Less than a month away from the federal government vote on the cannabis bill, it’s looking like the legalization of cannabis across Canada will be delayed—although that isn’t being confirmed by Prime Minister Trudeau.
Facing recommendations from three of the Senate committees that changes be made to Bill C-45 before its roll out this summer, such as limits being placed upon the quantity of marijuana that can be kept in homes as well as reserving 20% of production licenses for producers on Indigenous land, Trudeau has only said that “the current system hurts Canadians,” and “Legalization is not an event, it’s a process…and that process will continue.”
The federal government under Justin Trudeau had set a goal of legalizing the recreational use of cannabis as of July of this year, but their projected deadline could be delayed by several weeks—if not more—so that provincial governments and police authorities have more time to prepare for the legislative implementation.
On May 1st, the Senate aboriginal peoples committee asked the government to delay the bill for up to a year so that a system could be developed for cannabis excise tax revenue to be distributed among Indigenous communities. Senator Lilian Dyck, chair of the aboriginal peoples committee, acknowledged that cannabis legalization will create an important source of revenue for aboriginal communities, and feels that Indigenous groups need a fair share of cannabis excise tax revenue as well as one in five national production licenses so that 20% of Canadian cannabis cultivation is reserved for operation on Indigenous lands. “If you want First Nations to get ahead,” she said, “then you have to provide them with equal opportunity for the economic opportunities that arise.”
Additionally, Dyck believes more time is needed by First Nations communities to prepare for the new law because they are currently, under the proposed legislation, unable to opt out of the legalization. “If the community wants to pass some kind of bylaw that restricts it in some way,” she said, “that has to be hammered out with the federal government before this becomes law.”
Senators on the legal affairs committee have also recommended the one year delay, stating the extra time will allow police forces across the country to more adequately prepare for the new legislation.
During a hearing in late April for the Senate social affairs committee, concerns were raised about the legalization process in the face of these various recommendations.
“This is not tinkering, the way I look at it,” said Liberal Senator Jim Munson. “Is it really feasible that we’re going to be able to amend this thing…or are we looking down a longer road because of the many, many concerns we’ve heard?…If we keep delaying it, we just keep the illegal market wide open. I just feel that we should get on with it, basically.”
Munson was not the only Senator to voice concerns, and his doubts were echoed in other statements, as from Independent Senator Frances Lankin: “What happens with the illicit market if we stop this short? There are lots of things to consider.”
Further clarifications to the legislation are being requested by the legal affairs committee, who, under the tight timelines and according to their chair, Liberal Senator Serge Joyal, are “trying to do the most we can do with a straitjacket that is very tight on our body.” The legal challenges facing Bill C-45 include limiting the provinces’ prohibition of individual possession and cultivation of cannabis. For example, Quebec and Manitoba want to ban home cultivation of cannabis, but their decision could result in a legal challenge as the federal law states that individuals are permitted to grow up to four plants on private property. As well, legal affairs is also contesting the treatment of minors under the new law, as the current legislation states that minors could be charged criminally for possessing the legal amount allowed for adults. Legal affairs recommends that “no harsher sanctions be applied to youth than are applied to adults.”
The Senate defence committee has also added its recommendation that the federal government reach an agreement with the United States so that Canadian travelers are not denied entrance to the US for use of a substance that will still be illegal south of the border.
The Senate has agreed to vote on the amended bill by June 7th before sending it back to the House of Commons.