Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2017
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Toronto Star
Page: A18


The most important social and legal change in Canada during 2018 will
almost certainly be the legalization of marijuana. This move, the
boldest by the Trudeau government so far, will end almost a century of
prohibition of cannabis that has resulted in a great deal of misery
while delivering few benefits in return.

The House of Commons has passed two laws that will make the
consumption of marijuana legal while toughening the rules against
abuse of the drug. The prime minister now says his goal is to put them
into effect by "next summer."

But it's far from clear that will actually happen. Conservatives in
the Senate are threatening to derail the entire project by stretching
out debate on legalization in the Upper Chamber for many months - past
the original deadline of July, and possibly deep into next fall.

They should cease and desist. The appointed Senate has a
constitutional job to do in reviewing legislation passed by the
elected Commons. But deliberately thwarting the will of MPs by
manipulating the arcane rules of the Senate is something else again.

The Senate officially began debate on Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, and
C-46, which would tighten rules on impaired driving related to
marijuana use, at the end of November, as soon as the Commons passed

So it had seven months to vet the bills - ample time if senators are
honestly determined to fulfil their duties while respecting the will
of the Commons. But debate in the Senate is far from straightforward
and since the Conservatives form the single biggest group on party
lines (ever since Justin Trudeau freed Liberal senators from party
discipline), they can control the pace of debate.

Independent Senator Tony Dean has a better idea. He's the sponsor of
Bill C-45 in the Senate and proposes bringing in a "structured" debate
for this important legislation. It would give senators a chance to
examine the new laws, but according to a timetable that would bring it
to a vote well before July 1.

"I'm not talking about limiting or rushing discussion," Dean wrote
recently. "I'm talking about organizing discussion - a predictable,
formulated debate." That kind of debate was successfully used in the
Senate to examine another contentious piece of legislation, the law on
medical assistance in dying.

The government representative in the Upper Chamber, Peter Harder, has
also proposed bringing ministers involved in the issue to testify
before the Senate in early February so senators can question them. All
that would give senators a good chance to offer their "sober second
thought" on the cannabis bills in a timely manner.

Let's recall what's at stake here. The current marijuana laws
criminalize thousands of Canadians for using a relatively harmless
drug. Aside from medical marijuana, pot is sold mostly through
gang-run black markets and the proceeds aren't taxed.

There is legitimate concern about marijuana's effects on young people,
but prohibition hasn't worked very well there either. Canada has one
of the highest rates of pot use among the young - higher than some
other countries like the Netherlands where it is legal. Nor has
legalization in some U.S. states led to a spike in consumption among

Legalization with strict rules around distribution and sales, however,
is complicated. The provinces are busy putting sales networks in place
to meet the federal deadline, which involves locating outlets, signing
legal agreements, hiring staff, preparing public education campaigns
and much more.

To kick this can down the road for months longer - perhaps until the
end of 2018 or even longer - would disrupt all that planning.

Even worse, the Conservative senators are also threatening to delay
the related Bill C-46, which will bring in stricter rules around
driving while impaired - by either alcohol or marijuana.

Leaving aside the wisdom of legalizing cannabis, delaying the impaired
driving law is indefensible. In an open letter to senators, MADD
Canada (formerly Mothers Against Drunk Driving) points out that "drugs
are present in fatal crashes nearly twice as often as alcohol." They
are calling on the Senate to pass C-46 without delay.

At the moment, Conservatives have 34 members in the Senate, compared
to 39 Independents and just 15 Liberals. That gives the Conservative
minority unusual power to manipulate the chamber's rules. But if they
do that to defy the elected Commons and delay these laws
unnecessarily, their party and the entire Senate will be

The Upper Chamber should do its job - in a timely, organized fashion
that allows the best possible law on legalization to be adopted on the
government's schedule.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt