The Senate Aboriginal People’s committee is asking the Liberal government to delay the legalization of recreational cannabis for a year, at most, in order to address the potential harmful effects of the new law to Indigenous communities. During this time, the government will be able to hammer out and negotiate a policy with Indigenous communities relating to key issues, including public health, public education programs, and taxation.
According to the committee’s chair, Liberal Saskatchewan Sen. Lillian Dyck, many communities have concerns about the potential adverse effects of legalization on their members, especially the youth, and for some, these concerns may be worse due to trauma in their communities. She added that existential social issues in Aboriginal communities could worsen with increased drug use.
If the committee’s proposal is passed, the full implementation of Bill C-45 won’t come into force this summer, which is the Liberal government’s self-imposed deadline for legalization, and would be delayed for up to one year.
In its pre-study report on Bill C-45, the committee said that the government did not conduct enough consultations with the three Aboriginal communities – First Nations, Métis, and Inuit – before it pushed ahead with its plan to legalize recreational marijuana.
According to the report, Indigenous organizations pointed out that consultation was inadequate. This, despite the assurances from federal bureaucrats and from ministers that they had reached out to the leaders of these organizations, and that the cannabis Task Force set up by the government had consulted on Indigenous issues before Bill C-45 was drafted.
Independent Sen. Dan Christmas noted that these Indigenous consultations were “very thin” and “not very deep.” He said that when they spoke to the First Nations and Metis communities, they were not consulted regarding the bill.
What the government needs to work out
The committee report, which was tabled in the Senate yesterday, stated that witnesses before the committee contended that their communities are not yet ready for legal recreational cannabis.
The federal government, according to the report, still has to negotiate terms related to:
- Linguistically and culturally specific public education materials
- Excise tax sharing measures with regard to cannabis grown on First Nations lands
- Recognition of Indigenous communities’ right to enact regulatory and legislative responses to the proposed recreational cannabis legalization
- Substantial (and urgent) funding increases for addictions and mental health programs.
The committee also raised concerns that Indigenous communities will not be able to pass their own bylaws in order to override federal law, thus preventing them from restricting weed.
Moreover, the report said that the health minister must reserve a minimum of 20% of all cannabis licenses for producers operating on land that is under the jurisdiction of Indigenous communities.
Meanwhile, another committee wants something else
The Senate’s national security and defence committee submitted its own report, which urges the Liberal government to come up with an agreement with the United States regarding how border guards should treat travellers and ask them about the use of legal cannabis in Canada.
This is because a U.S. customs officer may ban a traveler from crossing the border and enter their country if he or she admits to previously using cannabis even if it is legal in Canada.
According to the national security committee, the government’s cannabis legislation calls for the “modernization” of the pre-clearance laws because Canadian tourists who refuse to answer queries in pre-clearance areas could face up to two years in jail for resisting or for willfully obstructing a pre-clearance procedure.
These pre-clearance laws, which are aimed to speed up the passage of travelers and goods at the border, had received Royal Assent in late 2017.