Senators, Opposition Set to Challenge Pot Bill Age Limits, Prison Terms in Committee

Article by Peter Mazereeuw, The Hill Times

Senators, opposition set to challenge pot bill age limits, prison terms in committee The legislation could face a rough ride in the Senate if it is swept through the House without amendments.

Rules for the minimum age at which Canadians could buy pot, how many plants apartment-dwellers could grow, and lengthy maximum prison sentences could be challenged by Senators and opposition MPs as the government’s marijuana legislation passes through parliamentary committees.

The chair of the House Justice Committee, Liberal MP Anthony Housefather (Mount Royal, Que.), defended the proposed Cannabis Act as well-balanced legislation, but Parliamentarians from other caucuses say they expect or would support amendments to be proposed for what some see as a “first draft” of what will eventually be made law.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was at least an amendment dealing with the age factor,” said Conservative Sen. Bob Runciman (Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, Ont.), who chairs the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

While Sen. Runciman likely won’t be part of that committee if it reviews the bill—he is slated for mandatory retirement this summer—he said some of his caucus colleagues have also expressed concern that the bill could allow Canadians as young as 18 to legally access marijuana, given the damaging effects it could have on the developing brain.

Sen. Runciman said he was personally in favour of an amendment to remove minor marijuana possession offences from the criminal records of individuals charged prior to the legalization of the drug, echoing a call from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair (Outremont, Que.). Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has said that a blanket pardon for pot convictions was not on the table.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould (Vancouver Granville, B.C.) introduced Bill C-45, legislation to legalize marijuana, in the House on April 13, alongside another bill to adjust impaired driving legislation to account for a world in which pot is legal. The government has not yet announced which House committee will review C-45 once it passes second reading.

While C-45 was sponsored by the justice minister and changes the Criminal Code, Liberal MP Bill Blair (Scarborough Southwest, Ont.), parliamentary secretary to the minister of justice and one of the leads on the legalization file, hinted that the House Health Committee was also a candidate to receive the bill.

“The decision to what committee this will go forward to is really the responsibility of the ministers, but I will tell you that both bills were introduced by the minister of justice,” Mr. Blair told The Hill Times.

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