A Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf on it is seen during the annual 4/20 marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on April 20 2017. Picture: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE
A Canadian flag with a marijuana leaf on it is seen during the annual 4/20 marijuana rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on April 20 2017. Picture: REUTERS/CHRIS WATTIE

Ottawa — Canada is set to become the first Group of Seven (G-7) nation to legalise recreational marijuana after a bill from Justin Trudeau’s government won the backing of the upper chamber.

The senate’s approval in a vote on Tuesday night in Ottawa clears the way for the final step — a ceremonial approval from the governor-general — to officially make Bill C-45 law. The exact date it will take effect remains unclear, and ministers have said another 12 weeks beyond that may be needed for producers and retail stores to prepare for their first sales.

"It’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana — and for criminals to reap the profits," the prime minister said in a Twitter message posted after the vote. "Today, we change that. Our plan to legalise and regulate marijuana just passed the senate. #PromiseKept."

Trudeau’s Liberals pressured the senate to approve the bill this week before a parliamentary recess began, allowing the government to keep a pledge for the market to open by the end of the summer. Legalisation could create a market worth C$7.2bn ($5.4bn) and investor anticipation has already created several companies, such as Canopy Growth and Aurora Cannabis, with market values of more than C$1bn.

The country’s senate voted 52 to 29 in favour of a revised bill from the elected house of commons, and there were two abstentions. The house version accepted some earlier senate amendments, while rejecting a contentious one calling for further restrictions on people growing plants in their homes.

Senator André Pratte said it wasn’t worth creating a political crisis to hold up the legislation over home-grown plants. "I don’t think it is of such importance to warrant an extraordinary intervention."

Conservative senators also raised other concerns, such as slower US border crossings, that kept the bill in the upper house for about seven months. Trudeau countered those concerns with arguments that a regulated market will strip profits from criminal gangs and reduce youth consumption, and it’s rare in Canadian politics for the appointed senate to block laws sent from an elected government outright.

Justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould offered a long view: "This is a historic milestone for progressive policy in Canada as we shift our approach to cannabis."

Bloomberg