At least on paper, sharing a joint with a 17-year-old can bring a sentence of up to 14 years after legalization.
But an amendment passed Monday by a Senate committee, which could make its way into the final law, carves out two major exceptions in which adults can share marijuana with minors. The change will protect:
- Someone 18 years of age or older, who gives the pot to someone less than two years younger than they are
- A parent or guardian who gives it to someone who is at least 16, but only in their home
The change, proposed by Nova Scotia independent senator Wanda Bernard, was passed on a 7-5 party-line vote by the Senate’s social affairs committee Monday.
“Parents have a responsibility to parent their children, and they should be able to teach their teens appropriate use of cannabis without fear of criminal penalty,” Bernard told the committee. “It would be sharing of a legal substance, not an illicit substance. I would see it as being similar to sharing a glass of wine in one’s home.”
It still has to pass the full Senate and go back to the Commons, but Victoria lawyer Kirk Tousaw sees Monday’s decisions as probably the last round of meaningful tweaks to Canada’s new marijuana law.
“I don’t think the full Senate will do much or anything in the way of introducing its own amendments.”
“Close-in-age exceptions in the criminal law consequences are not uncommon,” he says.
“It only makes sense that we shouldn’t be looking at criminalizing a 19-year-old that’s sharing a joint, or small amounts of cannabis, with their 17-year-old peers.”
The change would also allow parents to introduce their children to legal cannabis under supervision, much as some families now do with alcohol.
“This was a very sensible and appropriate amendment to make sure that we’re not criminalizing behaviour that is both normal, in the case of teens sharing amongst themselves, and socially positive, in the sense of parents being the ones to introduce their young adults and teenagers to cannabis consumption,” Tousaw said.
Three Conservative senators spoke against the amendment.
“I think we have to assume that this is kind of opening the door to – it’s the same as kids who give someone $10 and say to someone, ‘Go buy me a pack of cigarettes,’ or ‘Buy me a bottle of wine,‘ or something,” said New Brunswick senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen.
“I’m not saying we can stop it, but I‘m not saying we should encourage it, either.”
“This amendment legitimizes the fact that we want to legalize already for 16-year-olds to smoke marijuana, when we have compelling evidence that we shouldn’t even be allowing people under the age of 25 to do this,” said Manitoba senator Neil Plett. “We’re going down further and further and further.”
Depending on the province, people under 18 or 19 may be ticketed for possessing cannabis under legalization, no matter who gave it to them, and the people who gave it to them might also face provincial charges, similar to a traffic ticket.