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Senate deal on cannabis bill timeline means no sales before August

"Health minister has said governments will need eight to 12 weeks to prepare for retail sales

Cannabis at Canopy Growth's Smiths Falls facility on Jan. 26, 2018. (Evan Mitsui/CBCNews)

Leaders in the Senate have reached a deal on a timeline for the legalization of cannabis — a schedule that pushes the start of retail sales past July 1, the date that had been floated in the past as the government's target.

Peter Harder, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's point-man in the Senate, and Larry Smith, the Conservative leader in the upper house, have agreed on a path forward for Bill C-45, CBC News has confirmed.

While Harder had wanted a vote at third reading in May — the last legislative stage before a bill receives royal assent — that vote will now be held on or before June 7.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told members of the Red Chamber last week that it will take 8 to 12 weeks to get the retail system up and running after the legislation receives royal assent. That means Canadians probably can't expect to buy legal weed before early August.

"There's no exact date but, if you do the math, you'll see it won't be July 2018," Petitpas Taylor told reporters Thursday. "Cannabis legalization is not about a date, it's about a process ... We want this process done as seamlessly as possible."

The bill, as currently written, stipulates the law does not come into force until a date is fixed by an order of the governor in council (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's cabinet).

Tories are 'quite pleased' with new timeline

The delayed timeline is a victory for Conservatives, who have demanded more time to study the implications of legalizing a drug that has been outlawed for more than 100 years. A senior Conservative source, speaking on background to CBC News, said they were "quite pleased" they secured more time from the government through these negotiations.

"The table has been set for what we've asked for all along — a thorough examination of the bill," the source said. "There's lots in the legislation that is of concern to us."

The Conservative source said a "handful" of amendments to the bill are expected in the intervening months.

"It's not a matter of what's being done. It's a matter of how it's being done."

Conservative senators are worried the legislation will endanger youth, increase smoking rates, complicate the work of police officers, lead to a backlog of court cases for possession offences and do little to curb black market sales of the drug.

Defenders of the bill — including its sponsor in the Senate, Independent Ontario Sen. Tony Dean — say the government does not have the luxury of time. They say illegal cannabis use — a $7 billion industry that funnels funds into the hands of organized crime, according to government figures — will continue unabated without the benefit of federal regulations.

This week, Harder floated the idea of invoking time allocation to shut down debate and force a vote if Conservatives stalled the bill's passage beyond a reasonable date. That option is off the table now that all sides have agreed to this timeline."...

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