Canada’s parliament on Tuesday evening approved legislation that will make the country the second in the world to legalize recreational marijuana.
But before you plan a trip across the border to smoke legal weed, note that the legislation still needs to be approved by Royal Assent. After legislation passes Ottawa’s House of Commons and Senate, it must then be formally approved by the Queen of England’s representative in the commonwealth country, Governor General Julie Payette.
Canada technically still considers the British monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, as its head-of-state. However, the monarchy’s website explains: “As Head of State the Queen has to remain strictly neutral with respect to political matters.”
The Queen’s approval via Payette is largely seen as ceremonial however, essentially a required rubber-stamp of any legislation. The last time a British monarch refused Royal Assent was in 1707.
Although some legal scholars argue the Queen could technically still veto legislation, the general consensus is that this would never happen.
Canadian academic James Bowden wrote in 2012 that “the reserve powers of the Sovereign become obsolete over time”. With disuse, the veto power becomes essential null, in his view. However, Australian academic Anne Twomey has suggested the Queen may sometimes deny Royal Assent at the advice of her ministers.
Nonetheless, it is highly unlikely Royal Assent will be denied to bill C-45. After Payette issues the Queen’s expected approval of the legislation, Canada’s government aims to implement the new regulations within eight to twelve weeks.
Prior to the vote, parliamentarian Bill Blair, who is seen as the government’s point-man on the legislation, told CTV News that the government would aim to move forward with implementation by September.
“We’re probably looking at a date of implementation somewhere towards the beginning of September, perhaps mid-September,” Blair said.
Commenting on the legislation, John Conroy, president of NORML Canada – an organization that pushed for legalization – told Newsweek the bill is a “good first step.” He explained the legislation as “a little bit of ‘legalization’ … together with a little bit of ‘decriminalization’ … [and] a whole lot of continued ‘criminalization.’”
While legislation will allow for consumers to purchase cannabis at retailers, and will decriminalize sale and possession, it also institutes a host of new regulations. Violating the regulations come with their own set of criminal consequences. Conroy also suggested that the government’s decision to give provinces and cities greater power over retail sales, either through private or government-owned stores, could potentially lead local governments pushing for measures “amounting to prohibition.”
Despite the concerns, Canadian politicians have expressed optimism about the legislation’s implementation.
“I’m feeling just great,” Senator Tony Dean, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, told CBC News. “We’ve just witnessed a historic vote for Canada. The end of 90 years of prohibition. Transformative social policy, I think. A brave move on the part of the government.”
Passing the legislation fulfills a 2015 campaign promise of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. After Royal Assent, Canada will also become the first G7 nation to legalize recreational marijuana. The U.S. neighbor follows Uruguay, which was the first country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis in 2013.