Trudeau vows cannabis will be legal by summer as senators urge delay
Senate's Aboriginal Peoples committee is recommending a delay of up to a year
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday recreational cannabis use will be legal by summer, despite calls from some senators to put off legalization by up to a year to allow for further consultation with Indigenous communities.
Speaking to reporters alongside the Portuguese prime minister today, Trudeau said it should come as no surprise that the Liberal government is determined to enact its marijuana policy in its first mandate given the pre-election pledge the party made to dismantle prohibition.
"We have been working with our partners across the country to make this happen and we are going to be moving forward this summer on the legalization of cannabis," he said.
"Obviously, as I've said many times, this is not an event, this is a process, and we will continue to work with our partners in the municipalities, in provinces and Indigenous leadership in communities to make sure we're doing this right and moving forward in a responsible way."
The Senate's Aboriginal peoples committee suggested Bill C-45, the legislation that will do away with criminal sanctions on adult cannabis possession, should be amended to allow for a delay in implementation of up to a year.
Indigenous communities need more time, Senate told
The committee said the government should take the extra time to make certain "culturally sensitive" materials are available to warn Indigenous peoples about the risks of consuming cannabis, and to negotiate a revenue-sharing deal with First Nations governments to ensure they get a cut of the millions of dollars expected to be collected in excise taxes on the drug.
The senators also recommended the federal government set aside 20 per cent of all licenses for cannabis producers for Indigenous peoples so they can pursue business ventures.
Manny Jules, chief commissioner of the First Nations Tax Commission, urged senators to amend the bill to, among other things, give Indigenous communities the resources to develop cannabis-related laws and regulations on-reserve, fund campaigns to educate young people about the dangers of the drug and bolster First Nations police forces.
The Senate committee, chaired by Liberal Saskatchewan Sen. Lillian Dyck, made those recommendations after hearing from a number of Indigenous representatives who said federal consultation with their communities on the bill has been woefully inadequate.
The government has said the task force created by the government to study the issue before the introduction of legislation met with Indigenous peoples and heard their concerns.
The 148-page Bill C-45 is silent on the role Indigenous communities will play under the new legal framework for cannabis. In fact, the word "Aboriginal" is mentioned only once in the "definitions" section of the bill.
Chiefs gathered at special meeting of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) this week also passed a resolution demanding the government give First Nations governments the authority they need to levy excise taxes on cannabis grown and sold on reserves. The First Nations Fiscal Management Act (FNFMA) would have to be amended to allow for such powers.
Home cultivation challenged
The call for a delay comes as other stakeholders are raising the alarm about the plan to allow Canadians to grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes.
The Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) warned this week that allowing such small grow-ops to flourish could cause home prices to drop — or make some properties uninsurable because financial institutions are reluctant to protect properties once used for these purposes because of the possibility of structural damage.
The country's police services say they also fear home-growing could lead to more property crime.
As a result, two provinces — Quebec and Manitoba — have said they will ban home cultivation, despite the federal legislation.
Trudeau said today he expects all provinces to follow the federal law as it's written — a signal to Quebec and Manitoba that the federal government might not stand for limits on the law's scope.
"The decision and the ways we have chosen to move forward are based on months, if not years, of consultations with experts and looking at best practices around the world and looking at the best way to eliminate criminal elements," Trudeau said in French.
"The decision on home cultivation of up to four plants was based on logic and evidence and it's one that we will continue to establish as part of the federal framework."
Appearing before a Senate committee in March, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Ottawa would not challenge provincial laws on home cultivation, but the federal government could not stop individuals from taking the matter into their own hands.
"If that is the case, they would go to court and there would be discussions about the conflict of laws, if there is a conflict of laws between the provincial and the federal law. And if there is a conflict, then the federal law will prevail," Wilson-Raybould said.
The Senate's social affairs committee is considering the amendment suggested by the Aboriginal peoples committee, and other recommendations made by four other Red Chamber committees studying the historic legislation.
The Senate's leaders have agreed to have a third reading vote on or before June 7. If the Senate amends the bill, the House of Commons would then have to accept those changes before they take effect.
The federal government has said that once the bill is passed, full legalization would follow eight to 12 weeks after to allow provinces to get their own systems up and running.