Concerns over legalization from both sides of the aisle

Canadian Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould appeared before a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights yesterday, responding to two different questions about Bill C-45, the government’s proposed cannabis legalization legislation.

The two questions, one from a Conservative MP and one from a member of the NDP, both dealt with issues like charges for cannabis possession, but both addressed these issues from almost polar opposite sides of the debate.

On one end of the spectrum,  Conservatives continued to express concern with legalization and its negative impact on youth, and the need for continuing criminal charges against Canadians for things like basic possession. Then, from the other end of the spectrum, the NDP continued to express concern with the continuation of arrests and with the strict nature of the proposed Cannabis Act.

While the Liberals do have a majority government, the Senate is largely controlled by the Conservatives. Robust debate through the readings in the House and Senate is expected to take some time, and conversations like these highlight the issue well.

One set of questions from Robert Nicholson, a Conservative MP from Niagara Falls, addressed the concerns he had with legalization making it easier for kids to access marijuana, especially with the proposed allowance of four plants per household for personal cultivation, and that there were not strong enough penalties for youth who possess small amounts of cannabis. Wilson-Raybould’s response was that prohibition has failed to keep cannabis away from young Canadians and that the new approach will not seek to criminalize young people who possess small amounts of cannabis.

Then, from the other side of the spectrum, NDP justice critic Alistair MacGregor expressed concern with the continued criminalization of basic possession of cannabis in light of the Liberals’ comments in the past about the injustice and added expense of clogging the legal system with arrests for personal possession. MacGregor also asked about the possibility of amnesty for some with cannabis charges, and expressed concern for some of the 14 year sentencing possibilities for several offences in the proposed Cannabis Act.