Canada: Are the House and Senate poised for a showdown over pot?

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The head of the Independent Senators Group says the Senate is ready to hear the government's reasons for rejecting senators' amendments to cannabis legislation — but the Red Chamber also could be ready to push back.

"The initial reaction without question is one of disappointment," Sen. Yuen Pau Woo told host Chris Hall today on CBC Radio's The House.

Woo said senators tried not to undermine the core purpose of the government's Bill C-45 — to create a legal market for recreational cannabis.

However, the government's rejection of several key amendments — which it still hasn't fully explained — could turn the bill into a political ping-pong ball, bouncing between the Senate and the Commons.

Woo argued the Senate carefully drafted its amendments to avoid that situation, adding it's unclear whether the Senate would insist on certain amendments and effectively strand the bill between the two legislative bodies.

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"The job of senators is to listen to signals as well. It's not just to propose amendments willy-nilly with no sense of where the government position is."

PM Justin Trudeau says that an amendment on home cultivation will not be accepted, and goes on to blame the Conservatives for doing their best to hold up the government's marijuana bill in the Senate.

The upper chamber proposed 46 amendments to the Cannabis Act after studying it for half a year.

While the government is accepting some of them, it is passing on several major ones, potentially setting the Senate and House up for a showdown.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor thanked senators today for their "hard work" on the legislation, but said the government considers some of their amendments to be deal-breakers.

Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor says that while the government accepts most of the recommendations put forward by the Senate on its cannabis legalization bill, the government will not accept one that gives provinces the right to ban home cultivation.

"We've made it very clear with respect to our position, that there are some amendments that we're accepting and some amendments at this time that we're not prepared to accept," she said.

The rejected amendments would, among other things:

  • affirm the provinces' right to ban home cultivation of marijuana;
  • ban branded promotional items such as T-shirts and hats that display logos of marijuana producers, and;
  • establish a public registry of all cannabis companies' directors, officers, controlling parent corporations or trusts, and their directors, members and shareholders.

The House still has to debate and vote on the plan in the coming days. Then C-45 will return to the Senate, where senators will have to decide whether to give up their fight to make their recommendations stick.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has accused the Conservative senators of attempting to delay the bill. While Woo said that rhetoric isn't helpful, his group of independent senators was prepared for it. 

"We are not oblivious to the fact that there are partisan games being played."

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