The upper chamber of Canada’s Federal Parliament, The Senate, voted in favor of Bill C-45 going to the committee stage. The bill passed the second reading stage by a vote of 44-29 this Thursday (March 22nd) after a lot of political maneuvering behind the scene. 3 major players in this maneuvering were the Conservatives who would rather kill the bill straightaway then to let it pass in its current form, the Liberals who wanted it to pass and the key voting power in the Senate known as the Independent Senators group. Liberals were so anxious about the future of the bill that the Prime Minister even had to issue a warning that the Senate should not attempt to vote against the will of the Canadians, a will that was demonstrated by electing a government that had legalization of Marijuana as one of their main election promises. However, Liberals still need to wait before the winning celebration as this is not the end of the process. The bill will now be scrutinized by five different Senate committees, which could recommend amendments, before returning it to the upper house for a final debate and vote by June 7.
The Conservatives, who no longer dominate the 105-seat upper house hoped that a handful of independent senators would join them to defeat the bill at this early stage, combined this with the fact that many other independent Senators were travelling away from Ottawa on Senate business, the Conservatives were hopeful about their success. However, the leaders of the independent Senators group acted promptly, issuing a memo to all its travelling members to return to Ottawa on time to vote in favor of the bill. The Independent Senators made it on time and the bill got its’ passage to the committee stage. However, this does not mean that the independents will support the bill in its next stage of voting. Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the Independent group, characterized this move by the independent Senators as a step to fulfill their constitutional duty to allow the bill to receive proper review and in depth scrutiny; and that doesn’t mean they will all necessarily support the bill in the end.
Conservative Senate leader Larry Smith outlined five key areas of concern to Conservative senators about the cannabis bill: its impact on young people, public security and Indigenous people, the absence of a public education campaign and the lack of police preparedness to enforce a legalized pot regime, including the absence of a scientific test for drug impaired driving.
In a message from New Brunswick before the Senate vote, Prime Minister Trudeau said he expects the Senate to scrutinize the bill and suggest improvements. But he reminded senators that legalizing marijuana was one of the key promises his party made before the election and Canadians voted in favor of this promise when they elected his Liberal government. Referring to the data that shows Canadian kids ranked among the highest under-age users of marijuana in developed countries, and gives up to $7 billion every year in to the pockets of organized criminals, Prime Minister Trudeau said that the current system has failed and this can not go on.
The Liberals are hoping that the Bill passes through the Committee stage with minimum amendment suggestions and they can fulfill one of their high profile election promises.