Canada legalises recreational cannabis use

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Canadian flying a national flag with a marijuana leaf instead of a maple leaf

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AFP/Getty

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The Senate passed the bill, with 52 votes in favour and 29 against

Canada has passed a landmark law that legalises the recreational use of marijuana nationwide.

The Cannabis Act passed its final hurdle on Tuesday in a 52-29 vote in the Senate. The bill controls and regulates how the drug can be grown, distributed, and sold.

Canadians will be able to buy and consume cannabis legally as early as this September.

The country is the first in the G7 to legalise the drug’s recreational use.

Cannabis possession first became a crime in Canada in 1923 but medical use has been legal since 2001.

The bill will likely receive Royal Assent this week, and the government will then choose an official date when the law will come into force.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that until now, “it’s been too easy for our kids to get marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits”.

The government is expected to give the provinces and territories, as well as municipalities, eight to 12 weeks to set up the new marijuana marketplace.

This timeframe will also allows industry and police forces to prepare for the new legal framework.

In 2015, Canadians were estimated to have spent about C$6bn ($4.5bn, £3.4bn) on cannabis – almost as much as they did on wine.

How will legal marijuana in Canada work?

It is likely that by mid-September, Canadians will be able to buy cannabis and cannabis oil grown by licensed producers at various retail locations.

Canadians across the country will also be able to order the drug online from federally licensed producers.

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AFP/Getty

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Rules for how cannabis is sold and where it can be smoked will differ from province to province

Adults will be able to possess up to 30 grams (one ounce) of dried cannabis in public.

Edibles, or cannabis-infused foods, will not be immediately available for purchase but will be within a year of the bill coming into force. The delay is meant to give the government time to set out regulations specific to those products.

The minimum legal age to buy and consume marijuana has been set federally at 18, but some provinces have chosen to set it at 19.

Provinces are in charge of how it is sold and have the power to set various other limits on its use within their jurisdiction – like where it can be smoked.

But the federal government has set guidelines for plain packaging with little branding and strict health warnings. It will also impose restrictions on promotions targeting young people, promotion through sponsorships, or depictions of celebrities, characters, or animals in advertisements.

What will remain illegal?

It will be illegal to possess over 30 grams of cannabis, grow more than four plants per household, and to buy from an unlicensed dealer.

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Press Association

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There will still be some restrictions on cannabis use in Canada

Penalties will be severe. Someone caught selling the drug to a minor could be jailed for up to 14 years.

Some critics say the penalties are too harsh and not proportional to similar laws like those around selling alcohol to minors.

Why is Canada doing this now?

This legislation fulfils a 2015 campaign promise by Mr Trudeau, the leader of the Liberal Party.

The prime minister has argued that Canada’s nearly century-old laws criminalising use of the drug have been ineffective, given that Canadians are still among the world’s heaviest users.

Polls have repeatedly indicated that a solid majority of Canadians are supportive of the move.

The decision to legalise recreational use of marijuana in Canada comes as global trends shift away from criminal prohibition of the widely used drug.

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Media captionUK Labour backbencher Paul Flynn said the tide of world opinion is moving to legalisation of cannabis

In December 2013, Uruguay became the first country to fully legalise the sale and production of marijuana.

A handful of US states have legalised its recreational use in the intervening years, including Colorado and California.