A bill to to legalize marijuana in Canada passed a crucial step on Thursday, with the Senate approving the legislation at third reading. If ultimately implemented, Canada would become the first G7 nation to fully legalize cannabis.
The bill, C-45, represents a key campaign promise of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party—and it was sponsored by Independent Senator Tony Dean. The bill passed the traditionally conservative Senate 56-30, with one abstention.
Dean said he “would rather not let those harms [of prohibition] continue both on the social side and the health side,” in a closing statement. “I would like to join other jurisdictions—like those in the U.S.—that have seen signification diversion” of marijuana from the black market to a regulated system.
The vote took place one day after the prime minister announced the appointment of two Independent senators to vacant seats, sworn in hours before the vote, which some saw as an effort to ensure the legalization bill passed.
Appointment of 2 new Independent Senators announced last night. Swearing in ceremony announced for today. It’s almost as if Trudeau govt knows how they’ll vote on Pot Legislation tonight. #C45
— Senator Linda Frum (@LindaFrum) June 7, 2018
So these Conservative Senators both opposed #C45 but are going to profit from it because of impending investments in the industry? That does not really sound like “opposition” to me. Sounds more like mouthing the party line despite realizing it is stupid. https://t.co/dIhWavbxAb
— KirkTousaw (@KirkTousaw) June 7, 2018
Because the Senate also approved almost 50 amendments throughout the debate process—including one that would let individual provinces prohibit home-grown cannabis and another to limit cannabis companies’ ability to use products like t-shirts and hats to advertise their brands—the legislation must first go back to the House of Commons. Should the House accept the amended language of the bill, legalization would “technically” be the law of the land, CTV News reported.
The reason for that technical stipulation is that the government estimates that it will take as many as 12 weeks before the retail sales system is implemented. The bill must also be approved by “Royal Assent,” which is generally a formality where a representative of the Canadian monarchy sanctions the legislation.
A technical amendment approved during the third reading on Thursday would require a committee review of the legislation five years after implementation.
A minor technical amendment to #CannabisAct passes in a vote of the full Senate.
It was to require a committee of the Senate and the House of Commons to conduct a comprehensive review of the act after five years.
Passes without opposition.#Cannabis #C45
— Glen Korstrom (@GlenKorstrom) June 7, 2018
What C-45 would accomplish
The bill would legalize the sale, use, possession, and limited cultivation of marijuana for adults 18 and older. Under the legislation, the government would create a regulatory system designed to reduce youth marijuana use and imposes taxes on retail sales, among other responsibilities.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Policarpio.
Senate Schedules Second Cannabis Hearing For Next Week
A key Senate committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss hemp production, featuring witnesses from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In the months since hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, there’s been strong interest in developing USDA and FDA regulations for the crop and its compounds such as CBD, and lawmakers have repeatedly pressed the agencies to speed up the rulemaking process to unlock the industry’s potential.
While the hearing notice doesn’t go into detail about what will be discussed, the meeting’s title—”Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill”—and list of witnesses indicate that the conversation will revolve around the development of federal guidelines for hemp businesses.
— Sen. Ag Republicans (@SenateAgGOP) July 17, 2019
USDA Marketing and Regulatory Programs Under Secretary Greg Ibach, USDA General Counsel Stephen Vaden, FDA Principal Deputy Commissioner Amy Abernethy and EPA Assistant Administrator of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention Alexandra Dunn will appear before the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry on July 25.
I am honored to be called by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry to testify next week (7/25) on “Hemp Production and the 2018 Farm Bill.” As FDA, we recognize how important the topics of hemp and cannabidiol (CBD) are to Americans. https://t.co/bHMBGth1bL
— Dr. Amy Abernethy (@DrAbernethyFDA) July 18, 2019
Other invited witnesses include Kentucky farmer Brian Furnish, National Hemp Association Executive Director Erica Stark and Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki.
The Senate Agriculture Committee meeting will mark the chamber’s second cannabis-related hearing of the week. The Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs announced on Tuesday that it will meet to discuss marijuana banking issues on July 23.
FDA and USDA have both recently signaled that they were cognizant of widespread interest in creating regulatory pathways for hemp and its derivatives, with USDA stating that it planned to release an interim final rule on the products in August and FDA’s Abernethy writing that the agency is “expediting” its rulemaking process. FDA added that it hoped to release a report on its progress by early fall.
That said, heads of the departments have also tried to temper expectations. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that USDA wouldn’t be expediting regulatory developments but that he expected them to be issued ahead of the 2020 planting seasons.
Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, meanwhile, cited policy complications that would make it difficult for the agency to create an alternative regulatory pathway for hemp-derived CBD products to be lawfully marketed as food items or dietary supplements. He said that without congressional action, it may take FDA years to establish those rules.
Photo courtesy of Brendan Cleak.
As More States Legalize, DEA Chops Down Fewer Marijuana Plants, Federal Data Shows
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) seized far fewer marijuana plants in 2018 compared to the previous year but made significantly more cannabis-related arrests, according to federal data released this month.
More than 2.8 million indoor and outdoor marijuana plants were seized last year as part of the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. That marks a 17 percent decline from 2017 levels.
NORML first noted the DEA report, which also shows that marijuana-related arrests the agency was involved with increased by about 20 percent in a year. And while the overall number of plants that were seized dropped, DEA said that the value of the assets totaled about $52 million—more than twice as much as it reported the previous year.
State-level legalization efforts appear to have played a role in the declining number of plant seizures, particularly those cultivated outdoors. In the same year that retail cannabis sales started in California, DEA confiscated almost 40 percent fewer outdoor plants in the state compared to 2017.
That data point is consistent with recent research showing that legalization is associated with a decrease in the number of illicit cannabis grows in national forests, which are often targets for DEA enforcement action.
It’s not clear why there was a significant uptick in marijuana-related arrests, but those increases generally did not occur in states where legal cannabis systems were recently implemented.
For example, arrests in Kansas, where marijuana is strictly prohibited, increased by more than 3,500 percent—from 15 to 544—from 2017 to 2018. Louisiana likewise experienced a 168 percent increase in cannabis arrests.
The data covers federal law enforcement actions and does not include those of local police agencies that did not partner with the agency.
Year-over-year decreases in cannabis seizures through DEA’s eradication program have been viewed by advocates as evidence that state-level legalization systems effectively displace the illicit market, removing the incentive to illegally cultivate cannabis.
Similarly, a separate recent report from the U.S. Sentencing Commission showed that federal prosecutions for marijuana trafficking dropped precipitously in 2018—another sign demonstrating that state-level legalization is disrupting the illicit market, advocates argue.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told Marijuana Moment that “federal eradication programs are a holdover from a bygone era.”
“At a time when roughly one-quarter of the country resides in a jurisdiction where adult marijuana use is legal, and when members of Congress are openly discussing removing cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act, it is time for these federal anti-marijuana efforts to be put out to pasture and for federal agencies to take positions that more closely comport with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural status in America,” he said.
DEA has also faced criticism of its cannabis eradication efforts from a non-partisan federal watchdog agency last year for failing to adequately collect documentation from state and local law enforcement partners funded through the program.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that DEA “has not clearly documented all of its program goals or developed performance measures to assess progress toward those goals.”
At the same time that DEA is seizing fewer plants grown illicitly, it’s also setting higher goals for federally authorized cannabis cultivation for research purposes. In 2019, the agency said it hoped to grow approximately 5,400 pounds of marijuana to meet research demand, which is more than double its quota for 2018.
Senate Schedules Hearing On Marijuana Business Banking Access
In one of the clearest signs of marijuana reform’s growing momentum on Capitol Hill, a Republican-controlled Senate committee has scheduled a hearing for next week that will examine cannabis businesses’ lack of access to banking services.
The formal discussion in the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on Tuesday comes as legislation aimed at resolving the marijuana industry’s financial services problems is gaining momentum. A House cannabis banking bill that cleared that chamber’s Financial Services Committee with a bipartisan vote in March now has 206 cosponsors—nearly half the body—while companion Senate legislation has 32 out of 100 senators signed on.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)