Cannabis Act heads back to House, Senate process to follow

The Cannabis Act now has to go through report stage & third reading in the House before making its way to an often slow and increasingly independent Senate

Now that Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, has made its way through the House Standing Committee on Health (with a few amendments attached), it is making its way back to the House for report stage and third reading. This is currently scheduled for on or after Monday, Oct 16.

Report stage will allow for the House to examine the bill as reported by the committee and for members to propose their own motions for amendments. Any members who want to propose a motion will have to submit it at least one day before the House begins the report stage. It’s also possible for the government to prevent further debate by invoking closure.

After report stage comes third reading, where further debate is possible before a final vote, and then it's sent off to the Senate. And while the House is controlled by a solid majority of Liberal MPs, the Senate is much more evenly balanced with 36 Conservative Senators, 36 Independent Senators, 16 from the ‘Senate Liberal Caucus,’ and seven non-affiliated Senators.

The Senate will then follow a similar path as the House followed, with first and second reading and then sending it to a Senate committee that will do a clause-by-clause analysis of the bill similar to the analysis of the Health Committee. Senate committees have, historically, taken much more time than House committees, inviting extensive witnesses and sometimes taking months to examine a bill.

It is this process, say some political analysts following the Cannabis Act, where the bill has a chance to get bogged down.

Ivan Ross Vrana, the Vice President of Public Affairs at Hill+Knowlton Strategies, says first and second reading are likely to go fast but says he would not be surprised if the committee stage ends up taking a lot of time. Hill+Knowlton is actively lobbying for several companies in the cannabis space and Vrana has extensive experience with cannabis policy in Canada.

“The timeline in the Senate all depends on the government House leader in the Senate and how they take that through and what they can negotiate and who they talk to. The first and second readings can go fairly quickly... but it’s the committee side of the Senate that is going to be interesting. If it’s going to get hung up anywhere, if it’s going to be delayed, my bet is it will be in the committee hearings.”

Alex Shiff, a policy and public affairs consultant, as well as a strategic advisor to the Cannabis Trade Alliance of Canada (CTAC), says that while the Senate used to largely support their own party's legislation, now there is a growing independence among Senators to push back on legislation and even try to hold parties more accountable to their election promises.

When Trudeau disbanded his Liberal Senators shortly after his Oct 2015 election, many of them expressed surprise and quickly formed the Senate Liberal Caucus, but that, combined with more recent independent appointments, says Shiff, has been creating a much more independent body that is no longer just a rubber stamp.

“Essentially, we’ve never really seen a lot of push back from the Senate. What we’ve been seeing, especially since Trudeau disbanded the Liberal Caucus, is an increasing independence and willingness from the Senate to attach amendments to legislation. Traditionally, the Senate has only altered about four percent of bills, and I believe in the last year or so we’re up to about 25 percent. So it’s increasing and we’re only going to see more of that as more Senators come through the new independent process.”

“Simply because your party holds a majority of seats in the House of Commons doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to get it rubber stamped in the Senate.”

The Senate has been amending legislation closer to campaign promises that were made and so we could see objections from the Senate in terms of areas where C-45 diverges from the task force recommendations, for example.

With only 45 sitting days between now and the Christmas break, the timeline is short, says Vrana. And with rumours of propagation in the new year continuing, he could see why the government would obviously be anxious to get this to Royal Assent before then and begin working on the actual regulations behind the legislation.

This is a whole other part of the process Vrana says many are forgetting—that if and when Bill C-45 becomes law, the process of posting and debating the actual rules and regulations will also take time.

Any new regulations are required to be posted in the Canada Gazette One and Two. While it’s not required to wait to post to the gazette until after a bill reaches royal assent, Vrana says this is the case 99% of the time unless a draft form prior to part one were posted. There are some who say a draft in the gazette is possible prior to Royal Assent. Part one is posted each Saturday and part two is posted every other Wednesday. Part one allows for public comment, as would a possible draft version.

While Bill C-45 is the framework for legalization, what the legislation will look like still has to be decided, he points out. And that process will help industry and stakeholders better prepare for the expected July 2018 implementation.

“What I would like to see happen is it’s passed before the Christmas break and then we can start talking about the regulations," says Vrana. "Regulations will be where there are going to be a lot of important details, and regulations have to go through a consultation phase. I would like to see that discussed in the winter and spring so everyone has a good sense of what the regulatory regime is going to look like, because that's the big unknown, and will have a big impact on industry and civil society."

The House will begin hearing considerations from the Health Committee on or after Monday, Oct 16.

Featured Image via Wiki Commons

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