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Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill

Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill

Report of the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology on Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill

Hon. Art Eggleton moved the adoption of the report.

He said: Colleagues, there has been much discussion at the committee level on Bill C-45. Back on February 15, the Senate first referred the subject matter of various elements of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Bill, to four other Senate committees.

Our colleagues on the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, the Standing Senate Committee on National Security and Defence, the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, and the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples combined to hold some 29 meetings on the bill. They sat for over 50 hours and heard from 104 witnesses before each tabled reports that became part of our study at Social Affairs.

On March 22, the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology began its study on the entire bill. The committee held some 19 meetings, sat for 53 hours and heard from 136 witnesses on this bill. We have received in excess of 60 written submissions, in addition to reports from our colleagues in the four other committees.

The result of our study is this report, which contains amendments to some 34 clauses. The committee met on Monday for clause-by-clause consideration of the bill and dealt with some 50 amendments. The committee also adopted 21 observations in the bill, incorporating evidence we heard at Social Affairs, along with some key recommendations of other committees.

I want to describe some of the key changes that were made. I’m not going to go into all of them, but I would categorize 12 of them to be substantial amendments. There are another six that are consequential amendments related to the substantial amendments. Finally, there are 24 technical or minor changes. I’m going to describe the substantial amendments and a few of the observations, as time might allow.

The first amendment came in subclause 5(1). It was put forward by Senator Seidman, who, when getting into this matter of the operation of the bill with respect to youth and the use of the youth criminal justice system, moved that for greater certainty, nothing in this bill is to be construed as limiting the operation of extrajudicial measures that are provided for under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The purpose of that is to make it clear that we do not want to criminalize our young people for the possession or use of marijuana, and that we are looking to alternative measures that are part of the extrajudicial measures provided for in the Youth Criminal Justice Act. Officials said that they felt this was in the bill but, as was moved in the motion, it was “for greater certainty” that we make it very clear that we do not want to criminalize youth.

A second amendment relates to home cultivation. That subject got a lot of attention. The four-plant maximum — or less, as the provinces may determine. It was an issue over whether zero was one of the options possible. We know that one could cultivate one to four, but is zero possible? Two provinces indicated they wanted to have the number set at zero — Quebec and Manitoba.

There were two basic motions on this. One was to eliminate home cultivation altogether. The committee did not pass that amendment, but the committee did pass an amendment that would leave home cultivation up to the provinces, even to the point of zero. If that amendment is passed, Quebec, Manitoba and any other province wanting to ban home cultivation would be able to do so.

A further amendment came on the issue of social sharing. There has been a lot of discussion and concern about people who are close in age and close to the lines of where it’s criminal. If an 18-year-old gave a cannabis joint to a 17-year-old, for example, the concern was that the 18-year-old could be criminalized. Likewise, there could be a family sitting at home where a parent or parents are in attendance and cannabis is given to somebody who was, let’s say, 16 years of age or younger, just as they might in a social sharing situation with a glass of wine or bottle of beer, which can happen in homes; we know about that. This will allow for the distribution by an individual 18 years of age or older and less than two years older than the individual to whom they distribute the cannabis. Second, it would allow a parent to distribute to somebody younger in their house.

This is in respect to a concept called social sharing, and it’s very similar to what would happen in the case of alcohol. There is still a lot of criminalization in the legislation. The attempt here is to try and bring it closer to what it might be for some other substances, such as alcohol and tobacco.

A further amendment involved an increase in fines for organizations found guilty of illegally exporting cannabis. The provision for that in the bill is $100,000. This is directed at an organization, not an individual; this is for someone violating the law and exporting cannabis for sale. This would raise the penalty to $300,000. That amount, we were told, is in accordance with some other provisions and laws in terms of level of penalties. There are some penalties set at $100,000, but in this particular case, the committee decided the penalty should be the higher amount for organizations, businesses or whatever.

Another amendment deals with the protection from deportation for permanent residents who are convicted and receive a prison sentence of six months and under through the Cannabis Bill. If somebody is charged in violation of the legislation where the prison sentence could be more than 10 years — 14 years is being used commonly in this particular bill — even though the person may have been considered by the court to have been not an offender worthy of that maximum or anything close to it, it still makes the person subject to further penalties by deportation, ultimately. The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act says if a conviction comes in from a law that has a sentence of 10 years or more, the ultimate level, maximum penalty, then that person could be deported.

This amendment says if the sentence is six months or less, then it would not then be considered as part of the procedures that could lead to deportation. But if it’s something that is a longer period of time and is a more serious offence, then deportation could proceed if the person is a permanent resident and doesn’t have citizenship status.

A further recommendation deals with an amendment that requires a maximum potency for all cannabis products be prescribed in the regulations. It doesn’t actually say what that maximum level is, but there has been much discussion about what would be appropriate in terms of a maximum level and concern about having one of too great a strength that would perhaps put them in a more dangerous category for consumption. That also passed the committee.

There were further amendments to the bill so that someone who pleads guilty to a ticketable offence receives an absolute discharge with no risk of criminality. The concern is that a ticketable offence, just as we might have a ticketable offence for an alcohol provision, shouldn’t result in a criminal record. Under this amendment, the person would receive an absolute discharge with no risk of criminality.

A further amendment increases the time to pay a ticket from 30 days to 60 days. It was argued that low-income Canadians and those in remote communities might need more time to be able to do it, so it was suggested that the 30-day provision in the bill goes to 60 days for those reasons.

Getting into the question of regulations, not the regulations that are going to come out immediately after this bill gets Royal Assent, but regulations that will come further down the line when we deal with the issue of the edibles, in that case, the minister must submit, as the amendment goes, to both houses of Parliament for review, any additions to Schedule 4. Schedule 4 is where you will find the regulations, so any additions after this bill comes into effect would provide for the minister to submit it to both houses for consideration.

There are provisions in this particular motion for the minister not to do that if there is emergency or a number of other reasons that are actually listed, which are common to list in the case of regulations, but it would also provide for a 30 sitting day time limit for the review. Again, it would not be unduly delaying putting the regulation into effect. As I mentioned, there is also an emergency provision. If the minister feels it must be added immediately, this practice then gives the option to the House of Commons and the Senate to take 30 sitting days to review in the appropriate committee, before they are enacted, the proposed regulations expected next year for edibles and vaping products.

There was a lot of concern about the regulations not being here at the same time for us to consider. There are draft regulations. There has been consultation on them, and there are reports that have been put out by Health Canada, but they can’t finalize the regulations until they get the final bill and see what it looks like. We have a number of amendments here which are going to impact those regulations, and then they are looking to move quickly beyond Royal Assent within an 8- to 12-week period. They need time to get it geared up and ready to go, and that would include putting the regulations into effect, but they are not able to bring those regulations to us at this point. However, for any additions beyond that, for the amendments being considered next year on edibles and vaping products, we are asking that they be brought to both houses of Parliament.

Finally, there are three to meet the dozen amendments that deal with subsequent reviews of the act. There is a provision for a review after three years. We passed an amendment that put an 18-month limit on the mandated review so that we could, in fact, ensure that it operates within a reasonable time frame.

A second recommendation in the same part of the bill specifically requires the Minister of Health to order his or her own parallel review on the impact it has on public health and particularly on youth consumption. It turns out it’s the same minister in both cases, but if they decided another minister would have carriage of the cannabis act, this ensures the issues of public health, particularly youth consumption, are addressed directly by the Minister of Health. Again, this report would come to both houses of Parliament and has the 18-month time limit from the time the review is initiated.

Finally, there is a further obligation for review at five years. Why is there one at three and one at five? The one at three years is the minister causing it to happen. The one at five years is for parliamentary committees, and both houses, one house or a joint committee could be asked to review the law itself. Either house could do it. It could be a committee of either house or a joint committee. This is very similar to the way we dealt with the medical assistance in dying bill.

Those are 12. The other ones, as I say, are either consequential amendments or technical. There were a number of technical amendments; we even had one whole amendment that put in a comma, which is very technical.

As for observations, I want to note a few of them. They don’t have the same effect as amendments on the bill, but they are attached to the report. There are 21 of them and some very good ones, but I want to highlight a few.

The Hon. the Speaker: Before you start, your time is expiring. Are you asking for five more minutes?

Senator Eggleton: Yes, please.

The Hon. the Speaker: Is leave granted, honourable senators?

Hon. Senators: Agreed.

Senator Eggleton: Thank you.

One of them is that the minister establish an independent task force to monitor and evaluate the implementation of this act and to provide public reports on the implementation outcomes of this undertaking in accordance with the principles of legislation. That arose over the fact that we are into such heavily uncharted territory in so many respects. While the majority of the committee felt this was a path to go down, that we should adopt this piece of legislation with amendments, something extra is needed in this particular regard, and that’s why an independent task force is put out for their consideration.

Another is for the Minister of Health to require mandatory health warnings for cannabis products, including warnings about the danger of smoking cannabis and exposure to second-hand cannabis smoke and the risk of combining cannabis and tobacco. This arose from the concerns about tobacco because we have gone through heavy campaigns to get young people in particular off tobacco, and the smoking of these products, whether tobacco or cannabis, is a concern.

I want to go over two observations on issues regarding Aboriginal peoples. Looking at the report and the efforts of the Aboriginal Peoples Committee, one of them is that the Minister of Health encourage a diverse competitive cannabis market and ensure that Indigenous peoples are in a competitive position to generate own-source revenues and employment opportunities in this new industry. It is a helping hand, a system to try to help guide Indigenous peoples through this particular process.

In another one, you will recall that the main recommendation in the Aboriginal Peoples Committee report was to defer bringing the bill into effect until after certain consultations had taken place and it was suggested that would be up to a year, although people had different estimates of how long that might be.

There was an amendment put at the committee, similar to that, which suggested the same provisions be carried out, like the development of educational materials, the need to establish funding of mental health and addiction programs, the need for nursing and police services, desirability of Indigenous communities to adopt their own measures respecting legalization, tax collection and revenue sharing.

Those provisions were put into another deferral motion that didn’t have a time limit on it. The committee rejected the deferral aspect. The committee felt that too many people would be exposed to a hiatus period, which is that an old law continues to be in effect while most people will think the day this gets Royal Assent the new law will be in effect. We said — or at least the majority said — you can’t wait for that. We need to get this bill into effect as soon as we can. But at the same time, we said these things need to be properly dealt with. We put them in another motion and recommended in an observation that the government carry these out. We think that is an important observation and important recommendation to put forward.

That’s all I’ll say. There are 21  observations altogether, as I said. There are a lot of amendments — 42 in total — and I hope the report can be adopted quickly so we can proceed to third reading stage and have major discussions about these amendments or about any other amendments at third reading of the bill.