COMMENTARY: Needless panic over home-grown cannabis

Government rejects Bill C-45 recommendations that gives provinces right to ban home cultivation
On Wednesday, Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said that while the government accepts most of the Senate's recommendations on Bill C-45, the government will not accept one that gives provinces the right to ban home cultivation.

As Canada’s cannabis legalization bill stumbles toward the finish line, there is suddenly a tremendous amount of political drama around the question of whether Canadians can grow their own cannabis.

The original plan under Bill C-45 was that Canadians could grow up to four plants per household, subject to additional potential provincial restrictions. That presumably could have meant limits of two or three plants, but Quebec and Manitoba have both decided to go with zero. That’s a ban, not a restriction, and it seems quite likely that federal law would be paramount here.

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The Senate, though, has sided with Quebec and Manitoba (and whichever other provinces might like to follow suit). A number of amendments were made to C-45, including a provision allowing provinces to ban home cultivation. Earlier this week, however, the Trudeau government made it clear this amendment would be rejected.

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This could lead to a further back and forth between the Senate and the House, thus delaying final implementation of C-45, but the Liberals need to stand their ground. The impulse to ban home-grown cannabis seems largely driven by an antipathy to legalization itself, a craven desire for tax revenue, or some twisted combination of the two. There are no valid reasons for such a ban.

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Manitoba Justice Minister Heather Stefanson inadvertently helped to illustrate that point. Earlier this week, the Manitoba government reiterated its position that it was banning home-grown cannabis regardless of what happens in Ottawa, and the minister was pressed to explain why.

“We want to keep it out of the hands of children,” she stated. “We’ve also heard from the police, too, in terms of being able to police this as well. How do you go into a home and someone has six plants, you know. So we’re concerned about children, pets, all those things.”

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First of all, let’s dispense with the nonsense about pets. There are literally hundreds of different plants — many of them common household plants — that are poisonous or toxic to dogs and cats. Is this minister really suggesting that we make these all illegal?

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Furthermore, if the argument against home-grown cannabis plants is the potential for children to get their hands on cannabis, then that’s ultimately an argument against legalization itself. What’s the difference between home-grown cannabis and cannabis purchased in a store if both end up in the home anyway?

There is, actually, one tremendous difference. Cannabis purchased in a store is ready to be used. A cannabis plant is several steps removed from that. Eating a cannabis plant isn’t going to get you high, and I’m not sure how worried we should be about kids becoming knowledgeable and proficient in the harvesting and processing of dried cannabis.

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As federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor noted, “Canadians are allowed to make beer at home or wine, and some can even grow tobacco.” This is a truthful and valid point, but it obscures the larger issue. A teenager is much more likely to raid the liquor cabinet than to start tinkering with the homemade wine kit.

The enforcement argument is another curious one. Stefanson describes a scenario in which someone has six plants in his home. Well, whether it’s the federal limit of four or the Manitoba limit of zero, six is too many. Any limit requires enforcement, whether it’s two plants or 200 plants or none at all.

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Concerns have also been raised about the sort of damage that grow-ops can do to homes, and that remains a valid point — for grow-ops. A collection of four plants does not constitute a grow-op nor does it represent any kind of threat to the integrity of a home. If provinces wish to err even further on the side of caution, then two or three plants would constitute even less of a threat. But it’s preposterous to suggest that a single cannabis plant constitutes a mould-spawning and house-igniting threat.

It also overlooks the fact that medicinal users are already allowed to grow their own cannabis, and the rules allow them to grow several times the amount that recreational users would be allowed to grow.

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The debate around legalization has generated so much needless fretting and panic that I suppose it’s only fitting that we close out the debate with another generous helping. That’s not to say there aren’t legitimate concerns, but a modest allowance of home-grown cannabis really isn’t one of them.

Rob Breakenridge is host of Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge on Global News Radio 770 Calgary and a commentator for Global News.