OTTAWA — With one Senate committee after another recommending changes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau left the door open a crack Wednesday to the possibility of a delay in enacting his Liberal government's much-maligned cannabis legalization bill.
UPDATE: A day later, Trudeau said pot is "on schedule" to be legal this summer.
But with less than two months to go before Parliament breaks for the summer, Trudeau was non-committal on the question of whether his government would bend to a call from the Senate's Aboriginal Peoples committee to delay the measure by as much as a year.
In a report Tuesday, the committee denounced as "atrocious" the government's efforts to consult with Indigenous communities, urging the Liberals to delay Bill C-45 to properly negotiate tax sharing, prepare culturally appropriate education materials, draft addiction strategies and ensure First Nations can decide for themselves whether they want pot to be legal in their communities.
'It's a process'
The Liberals were hoping to legalize recreational use of cannabis by July, but have already indicated that deadline would be pushed back by several weeks to give provincial governments and police authorities time to prepare for the new law.
When asked whether he'd be willing to delay implementing the bill, Trudeau didn't answer directly, but indicated the Liberals will hold discussions with a number of affected communities as they forge ahead with legalization.
"We'll continue to consult a broad range of Canadians," Trudeau said as he entered a meeting of his caucus.
"And as our parliamentary secretary Bill Blair says regularly, legalization is not an event, it's a process. And that process will continue."
Two other Senate bodies also called on the government to take more actions to prepare for legalization.
The chamber's committee on national security and defence urged the government to seek further clarification from the United States about the treatment of Canadian travellers, fearing those who admit using pot legally could face lengthy border interrogations or be turned away entirely.
"Canadians must be confident that they will still be able to cross into the United States without fear that activities legal in Canada will be held against them," senator and committee chair Gwen Boniface said in a statement.
Concerns were also raised about unintended economic consequences, should Canadians doing business with the U.S. suddenly find themselves unable to cross the border, said Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais.
"The mobility of people and goods across the U.S. border is crucial to Canada's economy," Dagenais said. "We cannot afford to be unprepared."
The Senate's standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs expressed "serious concerns" with the potential impact of cannabis use on vulnerable populations, including youth and people living with mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
It also suggested Ottawa negotiate revenue-sharing agreements with provinces and municipalities to split money collected through ticketing for cannabis-related offences included in the legislation. And it called on the government to specify what authority provinces and territories will have to regulate — or even prohibit — possession and cultivation of cannabis plants in designated areas.
Trudeau repeated Wednesday that legalization would squeeze organized crime out of the lucrative cannabis market. But a real estate group warned against allowing people to grow marijuana in their residences until new regulations are in place.
Canadian Real Estate Association head Michael Bourque called on the government to place a moratorium on home cultivation until provinces can pass stricter housing rules to prevent property damage, such as the spread of mould and fungus through ventilation systems.
Bill C-45 would allow individuals to grow up to four marijuana plants per household.
The Senate is expected to vote on the bill before the end of June, although the chamber's social affairs committee is still conducting its own study.
The legislation as currently written stipulates the law won't come into force until Trudeau's cabinet fixes a date through an order of the governor-in-council.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Bill C-45 would allow individuals to grow up to four plants each. The bill will allow four plants per household.