Canada: Cannabis Sector Under Pressure As Bill C-45 Second Reading Passage Not Assured

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Could Bill C-45 be under threat? According to government insiders, today’s second reading in the Senate is not a slam dunk. Should it fail to get the required amount of votes to pass, Bill C-45 would be dead—along with the Trudeau government’s ambitious summer cannabis legalization timeline.

As reported this morning by the CBC, the government’s cannabis bill faces outright defeat in the Senate today if it can’t secure enough support in the upper house of parliament. If the Tories and some independent allies can cobble enough votes together, it’s plausible C-45 could go down in flames.

While analysts aren’t necessarily expecting that outcome, government sources paint a rather divisive picture.

Speaking off the record, the CBC points out that sources still believe the legislation has enough support from Independent senators to win the vote. However, they expect the margin of victory to be slim; enough so that ultimate outcome is not assured. Nevertheless, the expected close shave is ringing alarm bells on the government side—especially with up to 20 independent senators expected to miss today’s vote.

Conservatives On The Offensive

This isn’t simply a case of red team/blue team political theater. That stuff happens in the lower house, where bills are created. In the Canadian Senate, both sides generally work together to streamline legislation and hammered details and regulatory points overlooked in the original policy formation. In this particular instance, however, it appears conservatives are drawing a red line versus progressive intentions to ram a bill through in quick fashion.

Conservative senators have repeatedly delivered scathing condemnations on the grounds Bill C-45 will legitimize a ‘gateway’ drug for Canadian youth. These are familiar talking points delivered by the right: that cannabis will endanger youth and increase smoking rates.

But co-mingling with those issues are concerns that cannabis legalization will complicate the work of police officers and lead to a backlog of court cases for possession offences. Furthermore, there’s also worry that the black market won’t be impeded with government aiming for $10/gram pricing.

Moreover, there is non-partisan concern that Bill C-46—the adjoining co-legislation introduced along with Bill C-45 to create a new drug-impaired driving legislative framework—may need a complete overhaul to attain passage. Senate Liberal Serge Joyal criticized Bill C-46 as “Full of holes… that would give rise to challenges on all kinds of counts, so you won’t make things easier.” Conservative Sen. Denise Batters went so far as to say she had “never heard such a damning constitutional indictment of a piece of legislation before.”

Other groups, like the non-partisan groups like the The Criminal Lawyers’ Association (CLA), Canadian Civil Liberties Association and Indigenous Bar Association, believes Bill C-46 would open the door wider to racial profiling and other police abuses of marginalized groups.

In short, there’s a boisterous opposition to Bill C-45/Bill C-46 which is pushing back against the aggressive Trudeau government timeline to legalize cannabis by summer. Should Bill C-45 second reading get struck down today, they will force the lower house Liberals back to the drawing board.

At that point, legalization anytime in 2018 will not be assured.