently use cannabis more than any other developed country. She argued that when cannabis is regulated the same way cigarettes are, it will actually be more difficult for them to obtain.
She also repeated that after consulting reps in Colorado, where cannabis is legal, $46 million was put aside for public awareness and education campaigns. While they've already launched the Don't Drive High campaign, she said more programs are currently in development and will be launched in March.
Ministers reiterated that another goal of the Cannabis Act is to reduce organized crime’s involvement in the current cannabis market. But senators raised questions about reports of potential links between shareholders of Health Canada-licensed producers and “fiscal paradises,” also known as tax havens, such as the Cayman Islands.
“The fact of the matter is, today the cannabis market in Canada is 100 per cent controlled by organized crime,” responded Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, who agreed that if true, these investments could pose a problem. “We’ve got to do better than that... in some states in the U.S., their experience has been that after some four-five years of a different regime, that the engagement of organized crime has been reduced by about 75 per cent.” He also agreed to work towards full transparency when it comes to the identities of shareholders of licensed producers.
Earlier in the day, rumours swirled about a possible announcement that legalization would be delayed by the Senate until well after July, the vague deadline circulated by the Liberals. Senate Leader of the Opposition, Conservative Larry W. Smith (who appears in the top photo), published an opinion piece on the Senate’s blog accusing the Liberals of pressuring the senate to adhere to a July 1 deadline.
“Over the past few weeks, we’ve been feeling the pressure coming from the Trudeau government to rush this legislation through — as an independent body the Senate should not be subject to political encumbrance,” he wrote. “The Trudeau government is putting its own political intents before the health and safety of Canadians by establishing the arbitrary deadline of July 1, 2018. We should never compromise the public safety of Canadians for purely an electoral promise.” In today's proceedings, Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor emphasized her government's commitment to the well-being of Canadians today in the Senate.
And was recreational cannabis ever intended to be legalized on July 1 of this year?
It’s tough to find evidence that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his party were ever committed to that deadline. Even after Trudeau clarified the timing would be sometime in the summer to Quebec’s TVA Network last December, and cannabis task force head Bill Blair shared a similarly vague time of year, news outlets and stakeholders have continued to perpetuate the apparent myth of a Canada Day deadline.
While no new information about a concrete date for legalization was shared at today’s meeting, the Senate also launched a website dedicated to informing the public about the Cannabis Act and future developments.