Sarah Leamon: Some Senate amendments to Bill C-45 could have a big impact on cannabis users

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      The long road to marijuana legalization faced another critical last step this week as the Senate voted on Bill C-45.

      This bill will effectively alter the Criminal Code and some portions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to allow legal access to cannabis in this country.

      Prime Minister Justin Trudeau originally promised that Canadians would be able to light their first legal joint on July 1, 2018.

      However, given the numerous political and administrative delays that Bill C-45 has faced so far, that deadline is looking more and more likely to go up in smoke.

      At times, the Senate study of the bill felt never-ending.

      Honorable senators scrutinized almost every detail of Bill C-45. They have made a number of amendments—more than a whopping 40, in fact!

      Now you don’t need to know about all of these amendments. Many of them are merely technical in nature and will have little effect on the bill or your experience of it. But some are rather important and worthy of our attention.

      For example, one significant amendment has to do with youth violations.

      Although the Senate went back and forth on this issue a little bit, it ultimately voted to approve an amendment to Bill C-45 that would create a summary or ticketing offence for young adults who share five grams or less of cannabis with a minor. That minor can be no more than two years their junior.

      Sharing cannabis with younger minors, or more than five grams of cannabis, will result in an indictable offence under this version of the scheme.

      The Senate believes that this amendment strikes an appropriate balance between ensuring that minors will be largely protected from unsavoury cannabis use and the threat of becoming a criminal due to simple social sharing behaviours with their peers.

      However, social-sharing behaviour isn’t explicitly defined in the bill. This oversight may prove to be problematic once it is applied to real-life litigation.

      Another significant amendment has to do with home cultivation. The Senate has decided to back away from the idea that it will be every citizen’s right to have up to four marijuana plants per dwelling.

      Instead, it decided to introduce an amendment that could alter this for some people, depending on where they live.

      The issue of home cultivation will now be referred to provincial and territorial governments. While owning up to four plants in a single household will not be prohibited federally, it appears that—with the Senate's blessing—provincial and territorial governments may decide to tighten restrictions around it or axe it altogether.

      There are also amendments related to advertising. The Senate has voted to amend Bill C-45 to tighten up the already restrictive restrictions around advertising cannabis companies, brands, and products.

      Senators have voted to prevent cannabis from being promoted on so-called swag items, like T-shirts, hoodies and baseball caps. They wish to lessen the visibility of cannabis in our communities, and in so doing, protect vulnerable populations, like children. In this way, senators drew a link between cannabis and tobacco products.

      However, the Senate also voted against banning all promotion of cannabis through telecommunication. This left some people wondering if a potential loophole could emerge, which would allow for aggressive cannabis advertisement using this technology.

      Another big issue has to do with product availability and potency.

      An amendment was passed that requires any new cannabis products, which are not explicitly contemplated under Bill C-45, to be go through a long, arduous process in order to be made legally available.

      This process would require that the product be addressed in the House of Commons and the Senate, using a similar process to how new legislation is passed. This is sure to significantly delay users having legal access to products like edibles, concentrates, vapes, and extracts.

      Finally, the Senate passed another amendment in this vein, which would require regulators to set a maximum THC potency limit on all cannabis products.

      This is likely to cause negative consequences for users of medical cannabis, who can require more potent doses in order to achieve their desired medicinal results. There are concerns that if this passes, it may only be undone through long and costly court battles. In the meantime, patients will suffer.

      But the biggest question looming over the collective Canadian conscious right now is when? When will Bill C-45 finally pass into law? When will O’Cannabis Day finally arrive?

      The short answer is…we still don’t know.

      After the Senate passed the bill, it now returns to the House of Commons. There, it could be passed relatively quickly, or it could end up in legislative limbo once again.

      But even if the government accepts the bill as passed back by the Senate and pushes it through without delay, it could still take another eight to 12 weeks to become law due to various administrative processes.

      If MPs opt to dive deeper into the amendments made by Senate, and in so doing challenge some of the words and provisions, then it could take much longer for Bill C-45 to finally get off the floor.

      Even after that, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments will have to roll out their own legislative regimes in order to tie up the local loose ends of legalization.

      And while we are getting closer to legal cannabis finally hitting our streets, we should be careful not to rush too far ahead of ourselves.

      Passing well-written, well-thought out, and properly implemented laws in the first instance more properly protects our civil rights and avoids too many costly court battles in the future.