Marijuana legalization was in the news this past week with two events in Ottawa moving things along. Thursday, February 15, Senate leaders agreed on a timeline to get federal marijuana legislation passed by the summer. On the same day also in Ottawa, the Senate legal affairs committee was hearing concerns from various criminal justice groups who will be impacted by legalization.
Legal affairs committee
The president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police told the committee that he anticipated a surge in impaired driving litigation. Impaired driving cases currently account for 10% of the cases before Canadian courts. Stats Canada states that “drug-impaired driving cases currently take about twice as long on average to litigate in court than alcohol-impairment cases do, and are less likely to receive a guilty verdict.” Theoretically this could change once there is cannabis specific legislation. However, the Canadian Bar Association said changes in this well-established area of the Criminal Code would bring a large amount of uncertainty and therefore more room for defense litigation. The THC testing is still being refined which offers even more defense help. Yet another part of the bill almost invites a constitutional challenge as it makes breath testing for drivers mandatory. Currently police must have reasonable suspicion. Overall the largest concern seems to be the burden on the courts.
Marijuana legalization timeline decided upon
Despite concern that the Conservatives would try and push back the vote, all groups in the Senate agreed to a June 7, 2018 vote. This planned timeline is believed to give stakeholders, governments, businesses, and law enforcement agencies a better idea of how and when the bill will be addressed. The bill, Bill C-45, is currently in its second reading debate which should be finished end of March. Following this, five Senate committees will study Bill C-45 and deliver a report to the Senate preceding the final debate. Parliament is in session until late June so hopefully any back and forth can be resolved between the time of the vote and end of session. If the bill passes, marijuana would become legal two to three months later.