The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-17, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. During the time I have been allotted I will take the opportunity to look at how other legislatures in other jurisdictions around the world deal with the possession of cannabis.
Countries around the world treat cannabis possession in different ways. Some countries tolerate forms of possession and consumption, other countries apply administrative sanctions or fines, while others apply penal sanctions. I was quite interested to learn this morning that certain states in the United States, notably Alaska, also treat cannabis possession in different ways, although it does vary from state to state.
However, despite the different legal approaches toward cannabis, a common trend can be seen, particularly in Europe, in the development of alternative measures to criminal prosecution for cases of use and possession of small quantities of cannabis for personal use. Fines, cautions, probation, exemption from punishment and counselling are favoured by many European justice systems.
In Spain, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Luxembourg, the possession of small amounts of marijuana is not a criminal offence. In the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Denmark, it is still a criminal offence, but one that is never prosecuted.
In France, a directive recommends that judges and government departments use criminal proceedings only as a last resort when people have committed no offence other than the use of illegal drugs.
Britain recently reclassified marijuana from a class B to a class C drug. Possession will therefore be on a parallel with anabolic steroids and growth hormones, which, I should add, are still illegal but not an arrestable offence. However this is coupled with a reserve power of arrest for police officers where it is perceived that the possession of cannabis is a danger to public order or for the protection of children.
Most U.S. states envisage the possibility of imprisonment for the offence of possession of cannabis. However a dozen U.S. states have passed measures decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. These include California, Alaska, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Maine, Nevada, Nebraska, Colorado, Oregon and Mississippi.
Typically in these cases decriminalization means no prison time or criminal record for first time possession of a small amount, approximately 30 grams to 60 grams, for personal consumption. State and local enforcement authorities treat the offence as a minor traffic violation.
Some Australian states and territories have also adopted cannabis decriminalization measures. Some of these measures are similar to what is being contemplated in Bill C-17. I would like to take a few moments to describe the situation in South Australia, the first Australian jurisdiction to adopt cannabis decriminalization measures.
Reform of the cannabis laws in South Australia came with the introduction of the controlled substances amendment act, 1986. The amendment proposed a number of changes to the controlled substances act, 1984, including the insertion of provisions dealing with the expiation of simple cannabis offences. This represented the adoption of a new scheme for the expiation of simple cannabis offences, such as possessing or cultivating small amounts of cannabis for personal use or possessing implements for using cannabis.
The cannabis expiation notice, known as the CEN scheme, came into effect in South Australia in 1987. Under this scheme, adults committing simple cannabis offences could be issued with an expiation notice. Offenders were able to avoid prosecution by paying the specified fee or fees which ranged anywhere from 50 to 150 Australian dollars within 60 days of the issue of the notice. Failure to pay the specified fees within 60 days could lead to prosecution in court and the possibility of a conviction being recorded.
Underlying the scheme was the rationale that a clear distinction should be made between private users of cannabis and those who are involved in dealing, producing or trafficking cannabis. This distinction was emphasized at the introduction of the CEN scheme by the simultaneous introduction of more severe penalties for offences relating inter alia to the production of all drugs of dependence and prohibited substances, including offences relating to larger quantities of cannabis.
The expiation system for minor cannabis offences in South Australia has been the subject of a number of evaluation studies. The impact of the implementation of such a system is therefore best seen there. As I mentioned, the South Australian cannabis expiation notice system began in 1987. One of the main arguments for an expiation system was the reduction of the negative social impact upon convicted minor cannabis offenders. Implicit in this argument was the belief that the potential harms of using cannabis were far outweighed by the harms arising from criminal conviction.
This is a belief also that resides in many Canadians.
The effect of introducing the CEN scheme on levels and trends of cannabis use in Southern Australia has been assessed by a number of surveys on drug use. None of these found an increase in cannabis use there that could be linked to its introduction.
The level of cannabis use over respondents' lifetimes did in fact increase considerably in Southern Australia, from 26% in 1985 to 36% in 1995, but comparable rises were also noted over the same period in states such as Victoria and Tasmania, which took a prohibitionist approach to cannabis.
The number of offences for which cannabis expiation notices were issued in south Australia increased from around 6,000 in 1987-88 to approximately 17,000 in 1993-94 and in subsequent years. This appears to reflect the greater ease with which police can process minor cannabis offences and a shift away from the use of police discretion in giving offenders informal cautions to a process of formally recording all minor offences.
There has been strong support by law enforcement and criminal justice personnel in south Australia for this CEN scheme. The scheme has proven to be relatively cost effective and more cost effective than prohibition would have been. The total costs associated with the CEN scheme in 1995-96, were estimated to be around $1.24 million Australian, while total revenue from fees and fines was estimated to be around $1.68 million Australian. Had a prohibition approach been in place, it is estimated the total cost would have been in excess of $2.01 million Australian, with revenues from fines of around $1 million which is much less than under the CEN scheme.
A report on the CEN scheme noted that it appeared to have numerous benefits for the community, not the least of which was cost saving for the community as a whole, reduced negative social impacts for offenders, greater efficiency and ease in dealing with minor cannabis offences and less negative views of police held by offenders.
The changes made in the cannabis laws in Australia are not technically decriminalization measures as cannabis possession remains a criminal offence in all Australian jurisdictions. What has been changed is a reduction in the penalty for processing small amounts of cannabis for personal use to something less than imprisonment which is what is being proposed in this bill.
I am happy to have the opportunity to say a few words. I would like to conclude my brief remarks by indicating again my support for the proposed legislation and that the bill be referred to the committee prior to second reading.
Mr. Speaker, I oppose the decriminalization of marijuana, and I will approach this matter from a different angle.
I will start from the angle of the problem we have with impaired driving, which is huge. On average four Canadians are killed every day in automobile accidents caused by impairment. When I saw our disabled Olympians the other day, I wondered how many of them were disabled as a result of an automobile accident caused by an impaired driver.
The figures are immense. It is a serious tragedy and a major evil. Liberal governments do not want to deal with the problem. They would rather tinker with the law rather than take serious steps to deal with the evil on our highways.
Last spring the member for Vegreville--Wainwright introduced a private member's bill in the House that would have closed some loopholes that allowed people to escape accountability and liability for their actions with regard to impaired driving. Liberals voted against that bill. I think their major reason for opposing that bill, in all honesty, was because it would have offended some defence lawyers, who make a good living at getting people in court off on minor technicalities. I do not have a lot of enthusiasm for that crowd, but people on the other side of the House do. I guess they have to ensure that their business is taken care of as well. Their game is making laws that leave loopholes and technicalities for people to escape liability.
This brings me to the issue of marijuana and impaired driving and the issues that flow from that. We are far from dealing with the problems of impaired driving caused by alcohol. Yet the government wants to open up another area by decriminalizing marijuana. It seems to me it is trying to create more mayhem and tragedies on our highways by proceeding in that way.
The research on this issue is frightening. The level of impairment of somebody who has had a small amount of marijuana is more severe than the level of impairment of somebody who has had a small amount of alcohol. Many studies have been done on that. Studies have indicated that when people have one joint, wait 10 minutes and have another joint and then take a normal sobriety test like touching their nose with their finger, or standing on one leg for 30 seconds or walking a straight line, they cannot do it. They have lost their coordination and their reflex time as a result of smoking a small amount of marijuana. If a bit of beer, or whiskey, or rum or something is added into that equation, it is disastrous.
We have an opportunity to emphasize prevention. It is too late when people are put in body bags and dragged off to the mortuary. It is too late when people are charged. The best thing we could do, as policy-makers, would be to prevent these tragedies at the beginning. The government's initiative seems to be going totally against getting impaired drivers off our highways, saving lives and preventing unnecessary injury and harm to people.
Let me examine a couple of other areas pertaining to the matter of impairment. We have devices that measure alcohol levels accurately. It is well established in the court system as to what these levels are and how these matters are processed. This is not the case with marijuana. We have no efficient device that can measure the level of impairment from marijuana.
Most cases dealing with impairment caused by marijuana, which are contested in the court system, are a defence lawyer's holiday. It is far easier to get an acquittal in that situation than it is for alcohol.
What we do by decriminalizing marijuana is invite a whole round of new legislation and more laws. That is the Liberal way. Liberals believe that passing laws is like waving a magic wand and something will happen at the other end. In real life it takes a lot more than commands and orders from the government through the form of legislation. It will take a lot of new technology to deal with that level of impairment.
The government in a way is telling young people and other people that it is okay, that it is not serious. It may not even be as bad as drinking alcohol, so maybe the drug of choice for people should be marijuana. The fine will not be very severe, so perhaps people can switch over to it. Is that what the government is inviting our society to do with this kind of law? What kind of message is this to parents and young people on the problem of impaired driving?
The cases dealing with impaired driving from marijuana are a disaster for the police and for the prosecution. They are a difficult problem for the courts. There is no simple answer. If we look at these cases, we are not getting convictions and we are tying up the court system. This is a very poor signal in this area.
I would invite anybody in the House to meet with families who have lost young people through automobile accidents caused by impaired drivers. I challenge any one of the members on that side of the House to tell those people that decriminalizing marijuana is a good idea.
I want to raise a side issue on this. As Canadians, we quite often say that Americans do not understand our concerns and interests. Sometimes I think Canadians are not so good at understanding American concerns and interests. I find it amazing in this day and age, with some of the rhetoric that comes from the other side of the House, that some Canadians do not really understand what happened on September 11, 2001.
Everyday we have a big trade surplus with the United States. Of our exports, 87% go to the United States. Exports help pay for our health care. They help pay for our social programs. They provide an awful lot of jobs in the country. Having that border secure and open is very important to our well-being.
The United States of America is concerned about our drug policies, our grow ops and our huge export of drugs through the border system into their country, and we do not seem to understand that. We are oblivious to that fact. We are sending the wrong signal, just as people call the President of the United States a moron, or a bastard or some other unflattering name. We do not understand what impact our policies are having on how Americans perceive us and our well-being as a nation.
Quite honestly, in a lot of areas we have a lot to be shameful for, especially on that side of the House.
Mr. Speaker, I want to add my personal thoughts on this very important issue. We have to look at the proposed legislation as well as what we are individually facing in our ridings. Although the existing legislation states that it is a criminal offence to have any marijuana and to grow any plants, it provides for a maximum of seven years for as many plants as one might grow. So if people grow 3, 10, 20, 50, or 100 plants, they would get a maximum of seven years.
In my riding I have been in contact with the local police superintendent, the local councillors, and the local provincial MPP. We do have a problem. I would like to describe my riding to the rest of my colleagues.
My riding is in a suburban area. It has homes that are three bedroom bungalows as well as homes that are about 2,700 to 3,000 square feet which make it an easy target for people who want to grow marijuana. Many people have bought homes and are doing just that. They have grow house operations. They are referred to as grow houses and some people also refer to them as grow ops.
This year alone there were over 40 houses that were busted by the police in the riding of Scarborough—Agincourt. In a conversation with the local superintendent of station 42, he conveyed to me that he feared that we have grow houses on every street in our area. Police will be constrained if they want to fight organized crime.
All of our efforts will have to be made in order to bust grow houses. There are many nights that I would drive home through the riding and would find police officers coming out from having busted a home. There are many times that I would drive by homes that were suspected grow houses and we were working with the police in order to put them out. Just last week there were three grow houses that were busted in my riding within 24 hours. These numbers present a concern. My local councillor conveyed to me that he felt that it was an epidemic.
I have spoken to many colleagues in the House and have been told that they too are in similar situations. For example, just to the north in the riding of Markham the police were busting a methamphetamine lab. They went to advise the neighbours that they could be in danger of having their homes explode and catch fire. What did they find? They knocked on the house next door and it was a marijuana grow operation.
For a long time we have been in need of legislation as well as best practices to ensure that we, the custodians of our neighbours, can and will close these grow houses. In my riding the three levels of government are working together and are taking the necessary first steps to bring about quick solutions.
For example, the city councillor just last week put two signs outside homes to advise the neighbourhood that the homes were grow operations and to let people know that should they buy that house that it was a grow operation. We are requesting from the Toronto Real Estate Board as well as other real estate boards in the province of Ontario that a disclosure be put into the offer when someone buys a house.
Many years ago, when we were buying homes that might have had formaldehyde insulation, there was a full disclosure. One of the things we want to do is ensure that people know that a house that they are buying was a grow operation. Real estate agents must ensure that this is disclosed by the seller. The provincial member is looking into that aspect to have provincial legislation to address this concern.
The Province of Ontario is also passing legislation to allow the public utility to check the amount of hydro that is used by the house. If there is extreme usage, then the public utility can temporarily shut off the hydro in order to determine whether or not it is a grow house.
Then we look at this place and what we can do right here. The bill that we are debating today states that the bill will restructure the offences. One to three cannabis plants will result in a summary conviction offence punishable by a fine of $500 for adults and $250 for youth. This offence will be prosecuted exclusively by way of a contravention ticket. Four to 25 cannabis plants will be punishable by a summary conviction of up to 18 months imprisonment and up to a $25,000 fine or punishable on an indictment of up to five years less a day imprisonment. For 26 to 50 cannabis plants, the result will be punishable by an indictment of up to 10 years. More than 50 cannabis plants will be punishable by an indictment of up to 14 years.
It is appropriate that the penalty for cultivating up to three plants be reduced. The person who is growing only up to three plants is not likely to be involved in trafficking or organized crime. However, we deplore the use of marijuana when persons get to the use of 50 cannabis plants and more. We have homes in my riding that are 2,700 and 3,000 square feet and they have more than 200 plants in those homes.
Many of my constituents have expressed concerns over the bill. This bill does not legalize the use of marijuana. The bill addresses the needs of my area with regard to grow houses.
I will be working with colleagues from all sides of the House to ensure that we shut down grow house operations and put them permanently out of business for our future generations. It addresses the needs of my area and more work needs to be done.
Mr. Speaker, we all knew the day would come when the bill would be reintroduced in the House, the bill which was introduced in the previous Parliament. I believe it was Bill C-10 at that time. We hoped that if it was reintroduced, it would have the changes that are so necessary to make it a worthy bill.
Obviously, after looking at this particular legislation, it has not been done. The government members did not listen to the suggestions that came from victims groups, police agencies, and other representations made to the committee last session. We are ending up with the same thing we had in the past.
This party is really not interested in seeing people getting criminal records. We are not interested in destroying kids' lives because of mistakes they make. At the same time, I am personally not interested in providing an opportunity that could lead down the slippery slope and cause a great deal of grief for a great number of people.
I base these comments on the experiences I had as a school principal for 15 years. The children in the particular junior high school were no different from any of the children I have worked with or seen across the country in all kinds of schools. They were good, ordinary kids, capable of making mistakes, and at the same time getting trapped into a very dangerous substance that could cause them a great deal of grief.
Over that period of 15 years I want to assure hon. members that we had to deal with a number of children at the teenage level who experimented with marijuana, who had to try it, and who got involved with it to a greater degree than they anticipated. It is sad to say that in a school with a very small population the results of the children engaging in this particular substance ended about 80% of the time in tragic ways.
This is a dangerous drug. We cannot take it lightly. We have heard the comments that it is no different from a can of beer and that it is just one of those things we do and then we forget it. That is not the case with a lot of young people. I am talking about people who ended up taking their lives through suicide.
It started with marijuana and the kicks it provided. I am talking about leading into better feeling drugs, whatever they might be. I have no idea what these things do to an individual, but I do know that it alters their mind and it alters their way of thinking. Any drug that does that, alcohol being a prime example, cannot be all that great if we overdo it.
In many cases people who have entered into this activity have ended up overdoing it and getting into situations that caused them, their families and their parents a great deal of grief. This is the plea we hear from victims all across the country and all across the school sector.
During the 15 years I was there, parents would say that we would have to do something to keep marijuana and other types of drugs out of our schools, that it was dangerous and could lead to bad things like automobile wrecks, and activities that we would never think of doing under normal conditions.
Over the last few years we have seen what overindulgence in drinking can cause. It causes a great deal of grief for a great number of people. If we are going to do it, it has to be done properly, but I am not sure how that particular thing is done. How do we properly do things that alter the mind and that cause us to do things that we would not ordinarily do?
The bill is not intended to make big criminals out of kids who make mistakes and I agree with that. However, at the same time, let us not go soft enough in the direction that it might lead kids to think that even the Government of Canada supports a certain amount of use of this type of drug.
That to me is the fearful step that can lead down a slippery slope ending up with the results that I have seen personally with friends of mine whose children either died at their own hands, in a tragic accident or just by doing a stupid thing. It is dangerous. We have to recognize that.
I see all kinds of flaws in the bill. For example, having 30 grams is considered safe and will not result in a criminal record.
I have checked with some people who have experimented with this particular drug. I certainly have not; I am no expert on it because I have never used it. I am no expert on it because I never went to the extent of finding out exactly what impact it does have. I have only seen the results from dealing with those who have been on it.
I have been told, and I believe it is true, that 30 grams would make a terrific high for a great number of young people, that up to 12 or 15 kids could enjoy 30 grams of marijuana. What are we saying here? Obviously if it can supply 12 to 15 young people with a sufficient amount of stuff to last for quite a while and cause a great reaction or whatever it is that it does, then if one individual has that much, how much damage will it do to that one person if that is for his or her own personal use?
That is what is being said in this bill, that up to 30 grams is okay. If that amount makes 50 to 60 cigarettes, joints, or whatever they are called, that sounds like an awful lot. I do not believe for a moment that we can take that lightly, yet this bill is willing to do that. We have to change that. That just cannot be the case. Thirty grams can be rolled into a lot of joints.
I have also been told that a 30 gram bag of marijuana has a street value of approximately $300. We have a fit today if a kid is carrying around a $10 pack of cigarettes. If a person under the age of 18 is carrying cigarettes that he or she spent 10 bucks for, that is against the law, and of course we are going to fine him or her. We want to do the same thing here except here we are going to say that up to 30 grams of marijuana is okay. Well I am afraid that is way overboard. That is carrying things way too far.
Imagine the amount of profit that the person could make if he or she a had a 30 gram bag of that to sell every day. If the person was caught, he or she would pay a $100 fine, no big deal. Maybe the next five days he or she would not get caught and would sell a bag for 300 bucks each day. That would be a pretty good profit.
What are we doing when we come up with this soft way of looking at these serious issues if not giving out the message that maybe some things are worth taking the chance? From my experience, going into marijuana at any degree would not be worth the chance.
The end result in too many cases has been too severe to allow legislation to fluff it up enough that it encourages some people to say, “Wow, I could do a little of this. I can take a chance. If I get caught, sure I will get a small fine, but nothing too serious will come out of it,” or “I could get up to 30 grams to throw a big wing-ding of a party and be the supplier”. It seems to me if someone is supplying 30 grams to some other people just to have a wing-ding of a party, then the person is breaking the law in that sense.
I do not know where we are going with this. I remember there used to be a time when, if a minor was in possession of booze, the first thing they wanted to know was where he or she got it. If an adult had provided booze to that minor, that adult would be in a lot of trouble. People went to jail in those times. Now it is not even mentioned. It is not even talked about. It is not a big deal.
We are relaxing things too much in too many areas of this type and it is not leading to good things. It is leading to some very bad things that are occurring in our society. We need to stop and think about it. If there ever was a piece of legislation that we needed to have a real good look at during committee, and I hope all parties will do that, this bill would be it. The bill is seriously flawed and it needs correcting. I hope the committee will come back with a document that makes this House open its eyes and say, “If we are going to protect our kids, particularly the young people who engage in these activities, then we have to get tougher on how we deal with it”.
When we are dealing with a product that happens to be so easy to obtain in a prison where there is zero tolerance, then zero tolerance has to mean zero tolerance. Let us make these bills mean what we say. Let us not soft pedal.
Mr. Speaker, I want to compliment the hon. member for Wild Rose. I heard some of his comments.
Mr. Speaker, from everyone in my riding, congratulations on your elevation. The irony of this debate on marijuana and your province is not lost on many of us who have worked in the House over the years.
This is a very serious issue that concerns all members of Parliament and certainly those who want to make sure that we have effective legislation that meets the test of ensuring that we do not unduly prosecute young people. At the same time, we must recognize very clearly the scope, breadth and strength of organized crime. It has used this product in so many communities across the country in order to achieve what is probably more difficult to achieve in other areas related to drug offences. I am of course referring to marijuana grow operations.
The legislation proposed by the minister, Bill C-17, is an improvement. It is an important step toward some of the amendments that many of us in this House have been fighting for for many years.
In particular, I point out the existence in the proposed legislation of a roadside protocol to ensure that those who are marijuana impaired are in fact able to be prosecuted. They are going to be subjected to an analysis that would determine the level of toxicity and, of course, their ability to operate a motor vehicle. I salute the people at MADD Canada for the work that they have done in this regard.
It was also a very good week in my view. In February 2003 I encouraged, goaded, cried, yelled and screamed at the then minister of justice to try to overturn a lower court decision on the subject of the forward looking infrared helicopters. These are the very tools, the devices the police forces were using to try to combat this scourge by taking heat signatures.
While I understand the decision was based very much on privacy, it obviously ignored the common public interest, the interest that the public has in ensuring that the proliferation of the grow op homes, estimated to be at some 50,000 in Canada, were at least put in check. It is clearly an example of where I am pleased to say the court unanimously agreed with my position and that of many of the people in law enforcement and restored this very valuable tool.
It is for that reason and in the spirit of what the hon. justice minister has suggested in bringing forth this legislation that any amendments to further enhance the legislation's effectiveness will be considered as the bill moves through the parliamentary process.
Mr. Speaker, with your indulgence and that of my colleagues in the House of Commons, I would like to propose just a few amendments. They are done as a constructive way of ensuring that this legislation meets the test of public security, meets the test of ensuring that we do not see a proliferation of organized crime as was identified in project Green Tide by Criminal Intelligence Service Ontario, as well as what has been revealed time and time again by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada.
The possession of 15 grams or less being given a fine does raise concerns about the potential for trafficking. One can see a situation where a number of young people would be given so many grams less than 15 and the potential for trafficking and getting around the system is certainly there. Maybe when we come back to this legislation in a few years our police forces will have told us it is a serious problem.
I am not sure that sending a message to young people that they should not be taking this product can be understood if the penalty for youth is less than the penality for everyone else. We should have a blended penalty, certainly as far as the ticketing scheme is concerned.
On that subject, many police forces have identified the concern about the courts being jammed with things like parking tickets. It would be very difficult from that perspective. It will certainly not win us any support among the provincial attorneys general, but we will see where that goes.
In the interests of time, there is possession of one gram or less of resin, of 15 grams or less of marijuana while also operating a motor vehicle, while committing a more serious offence such as break and enter, while in or near a school, which would trigger automatically a serious fine. We could broaden that not just to schools, but to places where young people might want to gather, such as community centres and sports complexes. These should be included.
In my view not only should that be the case as I am trying to describe point by point, but it seems to me to be rather inconsistent that we would not put in place a national drug strategy to inform young people that the bill is not about the legalization of the product, but in fact is trying to get around a very important system through decriminalization. I cannot overemphasize that point. It is extremely important that we have a fully funded national drug strategy in place before the bill is proclaimed and gazetted and is the official law of the land.
Much has been said here. I am one of many members of Parliament who have had the benefit of seeing a marijuana grow operation at various stages of operation. I can say that in seeing what was occurring, quite apart from the health of individuals, children around the area, there is also concern for our firefighters and police and those personnel who would be the first ones to be on site.
It says that the use of traps and explosives will involve some degree of offence and probably will be prosecutable, but there are no specific penalties for those who deliberately set traps or injure individuals as I have so described. It is important that we set in legislation some kind of provision to protect those personnel, especially when there is an issue of setting something up deliberately. While I am not big on specific penalties, I do believe in this case it certainly would be warranted.
I am also concerned about the sharing of information. Where there is a sharing of jurisdictions between governments and police agencies that may need it for other purposes, I am worried about the impact this could have. An individual, a government official for instance, sharing information with another government might find themselves in a situation where there could be criminal sanctions for doing that while the actual offence in play here for which the person has been identified may very well be an important and accessory concern for both governments. It is really important that we understand that and get our priorities right on all of this.
The proposed amount of 30 grams or less in my view is probably a little high. As has been suggested by several members, that could be anywhere between 35 to 60 products. I do not know of too many people who use more than one a day. I hope there are not many who would be in that situation. The effects would be enormous on the individual. We know of the health consequences, particularly from a cumulative effect, such as psychosis from long term use.
I will be meeting in a few minutes with officials from General Motors who are in fact in the lobby as we speak. I am sure they would not want to see a system that encourages workers, young people, to take up a product that could have long term effects.
I heard the hon. House leader for the New Democratic Party talk about this having been around for about 30 years, since the Le Dain commission. It is an interesting time to make an analysis of what this product is all about. Thirty years ago it did not have the potency that it has today. The THC level is much higher today.
The people who are advocating this, particularly the ones who for a $25,000 investment can buy a home in my riding or can rent a home and make $600,000 a year are not, I repeat not, marijuana enthusiasts. These people know there is money to be made. If one could put $25,000 down and make $600,000 a year, I know there would be a lineup, but the reality is that we have to understand the upstream where there is the potential threat of growth in our grow op operations as well as the downstream. If we give more point and purpose to people taking the product, it is obvious we are going to encourage those who take risks notwithstanding the penalties.
This brings me to the subject of the sentences for marijuana grow operations. Seven years on average means 30 days in jail or a conditional sentence, or incredibly as I have seen in some cases, house arrest, in the very house where the person is growing the product. Doubling that from 7 to 14 years will not be as effective as some believe it will be. It would go from 30 days to 60 days. One would probably answer the big question, big deal.
There is wisdom in ensuring that we get this legislation right. The minister has signaled that he has an interest in seeing that these amendments are taken forward. I have pointed out several.
I think we must be sure to reason with young people so that they choose not to consume these substances. We have an obligation to protect the integrity of the law and the integrity of the future of our country, at the same time.
Let us make sure this is good legislation. Let us look at some of these amendments because this bill is heading in the right direction, but it needs help.
Mr. Speaker, I have enjoyed listening to the debate on this important matter of Bill C-17, the decriminalization of marijuana. It was known in the previous Parliament as Bill C-10.
We already had a lot of debate on this subject in the previous Parliament. We on this side hoped that if legislation were to come forward again, we would see substantial changes to the bill that would make it possible for us to support the bill. However, the bill as it is presented is unworkable for a number of reasons, reasons that I think expose the Canadian public to risk in a number of areas. Unless the safeguards are put in place to make this a workable plan, it is simply not something that should proceed at this time.
The member for Wild Rose spoke just a few minutes ago, and I commend the member. I know he has a passion for the subject. Having served as a school principal for many years, he is concerned about young people. We applaud the concerns that he has expressed.
I, too, have seen the effects that drugs and marijuana have on young people in my own community. As a health professional, I am concerned about the effect on young people of liberalizing marijuana. I am concerned that some of the effects of the bill will encourage young people to get involved. I am concerned they will be targeted by older people to help them in distributing the product because the young persons would be given lower fines if caught.
I was pleased to hear the member for Pickering—Scarborough East who spoke a moment ago on the other side indicate his concern about some of the weaknesses in the bill, particularly as they relate to grow ops, the terrible problem they represent and the risks to firefighters and police who enter the homes. Also, organized crime reaps so much profit from marijuana grow ops in our communities. There is the spoilage of houses and the effect that has on the real estate market, and on very valuable realty.
Certainly, in British Columbia it is a huge issue. Officials estimate my home province has about 44% of the grow ops. We know it is also a big problem in the metro Toronto area. It is a huge problem in the Lower Mainland. I am sure the Speaker is quite aware of this.
I want to outline some of my concerns. I have four reasons why I am concerned about in the bill, and I will address each one of them. The first is the health consequences. The second is the hazard to society from impaired persons. The third is the increased effect it will have on criminal elements in our society and on the corruption of youth. The fourth is the effect on our borders.
First, on the health effects, smoking anything is not good for one. How much evidence do we need for this. The government has committed some $500 million supposedly over five years to help convince Canadians that smoking cigarettes is not a good idea. It is a lot of money that could be spent on other valuable projects and on other urgent health needs.
Along with a proposal from the minister that we would invest a further quarter of a billion dollars encouraging people not to smoke marijuana, we are at the same time looking at loosening the restrictions on marijuana. That is a lot of money, $250 million, that could be used on other things. It seems to me that the inconsistencies in these messages are something we ought to seriously investigate as members. I wonder if that does not tell us that we are headed in the wrong direction.
The other thing is the objective that has been set with this so-called $500 million targeted toward convincing people that smoking cigarettes is not good. We are not spending that money. I recently had people who were concerned about the effects of smoking cigarettes visit me in the office. Now the government, because of concerns about other sponsorship programs, has decided we had better scrutinize advertising very carefully. It has capped the advertising limits, including the advertising targeted toward young people to expose them to the risks of smoking cigarettes.
We have some terrible inconsistencies with this. On one hand we are loosening controls to make it available to people. On the other hand, we are spending money to convince them that they should not do it.
Smoking anything is not good for one. One's lungs take in the oxygen that is so important to keep us all healthy. I know all members in the House are interested in the effects of exercise and ensuring that we get aerobic conditions in the body that help us resist bacteria and viruses. Frankly, as a health care practitioner, exercise is an important ingredient in maintaining a healthy body. Part of that is due to getting the circulation going and getting oxygen around the tissues.
We will foul up our lungs, regardless of whether it is with tars and nicotine or with the stuff that is in marijuana, which is yet to be fully studied. We know there is THC in it which people are after for the buzz. It appears that the benzopyrene and the tars in marijuana are far more potent than what is in cigarette tobacco. If we are going to pollute our lungs with these compounds, some of which are known to be carcinogens, up to 20 times as toxic as what is in cigarette smoke, it certainly would indicate that we will see increased health consequences as people smoke more marijuana.
For those who want to make it available for medical reasons, I would suggest there are probably safer delivery systems. That may be through an oral route. However, smoking it is a non-starter from a health standpoint. Also, how effective THC is as a medication has yet to be studied.
As a health care practitioner, I am concerned about the rising health costs in Canada, which are sabotaging our ability to meet other needs in society. They are making it impossible for governments to administer to other needs of Canadians, such as education, infrastructure, roads, highways and all the other important things that governments have to deliver.
I have to go on the record as saying I think it is a bad idea. If we want to make marijuana available, let us not smoke it. Smoking anything is not good.
We could do what is done in other areas of insurance. For example, if one is a high risk person with many car accidents, the insurance company charges more for one to have the ability to drive. We should talk about that. If persons are going to do something that is of high risk to their personal health, which is going to put the liability on the public to look after them, then perhaps there should be some accountability and they should pay a higher health premium of some kind to access that product.
That is not party policy. I am talking as a health care practitioner who is concerned about an unmitigated risk. As members of Parliament, we are contemplating doing something without making adequate provisions to look after the consequences. Therefore, I am concerned about the health effects of smoking marijuana.
I am also concerned that we do not have any means of testing for impairment. We have many heavy equipment operators where I live. There are guys working on the side of the road with graders. They are working with heavy equipment. We have many elderly people in my riding. We could have grandma coming out of the driveway while the plough is coming along doing some road work. We want to know that the guy operating that equipment can notice her and not plough her off the road. Some of these dear seniors in our area have stiff necks and sometimes their vision is not so good. We want to ensure they are safe.
Therefore, we have no means for testing the ability of someone to operate heavy duty equipment. Yes, we are talking about a blood test. Perhaps there is a blood test that would be available. Imagine a police officer on the side of the road trying to administer a blood test to someone who might be impaired? I have seen people impaired on marijuana. They can be as plastered and as disabled as someone on alcohol or any other intoxicant. That is a concern.
I am also concerned about the effect on our borders and on organized crime. The effect of loosening up the marijuana restrictions are going to have untold consequences at our borders. We already have huge problems.
Our automakers visited us today. They are concerned about the delays their products at the border. That can make a difference as to whether an auto manufacturer wants to create parts on one side of the border or the other. We will be tying up our borders even more if we are as concerned as U.S. is about what products might cross them.
A lot of issues need to be addressed. We need to look at the fines that will be imposed. For young people to get a lesser fine is a clear signal that older people will to target young people. They will make sure they have a young one to pass the goods to, so he or she gets the lesser fine. That is a very risky way to go. It is a way to guarantee that older people will target younger ones to avoid the consequences of their own misbehaviour.
I hope that members will pay attention to the debate and that we will do the right thing on this bill.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to participate in the debate on Bill C-17, which has now become known as the bill to decriminalize marijuana. In its brief title alone it sends the wrong message to anybody who hears it, because obviously the bill is not to decriminalize marijuana. It is subject to certain conditions and amounts.
It leads me to phrase my comments in this sense. Since this is a brief debate to refer the bill to committee before second reading, where a lot more work will happen, I want to lay out a few of the questions I might have and hope that members of Parliament will consider the answers at committee.
I oppose the bill. I oppose the decriminalization. If we were to take a step here, let us not be coy. If 15 grams is okay, why do we not decriminalize it and let us deal with it. It really is almost like a step. Let us take a little step and maybe later on down the line we will see.
There are too many other questions that we have to ask. I have spent a lot of time with my own police chief talking about this. We are very concerned that this is the wrong message to send to our young people. This is the basis for my concern about the bill.
Here are a few points The Tetrahydrocannabinol, THC, content of marijuana today is about 10 times higher than it was 25 years ago. People talk about experimenting with it when they were in university. We could smoke a whole field of the stuff and it would not have any impact. Today it is different. We have to ask ourselves this question. Is a few grams of something with low THC the same as the same number of grams with a high THC? It seems to me that the level of THC content in terms of how many grams it is okay to have and then smoke really is relevant. I do not know why we have not talked about that. We know it impairs one's ability to operate machinery, et cetera.
Bill C-16, which is coming forward, deals precisely with how do we determine whether someone is impaired when driving a car, et cetera. We will probably spend about 75% of policing costs trying to find who is 15 grams below and those who are above. What a waste of money in my view. Let me pose that rhetorically. I cannot say it is a waste, but it seems we should find out whether it would be a waste.
What about customers versus the criminals? It seems to me that a young person in high school who wants some marijuana has to get it from somewhere. Under the law it will still be a crime to produce or to distribute. Therefore, anyone who will be using marijuana has to have obtained it from someone who is committing a crime. Most of it is coming directly and indirectly from grow houses which are controlled substantively by underground criminals, the Hell's Angels and the like.
The marijuana dollars will not go to finance fancy lifestyles for bikers. It will go to finance prostitution rings, loansharking and all kinds of criminal activities. We do not have to talk about the terrible situation we have around the world with this crime element. It is very concerning. A lot of things that are happening in the bill are on the backs of grow ops. It is like saying that we will deal with grow ops.
The bill is trying to deal with far too many questions and it is trying to resolve far too many issues. Maybe somebody at committee will ask this question. Why do we not come up with a bill that is focused and targeted solely toward addressing the issue of grow ops? Let us deal with it. Are there tools that are necessary to deal with it? I know we talked about infrared technology to detect heat in houses, et cetera. An important privacy issue comes up on that. It is an important debate and I think it would be lively.
There are 50,000 grow houses in Canada. Our objective should be to deal with that in a separate bill, not bury it in a bill with a bunch of other things. It is an important issue.
Is marijuana an entry level drug? I do not know of any expert who has ever discussed this who would deny that marijuana is an entry level drug. Do hon. members think that pushers just sell marijuana? Do they think maybe they could also sell some hard drugs? Absolutely.
I know a little about this. I chaired a committee for a couple of years that was studying Bill C-7 on controlled drugs and substances. I heard the RCMP and the various police agencies. I heard some of the proponents for the legalization of marijuana. I heard all this stuff over a two year period of my life. I came to the conclusion that people were not being honest with the facts.
What is going to happen? Even the former justice minister said that if we were to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana there would be a significant spike in marijuana usage. We need to find out whether that would be temporary or a reflection of the fact that we really were sending the wrong message and all of a sudden a whole bunch of other people are engaging in so-called recreational drugs. I do not know what recreational drugs are. It is just a fancy name that people use. It is drugs, drugs that impair one's ability. It is drugs that lead to other drugs that can harm not only that person but others. It harms all of society. There are some very serious questions here.
People talk about not wanting kids with records because they would not be able to get into the U.S. if they have a criminal record for the simple possession of marijuana. However I know what the facts are. Many of these people who have been convicted of simple possession of marijuana, those charges are also in conjunction with other criminal charges. It is not just people being charged because they had marijuana. It is because in the act of a crime other things were found. How much of that is there?
In a survey, which I read in the paper this morning, 10% of Canadians said that they had tried marijuana at least once in the last month. Well, excuse me, even if that is correct, that means that 90% of Canadians have not. Is 10% the threshold for us to say that we should decriminalize it for everybody? What is this arbitrary thing about 10% being socially acceptable? I do not accept that at all. I would challenge that. I do not think behaviour should be driven by a minority. Behaviour is the consensus. Consensus in our place does not mean 10%. It means the preponderance, the majority.
Drugs are in the schools in my own community. The teachers are concerned but they do not have the tools to deal with this. This is not going to help them. Our police chief needs to have his officers spending all their time trying to deal with these things. They cannot keep up with it because we have not enforced the laws. We have cases now where policing authorities are not enforcing even the current laws. Some courts have stopped opining on these cases because somebody sent them the signal that it would be changed, so why would they want to deal with those case. We have put ourselves in such a mess that I think it is time to question whether we are doing the right thing.
What would this do to our anti-smoking program? If people are going to smoke marijuana I suppose they could start smoking cigarettes too even if they are not smokers. It could happen. What are the numbers? We should find out.
I have heard a lot of people talk about a national drug strategy. This is something we have had for a long period of time. It covers a broad range of stuff, not only drugs but alcohol and tobacco. If we look at the programs, we have spent an enormous amount of money with a fundamental theme of healthy lifestyles, healthy choices. This bill leads us on another step of abdicating our position on healthy lifestyles, healthy choices. It creates some concerns. Where do we get a foothold on this whole question of decriminalization?
I would have much preferred, quite frankly, if the bill had been split where we could deal with grow houses and some of the serious issues and then be able to deal with the marijuana issue, but not decriminalize, because nobody understands the difference between decriminalize and legalize. It has confused the heck out of Canadians. We should have come forward with a bill to legalize marijuana and watched the House defeat that bill.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak to the bill on the issue of marijuana, an issue to which I spoke when it was first introduced in the last Parliament.
One of the serious problems that has crept into my riding and has caused a lot of concern for the residents is prostitution. After checking with the police and others, prostitution is driven by drugs. What we have now in my riding, right in the middle of Calgary, are drug growing operations, which is another serious problem. In trying to address that issue, we have met with law enforcement agencies to see what can be done. One of the things they always say is that they want the tools they need to crack this vicious trade that takes place.
At the end of the day, these guys who are engaged in these drug activities and all these things, are not law-abiding citizens. For them, any kind of a law that is weak sends out a message that it is okay for them to carry on because the punishment will not match the severity of their crimes.
The marijuana bill, from the Conservative Party's point of view, would send the wrong message, a message of tolerance toward using drugs, because it would create a system whereby fines would only given for the possession of a certain amount of drugs, and there would be a difference in the fines for adults and the fines for younger children.
I do not understand why we would have this kind of a difference for younger children. Is that to say that because younger children do not have money or whatever that their fine should not be as high and that it is okay for them to smoke? No.
Let me quote from the background material of the special House of Commons committee on the non-medical use of drugs which stated in its findings that reforms should be accompanied by prevention and educational programs--and here is the point--outlining the risks of Canada's use of marijuana and, in particular, the heightened risk it poses to young persons.
I want to read from another report which talks about the same thing. It says:
|| Combining cannabis reform with this public education campaign will reinforce the message that marijuana is illegal and harmful to one's health.
Now we know that it is harmful to one's health. If it is harmful to one's health, especially younger people, why are we coming along with a fine system that tells young people that their fine will be reduced? I do not understand the logic in that. We know and we have identified this as being a health hazard for young people.
As recently as two months ago, my young teenage son and his friend, who are studying at the University of Alberta, were arguing with me that it was okay to smoke marijuana and that it was not harmful to our health. I asked them where they had read that information and they said they had read it on the Internet.
If we want to stop people from smoking, we have to be tough, but now, when we introduce a bill such as this, we are sending out a message that it is okay to smoke and if they get caught it is a small fine, a lower fine for younger people and a higher fine for older people. The fact is that marijuana would probably be less harmful to older people.
I have been lobbied by people who use marijuana for medicinal purposes. We have recognized that use despite the fact that it is bad for their health but it does give them relief from their chronic diseases. That has been taken into account and I am glad we have addressed that issue.
However, concerning the issue we have before us today, we should have a zero tolerance policy. We need to have educational programs to tell young people that smoking marijuana is bad. The committee recommended that. On one hand we are saying that we need educational programs but on the other hand we are saying that the use of marijuana up to a certain level is okay. However, it is not okay.
The government claims that it is not saying it is legal but that it will not be a criminal offence. Well, we do not want our law enforcement agencies, which already have scarce resources, going after people who possess one or two joints, but let us make the level of possession at perhaps one or two joints, which will probably not affect anyone's health and will not be a criminal offence. The Conservative Party is recommending the possession of up to five grams only which means about six or seven joints. However, when we are talking about 30 grams, that translates into 50 or 60 joints, which is pretty hefty.
We also need to address the issue of drug driving detection. All the reports from committee have said that marijuana does impair one's mental capabilities and that it is dangerous for drivers.
Bill C-17 has a lot of flaws. At this stage the Conservative Party finds it difficult to support it. It is a great headline maker to make a statement indicating that certain small amounts of marijuana will be decriminalized, but if the government wants to do it that way it has to be done in a more responsible manner. Parliament has that responsibility to our young people and the public at large.
On Monday a Calgary city councillor was on the same plane with me and indicated that Calgary's police chief did not think this was a good idea because it would make law enforcement officers weak in fighting this crime.
When the bill goes to committee my colleagues and I will try to make sure there are enough changes in it that will send the message that we will not tolerate the use of drugs.
Mr. Speaker, I want to speak in favour of Bill C-17. I was a member of the special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, one of the two committees that are quoted as having studied this issue. We spent a great deal of time not only studying the issue in the literature, but we had appearing before us educators, enforcement officers, addictionologists, physicians, and various people with a great deal of understanding of these issues.
Moreover, this committee travelled to the United States and Europe, and looked at various jurisdictions and the ways in which they dealt with this particular issue. We clearly recommended what is seen in this piece of legislation.
We did not believe, as some people said, that we should legalize the issue. We felt that it was far more important to deal with a specific component of the use of this substance and deal with it in the manner in which we are dealing with it in this bill, which is to treat it as an infraction.
Some people have said that most people do not understand the difference between legalization and decriminalization. The committee felt that the legalization is the removal of all sanctions regarding sale, possession or production of a given substance. Whereas, decriminalization is the removal of criminal sanctions for some activities relating to the substance, while retaining legal prohibitions on the others. This is exactly what has happened here.
Bill C-17 deals simply with the simple possession of a particular amount, 15 grams. This would be dealt with in the same way that we deal with any kind of infringement in a motor vehicle accident or in other ways that we deal with provincial legislation dealing with that kind of thing.
One of the things that we felt was really important dealt with that fact that many of the criminal charges brought against people for cannabis use and cannabis possession was very inconsistent across the country. In some places it was ignored. In many places there were charges brought and it was beginning to take up 90% of the criminal justice resources in terms of court time on something which many of us felt, when we looked at the issue, we could deal with in a very different manner thus freeing up the justice system to deal with other areas.
What people forget is that this bill and other parts of the legislation is going to allow for continued criminal prosecution for sale, production and trafficking in this particular substance. In fact, the prohibition against this particular drug has been increased with regard to production, trafficking and sale.
One of the things that I have also heard people say is that this will allow people to use this substance, more people will be smoking cannabis, and this will create a sort of a free for all for everyone. In fact, we looked at what has happened seven years later in countries such as Australia where this was done.
We found that what was most important is that this should not be a stand alone. It is important to see this piece of legislation not simply as a stand alone piece of legislation. It is part of an overarching national drug strategy. Some $245 million dollars has gone into this overarching drug strategy. A big chunk of that will be dealing with increased awareness, education, prevention of the use of illicit substances, treatment, harm reduction and enforcement. This is a continuum of a strategy. This is just one small piece with which we are dealing.
By removing the criminal sanctions from simple possession, we are in fact going to be increasing education, awareness, and prevention strategies. We will be increasing the penalties for those who traffic, produce and grow this substance. In fact, we are talking about moving forward in the enforcement area in a larger manner and increasing all of those other areas, which are components of a good strategy.
We also need to look at legislation that will be coming forward that is going to look at impaired driving. It does not matter what impairs the driver, whether it is cannabis, alcohol or whether it is some other drug or whether it is puff medicine that impairs the driver.
The point is that there are very real physical side effects that occur when one is impaired, so testing for those physical side effects would be the same. Deciding what actually caused the impairment becomes a moot point after that. One of the things to remember is that currently we have two very legal substances that are far more dangerous from a medical point of view and from any words we have heard from any addictionologist, and those are tobacco and alcohol. Yet, they are legal; they are licit. The violence that occurs with the use of alcohol, the impaired driving, and the loss of life that occurs with the use of alcohol is continuing and it is still a legal drug.
We are saying that we have cherry picked one drug. We have found that very few people actually drive under the influence of this particular drug because it is a drug that decreases motivation so that one tends to want to sleep, as far as I have heard from all of the addictionologists, rather than go out and do any kind of activity at all, never mind drive a car. The amount that would have to be used to cause an impaired driving offence is going to be large. By that time, I understand the person would be passed out cold and not be able to get behind the wheel of a car.
We need to take something like this and put it into perspective, and not merely knee-jerk to it. We are trying to make consistent the way we deal with certain drugs and bring cannabis into the same realm in terms of the way we apply sanctions to it as we do with tobacco and alcohol. Everyone must realize it is still an illegal drug. We are only taking a small part of what we are doing and building some sanctions over it.
I have heard people complain that this could cause a problem in Canada-United States relations, but when we visited the United States we found, and the literature told us, that in California and in certain other states this kind of decriminalization has been going on for many years.
It has been found that if paired with good awareness, education and prevention, especially among young people and in the school system, that in fact the use of a substance went up for a very short time, levelled and then began to fall. As young people became more and more educated with regard to the harm caused by the use of the substance, they were more concerned about the harm caused by the use of the substance in the long term, and that itself is what drove down usage whether it was tobacco, alcohol or cannabis.
This bill is part of a drug strategy that is comprehensive, integrated and has a continuum from the very beginning. It allows young people to begin to understand that the use of substances, whether they are legal or illegal, whether they are prescription or off the counter, carry with them impairment of some kind and a risk of addiction. That is where we want to focus our message.
In the meantime, taking young kids of 16 who are caught with a joint in their car and for the next 10 years are not allowed to travel across borders or able to find a job is a difficult thing because it does not happen if those kids are found with alcohol or cigarettes.
We need to look at this as part of an overarching substance strategy in a national drug strategy. We want to eventually bring down the use of substances and allow people to have an informed understanding about what substances can do to them, and to be able to make good choices in the long run.
I support this bill. We should think about it as part of an overarching strategy and not as a stand alone piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, I would like to comment on what my colleague from the Bloc said earlier. It is not always a pleasure to be back in the House speaking on the same issue that has sort of been hanging around for a number of years and that we never seem to be able to deal with to finality. We cannot seem to show Canadians that we actually can see some change take place. I am not going to say that I am pleased to speak on this issue again. However, I would hope that this time, as we discuss this issue in the House and it goes to committee, we can put some finality on this issue and see some changes.
I am not going to comment on everything that is in the legislation. My colleague from Vancouver East who spoke earlier today mentioned a lot about the bill, specific clauses within the bill, and amendments that the NDP had made to the bill in the previous Parliament. Those amendments would see a more justifiable change that would benefit Canadians. We will be working on those amendments again as it goes to committee.
I want to comment on the government's overall drug strategy. That has been raised a number of times by different representatives from the different parties. It is a bit strange that as a government it appears there is no particular drug strategy in place. That is an issue.
All that we see in place is a punitive justice type situation where people who have problems with drugs are picked up and charged, some are thrown in jail and some are not. It all depends on who one is. That is the reality of it. It all depends on who people are and whether they are going to have criminal charges brought against them, whether they are going to be fined, or whether they are going to be thrown in jail. That in itself is a major issue.
I am glad to hear my colleague from the Liberal Party mention two other drugs that are extremely bad within Canada. We see extremely negative impacts from alcohol and tobacco use. We have put them in a legalized perspective and we have made tremendous changes within the public as to how these drugs are perceived.
We have seen smoking rates decrease in a number of areas. We have seen alcohol consumption decrease in the amount individuals drink, not necessarily overall but individuals themselves, and it is no longer okay to be impaired while driving. It is also no longer okay to be impaired in a lot of instances, even socially. It is just not accepted any more. I think that is an absolute plus. That has been done through the use of education and prevention.
What we have seen from the Liberal government most recently is a cut of I believe $70,000 or $80,000 to tobacco education at the same time that it is supporting the tobacco industry on a challenge within the courts. That is not acceptable and I think it is sending a negative message.
I would question anyone in the House who thinks it is okay to drink and smoke tobacco but somehow thinks cannabis use should be illegal. I have been chuckling throughout the day as the debate has been going on because we keep hearing about young people who are going to have criminal charges. There are a lot of middle aged people out there who have criminal charges because as young people, 30 years ago, they were partaking in cannabis use. Some have been lucky and had their charges dropped, or what is the other terminology that we use?
An hon. member: Absolute discharge.
Mrs. Bev Desjarlais: Absolute discharge. They got a bit older, they are tax paying individuals, and somehow had their case heard and their charges wiped away. But there are an awful lot of others who may not have had the money to proceed or pursue it and still have the stigma of a criminal charge for cannabis possession.
I am not going to get into these arguments of how much constitutes possession or trafficking or anything else as I think all that will come up again in committee. It is crucially important for members of Parliament to be really honest with themselves. How is it okay for an individual in the House to drink or smoke tobacco and yet somehow feel that some other individual smoking or using cannabis is any less of a problem? In my view, they are the same.
Quite frankly, I have experienced being around people in both instances, and I can say I would much rather be around someone who smokes as compared to someone who excessively drinks and gets a little carried away.
The other point I want to make in regard to this issue is the fact that our police system, whether it is the provincial police or the RCMP, have had their resources taxed to the maximum.
I have listened to my colleagues in the Bloc talk about the number of RCMP detachments that have closed. I think we have all seen in our areas that RCMP detachments have taken on bigger and bigger areas. Pretty soon the RCMP detachments in some areas will have ridings the size of some of ours. That is how bad it seems to be getting in some areas. There is one detachment that has to cover this area, and in some cases they have to fly into communities and they do not have the resources.
From a purely economical perspective, it is ludicrous to have RCMP officers having to try to deal with simple possession charges, knowing that it will go to the courts and, as has been mentioned in numerous instances, there is no real follow-through on anything--not that I think there should be. In a good many instances even the judges have realized it is not the right thing to do, to have someone get a criminal charge on simple possession of marijuana, because they have seen this year after year and they have not seen the drastic consequences. I believe in some cases they are making sound judgments.
Now, on the issue of major grow ops and the charges that are followed through, I have had some disagreements, but I think we take every case as it happens.
From the perspective of the best utilization of our resources, just as I do not believe it is the best utilization of our resources to have a gun registry, I do not think it is the best utilization of our resources to be going after people for simple possession of cannabis. I think we need to be honest as to how we deal with these things.
About five or six years ago I was at a meeting out in B.C. in one of the areas and there were a lot of older women at this meeting. It was interesting to hear them talk about the fact that they thought cannabis should be legalized, not decriminalized. They were talking about it should be legalized because they were tired of the RCMP officers in their area having to deal with these issues when they were worried about home invasions, assaults, and all these other things happening, and they did not have the resources to deal with it.
I implore my colleagues in this House to look at this from all perspectives, not just that somehow we do not want to be seen as allowing a new drug to be legalized, but from all aspects. It is legalized in the sense that we have not been able to put any controls on that part and there is an unjust system throughout the country as to how the rules are played out. I would hope that we do not just look at this from the perspective of not wanting to appear as if we're legalizing another nasty drug. I would hope that is how we end up doing this in the House, that we look at it from all aspects.
With the one minute I have left, I just want to say that I am also greatly concerned, and I see this in my riding, that simply trying to get access to marijuana use means that a lot of young people in this case--and it is young people, because I can say that the older people do not have to contact someone directly tied to a local gang, because they know where to get their cannabis somewhere else--it means that young people are being pulled into gangs and then they cannot get out of them. That bothers me to no end.
I have seen some pretty violent situations where these young people want to get out of it and cannot, and I want that to end. I want a legalized system in place where young people, and I'm not talking about ten and eleven years old, have access.
I do not have any more time, Mr. Speaker. I know that in the future I certainly will have the time to say some more about it. Thank you very much.
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the time to add a few comments to the record.
I have a few concerns with the bill. First, the bill will increase demand. That is what law enforcement officials are telling us: that the taking away of these penalties or reducing the criminal penalties will fuel demand. At the same time, production is kept illegal.
What does that mean? We are ensuring that organized crime has an increased amount of market share. So this bill is tailor-made for organized crime--let there me no mistake about that--when we increase demand and keep the production illegal. Let's not fool ourselves on that.
I have talked to the schools in my area about this, and they are very concerned. They believe that this bill is also tailor-made to encourage small-scale trafficking among youth. That is what this is going to do. Thirty grams of marijuana or 15 grams of marijuana is enough to ensure that trafficking goes on in our schools on a small scale.
There is some disinformation that has been provided that the reason we are doing this is to get rid of criminal records. Every member of the House knows that at present there are conditional discharges available and absolute discharges available for the possession of small amounts of marijuana, and that is in fact what is given for these kinds of offences. To suggest to the Canadian people that this is the reason we are doing that is simply wrong. There are enough mechanisms in the current law to avoid criminal records.
The other point is the health issue. My colleague from Churchill has indicated that marijuana is just as bad as alcohol and tobacco. I don't know if it is just as bad, but I don't see the justification for putting yet another drug onto society. I am concerned about that. We have not looked at the health issue.
Health professionals are telling us that present-day marijuana is a very addictive drug. When I was growing up people always said that it was only psychologically addictive. No. Marijuana is physiologically addictive. And in the hands now of organized crime, which cures marijuana in methamphetamine and uses it in that way, we are ensuring that our children are going to be addicts.
I am not saying alcohol is good and I am not saying tobacco is good, but neither is this. Why are we doing this to our society?
If none of those arguments impress anyone in this House, let's take a look at the trade issue. We deal with the Americans in the amount of $1 billion a day. The Americans have made it very clear to me and others that there will be repercussions in terms of the passing of the bill.
We can say we are an independent nation and we can do what we want, but remember, they are our biggest customer. Eighty percent of our goods are going across that border. I would rather see those goods go across our border and ensure that the people in my riding have jobs. Quite frankly, I think we are blindly going ahead on the basis of disinformation, and especially in the absence of a national drug strategy.
I am going to reserve my comments on the drug impaired driving bill, Bill C-16. I will be speaking to that bill, which is a tremendously bad bill, and again is a matter of disinformation.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for this time.