Feds accept most, not all Senate amendments to marijuana bill

OTTAWA – The federal government has issued its response to the Senate‘s sweeping amendments to the marijuana legalization Bill C-45, and intends to accept most of the Senate’s changes, but several substantive changes didn‘t make the cut.

The government says it agrees with, and will accept 26 largely technical proposed amendments to the legislation, which sets out the parameters for the production, possession, and sale of legal recreational marijuana for Canadians over the age of 18.

However, the Senate‘s attempts to change the bill to give the provinces and territories the power to ban home-grown marijuana; to prohibit pot producers from distributing branded merchandise; and setting up a registry for shareholders involved in marijuana companies were among 13 amendments the government says it "respectfully disagrees" with.

Other changes it rejects have to do with various aspects of the bill, including youth access to marijuana, and THC levels.

On one change regarding the review of the act, the government is suggesting an amendment to the amendment, instead of rejecting it outright. The government’s tweak would make it so that the legislation and its impacts on health, youth, Indigenous people, and home growing, is reviewed in three years, and reported on within 18 months.

It is unclear whether the government will be willing to negotiate on the amendments it is rejecting, or if this position is the final offer.

"We have looked carefully at all of the amendments that have been brought forward and today we respectfully submit to the Senate the amendments that we‘ve accepted, and the ones that we haven’t," Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told reporters Wednesday.

Rejecting home-grow ban, pot swag

The government says it is wiping out the allowance in Bill C-45 for provinces to prohibit home-growing, because it‘s already said that provinces and territories can add additional restrictions on cultivation. Though, the government states: "it is critically important to permit personal cultivation in order to support the government’s objective of displacing the illegal market."

Both Quebec and Manitoba have already said they intend to ban growing legal marijuana at home, meaning the legislation could see legal challenges down the road.

"Our decision is based on expert studies and other jurisdictions that have put in place similar legislation. Canadians are allowed to make beer at home, or wine… It is already possible for Canadians to grow cannabis for medical purposes and we absolutely believe that the legislation should be consistent when it comes to recreational cannabis," Petitpas Taylor said.

The government rejected Conservative Sen. Judith Seidman’s change, which would have seen a ban on any sort of promotional swag, stating the Cannabis Act "already includes comprehensive restrictions on promotion."

The government has stated it also does not approve of adding in a registry for anyone involved in marijuana companies, such as licensed owners, or other shareholders.

Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan suggested this amendment. The government’s rejecting it because it would, as they say, "present significant operational challenges and privacy concerns."

The ministers responsible for the legislation took the weekend and the first two days of this week to consider the Senate‘s amendments, which passed the upper chamber on June 7 after senators spent six months studying the major new policy.

Trudeau takes aim at Conservatives

Speaking about the government‘s response to the Senate amendments on his way into his weekly caucus meeting, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took aim at the Conservative party, which has opposed legalization throughout the legislative process.

"It has been months that Andrew Scheer the Conservative leader has been telling his Senate caucus, the Senators that he still controls, to play games, to slow this down and to interfere with the will of the House," Trudeau said.

All sides in the Senate, including many Independent Senators that Trudeau appointed, collectively agreed to a timeline to study the bill, a timeline the Senate followed, with input and amendments put forward from all sides.

Heading for a legislative showdown?

MPs are expected to debate the government’s message this afternoon, before voting to send it over to the Senate.

Depending on how the Senate feels about the government saying thanks, but no thanks to some of its more substantive recommendations, the bill could be in for a few rounds of legislative ping pong, where it will be passed back and forth a few times between the House and Senate as they go back and forth over the final wording.

Or, the Senate could accept the position of the elected House of Commons, and agree to wrap up the bill as is. If so, it could receive Royal Assent by week‘s end.

Once that happens, provinces, municipalities, and police forces can make final preparations for the new regime, expected to be ready to roll out eight to 12 weeks later.

Bill C-45 was introduced alongside Bill C-46, which specifically deals with drug-impaired driving. It is still before the Senate and is facing its own winding legislative journey including Senate amendments the House will also have to address.

You can read the government‘s