The Liberal government is rejecting a number of consequential Senate amendments to the Cannabis Act, including an amendment that would enshrine the right of Manitoba and Quebec to prohibit home cannabis cultivation.
The federal Cannabis Act will allow Canadian adults to grow up to four cannabis plants per house for their own personal use, and would allow provincial governments to reduce the total number of plants permitted. Quebec and Manitoba plan to trim the number to zero, which experts say would create a conflict between federal law and provincial law that's likely to end up in court.
According to the government's official reply to the Senate, that amendment was rejected because "it is critically important to permit personal cultivation in order to support the government's objective of displacing the illegal market."
Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said Wednesday that her government won't budge on its plan to outlaw home cultivation for recreational purposes.
"We’re confident in our legal position on this and we will defend that legal position if necessary," she told reporters.
The federal government also rejected the Senate's proposed ban on cannabis-related promotional "swag," saying the legalization bill "already includes comprehensive restrictions on promotion," along with an amendment that could have opened the door to legislating potency limits on legal cannabis. Potency limits, the government said, can be established via regulation, which "will provide flexibility to make future adjustments based on new evidence and product innovation."
A Senate amendment that would have required cannabis companies to publicly disclose many of their investors was also tossed, with the government citing "significant operational challenges and privacy concerns."Advertisement
The Senate passed its amended version of the Cannabis Act June 7, by a vote of 56 to 30, with one senator abstaining.
All told, the government rejected 13 of the Senate's amendments to the bill and accepted 27 others, many of which were technical in nature.
Asked whether the government was willing to negotiate with the Senate over the rejected amendments, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor stood her ground Wednesday.
"What I'm indicating very clearly is that we've looked at all the amendments that the Senate has brought forward, and our position, we've made it very clear with respect to our position, that there are some amendments that we’re accepting and some amendments at this time that we're not prepared to accept," she told reporters on Parliament Hill.
The decision to protect future home cannabis cultivation was based on "expert studies and other jurisdictions that have put in place similar legislation," said Petitpas Taylor.
"Canadians are allowed to make beer at home or wine, and some Canadians grow tobacco," she said. "It's 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."
Before the Cannabis Act can become law, both the House of Commons and the Senate have to pass the same version of the bill.
Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, who facilititates the Senate's independent members, said those members are "disappointed."
"I look forward to hearing the detailed explanations for why they rejected those amendments, and then we will have to make our decision accordingly," Woo told reporters Wednesday.
The Senate would be within its constitutional rights to reject the government's rejection of its amendments, Woo said.
"But a principle that we have in the independent senators group is that we are open to reason," he said.
"We want to listen to the explanations that are being put forward, and we will want to balance the variety of interests that come into play if we were to not accept the message. There are other things happening besides the amendments that were rejected."
Haggling over the Senate's amendments involves a back-and-forth process that's simultaneously formal and informal, according to Emmett Macfarlane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo who advised the government on its initiative to reform the Senate appointments process.
The formal process involves sending official messages between the two houses of Parliament. Informally, though, the government might try to explain to senators "more informally, and therefore more frankly, behind the scenes, why certain amendments just don't cut it," Macfarlane said.
"In the past, this was probably a lot easier, because the Senate caucuses were formally arranged along partisan lines."
The newly-reformed Senate introduces an element of uncertainty into the equation, Macfarlane said.
"The Senate Liberals used to be part of the Liberal caucus, so that type of discussion could even happen in a caucus meeting... But now that we have the independent senators, a lot of that is being filtered through Peter Harder's office (the government representative in the Senate)," he said.
"And so now a large part of that informal deliberation is happening behind the scenes within the Senate, and the government is playing a much less direct role in trying to guide or influence the Senate in those deliberations."
It's not clear how long the negotiations over amendments will take, added Macfarlane.
"If we were just in February, and this wasn't pressing legislation, it could go on longer," he said. "We've seen a couple of instances now where the back-and-forth has gone really quickly, and, in fact, the current Senate... once any amendments have been rejected, it has usually fairly quickly accepted that decision and then passed the legislation."
But with the government standing fast on its plan to legalize non-medical cannabis by fall, Macfarlane said he suspects "things are probably happening behind the scenes quite quickly... I suspect there's a full push on right now."
Sen. Woo said he expects the negotiations to be resolved shortly.
"If (the House votes) on it today (Wednesday), they'll come tomorrow and we might be able to deal with it on Friday. Probably the more realistic scenario is that it doesn't come to us until Monday, perhaps, and then we'll debate it that night and have a vote soon after."
With files from Jessica Botelho-Urbanski