Ottawa’s proposed legislation to legalize cannabis is facing growing resistance in the Senate, where one committee is recommending a prohibition on home cultivation and another is calling for a one-year delay before opening the recreational market.
The Senate is scheduled to hold a final vote on Bill C-45 on June 7, after what is shaping up to be a long and heated debate among senators.
If the Senate amends the bill, it will return to the House of Commons for approval. Any disagreement between the two chambers would delay the adoption of the legislation, which will lift the prohibition on cannabis that was enacted in 1923.
In a report tabled Tuesday, the Senate’s committee on legal and constitutional affairs recommended a prohibition on the home cultivation of cannabis. The federal government is proposing that Canadians be allowed to grow as many as four plants at home, calling it an essential element of its plan to undercut the black market. However, Quebec and Manitoba have decided to prohibit the practice.
The committee also called for a limit on the quantity of cannabis that people can possess at home. While Bill C-45 would limit the quantity that people can carry in public to 30 grams, there is no limit on the amount kept at home. The committee said a precise limit should be set, with more debate on the actual quantity to come at a later date, Conservative Senator Claude Carignan said.
The federal government has said it will wait two to three months after the bill receives royal assent to open up the market for recreational cannabis, giving the provinces and producers time to get ready.
However, the Senate committee on aboriginal peoples is urging the federal government to delay legalization by a year to ensure the new regime meets the needs of Indigenous communities.
The committee called for a new formula to share the revenue from excise taxes on cannabis with First Nations, as well as new rules that would give Indigenous communities the right to restrict the sale or possession of cannabis on their lands. The recommendation would allow “dry communities,” which forbid the presence of alcohol, to enact similar prohibitions on cannabis.
Over all, the committee criticized the government’s failure to engage in meaningful consultations with Indigenous Canadians before moving to legalize cannabis. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has pledged to create a “renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples,” but the committee said there was “an alarming lack of consultation” before drafting Bill C-45.
“Had sufficient consultation occurred, the problems identified by the Committee would likely have been solved, and the solutions incorporated into Bill C-45,” its report said.
The committee said there is still work to do to prepare public education material adapted to the needs of First Nations and to increase funding for mental health and addiction programs. In addition, it said that 20 per cent of production licences for cannabis should be awarded to companies operating on land that is owned by Indigenous governments.
The reports from the two committees will now be provided to the committee on social affairs, which has the lead on Bill C-45 and must complete its own report by the end of May. It remains to be seen whether that committee, chaired by former Liberal minister Art Eggleton, will adopt the amendments proposed by the other two. Still, senators will be able to propose amendments at the third-reading stage of the legislative process in early June.