Pubdate: Mon, 11 Dec 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: John Ibbitson
Page: A5


You may think that you will be able to buy marijuana legally as of
July 1. You should think again. Conservative senators are threatening
to hold up passage of the two bills that would legalize cannabis
consumption and toughen rules against abuse. Unless these senators
yield, the bills are unlikely to become law in time for the Canada Day

"I think we have to do our job properly, and that means months,"
Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, the lead opposition critic on
the legislation, said when asked in an interview how long he thought
it would take the Senate to pass the bills. How many months?

"The House took eight months to study" the bills, he said. "It will
probably take the same timeline to do our job properly." Given the
summer recess, that would push Senate ratification to the end of 2018,
at least.

The costs of missing that deadline would be severe. Provincial
governments are negotiating contracts with suppliers, who are
increasing production. Governments and private companies are signing
leases for storefronts. Police forces are acquiring new equipment, and
training officers to identify pot-impaired drivers.

But businesses "take a risk if they adopt a plan … without legislation
in place adopted by both houses," Mr. Carignan said. "My
recommendation is to take their time and don't take an unusual
business risk."

The political question is who will suffer more if the July 1 deadline
is missed: The Liberals, for trying to force through legislation
legalizing recreational marijuana use, or the Conservatives, for
blocking the legislation in the Senate.

Either way, the Red Chamber's reputation - which had shown signs of
rehabilitation since the expenses scandal - could be sent back into
the depths.

"This is the old system going on," said a frustrated Senator Frances
Lankin, an independent who was appointed by Mr. Trudeau. "This is the
opposition trying to throw a spanner into the works of the

Senators will start debate on Bill C-45, which sets out the terms for
legalizing cannabis use and sale, and C-46, which sets out new laws
for impaired driving due to marijuana use, when Parliament returns at
the end of January. But Mr. Carignan believes the bills do not
adequately address issues such as drug tests for workers, equipment
and training for police forces, the impact of legalization on young
people, and the tax implications for provinces. All will require
careful Conservative study.

In the past, the government of the day would seek to appoint enough
senators from its own party to gain control of the Senate and force
legislation through. But Mr. Trudeau expelled the Liberal senators
from caucus and has appointed only non-aligned independents. This
allows the Conservatives to control the pace of debate.

The Senate could adopt the same approach used to pass the
assisted-dying legislation in 2016: predetermined hours for debate;
minsters testifying before the full Senate; and established timelines
for votes that allow the bills to be sent back to the House for
reconsideration if needed.

Passage "can easily be done by July 1," said independent Senator Tony
Dean, who sponsored C-45. But the Conservatives see no reason to apply
the assisted-dying approach to legalizing marijuana. If the
independent senators wanted to respect the July 1 deadline, they could
form an ad-hoc coalition of the willing that could set and enforce
deadlines for debating and voting on the two bills. But could such a
herd of cats be willingly corralled?

Andre Pratte, another independent appointed by Mr. Trudeau, is not
willing to predict. But if "there are people who are delaying the vote
by tactics that only aim to delay, then I would be part of a group
that would try to get us to a vote."

The Senate will bear close scrutiny in the coming months, to see
whether the Conservatives are truly willing to prevent marijuana use
from becoming legal on July 1 and whether the independents can
organize to push the bills through.

In the meantime, Mr. Trudeau might think about filling the 11 current
Senate vacancies sooner rather than later. On C-45 and C-46, the
coalition of the willing may need all the help it can get.
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