Federal Government rejects Senate Pot Bill Changes

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A man smokes a marijuana joint during the annual 4/20 marijuana celebration on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

OTTAWA: The federal government set the stage on Wednesday for a possible showdown with the Senate over legalization of cannabis after it rejected 13 amendments approved by the upper house – including one recognizing the authority of provinces to ban home cultivation of marijuana plants if they choose.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the occasion to call on Conservatives to cease using the Senate to stall Bill C-45, the legislation that would lift Canada’s 95-year prohibition on recreational pot.

“Andrew Scheer, the Conservative leader, has been telling his Senate caucus _ the senators that he still controls _ to play games, to slow this down, to interfere with the will of the House,’’ he said. “It’s time that he stopped using his senators this way.’’

But it will be independent senators appointed by Trudeau _ whose continued support for the legalization bill is crucial to the government’s plans to begin retail sales of recreational cannabis this summer _ who will decide the bill’s fate. And they were miffed that the government nixed all the amendments approved by the Senate, while accepting 27 largely technical changes and tweaking two others.

Now they must decide whether they’ll insist on some or all of the rejected amendments, which would mean bouncing the bill back to the House of Commons.

“It’s our constitutional right to maintain our veto and send a bill back to the House,’’ said Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, leader of the independent senators’ group.

Still, Woo said it’s “too early to talk about political showdowns.’’

Independent senators will want to weigh a variety of factors, he added, including arguments that they should show deference to the will of the elected House of Commons and to a government that was elected on a specific promise to legalize marijuana.

The bill would allow individuals to grow up to four marijuana plants per dwelling. It gives the provinces the right to restrict that further _ but not to ban home cultivation outright. Quebec and Manitoba have nevertheless chosen to prohibit homegrown weed. The Senate amendment was aimed at erasing the possibility of legal challenges.