The Cannabis Act, Bill-C45, has passed second reading in the House of Commons today, and will now be referred to the Standing Committee on Health (HESA). It passed with 200 for and 76 against.
HESA is chaired by Bill Casey (Liberal). Vice chairs are Len Webber (Conservative) and Don Davies (NDP), with over 100 associate members from the Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat parties. Associate members are eligible to be named to subcommittees and to act as substitutes for regular members who are unable to attend committee meetings.
HESA has handled other issues in relation to cannabis, including a report and government response on marijuana’s health risks and harms.
Debate during second reading took place over several days before the government introduced and passed time allocation to limit debate yesterday. Debate around the bill has thus far largely broken down along party lines, with Liberals defending the bill as being the best approach to controlling, regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada, and the NDP expressing support for the bill but noting concerns with issues like the continuation of arrests for personal possession, a lack of amnesty for past arrests, and some of the more strict penalties under the new law for things like distribution to minors. The Conservatives have opposed the bill, citing concerns with things like increased access to youth, a lack of criminal charges for youth who possess small, personal amounts under 5 grams, personal cultivation allowances, and the ‘normalization’ of cannabis.
Rachael Harder, one Conservative committee member, has been an outspoken critic of the bill during second reading, specifically identifying concern with issues like the proposed four plant limit for personal cultivation and the lack of criminal charges for Canadians under the age of 18 for possessing less than five grams. Colin Carrie, another Conservative senator on the committee, expressed similar concerns, citing recent opposition from the Canadian Medical Association Journal’s to the four plant cultivation allowance.
Liberal Doug Eyolfson, a physician who sits on the committee as an Independent, spoke in support of C-45 during the second reading four times, citing the failures of prohibition to protect public health.
“In my own medical practice I had patients come in who had consumed what they thought was simply cannabis and in fact they had obvious toxic syndromes consistent with other ingestions. It was clear in their mind that nothing else had been ingested,” said the Senator during second reading.
“There is not a lot of quality control in a substance that is produced by criminal gangs, and people became seriously ill based on the contaminants that were put in.”
John Oliver, another Liberal who sits as an Independent senator, spoke several times in support of the Cannabis Act during second reading, and cited his concern with the impacts of decriminalization without legalizing.
“Decriminalizing marijuana, I believe, would lead to an explosion of use. It would do the exact opposite of what we are trying to do, which is not have young people using marijuana. The solution is to regulate and legalize marijuana so we get it out of the black market, we protect students from having access to it, we make it punitive for people who are trying to sell marijuana to young people, and we fix the problem. Decriminalizing it does the exact opposite.”
While the NDP has no senators on the committee (or in general), nine associate members are from the NDP and several of them were active in the debate during second reading, citing concerns with aspects of the bill, but expressing overall support and wanting to see it move on to committee to be better refined.
“The war on drugs has cost billions of dollars but has not produced the results that we as a society had hoped for and demand,” said MacGregor. “A new approach needs to be taken. I will therefore support this bill in principle at second reading. It deserves very close scrutiny in the Standing Committee on Health.”