As Bill C-45 reaches report stage in the House of Commons on November 1, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has proposed an amendment that she hopes will draw attention to what she says are unreasonably harsh criminal penalties for Canadians sharing cannabis.
May’s motion calls for the deletion of Clause 9 of the Cannabis Act, which deals with different aspects of the distribution (but not sale) of cannabis. For example, among other things*, it allows Canadians 18 and over to share up to 30 grams of legal cannabis with other adult Canadians, and specifically prevents any amount being shared with Canadians under 18.
For anyone violating this by sharing more than thirty grams with another adult, or sharing any amount of cannabis with a Canadian under 18, criminal penalties of up to 14 years in prison are possible.
*(It also assigns penalties for anyone who distributes one or more cannabis plants “that are budding or flowering, or more than four cannabis plants that are not budding or flowering” and prohibits young Canadians from sharing more than five grams of cannabis with other young Canadians. It also specifically prevents the argument of not knowing the person you share cannabis with is a minor.)
As the bill is currently written, says May, it would be possible, for example, for an 18 year old to receive up to 14 years in prison for simply passing a joint to a classmate who may be 17. While she says she doesn't see this as a likely sentence from a judge, it's still too harsh of a possible sentence for what is supposed to be a legalization bill, says May.
"It's unlikely a judge is going to give a kid a 14 year sentence if he shares a joint with a classmate that he thought was 18 as well. but the onus of proof is on the person to ascertained how old the [person they are sharing with] were. That isn't something that kids normally do with each other if they think that they're the same age and they're not aware of the penalties. On a legal product.
“I think the broad sweep of the act is well done, but the harsh provisions for distributing, in other words giving, sharing any amount of cannabis to someone under 18, are unreasonable.” - Leader of the Green Party of Canada Elizabeth May
With a solid Liberal majority in the House, May says she does not expect her amendment to pass, noting that all of the 18 more specific amendments she proposed at the committee stage were also all rejected by the Liberal majority on the committee.
“Obviously my amendments are going to be defeated,” says May, “the Liberals have a majority. They’ve defeated them at committee. We did get some positive things out of committee—I don’t want to rush past that without mentioning that they removed the height restriction on plants and committed to having edibles within one year of implementation. So there’s limited progress there.
“But overall I’m still very concerned about the 14 year sentence,” she continues. “What I’m really doing is drawing attention to it. I’m doing what I can at this stage of parliamentary proceedings. It may look overbroad to some, but under the circumstances it’s the best way to try to get rid of overly harsh penalties.”
This aspect of the bill, says May, concerns her because it’s still very focused on criminal penalties as a deterrent, even for young Canadians. This was one of the aspects of prohibition that the Liberals have said was failing in their own legalization rationale.
“It’s very strange,” the Canadian Green Party leader says. “It’s as if we’re regulating...cannabis, but the drafters are obsessed with reefer madness. It’s as if we’re maintaining a prohibition mindset in a legalized context, and it creates a lot of internal conflicts in the way we approach the upcoming legalization and regulation of cannabis sales and distribution.”
Even if her amendment doesn’t pass, May says she will still support the bill, saying the Green Party was the first party in Canada to call for the legalization of cannabis, but she hopes to work on refining the bill down the road.
“I actually think overall, their approach was quite good to say, ‘look, we’re going to sketch out how we’re going to legalize cannabis, we’re going to make sure we’re going to deal with issues of branding and messaging, and we’re going to leave it up to each province to figure out how they want to manage it,’” says May.
“I think the broad sweep of the act is well done, but the harsh provisions for distributing, in other words giving, sharing any amount of cannabis to someone under 18, are unreasonable.”
May says she is also hopeful that other aspects of the bill can be refined over time, or even added to. One issue the Greens have mentioned in the past is the call for amnesty for those with some previous cannabis-related charges, and May says she is hopeful that there is a desire within the government to work towards this, as well.
“I’ve pressed ministers on this and I haven’t had the door slammed in my face, that we would move towards expunging records and providing amnesty for people who in the past have committed acts that are now legal. And that’s another really important part of this as well that isn’t in this act but may come in he future. And I certainly hope it comes in the future.”
The Conservatives have also proposed amendments to the bill, including the removal of the section allowing for personal production of cannabis. The NDP, who proposed several amendments at the committee stage, have not posted any notices of motions to propose amendments at report stage. The Bloc Québécois had one proposed amendment at committee stage.
Bill C-45 begins report stage in the House on Nov. 1 after Question Period around 3pm EDT. After report stage, the bill moves on to third reading, and then on to the Senate.
You can read all the proposed amendments to Bill C-45 from the committee stage here.