Conservative senators are taking issue with a provision of Canada’s marijuana legalization bill that allows recreational cannabis to be grown in residences, with some calling for the measure to be purged from the pending law.
Removing the homegrown-cannabis provision would be a blow to companies gearing up to capitalize on the niche market – from sales of equipment, genetics and other supplies – come legalization later this year.
Executives estimate the recreational home-grow market could be on par with the home-brew industry – valuing it at hundreds of millions of dollars.
One of the largest producers of medical cannabis in Canada, Edmonton, Alberta-based Aurora Cannabis, made an early 3.9 million Canadian dollar ($3.1 million) bet on the home-grow segment when it bought BC Northern Lights Enterprises and Urban Cultivator last year.
“Aurora supports individuals’ right to grow cannabis,” he said. “It’s certainly something that can be done safely and responsibly by adults.”
Justin Cooper, co-founder and CEO of Green Planet Wholesale, says people are going to grow their own cannabis at home post-legalization, whether it’s in the Cannabis Act or not, so it’s better that the government establish rules for doing so safely and responsibly.
“Not regulating homegrown cannabis is going to make the black market bigger, guaranteed,” Cooper said. “Like it or not, people are going to grow it.”
‘Do not allow home grow’
Sen. Vernon White wants the home-grow provision removed from the Cannabis Act before it becomes the law of the land, expressing concern about access for children and air quality risks in rental units.
He also worries that some people will use their four-plant limit to supply the black market.
“Do not allow home grow. That’s my endgame,” he said in an interview.
White is not against recreational legalization, but he wants it done “right.”
The 32-year police veteran points out that Quebec and Manitoba already banned homegrown recreational cannabis over similar concerns.
“Let’s be truthful about what some of the impacts are going to be from legalization,” he said.
Other senators have also taken to the Senate floor to ask questions and raise concerns.
“If the goal of the bill is to protect young Canadians from the harms of cannabis, how is exposing kids to cannabis plants in their homes protecting them?” Sen. Rose-May Poirier asked.
How likely is an amendment?
“I would be surprised if it makes it out of the Senate without amendments,” White said.
Conservative senators would need support from independent counterparts to pass any amendments. The Senate currently has 12 Liberals, 43 independents, 33 Conservatives and five nonaffiliated members.
Sen. Larry Smith wrote that “Senate Conservative Caucus will be looking at making recommendations on various legislative voids, including: driving under the influence; public consumption; home grow; outdoor grow; detection of high concentration of marijuana; border crossing … ”
While homegrown cannabis is one possible target, Conservative senators could introduce amendments for the final debate, Ottawa-based Hill Times reported.
In that case, the Senate would have less than a week to debate any amendments before voting on the bill June 7.
Meanwhile, an independent senator from Quebec, André Pratte, recently wrote in a Toronto Star op-ed that the federal government ought to amend Bill C-45 to give provinces the right to ban the home cultivation.
“If it fails to do so, then there is a good chance senators will propose such an amendment,” he wrote.
Will amendments cause a delay?
If senators approve amendments, the Cannabis Act goes back to the House of Commons, which could put the Commons in a tough spot. It would have to choose between accepting the amendments in the interest of passing the law or further debate, which could require the Senate to take another look.
“We could end up in pingpong limbo for a while,” White said.
If amendments from the Senate are accepted in the Commons, it would become law in short order.
“The (House of Common’s) willingness to accept amendments made by the Senate may be driven more by a desire to meet the legalization timeline they have committed to than anything else,” said Trina Fraser, a business lawyer and adviser to Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations-licensed producers for Brazeau Seller Law.
“If amendments are rejected and it has to go back to the Senate again, the timeline is once again out of its hands.”
Another potential delay could come from provinces that would have to update their legislation to reflect changes made to Bill C-45.
Omar Khan, vice president of public affairs at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, a communications consultancy, said the Senate and Commons could find common ground to head off a long delay.
“A partial solution to this worth considering could be to explicitly allow personal-grow cooperatives – communal locations where people can grow for personal use outside of a residential environment but under controlled supervision,” he said.
“That being said, this illustrates that some senators do not understand the judicial history of this entire space.
“There are a series of court orders, provincial and federal, that have forced the government to allow home grow, so it will be very difficult for the Justice Minister to remove this provision from the bill without putting it in legal jeopardy.”
Executives, meanwhile, say they’re not concerned over a potential delay, because producers are nowhere near ready for mass production of cannabis.
“A delay of a couple months in the context of a decade in an industry is nothing,” said Torsten Kuenzlen, CEO of Alberta-based burgeoning producer Sundial Growers.
“It gives us an opportunity to get more high-quality cannabis ready (for) the day that consumers can legally buy them.”
Matt Lamers can be reached at [email protected]
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