Canada’s Bill C-45 took a tentative step forward on the road to legalization March 22nd, passing the second reading in the Senate.
As government moves to enact legislation amending the laws of Canada to legalize cannabis, current debate on the proposed Cannabis Act includes the control and regulation of how cannabis is grown, packaged, labeled, distributed and sold. (See also: How a Bill Becomes a Law)
Bill C-45 was first introduced in the House of Commons and passed on November 27, 2017. It was then presented to the Senate and given first reading on November 28, 2017. By outward appearances, controversy over the Bill has become more a matter of party politic and money-grubbing in the guise of public health and safety than on open-minded and impartial debate.
Prime Minister Trudeau’s promise to provide legal access for all Canadians could have failed on second reading of the Cannabis Bill within the Upper House, defeated by its opponents, had Grits not aligned nor convinced independent Senators (part of the Liberal government’s pledge to appoint non-partisan members nominated by an independent commission), to deliver their vote in accord.
The defeat of a government Bill at such an early legislative stage is constitutionally rare. If a Bill is defeated in the Senate at second reading, the Bill, in effect, is dead.
Many Conservative Senators had voted to block the Bill, arguing the Liberals are pushing ahead with a massive societal change under a self-imposed time frame.
Conservative Senator Betty Unger said, “We, the select few with sober second thought, should not consider saying ‘yes’ to this odious legislation until we, on behalf of all Canadians, have all the answers. I believe that, at a minimum, an intensive four-year education blitz should begin now before any government contemplates legislation.”
Conservative Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen agreed, “The rush is incomprehensible. I’m not sure Canadians want Canada to be known for its liberal drug laws.”
Defenders of the Bill argue that time is of the essence. Illegal cannabis use, currently a $7 billion industry (according to government figures), is funneling funds into the hands of organized crime and will continue to grow in the shadows without the benefit of federal regulations.
Minister of Health, Ginette Taylor Pettipas upheld the proposed legislation by saying, “Madam Speaker, I rise to continue third reading debate of Bill C-45, an Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other acts.
The Standing Committee on Health has now completed its review of the Bill and has heard from over 100 witnesses. Given the trans formative nature of the proposed legislation, we also support the amendments made by the committee that will require a review of the law three years after it is brought into force.
Bill C-45 is grounded in the interest of public health and safety. It is worthy of adoption by the House. Bill C-45 would legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to cannabis for Canadians over the age of 18. By legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis, this law would take profits from the sales of cannabis out of the hands of criminals and organized crime and protect the public health through strict product requirements for safety and quality.
Bill C-45 is grounded in protecting public health and would replace the current system, which clearly is not working.”
Senator Peter Harder urged delegates to debate legislation thoroughly and propose amendments, but not to defeat the proposed Bill which reflects the platform promises made to Canadians (aka Cannucks) during the election of our current government.
The people of Canada have voted.
Had it been defeated, the government could introduce a similar Bill, but it would need to be an entirely new piece of legislation and not simply a revised revival of the old one.
“If the motion for second reading is defeated, the bill dies and cannot be reintroduced in the same session, since reintroduction would be contrary to the decision of the chamber and a violation of the same question rule,” as stated in the Senate Procedure in Practice (SPIP), the chamber’s guidebook.
Bill C-45 was adopted at second reading in the Senate on March 22, 2018 and has been referred to the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology. Four additional Senate committees are currently studying other aspects of the Bill. These committees must report back to the Senate by May 1, 2018 before it can be tabled for a third reading and Royal Assent.