The House resumed from June 6, consideration of the motion that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the amendment.
Mr. Speaker, last night, I noted the government had said its marijuana legislation was designed to keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of organized crime. It is positively Orwellian. This legislation would very clearly do the exact opposite.
Last night, I spoke about the impact on children. To briefly review, the legislation would remove any criminal penalties for children aged 12 to 17 who possess up to five grams of marijuana. That is the equivalent of about 15 joints. It would also allow for people to grow marijuana in their own homes where, very likely, children would have access to it. Yes, we could put it in a locked room which has sunlight, but marijuana is a plant, so we cannot exactly store it in the same way we would store prescription drugs or alcohol.
Making marijuana legal would obviously make it easier for children to access it. In general, though, it would make it more prevalent, more readily available, and removing penalties for accessing it, naturally, would remove the risk associated with it. We have seen this across countries. In every case, where there is legalization, there is increase in use; most notably in the Netherlands. After marijuana use was legalized, consumption nearly tripled among 18 to 20-year-olds, and many municipalities in the Netherlands subsequently moved to ban so-called coffee houses completely.
This is clearly the result of legalization, and it is beyond fanciful that a government would claim that if we legalize something, if we make it easier to access and use something, if we make it legal for people to grow something in their own homes, we are to see less use. Yes, marijuana use is too high, and we can talk about the reasons for that right now, but it is fanciful to the extreme to suggest that making it easier to grow and get something will make people less likely to access it.
Let me speak, now, to this issue of organized crime. The government seems to believe that if we make something legal but still have rules around it, people will necessarily follow rules, and that it will necessarily starve out organized crime. The argument goes that if we eliminate a particular business in which organized crime is involved, organized crime will just close up shop. This is intuitively appealing, perhaps, but demonstrably false.
In addition to selling all kinds of drugs, organized crime is, or has been, actively involved in selling contraband versions of otherwise legalized substances, things like tobacco, and there is a major problem with contraband tobacco. Organized crime is associated with illegal practices in many perfectly legal industries. It has a history of being involved in areas like construction, garbage collection, gambling, and politics.
In fact, if we look at the history of organized crime, we see the roots of it are often cultural or sociological, as opposed to purely economic. The Mafia system, for example, originated in a Sicilian response to external occupation. Sicilians, over a long history, developed a system of self-government which, essentially, could exist in spite of, or in defiance of, occupying armies or ordinary rulers. It was a way for ordinary people to mediate their economic, social, and criminal justice relations in a way that did not involve going to occupying authorities. That, very clearly, was the history.
Organized crime will participate in illegal businesses where there is a profit to be made, that is certain. However, its existence does not depend on illegal business. It will apply its modes of collusion, corruption, and intimidation to legal, as well as illegal, businesses, and make a lot of money in the process.
Developing that Mafia example a bit further, of course, we can look at the history of the Mafia in North America. The Mafia benefited from alcohol prohibition. However, its history stretched for hundreds of years before that. It was a response to emergent cultural phenomena that led to that. Its ultimate decline was not the result of legalization of anything; rather, it was a change in the criminal law, with the introduction of laws that allowed law enforcement to target organized crime directly.
It is very clear with the set-up of this law that it would be very easy for organized crime to continue to be actively involved in the marijuana business, selling it to minors, facilitating the kinds of transactions that are illegal, but it would be legal and, therefore, much easier for people to carry around large amounts of marijuana, up to 30 grams for adults, up to five grams for minors.
It just does not make any sense to say this is going to be the end of organized crime, or even this is going to be a hit for organized crime. We are going to see, very likely, the evidence suggests, increased use, and new opportunities for organized crime to get around many of the fairly anemic, though they be, rules the government has put in place.
The point here is that the government is trying to use justifications for the law that it knows do not accord with the reality. It talks about children. It talks about organized crime. In reality, we are going to see increased use of this by children. Also, this will create new opportunities for organized crime to circumvent the laws that involve selling to children because adults and children will have a much easier time carrying marijuana around without detection.
We have a clear alternative. We do not have to accept the status quo as an acceptable reality either. Our party supports a ticketing option that allows a reasonable and effective criminal justice response, not one that applies disproportionate penalties to this but one that I think can emphasize treatment and public health while also still allowing a legal intervention to address that risk. I think the approach we have emphasized is a sensible alternative. It allows that kind of necessary intervention. This is the position that was endorsed by the association of police chiefs, not decriminalization but a ticketing option.
There is a lot of development that could be done around that proposal. Perhaps we might require people who are facing the possibility of conviction to seek an alternative that would involve education and becoming aware of the impacts of marijuana use. We could use the criminal justice system as a way of directing people toward treatment without being overly punitive. Our friends in the NDP caucus have pointed out the possibility of lifelong criminal convictions. We can address those issues through reforms to the pardon system.
However, the real problem we have right now is that marijuana is in this grey zone. It is illegal but there is not a ticketing option, and it clearly is not an enforcement priority. That is why so many people use it. On the one hand, there is no ticketing option, there is no alternative outside the laying of a charge, and on the other hand, clearly people should not be going to jail for mere possession offences. I think we can all agree on that. I think we can propose sensible reforms and alternatives that actually communicate the real dangers and risks.
We have a government that is trying to justify an election promise based on the fact that the has said that he has smoked marijuana while being a member of Parliament, and then talks about a public health approach. That clearly sets such a terrible example when parents, teachers, and others are trying to communicate with young people that there are real, dramatic, substantial dangers associated with marijuana.
A more sensible public health approach would be to calibrate our approach so that we can look at pardon reforms and things like emphasizing treatment and education, but we can also have the means of a ticketing option and a criminal charge so that the police can intervene. However, what the government's law says is that children between 12 and 17 years old can possess up to five grams of marijuana, and they can distribute it among themselves. They cannot sell it, but they can distribute it. It makes it a severe penalty for someone who is 18 to give marijuana to someone who is 17, yet someone who is 17 can give marijuana to someone who is 12 with absolutely no penalties. Therefore, there is a real demonstrable incoherence to the government's approach.
There is also not a coherent message among government members when it comes to the actual risks associated with marijuana use. We have multiple members who speak publicly and openly about the fact that they have used or use marijuana, and talk about it as if it is not a problem, when we know that marijuana use is associated with higher levels of mental health problems later in life, especially when it is used by young people, even at relatively moderate levels. Therefore, there is a problem here in terms of the government talking, on the one hand, about a public health approach, and on the other hand, not facing up, in a realistic way, to the public health problems that are associated with marijuana.
I have cited the studies. The information is clearly there. We are going to see an increase in use if marijuana is legalized. If the government proceeds with the legislation, I hope that, at the very least, it will be prepared to re-evaluate it, because it seems to not understand this point. Hopefully a year or so after the legislation is passed, it will be willing to re-evaluate the problems that it has put in place.
To summarize, there is a dramatic dissidence between what the government is claiming about this and the realities that are in place. The Liberals talk about keeping it out of the hands of children, but they will make it easier for children to access it. They will remove criminal penalties for very young children who carry marijuana with them. There will be no means for that kind of legal intervention. They will allow adults to carry very large amounts and distribute it among themselves, and children to give it to each other. They will allow parents with children in the house to grow marijuana in a place and in a context where very likely that marijuana may be accessible to children. The government is prepared to allow all of these things, yet it makes the outlandish claim in that context that somehow this will reduce the access children have to marijuana. It just does not make any sense.
Then the Liberals talk about the issue of organized crime, but the reality is that organized crime is a system that exists regardless of what is and is not illegal. Organized crime capitalizes on opportunities to work outside of the law, but it is not required that a thing be illegal for organized crime to be involved in that business. That is just a reality the government needs to understand.
Frankly, members of the government who have dealt with organized crime in the context of police work should know this, and I am sure they do, contrary to whatever the talking points say. Organized crime often grows out of distrust of authority, out of issues of social exclusion, and out of long-standing systems of authority that exist in place. It is not the result of just something being illegal. We know this from history.
With regard to the public health issue, the evidence is very clear with respect to marijuana that it is a dangerous substance. Not everybody who smokes a joint will experience those negative effects, but it is clearly associated with higher levels of mental health challenges. Another member has spoken at length about the carcinogenic effects associated with smoking marijuana, and a lot of this is new and emerging research with respect to the risks of marijuana.
We need to send a clear message as a legislature. I would just say to members as well that we need to set a clear example when it comes to the risk, because the Liberals say on the one hand that they will take a public health approach, that they will try to educate about the risks of this, but on the other hand, they are saying that there is not even clarity or agreement in terms of what those risks actually are.
It is very confusing in terms of the messages the Liberals are sending, which do not seem to acknowledge those risks and with different members saying different kinds of things. I would hope that through this debate at the very least, members would be willing to clearly say from all parties, whatever their position on the ultimate criminal question, that marijuana is dangerous and that the best medical science indicates clearly that the risks are in place. I hope members will join me in opposing the bill.
Madam Speaker, I am speaking today in support of Bill , not just as the member of Parliament for Scarborough Centre but as a mother who wants to keep her children and all children safe from drugs and alcohol and as a citizen who wants to reduce the power and influence of organized crime.
The fact is, if we want to keep cannabis away from our children, we need to support this bill. Those who oppose this common-sense, evidence-based legislation are supporting a so-called war on drugs that has been one of the most spectacular and expensive failures in the history of public policy and has done nothing but line the pockets of those in organized crime.
The fact is, today it is easier for under-age youth to get their hands on cannabis than it is to get their hands on alcohol or tobacco. If members doubt that, they should talk to our nation's youth and visit schools, as I have. I hear from my own children that cannabis is more accessible to children than beer or cigarettes. It is in our schools and is leading to conflict, illegal activity, and expulsions. Cannabis is negatively impacting the education and lives of our younger generation.
The numbers back this up. Canada has one of the highest rates of youth cannabis use in the world. In 2015, use among youth aged 15 to 19 was 21%, rising to 30% among youth aged 20 to 24. This is simply today's reality.
While the sale and distribution of alcohol and tobacco is regulated by federal and provincial governments, there are strict rules against selling to minors. Retailers face severe fines and penalties if they violate these rules, including losing their licence to sell tobacco, for example, so they have a business interest in ensuring that they follow the regulations against selling to minors.
Of course, there are ways around any system. Yes, an older friend could buy beer for a younger friend. It is illegal, but it does happen. They could steal alcohol from their parents' liquor cabinet. Youth, desperate enough, will find a way around any system. However, the fact is, the regulation of alcohol and tobacco has clearly been more effective in restricting use by minors than prohibition. We need to bring the same system of regulation to cannabis, because it has been proven to be more effective in restricting use by minors.
Besides being more effective, there is another very good reason to support this legislation and the strict regulation of cannabis. With a single stroke, we would be dealing a massive financial blow to organized crime in Canada. Cannabis is a cash crop for criminal gangs, bringing in revenue they use to purchase harder drugs for distribution as well as guns, which fuel violence and crime in our communities. Legalized and regulated cannabis would put criminal gangs out of the cannabis business.
As I have said, a store owner operates under strict rules on who he or she can sell to. Criminal gangs and drug dealers do not care about such rules. They do not care how old customers are, as long as they have the money. Criminal dealers also do not just sell cannabis. They can expose their young customers to other far more dangerous illegal substances.
For the first time, Bill would create a specific criminal offence for selling cannabis to minors and would create heavy penalties for anyone who engaged youth in cannabis-related activities. The bill would also prohibit products, promotions, packaging, and labelling designed to appeal to our youth. This is why, if we want to make it harder for young people to access cannabis and strike a blow at organized crime, we need to support Bill . If people say that they are tough on crime but oppose this bill, they are fooling themselves.
The proposals in Bill are common-sense, evidence-based policy that is the result of more than a year of extensive consultation with law enforcement and health and safety experts, led by my colleague, the hon. member for , and the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, led by the Hon. Anne McLellan. This is legislation whose time has come.
I must say that I am saddened to have read the misinformation that some opposed to this bill have sought to spread, particularly within different ethnic communities. Rather than arguing against the merits of strict regulations, they have sought to use fearmongering and misleading statements to deliberately inflame tensions. As a member of one of those ethnic communities, I am insulted that they think so little of us and believe we lack the intelligence to see through their alternate facts. Members of my community want to make it harder for their children to access cannabis, and that is exactly what would be accomplished with Bill . This is help parents need.
Another misleading attack on this bill I have heard is that it would make it legal for minors to possess cannabis. That is an obtuse and deliberately misleading statement. It is true that under Bill the possession of a small amount of cannabis would not be a criminal offence. It is not for the possession of a small amount of alcohol or tobacco either. This does not mean it would be allowed, though. Our government would work with the provincial governments to ensure that strict fines were in place for those caught in possession of small amounts.
Why a fine and not a criminal charge? On this side of the House, we do not think it is right to ruin the lives of minors by saddling them with criminal records for the rest of their lives because they made a mistake. While strong criminal penalties would be in place for trafficking and distribution, fines are the right approach for simple possession by youth.
It has been raised that there are a number of unanswered questions about the system of regulation that would be created by Bill . Where and how would cannabis be sold, for example? I have also heard from my constituents concerns about how the use of cannabis by neighbours in apartment buildings could impact their enjoyment of their own homes. These are questions that would be addressed by provinces and municipalities, as they fall under their jurisdiction. Canada is a federation, and it would not be appropriate for the federal government to dictate these answers. What is right for one municipality may not be right for another. I am confident that the and the would work with their provincial counterparts to arrive at the right answers.
We recognize that the use of cannabis and cannabis products, as with alcohol and tobacco, is not without risk. We recognize that the risk is particularly heightened for our youth. That is why it is so crucial that we abandon the status quo, which has utterly failed to keep it out of the hands of our youth.
With this legislation, we would replace a failed approach to drug policy that makes it too easy for youth to access cannabis and provides easy revenue to organized crime with an evidence-based approach of strict regulation and enforcement that would make it much more difficult for youth to access. It would provide severe penalties for those who engage youth, and it would take a large cash crop out of the hands of organized crime.
I would urge those who want to keep cannabis out of the hands of our children to support Bill . As a mother, the bill offers help we very much need.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to discuss the proposed legislation in Bill , related to the legalization of cannabis, more commonly known as marijuana.
Bill has been put forward on a rushed timeline. Many practical implications of Bill are to be decided by provincial governments. When implementing the bill, the Liberals are asking Canadians to trust them now and hope for the best later, a policy that will not work, like all of the other broken election promises.
Before I even begin my speech to outline my concerns with the policy put forward by the government, I would like to say that I do not believe the legislation would create sound policy for Canadians. Instead, we are being asked to sign a blank cheque on many regulation details to be decided later. The legalization of an illicit drug has a significant impact on all Canadians, and it is our duty to ensure that all Canadians are safe.
I will start with a bit of history of cannabis in Canada. Cannabis was first banned in Canada in 1923, under the Narcotic Drugs Act Amendment Bill. Other drugs on the list at the time included opium, morphine, and cocaine. I am glad those three are still on our current banned list. I do not know for how long though.
Cannabis use continued to steadily grow through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, bringing us to today. Cannabis use is at an all-time high. According to a University of Waterloo report on tobacco and cannabis use in Canada, around one in five students between grades 7 and 12 has used cannabis. The majority of them used cannabis over the past year. I do not think any member would stand up in this chamber and say that this is a good thing. Indeed, these numbers should be going down. Passing the legislation would most certainly mean student usage of cannabis will go up.
Cannabis has been illegal since 1923 for many reasons, but one of the most prominent is that cannabis is a drug that has real and damaging health effects on those who use it, especially in the age range where brains are developing. We heard from my colleague, a physician, who just quoted some of the hard facts about medical research and the kind of harm our children and youth will face once they start using marijuana.
The softening of attitudes towards cannabis has not resulted in lower usage, or more importantly, lower usage among young people. Many more Canadians who do not currently smoke marijuana, or cannabis, are likely to start once it is legalized. The legalization of cannabis will not curb interest. Indeed, it will help to promote it, as evidenced by the states in the U.S.A., such as Colorado, that have legalized it.
I have many concerns with the bill, but I will start with the legal access to cannabis proposed in Bill . The government has stated over and over again that the bill is aimed to protect children and young people from cannabis. The irony in this statement, however, is that by legalizing cannabis and actually providing legal backup for the production, possession, distribution, and use of cannabis, the bill would actually encourage cannabis to be used more.
Under Bill , adults will be able to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis while in public. To put this in perspective, 30 grams would fit into a small bag of potato chips, so it is not a small amount.
In private, there is no prescribed limit. We can stockpile kilograms as long as we do not intend to distribute.
The bill goes even further to allow adults to grow and produce their own cannabis with up to four plants in their homes. The problem is that these plants are already in the home. The government wants to protect children, but it is allowing cannabis to be grown in the very space that is supposed to be safe for children.
I understand that the legislation includes a few parameters to ensure that it is not possible for any and every adult to produce cannabis. I also wish to clarify that I am not speaking in reference to the use and the need for cannabis for medical purposes. That is a different issue.
That being said, I am not confident that there are enough safeguards to ensure that the four-plant limit is not rampantly broken or disregarded. Allowing individuals to produce on their own will make regulation and oversight much more difficult for the government and our law enforcement.
This leads directly into some of the other regulatory concerns I have. How the government plans to effectively regulate cannabis production and consumption is not made clear in the present form of the legislation. In particular, the clauses concerning search warrants include provisions that would allow a warrant to be issued through a phone call, or would allow inspectors to open packages and enter buildings based on their belief that activities contravening the law are taking place. These provisions lack substance and practical process to assist law enforcement officers to determine when a search warrant is appropriate and how they are accurately able to predict violations.
Finally, in my home riding of , I strongly campaigned against the legalization of marijuana and was re-elected because this is a view that many of my constituents share. They tell me their concerns. There are concerns about the awful lingering smell of smoked cannabis, but there are also concerns about obtaining housing insurance if a tenant decides to grow cannabis plants in the unit without the landlord knowing about it. Parents are concerned about the safety of their kids. There are so many unanswered questions about the real-world consequences of legalizing cannabis.
The bill represents a huge shift in policy and for our society, as a whole. I find it infuriating that a government that is so preoccupied with consultations on even the smallest of changes deems it appropriate to rush through this legislation.
One journalist commented that, “Trudeau Liberals are legalizing marijuana as if they're being forced to”.
The safety of Canadians, and particularly, our young people are—
Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise in the House today to support Bill , the cannabis act. This bill represents not only a fulfillment of a large campaign promise to Canadians but a meaningful step forward in protecting our youth and ensuring a safer Canada.
In 2012, 20% of youth aged 15 to 17 reported using cannabis in the previous year. This is an unacceptable statistic as it is harmful to our youth. In my riding of Don Valley East, I represent a large youth population. As government we have a duty to ensure that cannabis stays out of the hands of these constituents.
Bill would establish criminal prohibitions on the sale or distribution of cannabis specifically to young persons. This is the first time in Canada that a specific criminal office for selling cannabis to a young person has been created. The bill would create two new criminal offences, with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail for giving or selling cannabis to youth, or using a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence.
There is also strict legislation designed to prevent youth from using cannabis. Under the act, any kind of labelling, packaging, promoting, advertising, sponsorship, or endorsement that could entice young people to use cannabis, or make cannabis appealing to youth carries a heavy penalty. This includes a fine of up to $5 million and/or three years in jail.
A large problem with the current status quo is that it does not protect youth. As we have heard, there is a large number of young people who have had their lives irreparably damaged by minor cannabis possession charges. Cannabis possession is the fourth most frequent crime committed by youth in Canada.
Bill would seek to avoid subjecting youth to the lifelong consequences of a criminal record. Individuals under the age of 18 years would not face criminal prosecution for possession or sharing very small amounts of cannabis, and any violation of that act by youth would be subject to the youth criminal justice system. On top of these measures, our government has committed $9.6 million over five years to a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign designed to inform Canadians, including youth, about the risks and harms of cannabis use.
In 2012, 33% of people aged 18 to 24 reported using cannabis in the previous year. Currently, cannabis procurement is a very dangerous activity. It involves contacting criminal dealers or visiting illegal pot shops, arranging secret cannabis buys, and worrying about the content of the drugs. There is a serious issue with the cannabis that is currently in circulation that has been combined with other potent drugs or has an abnormally high THC content. While overdosing from cannabis is not likely, an impure form of cannabis can lead to an extremely unpleasant reaction to the drug.
Bill would allow those who are regular consumers, and those who are looking to experiment to consume safe and regulated drugs. It would also allow for the government to regulate the sale and production of these drugs, taking the profits out of the hands of criminals. In 2013, 67% of police-reported drug offences involved cannabis, and of those, 80% were possession offences.
The current criminal justice system is overrun with people who committed non-violent possession crimes. The bill aims to eliminate this burden, thereby allowing our justice system to be more effective in protecting Canadians.
The regulations introduced in the bill include the legal possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis when in public, the purchase of cannabis from regulated retailers, and the growing of up to four cannabis plants per residence. This would ensure that the cannabis market is safe and secure. New regulations on minor possession would also allow our police forces to focus on the important work of keeping cannabis out of the hands of our youth, and the proceeds out of the hands of criminals.
The bill represents political co-operation to the utmost extent. All three levels of government, municipal, provincial, and federal, worked together, along with private Canadian citizens, to ensure the best possible legislation that will protect Canadians.
I would like to congratulate the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation for its hard work. Through its tireless work, engaging in cross-country consultations with all levels of government, as well as experts, patients, advocates, indigenous governments and representative organizations, youth, employers, and industry, it provided meaningful advice on this new legislative and regulatory framework.
The proposed cannabis act would create a strict framework for controlling the production, distribution, sale, import, export, and possession of cannabis in Canada.
I am proud to tell the members of my constituency, many of them youth, that the government they elected is truly working for them. I am proud to tell them about the immense amount of work that our government did and is doing, above and beyond, to fulfill the campaign promises that many Canadians feel so strongly about. I am confident that the cannabis act will lead to a safer and better Canada.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour to rise today to speak to Bill .
Marijuana has been criminalized in Canada since 1923. Much has changed in the past century, including the conversation about marijuana. The Liberals promised to legalize, regulate, and restrict access to marijuana in their 2015 platform. However, since the Liberal government was elected 20 months ago, more than 15,000 Canadians have been charged for simple possession. This is an incredible waste of resources.
What is even more alarming is that we likely will not see the government actually implement a plan until next summer. The government should be embarrassed about how long this is taking.
Not only have the Liberals broken their promise to Canadians, they are clogging up our justice system with arbitrary offences. While we wait for legalization, the Liberal government is ignoring the tens of thousands of charges and criminal records handed out for simple possession, which disproportionately affects young and racialized Canadians. People should not have barriers for the rest of their lives for finding good employment, housing, and international travel due to having had a charge or a conviction for a small amount of cannabis.
The Supreme Court of Canada's decision in R. vs. Jordan last year imposed time limits on court cases. This decision exposed a chronic shortage of resources in the Canadian justice system, caused by a myriad of factors, such as judicial vacancies, underfunding in legal aid, and mandatory minimum sentences. Many serious criminal charges have been either stayed or withdrawn.
In my riding alone, many different municipalities are approaching this issue differently. Some local governments are directing the RCMP to take a hard stance against marijuana. Several people volunteering at medical marijuana dispensaries have been arrested for simple possession. However, in neighbouring communities, local governments have asked the RCMP to do the exact opposite. We are in a jurisdictional and legal grey zone, and the lack of clear direction is creating confusion for everyone.
With this crisis in the justice system, it is irresponsible to continue using police and justice resources to continue to criminalize young people for simple possession of cannabis. We cannot afford to continue to use police and court resources, and charges and convictions for simple possession.
The NDP has had a 45-year history of championing marijuana decriminalization. We have been asking the Liberals to immediately decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana as an interim measure and invoke prosecutorial and police discretion to cease enforcing a blatantly unjust law such as this one.
We support the overall goal of legalization and we will be preparing constructive proposals for the government, especially with respect to bringing in pardons for those previously convicted of cannabis possession. It would seem fair that those who have received previous convictions for marijuana possession should have some form of amnesty offered, given the looming legalization. However, there is no indication that the Liberals are interested in making pardons easier to obtain or if they will address the high $631 fee just for an application to do so. The inability to access a pardon remains a serious obstacle for many people trying to escape their criminal past and to move on with their lives.
While Bill is a step in the right direction, albeit late and long overdue, it contains several ludicrous points.
First, it would allow for a punishment of up to 14 years for anyone selling marijuana to a young person. This is absurd. It is akin to the punishments for producing child pornography and attempting to leave Canada to commit terrorism. I know it would give judicial discretion, but it is excessive and might not even comply with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Second, the legislation leaves many key issues to the provinces. The federal government has clear jurisdiction in the federal criminal law power, but when it comes to sales and distribution, it is very clearly a provincial power under our constitution. This means the provinces will need time to set up their own regulatory systems. This is another reason that we wish this process had begun earlier.
It is unclear what the government's plan is in terms of tax and revenue structure for marijuana and how it will be shared between federal and provincial governments. Unfortunately, the provinces will have to wait to hear from the on that matter. These gaping holes need to be addressed before we can move forward with meaningful legislation that makes sense for all Canadians.
The New Democrats and I want to ensure that the funds will be generated for a reliable stream of long-term revenue for research and prevention, specifically in addiction treatment and prevention. The government needs to clearly outline provincial and federal responsibilities that balance health protection with the goal of reducing the illicit market and protecting youth.
It is important to note that the New Democrats are aware of some of the negative consequences of criminalization. It has been widely acknowledged that there is a lack of scientific research into the health impacts of cannabis use, especially chronic long-term use. We must be particularly concerned about the health impacts of chronic and heavy cannabis use among young people. Therefore, we will be pressing the government to begin establishing research plans and funding into these important areas.
It is time to take a new approach to marijuana. We currently have archaic legislation in place, and Canadians want change. For decades, research on the impact of cannabis decriminalization has shown that in a variety of jurisdictions, including Australia, Europe, and the United States, decriminalization does not cause an increase in consumer demand or ease of access.
People who are going to smoke or ingest marijuana need to ensure they are backed up with education and support services around them. About 30% of Canadian youth have tried cannabis at least once by the age of 15, which is the highest among 43 countries and regions in Europe and North America.
Clearly, our strategy currently has been failing. We need to work with society and not against it.
Decriminalization will decrease the related social problems, the criminal records that people have tied around their necks for the rest of their lives, and the impact on employment and people's ability to rent or to travel. It will also reduce the cost in our judicial system.
We support the legalization of marijuana as long as it is done effectively so it is not marketed to children, that a reliable, long-term revenue stream is created for public health, prevention, and research, and that there is a comprehensive strategy around safety.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill , a bill for which I have had some responsibility and involvement from the outset. I will not be using my limited time today to review all aspects of this bill, which I think have been discussed significantly in the House. I have had the opportunity to sit through every hour of debate that has taken place so far, and I have tried very hard to listen carefully to the questions and concerns raised by members of the House. I would hope to use my time today to do my very best to answer some of those concerns and to perhaps give members some insight into how these matters might most appropriately be dealt with.
To back up a minute, there was reference a little earlier to there perhaps being some malfeasance or something inappropriate with respect to individuals who have received approval for the licensed production of cannabis. In previous discussions in the House, a number of companies, specifically Canopy, Aurora, Tweed, and Hydropothecary, were mentioned as places where individuals who had some political affiliation had received some benefit. I want to point out to the House, as a point of clarification, that the four companies I just mentioned all received their licence approvals under the previous government. Therefore, quite frankly, the accusation is without merit.
I want to explain how I come to this position of speaking on behalf of the government for the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis and the restriction, in particular, with respect to access by kids. I want it to be clear. I took a position in my previous occupation as a police officer and a police chief of expressing sincere concerns about the limitations of decriminalization. My position has not varied from that. I will say that in my experience as the person responsible for the protection of the children of Toronto and the safety of communities, I tried always to look at the harms being perpetuated on our kids and our communities and at doing everything possible to reduce those harms and to protect those kids and communities.
In October 2014, there was a report prepared, which I quoted from earlier, by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It recommended the implementation of a new system, a public health approach and framework, for the strict regulation of cannabis. It identified a number of harms that could be addressed in this way.
I will acknowledge right up front that I believe that every member of the House cares very sincerely about all our kids, all the youth of Canada, and I believe that every member of the House is quite sincerely concerned that Canada has the highest rates of cannabis use among young people of any country in the world. I believe that every member of the House, on both sides, understands that the high use by our kids represents a significant risk to our kids. There are very real social harms. There is harm to the development of the adolescent brain. There are other health risks our kids face as a result of the early use of cannabis, the frequency of its use, and the high potency of its use. I believe that everyone agrees that we have to do a better job. The current system is appalling and unacceptable, and it demands action from us. Now we can debate and discuss an appropriate course of action.
I believe that every member of the House believes that it is unacceptable that organized crime profits, in the billions of dollars, from this criminal enterprise. Street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and other criminal enterprises are wholly responsible currently for the production, distribution, and trafficking of this drug in our communities and to our kids. I believe that every member of the House believes that we must take the steps necessary to make our communities safe, to take those profits away from organized crime, and to protect our kids, our communities, and the health of our citizens.
I will try to address some of the concerns that have been raised. A number of members have asked why the government's legislation has recommended that persons under the age of 18 be prohibited from access, but persons over the age of 18, the age at which a person is normally deemed to be an adult, depending on the jurisdiction in which a person resides, could have access to cannabis produced under strict regulation and sold only through a strict regulatory regime, as established by the province and the local jurisdiction.
I am well aware that the science indicates that there is a real health risk to people up to the age of 25. This was a matter considered at great length by our task force. It was the subject of substantial debate within the task force, within the government, and within this House.
Our government believes that adult Canadians between the ages of 18 and 25 have the right and the maturity to make decisions about their own health. We allow young people over the age of adulthood, as determined by provincial jurisdiction, to get married, to have children, to buy a house, to get a mortgage, to use alcohol and tobacco, and to make decisions about their own lives and their own health. As long as we enable them to make safer, healthier, and socially responsible choices, as long as we provide them with the information they need to made a well-informed choice, I think we are fulfilling our responsibility and respecting their ability as adult Canadians to make that choice.
As well, there has been some question of how the legislation would deal with the possession of cannabis by a young person under the age of 18, or as the provinces may determine. One of the harms that was identified in our discussions from coast to coast and with experts across the country was the criminalization of our youth, as was earlier mentioned. It is very much our government's intention to protect our children from the harm of having their actions result in a criminal record. We want to make sure that we can enforce a prohibition against the possession, purchase, and consumption of cannabis but without subjecting them to the risk of a criminal record. The right way to do that is through provincial legislation.
In every province and territory in this country, there is a liquor licence act. It is an offence, under provincial regulation, for a young person to possess, purchase, and consume alcohol. If they are caught, law enforcement can seize that alcohol and can give them a ticket for that offence. There are actual consequences for breaking that regulation, but that young person does not face the consequence of a criminal record. In my humble opinion, that is a significant reduction of risk for our young people.
I travelled across the country and talked to parents and families about what concerns them about cannabis and their kids. They are certainly worried about their health. We have a responsibility to do a better job of protecting those kids. They are worried about the social harms to their kids. They are worried about whether they will finish school. They are worried about who they are hanging out with. They are worried that if they are using cannabis, they are dealing with a criminal to get it, and that criminal may sell them other drugs or expose them to other risks.
Finally, parents have shared with me that they are also concerned that their kid may be in a car one evening and be innocently pulled over by the police, found to be in possession of cannabis, and end up with a lifelong criminal record, with all of its consequences. I believe that every member of this House is motivated by a sincere desire to do a better job of protecting our kids from all those harms.
I have also heard concerns about resources. I have met with mayors, city councillors, police chiefs, fire chiefs, bylaw enforcement people, and public health officials, and all have expressed concern. They are willing to take on their responsibility to keep their communities safe, but they have concerns about resources. I am proud that our government has committed that the revenues that could be generated from the taxation of this substance federally could be reinvested in research, public education, treatment, and rehabilitation.
There is an important discussion taking place with the provinces, territories, and municipalities across the country to make sure that law enforcement, municipal officials, and public health officials have the tools, the infrastructure, the administration, the oversight, the testing, and the enforcement capability that will keep our communities safe.
Madam Speaker, it is an honour today to rise and speak to Bill , the government's draft legislation respecting cannabis and amendments to the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code, and other acts. This draft legislation is more than 100 pages long. As the title suggests, it is a complex bill affecting the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code, and other acts.
Beyond affecting these acts, this complex bill would also affect individuals. It will affect families and it will affect people's lives. It will affect the provinces and territories and the communities within them. The bill would affect our country in ways we cannot be sure of at this point.
As I begin to speak to the bill and its complexities, I would first like to recognize that the medical community has been studying the effects of cannabis as a drug to treat many illnesses, from chronic pain to anxiety and seizures to illnesses such as intestinal illness and cancer. There are a multitude of illnesses that may or may not be remedied by fully tested, properly prescribed and administered marijuana.
While scientific studies may be on their way to discovering the full potential of cannabis, they are only partway along that path. Much more testing is needed to establish what the full effects and benefits of cannabis are. Science has yet to reach complete conclusions and understanding of the possible detrimental effects of cannabis on the human body.
That said, science has established that cannabis has negative effects on the developing brain of young people. Science has also established the health risks of inhaling smoke, whether it be tobacco smoke, wood smoke, or marijuana smoke. The risk of smoke to human health is well documented.
At this point, cannabis is considered by the laws of Canada as a drug, still not fully tested, with many known effects and many unknown. As legislators, it is our responsibility to consider what the full potential benefits, detriments, and dangers are of any legislation that comes before us, as well as the impact of our decisions and the votes that we take on that legislation. As such, I take this responsibility very seriously, and while I have had some time to look over the bill, there are so many angles, so many components, so many potential impacts, and so many unknowns that I feel much more time is needed before we go down the path of legalization.
Sound and thorough review of this legislation is necessary to ensure that the House does its due diligence to ensure that we perform our duty to the people we represent and not pass haphazard legislation that we come to regret. While I do not disagree that the current status quo is not working, there are other policy options available. One is decriminalization without full legalization, which deserves consideration.
As I mentioned, there is much to be considered. We must consider not only what is on the pages of the bill in the House but also what will be on the pages of the bills in the provincial legislatures, in the territories, and the communities. How will impairment be measured? How will it be proven and penalized? Many of these issues can and likely will be dealt with by provincial legislation, but we have heard that the provinces need much more time and resources to complete the legislation and implementation required.
I have heard from municipalities that they are concerned about how they will draft new bylaws to regulate marijuana production in residential areas and in residential rental homes, which, by the way, will be permitted under this legislation. I have been informed that the provinces and municipalities are looking for funding from the proposed tax and licensing revenue stream that the Liberal government is developing. This funding is required to offset the costs municipalities and the provinces will encounter in dealing with the responsibilities being downloaded onto them by the federal Liberals' election promise, a half-baked idea with no decisive plan for implementation.
Another issue that concerns me as a former small business operator is the impact on small business. What about cannabis use in the workplace?
Large businesses and government agencies may be able to implement random screening processes on a large scale to manage cannabis use in the workplace, but what about the employer managing the corner store? What about the auto repair shop where people take their family car for repairs? What about the other small businesses that will not have the capacity to test or reprimand employees who choose to use the drug before they show up for work or, even worse, use it on their coffee breaks? How will small business owners deal with the challenges without having issues escalate to a point that they either lose the ability to serve their customers or face labour law complaints, be they founded or unfounded?
This kind of scenario is a real possibility, and the consequences could be dire for small businesses, small business managers, and other employees. These are the types of situations and shortcomings that are not addressed in this already complex legislation.
As I said, this bill would end up affecting Canadians in ways we do not think the Liberals have even considered. If the Liberals have considered these possible effects, they have chosen either to ignore them or to pass them on to other levels of government to deal with.
I would also like to address some of the ways in which individuals would be affected. We have heard from the medical community that the use of cannabis affects the function of the brain; that is very clear. We have also heard from the medical community that cannabis has detrimental and irreversible effects on the developing brains of young people. In fact, evidence shows that cannabis should not be used by young people because it has been shown to cause both functional and structural changes in the brains of young people who use it regularly. The Canadian Paediatric Society has cautioned that marijuana use is strongly linked to:
|| cannabis dependence or other substance-abuse disorders; the initiation and maintenance of tobacco smoking; an increased presence of mental illness, including depression, anxiety and psychosis; impaired neurological development and cognitive decline; and diminished school performance and lifetime achievement.
I am certain that I will be facing questions from the Liberals once I am finished speaking, so before they start asking those questions, I would also pose a question for them in my closing comments.
Part of the platform the Liberals have put forward supporting this legislation is that they are introducing it to protect the health of our children and keep them from harm. When we have health authorities saying that inhaling smoke is detrimental to our health; when we have statements like the one I quoted from the Canadian Paediatric Society, illustrating the risks of cannabis use in young people; when the government is promoting half-baked legislation that would do nothing to eliminate illegal marijuana growth and trafficking; when the Liberals' goal is to create tax revenue that would make the so-called regulated product more expensive than the black market or homegrown product; when the Liberals have no plan to share the potential gains with the provinces and municipalities that will be burdened with their own legal nightmares created by this legislation; when the Liberals have no plan that will actually keep cannabis out of the hands of children at home, let alone on the playground, how can any member on that side of the House believe this is good legislation?
We can likely assume that the Liberals will push this legislation through with their majority and a whipped vote. I believe their motion for early closure of debate on this bill shows that they are afraid to continue debate for fear the multiple flaws in this legislation might be exposed.
As a final comment, I hope at least some of the government members, or eventually the Senate, will take a non-hazy view of this legislation and send it back for a complete remake.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise to speak on the cannabis act, also known as another poorly thought out, poorly written, rushed-through piece of legislation by the government, which needs time allocation to get it through, only to go to the Senate, where it is going to be butchered and sent back for further amendments, leaving the government wondering why in the world it bothered trying to have independent senators in the first place. However, I understand that is just the working title.
If anyone is watching CPAC at home right now and breathlessly waiting another nine and a half minutes for me to tell them whether I support the bill or not, I will give them a spoiler alert. They should go and have a cup of coffee or something so they do not hear the answer now. Clearly, I do not support the bill as presented. That is shocking, I know.
I want to discuss a couple of highlights, or lowlights, of the bill before I get into the bulk of my speech. We have heard repeatedly from experts and the medical association that setting the minimum age at 18 is way too low. Eighteen is the legal age in Ontario right now, where I am from. Just last week, I had the pleasure of speaking at two different high schools for their graduations, where the huge majority of these children were 18. The government wants to allow children 18 years old to legally smoke marijuana and to go into the stores any time to pick it up. It is disgraceful. Youth aged 12 to 17 would be allowed to have up to seven joints at the same time.
The legislation would put Canada in contravention of international laws and treaty obligations, including the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1971, and the UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs. There is no plan from the government right now to address these issues.
There are problems with drug-impaired driving. There is no universally accepted limit for what constitutes impaired driving. There is no common line across the world that has a legalized system to say this is what impairment is. Current drug testing involves oral fluid samples, but it can only provide the presence of the drug, not the concentration. Chemical traces of marijuana stay in an individual's body for a long time after impairment is no longer an issue. Saliva tests are very expensive at $20 to $40 for every single test. Currently, checking for alcohol at roadside stops costs pennies. Now we are going to force this huge cost upon municipalities to bear.
One of the arguments we hear is that legalizing it will push out organized crime. Who in the world thinks the Hells Angels, or anyone else in organized crime currently taking in billions, is going to stop and say, “It's all over. Let's pick up our toys and go home. It's now legal. Maybe we can use our motorcycles to become Uber drivers, because we're obviously out of the business”? It is simple-mindedness to think that the Hells Angels, and all these criminal organizations that have been doing this for years and years, with amazing market penetration, are going to just pack up their stuff and go away. I am not advocating for organized crime or the Hells Angels, but this is reality.
One of the arguments we hear is that it will fill the tax coffers. We can legalize it, tax the heck out of it, and raise a lot of money. Unfortunately, the parliamentary budget office, the same PBO the government is trying to muzzle with its omnibus budget bill, says the opposite. It says the money raised by the government will be measured in the millions and millions, not the billions. To quote the PBO, “The illicit market, their profit margins are very high, so they have room to compete with the legal market, which makes it even more difficult for the government to set the price and the tax rate.”
The PBO says the government is not going to push out illegal drugs unless it keeps prices down. Now we are going to have the government helping to set the price of marijuana low to keep out organized crime, thus making it easier to access for Canadians.
The PBO estimates the pot market is worth about $4 billion to $6 billion. Of that, the feds are going to take $100 million or more, the provinces will take a bit more, and that is only if they keep taxes and prices down. When have we ever seen the government keeping prices or taxes down? Does anyone in Ontario or B.C., with their public liquor store systems, the B.C. Liquor Stores and the LCBO, actually think government is going to keep prices down and undercut organized crime? I do not think so.
President Reagan has many famous quotes, and one of my favourites was when he described governments' view on business as thus: “If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” I can very well see a future where the government, with its interference in this market, with regulations and added taxes, makes it difficult for legalized marijuana to compete with organized crime, and therefore, lowers taxes or changes the system, or perhaps even subsidizes it, to better compete with organized crime.
One government member argued that pot arrests are tying up the courts. I have to ask, why not just decriminalize it? The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says so. My colleagues in the NDP do not disagree with it. What is so magical that on June 30 marijuana is going to be illegal but on the very next day, July 1, it is going to be magically okay? I do not often agree with my friends and my colleagues in the NDP, but they do have a point.
I am stunned that the Liberal member is using this argument about tying up courts when the government has failed to fill open positions in the courts for over a year. My colleague, the member for , has been calling for the government to fill the judge positions that the government has neglected to fill.
Murderers are being let go because we do not have judges. Of the 101 applications for release by accused persons because of court delays, 51 were granted, including, from Edmonton, Adam Picard, who was accused of murdering a gentleman named Fouad Nayel, and another one, Lance Regan, also accused of murder.
Here we have the government not filling judge positions but we have another member of the government stating that we cannot tie up the courts with pot. She does not seem to care that we are not filling the judge positions and are allowing accused murderers to go free, but she is concerned about the courts being tied up otherwise.
Why such a big rush to legalize by July 1, 2018? Why the arbitrary cut-off? Is it perhaps because the government is under pressure from so many broken promises, such as balancing the budget by the end of its mandate in 2019, which will now be 2055; the $30-billion deficit, which will now be hundreds of billions of dollars; or the whole open and fair competition to replace the fighter jets, which it is not doing because it is going to CF-18s, so maybe we will throw them under the bus because we have to appease Bombardier.
Of course, the biggest promise the government may have broken is on electoral reform. We know the government rallied youth to its cause with the electoral reform promise, which it has now cancelled. Is it rushing through the bill, putting families and children at risk, just so it can draw this cohort back to Liberal support?
I have to wonder, again, why July 1? Is it so the can light the symbolic first joint on Canada Day, or maybe arrange to photo bomb a bunch of people toking up and get his PR experts to create a hashtag and call it a photo bong?
We have spoken to the RCMP in Edmonton. I have spoken to the police in our riding. They say they are not going to be ready by July 1. The training is not going to be done. The ability to detect levels of intoxication will not be ready. Municipalities have told us they are not ready, and they do not want to get stuck carrying the bill for this poorly thought out legislation.
Provinces are scambling to get ready. The Province of Alberta, just a week ago, started consultations on how it is going to regulate and distribute marijuana in Alberta. That is four million people, and we just started the process. Our schools are not ready. However, the government says not to worry; they have a plan for education and prevention of $9 million over five years. That is 5¢ for every Canadian, over five years.
Let us put that in perspective. The government, in its budget, has put down $120 million for the same time frame as free charging stations for Tesla owners. If people own an $85,000 Tesla, the government is there for them. However, if a family is trying to keep their kids away from marijuana, here's a nickel a year. It is ridiculous.
In conclusion, I wish the government would take a step back and realize it is too soon. I understand it has a majority, it has a mandate, and it is going to push this through. However, I beg the government to slow it down and let us have proper consultations with the provinces, municipalities, and families before it steamrolls this ahead.