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Marijuana bill goes back to Senate after House rejects 13 amendments

Last Updated Jun 19, 2018 at 12:40 am EDT

A vendor displays marijuana for sale during the 4-20 annual marijuana celebration, in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday April 20, 2018. The federal governnment's bill to legalize recreational cannabis is on its way back to the Senate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

OTTAWA – A federal bill to legalize recreational cannabis was bounced back to the Senate on Monday, where the government’s representative argued it’s time to get on with lifting Canada’s almost century-old prohibition on marijuana.

The House of Commons voted 205-82 to reject 13 amendments passed by Senate, including one which would have authorized provinces to prohibit home cultivation of marijuana plants if they choose.

Senators now have to decide whether to defer to the will of the elected government or insist on some or all of their amendments, digging in for a protracted parliamentary battle.

Sen. Peter Harder, the Liberal government’s representative in the upper house, argued that senators have done all they could to study the bill thoroughly and recommend improvements. He said it’s time to respect the decision of MPs, who will be accountable to their constituents in next year’s election.

“With cannabis legislation, Canadians are ready for us to move forward,” Harder told the Senate, predicting that “there may come a day, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, when we remember prohibition as absurd.”

Quebec and Manitoba have already decided to ban home-grown weed, although the bill allows individuals to grow up to four plants per dwelling.

The Senate’s amendment was intended to head off any legal challenges to the provinces’ constitutional authority to prohibit home cultivation.

Harder noted that the bill already allows provinces to limit home cultivation to just one plant, if they choose. So, he said, the dispute over home cultivation between the two houses of Parliament essentially comes down to “a single plant.”

Among the other Senate amendments rejected by the government was one that would have prohibited any marijuana-branded swag, such as T-shirts and ball caps.

The government accepted 27 other largely technical amendments made by the Senate and tweaked two others.

Five different Senate committees minutely examined various aspects of the legalization bill, hearing from more than 200 witnesses.

Harder argued that the approach the upper house took to the bill will be studied by students of history as a shining example of how the so-called chamber of sober second thought is supposed to operate.

In particular, he applauded Indigenous senators for raising concerns about the lack of consultation with Aboriginal communities. That forced the government to make a written commitment to more consultation and increased funding to help communities deal with the potential negative fallout from legalization and cash in on the potential economic windfall.

Harder said their role “demonstrated once again that the Senate has come into its own as an effective, influential and, indeed, indispensable platform in Parliament for the voices of Indigenous Peoples.”