MPs re­ject Sen­ate changes to pot bill

Up­per cham­ber wants 13 changes to mar­i­juana bill, in­clud­ing ban on grow­ing at home. Trudeau blasts Tories

Times Colonist - - Front Page - JOAN BRY­DEN

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment set the stage Wed­nes­day for a pos­si­ble show­down with the Sen­ate over legalization of cannabis af­ter it re­jected 13 amend­ments ap­proved by the up­per house — in­clud­ing one rec­og­niz­ing the author­ity of prov­inces to ban home cul­ti­va­tion of mar­i­juana plants if they choose.

Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau used the oc­ca­sion to call on Con­ser­va­tives to cease us­ing the Sen­ate to stall Bill C-45, the leg­is­la­tion that would lift Canada’s 95-year pro­hi­bi­tion on recre­ational pot.

“An­drew Scheer, the Con­ser­va­tive leader, has been telling his Sen­ate cau­cus — the sen­a­tors that he still con­trols — to play games, to slow this down, to in­ter­fere with the will of the House,” he said. “It’s time that he stopped us­ing his sen­a­tors this way.”

But it will be in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors ap­pointed by Trudeau — whose con­tin­ued sup­port for the legalization bill is cru­cial to the gov­ern­ment’s plans to be­gin re­tail sales of recre­ational cannabis this sum­mer — who will de­cide the bill’s fate. And they were miffed Wed­nes­day the gov­ern­ment nixed all the amend­ments of con­se­quence ap­proved by the Sen­ate, while ac­cept­ing 27 largely technical changes and tweak­ing two oth­ers.

Now they must de­cide whether they’ll in­sist on some or all of the re­jected amend­ments, which would mean bounc­ing the bill back to the House of Com­mons.

“It’s our con­sti­tu­tional right to main­tain our veto and send a bill back to the House,” said Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors’ group.

Still, Woo said it’s “too early to talk about po­lit­i­cal show­downs.”

In­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors will want to weigh a va­ri­ety of fac­tors, he added, in­clud­ing ar­gu­ments that they should show def­er­ence to the will of the elected House of Com­mons and to a gov­ern­ment that was elected on a specific prom­ise to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana. More­over, he said they will have to weigh the loss of the amend­ments — par­tic­u­larly the one on home cul­ti­va­tion — against their sup­port for legalization in prin­ci­ple as a way to re­strict ac­cess to young peo­ple and marginal­ize the ex­ist­ing black mar­ket in cannabis. “The amend­ment is im­por­tant to us, don’t get me wrong,” Woo said. “We’re very dis­ap­pointed not to have it.”

But he added: “We have a re­spon­si­bil­ity as sen­a­tors to not make de­ci­sions based on a uni­fac­toral cal­cu­lus, based on emo­tion, based on what the last lob­by­ist said to us, cer­tainly not based on pique or kind of anger that the gov­ern­ment did not ac­cept our amend­ments.”

The bill would al­low in­di­vid­u­als to grow up to four mar­i­juana plants per dwelling. It gives the prov­inces the right to re­strict that fur­ther — but not to ban home cul­ti­va­tion out­right. Que­bec and Man­i­toba have nev­er­the­less cho­sen to pro­hibit home­grown weed. The Sen­ate amend­ment was aimed at eras­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of le­gal challenges to their con­sti­tu­tional author­ity to do so.

“I thought this was a good oc­ca­sion to show what co-op­er­a­tive fed­er­al­ism is all about and the gov­ern­ment has de­cided to use what I would call a uni­form fed­er­al­ism ap­proach,” said In­de­pen­dent Sen. An­dre Pratte.

Pratte said he hasn’t de­cided whether the dis­agree­ment con­sti­tutes the kind of “ex­cep­tional sit­u­a­tion” where the un­elected Sen­ate should in­sist on its amend­ments. But he said it’s a mat­ter of de­fend­ing pro­vin­cial ju­ris­dic­tion.

Man­i­toba Jus­tice Min­is­ter Heather Ste­fan­son said her prov­ince is con­fi­dent that it has the ju­ris­dic­tion to pro­hibit home cul­ti­va­tion. “We’re con­fi­dent in our le­gal po­si­tion on this and we’ll de­fend that le­gal po­si­tion if nec­es­sary,” she said.

But the fed­eral gov­ern­ment main­tained it’s “crit­i­cally im­por­tant” to per­mit Cana­di­ans to grow pot at home in or­der to achieve the pri­mary ob­jec­tive of shut­ting down the il­le­gal mar­ket.

“We have spent months, and in­deed years, talk­ing with ex­perts, re­flect­ing on the best path for­ward on the legalization of cannabis be­cause the cur­rent sys­tem doesn’t work,” said Trudeau. “We’re mak­ing the changes to keep Cana­di­ans safe and one of the strong rec­om­men­da­tions by ex­perts was that we en­sure per­sonal cul­ti­va­tion of four plants at home.”

Given that other con­trolled sub­stances can be pro­duced at home, Health Min­is­ter Ginette Petit­pas Tay­lor said con­sis­tency de­mands that home­grown weed be per­mit­ted. “Cana­di­ans are al­lowed to make beer at home or wine, and some can even grow to­bacco,” she said. “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.”

Other amend­ments re­jected by the gov­ern­ment in­cluded one that would have pro­hib­ited mar­i­juana-branded swag such as T-shirts, and an­other that would have re­quired a registry of any­one in­volved in cannabis com­pa­nies, aimed at keep­ing or­ga­nized crime out of the le­gal pot game.

Con­ser­va­tive Sen­ate Leader Larry Smith called the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the Sen­ate amend­ments “un­for­tu­nate” and “dis­heart­en­ing” — not­ing that the changes were backed by in­de­pen­dent, in­de­pen­dent-Lib­eral and Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors.

“This idea that the prime min­is­ter ban­ters about that we’ve tried to be ob­struc­tion­ist and play­ing games? We haven’t played any games,” Smith said.

He said it’s too early to say whether Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors will in­sist on any of the re­jected amend­ments, a de­ci­sion that will de­pend partly on whether there’s “com­mon­al­ity” with in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors. But he warned: “There are very strong feel­ings, from our knowl­edge, with the in­de­pen­dent sen­a­tors and the in­de­pen­dent Lib­er­als that some of these amend­ments should be re­con­sid­ered.”

Scheer also dis­missed Trudeau’s com­plaint about Con­ser­va­tive sen­a­tors hold­ing up legalization. “The Lib­eral gov­ern­ment has a ma­jor­ity both in the House of Com­mons and the Sen­ate,” he said. “They con­trol the time­lines in both houses. The re­spon­si­bil­ity for any delay is 100 per cent the re­spon­si­bil­ity of this gov­ern­ment.”

MPs be­gan Wed­nes­day to de­bate the gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the Sen­ate amend­ments, which must be put to a vote in the Com­mons, likely to­day. The bill will then be sent back to the up­per house, where sen­a­tors will have to de­cide whether to ac­cept the will of the Com­mons or dig in for a pro­tracted par­lia­men­tary bat­tle.

DON RYAN, AP

The bill to le­gal­ize recre­ational mar­i­juana states in­di­vid­u­als can grow up to four plants at their homes, but gives the prov­inces the right to re­strict it fur­ther.

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