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Vote in Canada Paves Way for Legalization of Marijuana

OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada’s Senate passed legislation Tuesday that will make the country the first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana use.

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Ian Austen
, New York Times

OTTAWA, Ontario — Canada’s Senate passed legislation Tuesday that will make the country the first major economy to legalize recreational marijuana use.

The bill, which was approved by the House of Commons on Monday, goes next to the governor-general, the representative of Queen Elizabeth, as a formality. Once it is formally approved, the legislation is expected to create a multibillion dollar industry, with Canada joining Uruguay in allowing its citizens on a national level to use marijuana without fear of arrest.

“We’ve just witnessed a historic vote for Canada, the end of 90 years of prohibition,” said Tony Dean, the senator who sponsored the bill in the chamber.

There remain significant concerns about the social and health effects of marijuana.

“Now we can start to tackle some of the harms of cannabis,” Dean said. “We can start to be proactive in public education. We’ll see the end of criminalization, and we can start addressing Canada’s $7 billion illegal market.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government had hoped to have the legal sale of marijuana begin by July 1. But provincial governments will now need eight to 12 weeks to prepare retailing systems, government officials said.

On Twitter, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the justice minister, said the bill would “help protect our youth from the risks of cannabis while keeping profits out of the hands of criminals and organized crime.”

The legislation was a signature piece of Trudeau’s platform in the 2015 election campaign. The idea was rejected by the opposition Conservative Party in Parliament and was questioned by some of Trudeau’s supporters. Polls indicate Canadians are divided on the initiative.

Sen. Linda Frum, a Conservative, wrote on Twitter that the bill’s approval was a “sad day for Canada’s kids.”

Trudeau and his Cabinet members have argued that criminalization had failed, enriching organized crime while ruining the lives of people convicted of possession.

Precisely how Canada’s system will operate will not be fully known until the government makes public detailed regulations. But the broad plan is for a tightly controlled system that some marijuana advocates argue will be a form of prohibition in itself.

There will be strict limits on advertising marijuana, and it will likely be sold in uniform packages that carry health warnings as their only decoration. Candies, baked goods and other edible products containing marijuana will, initially at least, continue to be banned.

While the federal government will set the overall laws governing recreational marijuana and will license growers, the provinces will determine how it will be sold to consumers. Some provinces, like Ontario, plan to set up government-operated stores. But other provinces, notably Alberta, will license private-sector retailers.

The minimum age for use will be 18 or 19, with the provinces authorized to make that determination. The Canadian Medical Association had recommended a minimum age of 21.

Experts also disagree on how effectively the police will be able to screen motorists for marijuana impairment once sales begin.

Some provinces had wanted to ban home growing of marijuana, and they were initially backed by the Senate. But the government prevailed, and individuals will be permitted to tend as many as four plants.

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