It may have been a key plank in Justin Trudeau’s 2015 election platform, but now as prime minister, Trudeau is realizing legalizing recreational marijuana might not be easy.
Trudeau and his Liberal government had set July 1 for the deadline to have legalized recreational marijuana available to Canadians. Now the prime minister is shying away from that promise and is just saying his plan calls for pot to be legalized “sometime next summer.”
“The date will not be July 1, I can assure you of that,” the prime minister told Quebec’s TVA network. “I don’t know where that date came from.”
A headline on a CTV News web page says it all: “Marijuana legalization may not meet government’s July 1 goal.”
Federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told senators Tuesday that provinces and territories have indicated once Bill C-45, the legislation setting up a legal cannabis regime, is given royal assent, they’ll need another eight to 12 weeks to prepare for retail sales.
“We still feel very confident that we can meet our goal of July 2018. No one ever said July 1 or I never said July 1,” Petitpas said outside the Senate. “But our goal of meeting July 2018 for me is still very much a realistic goal.”
“Once we’ve reached royal assent, there’s going to be a transition period because we have to ensure that provinces and territories have the capacity to get the product into their shops,” she added.
It’s clear there are problems.
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale believes the lack of a proper law to regulate the sale of pot has led to increased use by youth. He also said most of the potential problems identified by senators already exist in Canada, where prohibition has led to cannabis use by young people that is the highest among developed countries and a market controlled entirely by criminals.
“Obviously, the current law has failed,” Goodale said.
So what’s next?
Conservative Senate leader, Larry Smith, said Tuesday he and his fellow Conservative Senators won’t be obstructionist.
“I promise you, however, that we will give a voice to those in the Canadian public who have significant and valid concerns about the policy choice your government is making,” he told CTV News.
Smith argued that the government is proceeding too quickly and should not legalize marijuana before conducting an intensive public education campaign about the dangers of cannabis use on the developing brains of youths.
Despite Progressive Conservative Party opposition in the Ontario Legislature, Ontario’s bill to legalize pot passed last month.
The bill creates a provincial agency that will distribute and retail pot through storefronts and online. It also creates stiff fines that could top $1 million against companies and people who sell marijuana in defiance of the government monopoly.
The bill gives municipalities the power to close pot shops as soon as their owners are charged, even if they have not been convicted. It also sets the minimum age to buy pot in Ontario at 19 and bans cannabis use in public places, workplaces and vehicles.
The Ontario legislation passed one day after the federal government agreed to give the provinces 75 per cent of marijuana tax revenue and set a target price for recreational pot of about $10 a gram.
So is this just a money-making scheme for the federal and provincial governments without regard for the consequences? Some Canadians are clearly concerned about that. And many are wondering whether provincial governments can meet the July 1 deadline.
An Angus-Reid poll indicated the people of Ontario and several other provinces may not be ready in time.
“I think it’s really interesting to note that we’ve got this timeline in place. July 1, 2018, is looming, and if you ask Canadians whether or not they’re confident about this, only 39 per cent, or four in ten, say that they are confident that their province will have a plan in place,” said Angus Reid research associate Dave Korzinski.
Six in ten residents of Quebec and Ontario share this opinion.
In addition, almost half of all respondents believe that the deadline for legalization should be pushed back to ensure that governments are better prepared.
Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan said that he thinks the government knows it will overshoot its own deadline and that’s why it appears to be publicly wavering.
“I think that it’s impossible to respect this deadline, and that’s why the government is starting to go back [on it],” he told iPolitics. “They realize it’s impossible to adopt this legislation before July 1.
Well, now the government is not saying the legalization of pot will come July 1. It is saying “sometime next summer.” Next month, who knows what the government will be saying.
The confusion has a couple of companies wondering just how the plan will be rolled out.
Canada’s largest medical-cannabis company, which will be able to supply the recreational market after the product is fully legalized, said it will be able to adapt to the government’s timeline.
“In my mind, I’ve been thinking August 1. So if it’s July 10 or 18, I really don’t care,” Bruce Linton, the chief executive officer at Canopy Growth Corp told The Globe and Mail. “It’s going to be better if it’s in the summer because people are on vacation.”
“It’s nerve-wracking, it’s unsettling, not knowing what product, what packaging, what branding, what quantities these different entities want, not knowing what product mix they want, when they want it and where we’re shipping it to,” Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Tilray, said in the same story.
She who knows what will happen. The Trudeau government keeps changing the timeline. The debate keeps bringing up more issues with the plan, so it has a long way to go. So will it be July 1, sometime later in July, sometime next summer or just sometime? Who really knows anymore.
Jeff Wilkinson is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.