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The federal government’s point man on the legalization of cannabis is preemptively rejecting any attempt by the Senate to delay the launch of the recreational market for the drug.

Liberal MP Bill Blair, who is the parliamentary secretary to the ministers of health and justice, told a Senate committee on Mondaymore work will be needed in coming months to deal with the consequences of legalization on Native and other at-risk communities.

However, he said the legislation is needed to quickly launch a strictly regulated market for recreational cannabis that will put an end to the current regime based on prohibition.

“Delaying the transition to our proposed new legal framework would in fact perpetuate a system that is failing our children and putting our communities at risk,” he said. “We’ve talked extensively of the shortcomings of the current approach ... The public-health approach that we are proposing will better position us as a nation to tackle these issues as they relate to cannabis.”

Mr. Blair made his comments as the Senate committee on social affairs was about to begin a clause-by-clause examination of Bill C-45 and before the proposed legislation returns to the Senate for a final debate and vote on June 7.

All amendments adopted by the Senate next month will have to be subsequently approved by the House of Commons to be enshrined into law. The federal government has said it will open up the legal market for cannabis two to three months after Bill C-45 receives royal sanction.

However, a number of senators and outside experts have said more time is needed before all players in the emerging industry are ready. In early May, the Senate committee on aboriginal peoples urged the federal government to delay legalization by a year to ensure the new regime meets the needs of Indigenous communities.

Conservative senator Dennis Patterson, who comes from Nunavut, told the Senate committee on Monday that Ottawa failed to take into account the concerns of Indigenous leaders during the initial round of consultations.

“I don”t think anyone would say that consultation after the fact, after the bill was drafted, was adequate,“ he said, pointing out that the Assembly of First Nations has also called for a delay.

The social affairs committee of the Senate voted unanimously on Monday afternoon to allow any province or territory to prohibit the home cultivation of cannabis. Under Bill C-45, Canadians would be allowed to grow up to four plants at home, but Quebec and Manitoba have both said they want to prohibit home cultivation.

Mr. Blair refused to speculate whether his government will agree to the partial ban on home cultivation. If the government rejects the proposal, it could set up a legal battle between Ottawa and Quebec.

In the meantime, Mr. Blair sought to reassure senators that lower levels of government will be able to regulate home cultivation, including by requiring permits to allow Canadians to grow cannabis at home.

“We have, with provinces and territories, said that they can put in regulatory control to ensure that personal cultivation can take place in such a way as to address local concerns,” Mr. Blair said. “Municipalities can zone where it can take place, the provinces can put in regulations that would, for example, limit or restrict or prevent it from taking place in multi-residential dwellings or on school campuses.”

The committee also voted in favour of an amendment that would remove penalties for the “social sharing” of cannabis between friends in cases where one of them is below the legal age.

Speaking to reporters after his committee appearance, Mr. Blair rejected attempts to give new powers to employers to randomly test their employees for cannabis use, especially for workers in safety-sensitive positions such as airline pilots and truckers.

“We are not introducing a new drug into society, it exists today and it exists in wide use today, both medically and non-medically,” he said. “[Drug-testing at work] is a complex issue ... In my opinion, this is not part of the Cannabis Act.”

Recreational cannabis is now legal in Canada. The federal and provincial governments have been working to develop rules on the use and sale of cannabis. Here are some things you should know about the use and sale in your province.

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