The Senate has rejected an attempt to prohibit Canadians from growing a small number of marijuana plants at home once recreational cannabis is legalized.
Conservative Sen. Vern White proposed Thursday an amendment to Bill C-45 that would have banned home cultivation entirely across the country.
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 40-33.
Another Conservative senator, Claude Carignan, then proposed an amendment that would have restricted home cultivation to inside a dwelling, banning Canadians from growing pot plants in their yards.
That too was defeated, by a vote of 40-31.
The Conservatives voted as a block in favour of both amendments but persuaded only a handful of independent senators, who now form the biggest faction in the Senate, to back them.
Senators had already accepted 40 amendments proposed earlier this week by the Senate’s social affairs committee. One of those amendments would authorize provinces and territories to ban home cultivation if they choose – as Quebec and Manitoba intend to do – or restrict the number of plants even further than the proposed four per dwelling allowed under the bill as originally drafted.
A number of senators said they share White’s concern that homegrown pot plants could make cannabis more accessible to children, lead to environmental health problems from excessive humidity and mould and cause problems in multiple-unit dwellings.
But they said letting provinces decide for themselves whether to ban home cultivation is a reasonable compromise.
“I think in the end it is a Canadian compromise,” said independent Sen. Andre Pratte.
Pratte also argued that allowing some home cultivation is a matter of social equity, pointing out that home-grown weed may be the only option for Canadians in remote areas or for those with limited incomes.
But White cited research that suggests children are more likely to unwittingly consume cannabis if it is grown in the home. He said a British Columbia study found calls to poison control centres involving children consuming cannabis doubled between 2013 and 2016.
Moreover, he said a single, mature marijuana plant gives off the same amount of moisture as five to seven average house plants. The attendant increase in humidity and mould could cause health problems and also result in hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage to multiple-unit dwellings, he maintained.
Those arguments were echoed by other Conservative senators, who also contended that the four-plant limit will be unenforceable.
However, Liberal independent Sen. Art Eggleton, who chairs the social affairs committee which examined the bill clause-by-clause, suggested the Conservatives were cherry-picking the testimony of witnesses to “fear-monger” about the impact of home cultivation. Other experts, he noted, told the committee that fears about humidity and mould only apply to large, illegal grow-ops, which would remain illegal under the bill.
Eggleton cited one expert who maintained that “having a shower without the fan on” would produce more moisture in a home than four marijuana plants.
“So I don’t think we can fear-monger based on some of the horror stories around illicit grow-ops,” he said.
Eggleton also said that experts told the committee children won’t get stoned if they accidentally nibble on a cannabis leaf, because it has to be heated to activate the primary psychoactive component, THC.
Conservative Sen. Dennis Patterson, a former premier of the Northwest Territories, countered that allowing home cultivation “makes it look normal and okay” to impressionable kids to use cannabis.
He also argued that the health impacts would be greater in Indigenous communities, where housing is often already severely over-crowded, ventilation systems over-worked and inhabitants more prone to respiratory problems.
But independent Sen. Mary Jane McCallum, a Cree from Manitoba, countered that banning home cultivation would exacerbate the over-representation of First Nations youths – many of whom are already using cannabis – in the criminal justice system.
“Prohibiting alcohol never, ever worked in First Nations communities,” she said, acknowledging that she’s “swayed back and forth” on legalizing marijuana.
“If they don’t have marijuana, then they go to alcohol,” McCallum said of Indigenous youth. “And alcohol and smoking are more dangerous than marijuana at this point.”