Recent news headlines foretelling a delay in the government's efforts to legalize and regulate cannabis caught Canadians' attention this week, but new comments made Thursday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau suggest the federal government is pushing forward with its plan.
On Wednesday, The Canadian Press news agency published an article with the headline, "Trudeau won't say whether Liberals will delay cannabis legalization."
The article, which appeared in news outlets across Canada, said the Prime Minister "was non-committal on the question of whether his government would bend to a call from the Senate's Aboriginal Peoples committee to delay the measure by as much as a year."
The story was premised on brief comments made by Prime Minister Trudeau to reporters as he entered a Liberal caucus meeting on Wednesday. Here's Trudeau's full statement in English, which followed a similar statement in French:
"We have been focused on legalizing marijuana because the current system hurts Canadians. It gives easy access to young people and quite frankly, funds criminal organizations to the tunes of billions of dollars a year. We'll continue to consult with a broad range of Canadians. And as our Parliamentary Secretary, Bill Blair, says regularly, legalization is not an event, it's a process, and that process will continue."
"We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule." -Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
But in a scrum on Thursday afternoon, the prime minister clarified that his government plans to stick to its current timeline for legalization.Advertisement
"We're going to continue to move forward," Trudeau told reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons. "We're going to bring in legalization as we've committed to this summer on schedule."
Asked specifically whether he would delay legalization to address concerns from the Assembly of First Nations, the prime minister repeated the message.
"We have been talking about this since well before we formed government. We have been working with our partners across the country on making this happen and we are going to be moving forward this summer on the legalization of cannabis," he said.
Marijuana law 'on track': Pro-legalization Senator
Sen. Tony Dean, who is sponsoring the government's Cannabis Act in the Senate, also said Thursday that legalization is proceeding apace.
"It's on track for September," Dean told The Leaf News. "I expect to see legal cannabis in Canada in September, and so do a few million other people."
Even though the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples called on the government to delay its plan to legalize cannabis in a report on Tuesday, Dean said many many of the concerns raised in that report go far beyond the scope of the Cannabis Act, and can only be addressed by the government.
"Where this goes, and how it goes, will be a conversation between the government and Indigenous leaders, not the Senate," said Dean.
Certain recommendations from the Aboriginal Peoples committee could still be addressed by the Senate in time for a fall legalization deadline, he said.
"There's an interest in funding commitments, there's an interest in access to licences for (cannabis) producers, there is an interest in culturally specific educational initiatives. Those things are all important. None of them is going to take a year."
"I expect to see legal cannabis in Canada in September, and so do a few million other people." -Sen Tony Dean
The delay amendment proposed by the Aboriginal Peoples committee, along with amendments proposed by three other committees, will ultimately be voted on by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology over the coming weeks. Amendments approved by the committee will then be voted on by the Senate as a whole, along with any other amendments moved by individual senators.
"I think there would be probably six or seven sitting days to do that in the Senate chamber," said Dean, who described a June 7 deadline for a final vote as feasible.
"If a group of senators sets out to chew up the time in that process, that would obviously be concerning."
Legal cannabis not a major election issue, says professor
Even if the federal government were to delay cannabis legalization, it likely wouldn't matter to the vast majority of Canadian voters, said University of Toronto political scientist Nelson Wiseman.
Cannabis legalization helped boost youth voter turnout in the 2015 election, he explained.
"But other Canadians didn't give a damn about it," he said.
"They saw what's going on in society more broadly, they're familiar with the fact that (cannabis is) legal in some places in the U.S., they're familiar with the fact that police and the courts aren't enforcing it as aggressively as they did twenty, thirty years ago. That isn't what they were voting on."
The next federal election is scheduled for October 2019 at the latest, and Wiseman said it will be driven by images of the leaders.
"Who do you trust more? Who are you more confident in?"