Standing Committee on Health preparing to discuss Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act

The Standing Committee on Health is expected to begin hearings on Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act by this September, says committee vice-chair Don Davies. Committee member and NDP Justice Critic Alistair MacGregor will also be joining Davies to discuss aspects of the bill.

Although there have been rumours of a summer session for the Health Committee, Davies says he spoke with committee Chair Bill Casey about the issue on Friday and he had indicated they will likely begin to look at the bill when they return in the fall.

“I’ve heard those rumours, as well,” said Davies in a phone interview with Lift today. “I had a brief discussion with Bill Casey, and his indication was that we would begin to study the bill in September. He indicated that there was some desire expressed by certain parts of the government to hold summer hearings, but it was his view that it was better to start in September.”

Davies says he thinks this timeline makes sense, as the proposed legislation is complicated and important, and the committee’s job is to carefully consider all aspects of the bill and hear from a variety of Canadians before providing their report back the House.

“It appears to me that September is the appropriate time to begin the study for a number of reasons: it’s extremely important legislation, I don’t think it should be rushed. I know that there’s great interest in the Canadian public and a wide variety of stakeholders in this legislation, I think that it’s important to get it right, and and frankly there’s no urgency to it.”

“The Trudeau government has indicated that it wants this legislation in place for July 1, 2018, which is over a year from now, and that gives them an entire parliamentary year from September to June to move through all the proper stages including the House and Senate. So I see no reason to rush it, and I think we want to make sure that we canvas this bill in the detail it deserves and hear from as wide a part of society as possible on it.”

Davies says he will be joined on the committee by NDP Justice Critic Alistair MacGregor, who spoke extensively on the bill during its second reading. This is in part because Davies says they expected this bill to dealt with by the Justice Committee, not the Health Committee.

“Quite honestly, we had thought this bill would go to Justice [Committee] for a couple reasons. It was introduced by the justice minister, so she’s the minister of record, and quite honestly most of the provisions in the bill, I think, really come from a justice point of view, although I recognize that there’s significant health angle as well. So we’ve sat down and I can tell you that we’ll be meeting in the next weeks and in the summer to work together and we will be appearing at the committee together.”

MacGregor is an associate member of the standing committee, and as such, can substitute for committee members like Davies. Standing committees are made up of of members of the House of Commons.

Macgregor also says he has spoken to committee chair Casey and he has indicated that they were not going to start looking at the bill until after the summer break, when they will begin drawing up a list of potential witnesses, etc.

“There’s a whole range of witnesses we’ll potentially look at. This is a 131 page bill, and it is a pretty revolutionary change to the current drug laws.”

MacGregor says he sees many aspects of the bill that will need to be carefully scrutinized by experts, including many of the very strict penalties for violating aspects of the bill, like distributing outside the regulatory system or distributing to minors, to what the legal age should be and how this will impact provinces and municipalities. These were all issues vigorously debated during second reading.

“One of the provisions,” says Macgregor, “allows for an indictable offences of up to 14 years in prison. So we would want to get some expert testimony on that particular aspect of the bill. I think also, we need to open up engagement with representatives from the municipalities, maybe someone from the FCM (Federation of Canadian Municipalities), provincial governments, because there are a lot of parts of this bill that interact with other jurisdictions. For example, people can grow up to four plants in a residence. We may have concerns from people who have strat organizations and are worried about that.”

The Health Committee is scheduled to sit again this Tuesday to discuss an unrelated issue, but MacGregor says there’s a chance they could formally discuss their plans for C-45. The committee will be meeting until the House breaks for summer, but MacGregor says there’s a chance it could rise as early as late next week.

Those who interested in the process can go to the standing committee’s website and send briefs to the clerk to submit their thoughts on C-45. Bill C-46 will also begin bearing heard by the Justice Committee next week. MacGregor sits on this committee, as well.

The Health Committee is chaired by Bill Casey (Liberal). Vice chairs are Len Webber (Conservative) and Don Davies (NDP), with over 100 associate members from the Conservative, Liberal and New Democrat parties.

Featured image by Chmee2.