• Niche Canada

Landmark Vote Sets the Stage for Legalization

June 19 was a historic day for Canadians and our democracy. After months of rigorous review and thoughtful debate, the Senate voted to pass Bill C-45, the government’s legislation to legalize cannabis.

The landmark vote is the last step before the legislation receives Royal Assent, ending close to 100 years of prohibition. Canada is now on the verge of becoming the first industrialized nation to legalize and regulate cannabis from production to consumption.

The Cannabis Act creates a strict legal framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis across our country. The government’s stated goal is to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and prevent organized crime from continuing to profit from the illegal cannabis market.

The road to get here wasn’t easy, as Conservative Senators used fear-mongering and stalling tactics to try and significantly delay the passing of this important piece of legislation. Despite overwhelming and unwavering support for cannabis legalization from all corners of our country, Conservative Senators were choosing party lines over the democratic will of the people.

That’s because, while Senators have a constitutional responsibility to thoughtfully review and debate the legislation, the Senate does not traditionally defeat legislation that is being implemented as a result of a campaign promise. Canadians gave Trudeau the mandate to proceed with legalization when we voted in his government.

That chapter of history has now concluded, and it’s time to move forward in a pragmatic and efficient manner. The federal government will license the growing of cannabis, set standards for potency and penalties for abuse, and create a taxation framework. The provinces and territories will regulate distribution.

Implementing the framework will be complicated, with multiple stakeholders and levels of government playing key roles in ensuring the safe transition to legal cannabis. That’s why it is critical that government, industry and the health, education and public safety sectors collaborate and create healthy dialogue.

We can’t ignore the fact that there are many people who are opposed to the move. In particular, we need to focus more attention and resources on enhancing cross-cultural education and outreach. Most immigrant groups are not embracing cannabis yet, so it’s important to start breaking down stereotypes in these communities.

Recently, concerned members of Calgary’s Chinese community rallied against proposals for recreational cannabis stores in Chinatown, saying it goes against traditional Chinese values. The Calgary Chinese Union said they were not consulted or engaged by the city over the issue.

As a result, a Calgary eye surgeon has now called off his plans to open a clinic to offer cannabis treatments for patients suffering from chronic pain and other conditions.

The issue was also raised in the Upper Chamber when the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples called for one-year delay of cannabis legalization to allow for additional consultation on taxation and more time to produce cannabis-related educational materials that are both culturally specific and linguistically appropriate.

These are just two examples of an issue that exists in communities across the country. Knowledge is power and it’s important for us all to increase outreach to these groups that often feel marginalized in our society.

Instead of ignoring the naysayers, we should engage, listen and have informed discussions about their concerns. In some cases, this may lead to the development of better policies and programs. In other cases, it may provide clarification to those who are opposed about the rationale for legalization and the benefits that will follow.