Last night, Canada took a major step towards dismantling its 95-year-old law prohibiting recreational cannabis by passing the Trudeau government’s Bill C-45.
The landmark legislation was approved by a vote of 56 to 30, with one abstention, and will now head back to the House of Commons.
Bill C-45 is not finalized just yet, however. Nearly four dozen amendments were attached to the bill in Senate, and now the government needs to decide whether to approve, reject or modify them before returning it back to Senate for a further vote.
Most of the proposed changes are minor, but there are a few notable exceptions that will be of particular interest to not only the public, but to licensed producers and retailers.
Home Cultivation Under Threat
Although the bill proposes that up to four marijuana plants per household could be cultivated, one amendment would allow provinces to prohibit this if they choose. The issue will now be left to provincial and territorial governments, which raises the possibility of legal action if they decide to prohibit it, as it would be allowed federally and is therefore a constitutional issue.
One amendment would allow provinces to prohibit cultivating at home, if they choose.
Another amendment further restricts the already stringent guidelines on advertising. If passed, it would mean that cannabis companies would not be allowed to promote their brands on items such as baseball caps and T-shirts in an effort to lessen the visibility of cannabis in communities, in turn protecting children and other vulnerable people. Interestingly, the senate voted against banning the promotion of cannabis products through telecommunications, which may prove to be a loophole that allows more aggressive marketing.
An additional amendment was attached that could delay the legalization of other cannabis products not explicitly mentioned in Bill C-45, such as edibles, extracts and other concentrates. Paired with yet another amendment that wishes to set a limit on the maximum potency of THC, it could mean negative consequences for medical users, many of who require a stronger dose to achieve a desired effect.
A potential sticking point concerns how cannabis is shared socially. A further amendment proposes to make it an offence for a young adult to share five grams of product or less with a minor who is no more than two years younger. However, it would allow parents to share with their children in the way they would wine or other alcohol.
Health Minister Petitpas Taylor is staying tight-lipped about how the government views the amendments, but it’s reported that it approves as many as 29 of them.
Is Bill C-45 A Win For Indigenous Communities?
Before the vote took place, Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais voiced Conservative frustration over the bill, and warned that it would be an “unprecedented act of political blindness” should his fellow senators overlook testimonies from doctors and police in order to help Justin Trudeau deliver an election promise.
The Conservative’s best hope to stop the bill in its tracks lay with Indigenous senators, but it wasn’t to be. Petitpas Taylor and Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott made a promise of extra funding for Indigenous addiction and mental health treatment, consultation on revenue-sharing and jurisdictional concerns, and more help for Indigenous businesses in navigating the licensing process.
However, proponents for the bill argued successfully that the ongoing criminalization of cannabis has done nothing to stop Canadians, especially younger generations, from using it and therefore fuelling the black market. Independent Sen. Andre Pratte said that regulating cannabis was better than continuing to wage a failed war on the substance, adding, “Do we take a deep breath, close our eyes, and stick with a demonstrably failed, hypocritical, unhealthy, prohibitionist approach of the past or do we move forward, eyes wide open, and choose the alternative? I choose to open my eyes, rather than put on blinders.”
Photo courtesy of Tantalus Labs