Canada has become the first wealthy nation in the world to fully legalize marijuana.
The country's Senate approved Bill C-45, also known as the Cannabis Act, on Tuesday. The measure was already approved by the House of Commons, so the Senate’s approval means it’s now set to become law.
The measure legalizes marijuana possession, home growing, and sales for adults.
The federal government will oversee remaining criminal sanctions (for, say, selling to minors) and the licensing of producers, while provincial governments will manage sales, distribution, and related regulations — as such, provinces will be able to impose tougher rules, such as raising the minimum age.
Canadian and provincial governments are expected to need two to three months before retail sales and other parts of the law can roll out.
None of this may seem too shocking in the US, where already nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational use and 29 states have allowed it for medicinal purposes. What sets Canada apart, though, is it’s doing this as a country. Previously, the South American nation of Uruguay was the only one that legally allowed marijuana for recreational purposes.
Canada, like the US, is part of international drug treaties that explicitly ban legalizing marijuana. Although activists have been pushing to change these treaties for years, they have failed so far — and that means Canada will be, in effect, in violation of international law in moving to legalize.
For Canada’s ruling party, this fulfills a major campaign promise. When Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party was elected in 2015, one of the main promises he ran on was to legalize marijuana.
“We will legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana,” the Liberal Party declared on its campaign website. “Canada’s current system of marijuana prohibition does not work. It does not prevent young people from using marijuana and too many Canadians end up with criminal records for possessing small amounts of the drug.”
But the process languished as Trudeau and his allies waited for a federal task force’s recommendations and as the Senate debated several provisions in the bill.
In moving forward, the Canadian government is now walking a fine line: It’s hoping to legalize marijuana to clamp down on the black market for cannabis and provide a safe outlet for adults, but it’s risking making pot more accessible to kids and people with drug use disorders.