On Monday (May 28), the Senate’s social affairs committee passed 40 amendments to the proposed federal cannabis legalization laws, including one which would solidify provincial powers to ban at-home cultivation.
In an eight-hour clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, more than three dozen technical clarifications, definitions, and translation errors were addressed to correct flaws in the drafting. Twenty-nine of those amendments were proposed by Sen. Tory Dean (independent), the bill’s sponsor, implying the majority of changes come with the backing of the government.
Conservative efforts shut down
Beyond the cleanup, the committee defeated two Conservative amendments that stood to get in the way of the government’s proposed summer timeline.
Conservative senator Judith Seidman proposed an amendment in the meeting that aimed to entirely prohibit home grow in Canada.
“The committee heard evidence from witnesses and the standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs that home cultivation of cannabis plants could be difficult for law enforcement to enforce and that home cultivation in general could risk more cannabis being diverted to the illicit market,” said Seidman, who is deputy chair of the upper chamber.
“It was also noted that indoor cannabis cultivation may compromise air quality, increase the risk of fire, and have the negative impact on the value of residential property.”
The proposal was defeated 7 to 5.
As it stands, the bill currently allows Canadians to grow up to four plants in their private residences, but gives power to each province and territory to decide further stipulations. Most provinces have already made their stance clear when it comes to the possession, cultivation, and harvesting of cannabis in private residences.
B.C., for example, has said they will allow up to four plants but they can't be visible from outside the home, Alberta will deny outdoor growth all together, and New Brunswick will only allow home grow indoors if the plants are kept in a locked area.
Some provinces, like Quebec and Manitoba, have challenged the federal government’s decision by passing laws imposing an outright prohibition of home cultivation—a move Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said won’t be contested by the federal government but is likely to be challenged by individual Canadians in court.
Another amendment that failed to pass came in support of recent concerns raised by Sen. Lillian Eva Dyck, chair of the senate standing committee on Aboriginal peoples. Conservative senator Dennis Patterson proposed an indefinite delay of the bill until the government accounts for the lack of Indigenous consultation in the drafting process.
The government’s point man on cannabis legalization, Liberal MP Bill Blair, preemptively addressed the concerns in the beginning of the meeting, saying: “When we talk about Indigenous communities participating in this new industry it’s because Indigenous and First Nations communities told us they want to participate. Not all of them but many of them came to us and said they want access to the economic activities that this [recreational legalization] may present to their communities. They came to us for help and we responded to them.”
Blair reiterated the recently adopted Trudeau tag line, stating legalization is not an event, rather an “ongoing process of engagement”. He reassured the committee the Liberal government is committed to working with Indigenous communities before and after legalization to provide support and assistance.
Just three weeks prior (May 9), legalization task force chair Anne McLellan also clapped back at these claims during a committee hearing, saying a diversity of Indigenous viewpoints were heard by the country’s taskforce on cannabis legalization and more were invited to participate, but didn’t show up.
More than just a few technicalities
While most of the approved changes will have little effect on the overall content of the bill, a few will have more significant impacts on the legal landscape. Sen. Ratna Omidvar (independent) pushed for an amendment to ensure any permanent resident sentenced to six months or less for a cannabis-related offence won't have to face an additional penalty of deportation or inadmissibility to Canada.
Another amendment proposed by Seidman laid the groundwork for maximum THC potency caps on all cannabis products, where the bill, as it stands, only outlines limits on oil and the amount of dried flower contained in pre-rolled joints.
"Multiple witnesses told the committee that it’s easier to introduce tougher restrictions at the outset of legalization than try to put the genie back in the bottle imposing maximum THC limits for all cannabis products...and is a prime example where it would be very difficult to set limits in the future. Let’s start with the best limits we can set now," Seidman said.
A technical tidy-up of loose ends is not uncommon in the legislative process, but it doesn’t mean that any of these changes will stick. The amended version of the bill will be presented to the full Senate and House of Commons, where it can be accepted, rejected, or subject to further clarification.
While there is no certainty on the level of challenge still to come, the number of changes proposed by Dean indicates the government has made several clear decisions and is ready to move forward with their proposed timeline. In order for the Conservatives to delay or defeat the bill in Parliament at this point, they would need 15 other senators to join them in the final vote.