OTTAWA – The federal government has issued its response to the Senate's sweeping amendments to the marijuana legalization Bill C-45, and intends to accept most of the Senate’s changes, but several substantive changes didn't make the cut.
The government says it agrees with, and will accept 26 largely technical proposed amendments to the legislation, which sets out the parameters for the production, possession, and sale of legal recreational marijuana for Canadians over the age of 18.
However, the Senate's attempts to change the bill to give the provinces and territories the power to ban home-grown marijuana; to prohibit pot producers from distributing branded merchandise; and setting up a registry for shareholders involved in marijuana companies were among 13 amendments the government says it "respectfully disagrees" with.
Other changes it rejects have to do with various aspects of the bill, including youth access to marijuana, and THC levels.
On one change regarding the review of the act, the government is suggesting an amendment to the amendment, instead of rejecting it outright. The government’s tweak would make it so that the legislation and its impacts on health, youth, Indigenous people, and home growing, is reviewed in three years, and reported on within 18 months.
It is unclear whether the government will be willing to negotiate on the amendments it is rejecting, or if this position is the final offer.
"We have looked carefully at all of the amendments that have been brought forward and today we respectfully submit to the Senate the amendments that we've accepted, and the ones that we haven’t," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told reporters Wednesday.
Rejecting home-grow ban, pot swag
The government says it is wiping out the allowance in Bill C-45 for provinces to prohibit home-growing, because it's already said that provinces and territories can add additional restrictions on cultivation. Though, the government states: "it is critically important to permit personal cultivation in order to support the government’s objective of displacing the illegal market."
Both Quebec and Manitoba have already said they intend to ban growing legal marijuana at home, meaning the legislation could see legal challenges down the road.
"Our decision is based on expert studies and other jurisdictions that have put in place similar legislation. Canadians are allowed to make beer at home, or wine… It is already possible for Canadians to grow cannabis for medical purposes and we absolutely believe that the legislation should be consistent when it comes to recreational cannabis," Petitpas Taylor said.
The government rejected Conservative Sen. Judith Seidman’s change, which would have seen a ban on any sort of promotional swag, stating the Cannabis Act "already includes comprehensive restrictions on promotion."
The government has stated it also does not approve of adding in a registry for anyone involved in marijuana companies, such as licensed owners, or other shareholders.
Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan suggested this amendment. The government’s rejecting it because it would, as they say, "present significant operational challenges and privacy concerns."
The ministers responsible for the legislation took the weekend and the first two days of this week to consider the Senate's amendments, which passed the upper chamber on June 7 after senators spent six months studying the major new policy.
Trudeau takes aim at Conservatives
Speaking about the government's response to the Senate amendments on his way into his weekly caucus meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at the Conservative party, which has opposed legalization throughout the legislative process.
"It has been months that Andrew Scheer the Conservative leader has been telling his Senate caucus, the Senators that he still controls, to play games, to slow this down and to interfere with the will of the House," Trudeau said.
All sides in the Senate, including many Independent Senators that Trudeau appointed, collectively agreed to a timeline to study the bill, a timeline the Senate followed, with input and amendments put forward from all sides.
MPs weigh in on rejected amendments
MPs began debating the government’s message this afternoon. Liberal MPs spent the first hour defending their position, while opposition MPs took the opportunity to raise remaining issues with the proposed law.
Citing the rejection of the promotional material amendment, Conservative MP and ardent opponent of the legal regime Marilyn Gladu expressed outrage.
"There's a lot of Canadians out there that are worried that when marijuana is legalized in Canada that they’re going to use Canada Day to come with flags that have cannabis on them, everybody will have a T-shirt with cannabis on it, and it will be disgusting. It will absolutely denigrate our country and the people that have served our country… it will deface that, and the government has allowed those people to continue to have that kind of paraphernalia by refusing the language here," she said.
The government has already said it does not expect the bill to be law by July 1.
Gladu also cited the patchwork and limited access some provinces are proposing as undermining the aim of getting the black market out of the picture.
NDP MP Don Davies took a different approach, delivering a scathing rebuke of the Senate’s work on the bill, and highlighting the two new Trudeau-appointed senators that were sworn-in hours before the final third reading vote in the Senate.
"Some sober second thought," Davies said. "It's not even clear that all 93 senators actually understood the most basic facts on cannabis."
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May expressed disappointment that the government not accepting amendments regarding social sharing, saying she is concerned about 18-year-olds being unaware that passing a joint to their 17-year-old friend at a party could land them in jail.
Once House debate concludes there will be a vote to send the message over to the Senate. Given that the Liberals have a majority government, it is expected to pass. Then it’ll be in the Senate’s hands.
Heading for a legislative showdown?
Depending on how the Senate feels about the government saying thanks, but no thanks to some of its more substantive recommendations, the bill could be in for a few rounds of legislative ping pong, where it will be passed back and forth a few times between the House and Senate as they go over the final wording.
Or, the Senate could accept the position of the elected House of Commons, and agree to wrap up the bill as is. If so, it could receive Royal Assent by week's end.
On CTV’s Power Play, Leader of the Independent Senators Group Sen. Yuen Pau Woo said the Senate Independents are "disappointed" the government didn’t accept its consequential changes, citing the home-grow as "important" to many of his colleagues.
"We will want to hear a full explanation of why that was declined," he said.
Woo said it is uncommon for the Senate to insist on amendments and so it’s a decision that will have to be made factoring in the constitutionality of the law, with the constitutional role of the Senate.
"It's not about what kind of partisan points we can score, it’s about trying to come to a decision that's consistent with the totality of the job that we have to do," he said.
Once that happens, provinces, municipalities, and police forces can make final preparations for the new regime, expected to be ready to roll out eight to 12 weeks later.
Bill C-45 was introduced alongside Bill C-46, which specifically deals with drug-impaired driving. It is still before the Senate and is facing its own winding legislative journey including Senate amendments the House will also have to address.
You can read the government's complete response spelling out each Bill C-45 amendment it’s rejecting and why, here.
Health minister says the #SenCa did a great job, but home grow nixing is based on experiences in other jurisdictions, says already ok to grow medical so it should be allowed for recreational. #c45 pic.twitter.com/bE1PReBVh6— Rachel Aiello (@rachaiello) June 13, 2018