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Lauren Vogel | CMAJ | November 27, 2017

Marijuana legalization dominated recent debate in the House of Commons.

Cannabis Act

The House accepted the Standing Committee on Health’s amendments to Bill C-45, including changes to eliminate height restrictions on homegrown marijuana and to exempt people from criminal charges for possession if they call 911 in cases of medical emergency. Among other amendments: the Cannabis Act would require review three years after it comes into force, and smoking or vaping cannabis in certain outdoor areas and federal workplaces would be prohibited.

However, the Liberal government came under fire from opposition parties for limiting debate at report stage and third reading. Conservative, New Democrat and Bloc Québécois members also noted that the provinces, police and Indigenous leaders have called for delay on marijuana legalization. The Canada Day deadline for legalization “is an absolutely arbitrary date and it makes no sense,” said Alexandre Boulerice, NDP MP for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. “The only logical reason for rushing through this is to cater to cannabis producers who have received authorizations and permits.”

Members cited testimonies from First Nations chiefs who said their communities have not been consulted and are unprepared for marijuana legalization. The government’s accelerated timeline “leaves the First Nations in a compromising state,” said Dave Van Kesteren, Conservative MP for Chatham-Kent—Leamington. Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Rabould said the government has been “listening for two years … and will continue to listen to Indigenous communities.”

Conservative members also argued that the bill doesn’t do enough to keep marijuana out of young peoples’ hands. As it stands, the bill allows children aged 12–17 to possess up to five grams of pot. “At 12, children cannot buy cigarettes, they cannot drive, they cannot vote, they cannot enlist to fight for our country, but they can possess five to 10 joints,” said David Sweet, MP for Flamborough—Glanbrook. “Medical professionals have told us that the number should be zero.”

New Democrat members voiced general support for the bill, but argued the government should provide pardons to Canadians for cannabis offences that will no longer exist. They also criticized a Liberal tax on medical marijuana. “Patients are currently forced to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars each month to acquire a sufficient supply of medicinal cannabis, or choose a riskier option, like a prescription opioid, because it is tax-exempt and covered for reimbursement,” said Don Davies, MP for Vancouver Kingsway.

Kevin Lamoureux, Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government, countered that the bill is “the best legislation that is possible at this point.” The bill is currently at third reading and, if passed, goes to the Senate next.

National Sickle Cell Awareness Day Act

The House unanimously passed Bill S-11 to mark a National Sickle Cell Awareness Day. The bill is now awaiting Royal assent.

Oil sands emissions

New Democrat MP Linda Duncan raised concerns about oil sands emissions, arguing that Indigenous communities are suffering from adverse health effects of pollution. Successive governments have ignored requests for health impact studies, and “despite parliamentary reports recommending regulation of oil sands’ toxic emissions, there has been no action,” she said.

First aid tax credit

The Standing Committee on Finance recommended the government drop Bill C-240, an act to provide a non-refundable tax credit for first aid courses. Liberal MP Bryan May, who sponsored the bill, said the decision came down to “the cost of forgone revenue versus the advantages of having additional people with first aid training.”

Small business tax petition

The House heard two petitions protesting tax reforms that would reduce the benefit of incorporation for doctors and other small business owners. The proposed package of reforms “directly affects local employment, access to timely medical care, and the affordability of food,” said Conservative MP Cheryl Gallant for Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke.

Hospice petition

Members also heard a petition with 32 000 signatories calling for hospice and palliative care to be recognized as an integral part of Canada’s health system. “They have raised a valid and important point that needs some consideration,” said Cathy McLeod, Conservative MP for Kamploops—Thompson—Cariboo.

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