The federal government's cannabis legalization bill survived a critical vote in the Senate on Thursday, keeping Bill C-45 on the path to becoming the law of the land.
The success of the vote at second reading means C-45 will continue being studied by Senate committees over the coming months.
It passed with 44 senators in favour and 29 opposed. All but two of the senators who voted against C-45 were members of the Senate Conservative caucus; former Senate Conservatives Mike Duffy and Lynn Beyak also voted against.
The vote followed a day of high political drama in the Senate, after a CBC News report Thursday morning identified the vote as a 'live-or-die' moment for cannabis legalization in Canada.
The Senate Conservative caucus, that article said, might have had the votes to kill the bill if some Liberal and Independent senators failed to show up to vote. Although the Conservative Party holds only 33 of the 105 seats in the Senate, the report said a number of other senators were away from Ottawa today on Senate committee business. Some of those senators flew back to Ottawa to vote on C-45 today, according to CBC News.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighed in on the vote earlier Thursday, saying Canadians voted in favour of his Liberal government's campaign promise to legalize cannabis.
"The current system does not work," Trudeau said while travelling in New Brunswick. "This is not something that Canadians want to see continued."Advertisement
Most of the Senate's debate time on Thursday was devoted to lengthy speeches by senators on The Cannabis Act. Many of those speeches were made by Conservative members of the upper chamber, who take issue with almost every aspect of the government's plan to legalize and regulate the use of the drug for recreational purposes.
Speaking to reporters earlier Thursday, Conservative Sen. Pierre-Hugues Boisvenu summed up his colleagues' vast array of concerns by calling Bill C-45 "a piece of shit." Boisvenu later apologized for his language during a speech on the Senate floor.
In his speech, Senate Conservative Leader Sen. Larry Smith excoriated the Liberal government for moving forward with its campaign promise to legalize cannabis.
"This government has decided to steamroll ahead, refusing to listen to the recommendations of medical expects, law enforcement experts, and even other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana," said Smith.
"It is up to the Senate to demonstrate there needs to be a greater regard for the consequences, a greater attention paid to managing the risks and concerns that have been identified and serious action on public education."
The last speech of the day was made by Independent Sen. Tony Dean, who is sponsoring C-45 in the Senate.
Voting to continue studying the bill, Dean said, would allow Senators to "focus on solutions" to cannabis-related issues, rather than just highlighting perceived problems with Bill C-45.
"Canadians expect us to confront the issues associated with cannabis, not to sweep them back under the rug for another twenty years, Senators," said Dean. "Not to sweep them back under the rug, or to pretend that prohibition is working."
"Honourable Senators, Canadians want us to do our jobs, not to look the other way," he said.
The Senate committees studying Bill C-45 can recommend amendments to the bill. Those amendments will then be debated in the Senate chamber, and voted upon a third and final time. Under an agreed timetable released in January, the vote at third reading will be held "on or before June 7."
If The Cannabis Act passes that third vote, the bill and its amendments will be sent back to the House of Commons for approval before receiving royal asset and becoming law.
— with files from Dylan Robertson and The Canadian Press