That the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented on Tuesday, October 21, 2014, be concurred in.
He said: Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to speak about the serious and lasting health risks of smoking marijuana, especially for our youth.
I will be splitting my time with the hon. .
The report before us today, authored by the health committee, of which I am pleased to be a member, provides context on this important public health concern and a contrast to the disturbing proposal put forward by the Liberal leader to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, making it even easier for children and teens to get their hands on and smoke.
Marijuana is illegal for a reason, and that reason is well documented in this report on marijuana's health risks and harms. Indeed, the former president of the Canadian Medical Association put it best when he said, “...especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”.
That is why our Conservative government wants to stop children and teens from smoking marijuana. Unlike the Liberal leader, we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier.
Through the national anti-drug strategy, our government is allocating approximately $100 million over five years to raise awareness and combat the production and distribution of unhealthy illegal drugs. The Liberal leader, by contrast, would legalize marijuana, making it easier for children and teens to buy and smoke. This Liberal plan is irresponsible and can have only one indisputable effect. That is increasing access to and use of marijuana.
Whereas the Liberal leader, who advised one journalist he had smoked marijuana five or six times even as a member of Parliament, wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for Canadians, our Conservative government is contributing to safer and healthier communities through coordinated efforts to prevent illicit drug use, treat dependency, and reduce the production and distribution of illicit drugs.
The national anti-drug strategy and the RCMP are actively working together to raise awareness of this serious public health issue, of which, incredibly, the Liberal leader makes light. The national anti-drug strategy encompasses three action plans: prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
The prevention component aims to prevent youth from using illicit drugs, through raising awareness of the harmful health effects of drug use, and to develop community-based interventions to prevent such drug use.
The treatment action plan supports effective treatment and rehabilitation systems and services by implementing innovative and collaborative approaches.
The enforcement element contributes to the disruption of drug operations in a safe manner, primarily targeting criminal organizations.
The RCMP has organized thousands of community outreach events to raise awareness among youth of the harms and risks of illicit drugs, including Kids and Drugs, which is a national prevention program for parents to help them learn strategies to prevent their school age children from abusing alcohol and other drugs. Drug abuse resistance education, commonly known as DARE, is a program designed to equip school children with the skills they need to recognize and resist social pressures to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Aboriginal shield is a program created to better enable aboriginal youth to make informed healthy lifestyle choices regarding alcohol, drugs, and positive alternatives.
Educating youth on the harmful effects of smoking marijuana is a responsibility that the RCMP has taken seriously, and our Conservative government commends it for its service to our communities. Indeed, the current head of the Canadian Medical Association was quite clear on the subject when he said, "Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome".
This report from the health committee lays out in plain language that which all members of the House should know: smoking marijuana damages teens' developing brains and everyone's lungs and causes other serious harms. This is the essence of what is so wrong with the Liberal leader's irresponsible plan to make smoking marijuana appear to be an acceptable, everyday activity.
Our Conservative government recognizes the responsibility we have to Canadian families to prevent our youth from smoking marijuana. That is why we made tough new rules ending grow ops in residential neighbourhoods.
In terms of enforcement, the RCMP established the marijuana grow enforcement initiative back in September 2011 to better tackle marijuana grow operations. This initiative has resulted in strengthened collaboration among government agencies, community groups, businesses, and community members. It has also resulted in many successful enforcement activities.
As part of the Safe Streets and Communities Act, our government has also introduced mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences carried out by organized crime or those targeting youth, and it has increased the maximum penalty for the manufacture of controlled drugs, including marijuana, from 7 to 14 years.
Shockingly, the Liberal leader cannot even agree that ending dangerous home grow ops is a good policy. He quickly condemned the work to end these dangerous neighbourhood grow ops stating:
Our worries are that the current hyper-controlled approach around...marijuana that actually removes from individuals the capacity to grow their own, is not going in the right direction.
...we don't need to be all nanny state about it....
These are homes with rerouted wiring for high-powered lights that are a fire hazard. They have high humidity that causes unhealthy moulds, and they are sometimes booby-trapped to ward off the theft of these drugs. Sometimes children live in these grow ops. Grow ops are extremely dangerous for children. However, the Liberal leader is focused on aging hippies who want to grow their own. I wish there were some way to sugar-coat these statements by the Liberal leader. However, the truth is that is what he actually believes. Protecting children or teens is being a nanny state, to the Liberal leader.
The Liberal leader wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for our youth, wants to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, and wants to have home grow ops in neighbourhoods across Canada. It is that kind of irresponsible approach that is proving to Canadian parents each and every day that he is just in over his head.
Another important element within this report from the health committee is the concern about marijuana-impaired driving. It seems everybody knows that alcohol-impaired driving is bad and that no one should drink and drive. The message has been out there for a long time. However, the issue with drug-impaired driving is not as well understood. Drug-impaired driving is dangerous, illegal, and a risk to our communities and Canadians.
A 2011 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse indicates that drugs are found in approximately one-third of all fatally injured drivers, almost as often as alcohol. Moreover, the age group most at risk is young men age 16 to 24, and the drug of choice for them is marijuana. On top of that, a study by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators found that 26% of respondents did not believe that a driver can be charged while impaired by marijuana. That is, marijuana was found in the system of dead drivers age 16 to 24, and many of those drivers did not know it was dangerous or illegal to drive after smoking marijuana.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse described that 15.8% of youth have reported being in a vehicle where the driver has smoked marijuana in the previous two hours. That is why the RCMP is working to prevent impaired driving and educate our youth. Through RCMPTalks, the RCMP has provided a series of live, interactive video conferences with students in classrooms across Canada on many important issues, including impaired and distracted driving.
The Liberal leader has said that this current approach is not going in the right direction, and yet we are seeing results. Youth surveyed by the RCMP have reported a decrease in the numbers of licensed students who drive after using marijuana or who get in a vehicle as a passenger with a driver who has been using marijuana. These and other initiatives are making a difference in communities from coast to coast.
According to the Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and 45% since 2004. The Liberals' plan to legalize marijuana and their leader's insistence on normalizing the practice is reckless and will minimize all of these efforts by making it far easier for children and teens to buy and smoke marijuana. It would also make it socially acceptable, perhaps even a status symbol for youth. This Conservative government wants to stop children and teens from smoking marijuana, and we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier.
This discussion in the House today is timely. Our position is grounded in facts, and it is the right public health message that needs to be delivered to Canadian teens and their parents.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to contribute to today's discussion on the serious and lasting health risks of smoking marijuana, especially for our youth.
I would first like to congratulate the health committee on its excellent work in providing the report that is before us today. Over the course of a month, I understand, the committee heard compelling testimony from various witnesses, including medical experts, researchers, the RCMP and government officials.
What is clear from this report is that the Canadian Medical Association's former president was right when he said, “especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”. Contrast this reality with the Liberal leader's plan to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for youth and to have marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, and we arrive at why it is so important to have this discussion today.
This report provides a thorough assessment of marijuana's potential for addiction and its negative effects on the developing brains of young people. The evidence is clear that when youth smoke marijuana, they have increased risks of developing mental health issues, including psychosis and schizophrenia. We also know that the regular, long-term smoking of marijuana can harm concentration, memory, the ability to think and to make decisions, and cause paranoia.
The report also points to the alarmingly low level of awareness about the very real risks and harms for youth associated with smoking marijuana. The Liberal plan would not help to raise this awareness. The Liberal leader wants to legalize marijuana, trivializing its risks and harms by making marijuana as easy to access as alcohol or cigarettes. The Liberal leader even wants to allow for and expand home grow ops in neighbourhoods.
Liberal MPs are on the record defending marijuana storefronts in Vancouver. These marijuana dispensaries have absolutely no regard for the rule of law and have been caught selling marijuana to kids as young as 15. These stores are hallmarks of what Canadian neighbourhoods from coast to coast should expect from the Liberal Party. Make no mistake that the Liberals' plan is to have marijuana storefronts across the country. Storefronts selling marijuana are illegal and, under this Conservative government, will remain illegal. We expect the police to enforce the law.
The serious health impacts on youth make this an important public health issue. We have been working hard to prevent kids from smoking marijuana, and that is why it is so encouraging to see that marijuana smoking among youth is trending downward. The Canadian drug use monitoring survey's most recent figures report that while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, it has dropped by almost 45% since 2004. This is a significant reduction and speaks to the success of our approach, which helps to educate families on the serious health risks of smoking marijuana.
Contrast this with another figure included in the same survey. Some 70% of youth drank alcohol in 2012, a fully regulated substance. The Liberal leader's contention that regulating a substance will prevent kids from accessing it is simply absurd. Such measures would serve only to legitimize and normalize the smoking of marijuana by youth and could mean more than tripling its use, as we have seen with alcohol.
The key problem with the Liberal plan to legalize marijuana, expand home grow ops and make marijuana more available in stores across Canada is simply that the role of a government is to communicate responsibly when it comes to public health messaging. I ask what kind of a message would we be sending to kids and parents if the government were to endorse the sale and smoking of marijuana? It would send the message that smoking marijuana is okay and that it is safe, when the reality is that it has serious and lasting health risks for kids. That is why this Conservative government wants to continue to discourage and stop kids from smoking marijuana.
Our national anti-drug strategy and its focus on the prevention and treatment of drug addiction is clearly having an impact. We have brought in tough new sentences on drug dealers and reduced youth smoking of marijuana by over 30% now. This report from the health committee makes it clear that there is still more that we should be doing. The Liberal plan to legalize marijuana would not help to reduce the number of youth smoking marijuana. It would make marijuana more easily available and would normalize it.
One study that was discussed before the committee revealed that the area of the brain most affected by marijuana use is the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive cognitive functions, including decision making, planning, organizing behaviour, and setting and achieving goals. Most concerning for parents, however, is that long-term use can also lead to an increased risk of serious mental health conditions, such as schizophrenia or psychosis. I have heard loud and clear from addiction specialists across the country about the overload of marijuana-addicted kids who are checking in for help.
It can also lead to psychological dependence and addiction. A 20-year medical review published in the journal Addiction shows that regular marijuana smokers face a one in ten chance of developing a dependency on the drug, and that number goes up to one in six for users who started smoking regularly when they were young.
We must also consider the effects on the body and the lungs. We know the effects of tobacco addiction, but what about marijuana? Witnesses before the committee explained that there are risks to a person's respiratory system as a result of smoking marijuana, which can contain between 50% and 70% more carcinogens than tobacco smoke. During testimony, witnesses noted that smoking marijuana resulted in the inhalation of these carcinogens and carbon monoxide, which can create health risks even greater than those that arise from smoking tobacco. Witnesses also noted research showing that marijuana smoke is an irritant to the lungs, increasing the prevalence of conditions such as bronchitis. These are not simply worrying statistics. The facts speak for themselves and the risk is very real for our youth.
One of the witnesses who provided testimony during the committee study was Dr. Melton Kahan, who said, “...public health organizations need to conduct public health campaigns to counter the prevailing myth that cannabis is harmless and therapeutic”. Last year, when Health Canada launched an awareness campaign on the serious health risks of smoking marijuana for youth, the Liberals cried foul. They do not want Canadian families to know about the health risks that come with smoking marijuana because that would, of course, harm the Liberal leader's credibility and plan for legalization.
Indeed, the Liberal member for was present during that committee study and even said this on the record, “...we have known all along that the long-term effects of cognitive problems coming from the smoking of marijuana over long periods amongst young people, under about 40, are high...”
Canadians will not be fooled. They know that the Liberal leader's plan to legalize marijuana, making it available in stores just like alcohol and cigarettes, is another example of how he is just not ready for the job.
It has now taken us 50 years to curb tobacco smoking in this country and now the Liberal leader wants to open the door to commercial and retail marijuana companies. What is clear is that the scientific evidence on the risks and harms associated with smoking marijuana continues to grow. There is an ongoing need to ensure that this information is readily available to all Canadians, especially parents and youth.
As it stands, evidence shows that Canadian parents and kids are not properly informed about the risks of smoking marijuana as they are about other illicit drugs. For example, during the committee proceedings, a representative from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse outlined how some Canadian youth are not aware of the effects of smoking marijuana and that they perceive it as a natural product rather than a drug. Some even believe that smoking marijuana before driving is not as dangerous as drinking and driving.
Our government shares the health committee's concerns about the harmful effects of smoking marijuana for youth. Unlike the Liberal leader, we do not support making access to harmful illegal drugs easier. As health minister, I find the Liberal leader's campaign to legalize and normalize smoking marijuana for youth completely irresponsible. This plan sends the wrong message. It sends the message that smoking marijuana is okay and safe for young people, when, in reality, it has very serious and lasting health risks.
Again, I thank the health committee for its report and we will continue to make sure that parents and young people are aware of the health risks of smoking marijuana.
Mr. Speaker, I am glad we are having this debate today on the report from the Standing Committee on Health, which was produced in October 2014, because it is a very important subject in terms of public policy as it relates to marijuana. The first thing I want to say is that the report we are debating is unfortunately completely biased.
The name of the report is “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”. We can see from its title that in looking at the subject of marijuana, the majority of the members of the committee, the government members, were only interested in building a political case for themselves to show what they believe to be risks and harms. From day one, the study and the report were very suspect, because they were actually not based on evidence and a scientific approach in terms of how we should be conducting studies by standing committees of Parliament.
We heard from a number of witnesses. It is regrettable that the government members tried to prevent witnesses from coming forward who hold evidence-based views on marijuana based on a health approach. It was very difficult to get that point of view across in the committee. However, I am pleased to say that we were able to get some witnesses who gave us a very balanced picture of what is taking place in terms of public policy. I would say that the approach that was put forward, and certainly the approach the NDP favours, is an approach that focuses on health promotion and on public education and safety. We need to have an approach to marijuana that is more balanced. That is something that did not result from the study and this report.
We produced what is called a dissenting or minority report for this study. Our number one recommendation to the Government of Canada was that it is essential to pursue a public health approach to marijuana that is focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction. This is something we heard from witnesses. It is something that is sensible.
We understand that there is a broad consensus now in this country that the Conservatives' approach of a war on drugs and prohibition has been a catastrophic failure economically, socially, and through the justice system. Giving people criminal records, having a zero-tolerance policy, and denying the reality of what is going on in terms of marijuana in this country is something that is producing more harm than good. That is the Conservatives' approach.
We have a different approach in the NDP. It is based on focusing on public health and health promotion.
We heard from a number of witnesses, like Dr. Evan Wood, Dr. Tony George, the Canadian Public Health Association, Philippe Lucas, and Dr. Perry Kendall. These are all eminent doctors and scientists who have actually studied this issue, and they all told us that a public health approach to the non-medical use of drugs is necessary, and in fact critical, to minimize the risks and the harms.
I spoke a bit earlier and questioned the minister about the fact that very limited research has gone on. We heard at the committee that approximately 50% of people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain. This came from Dr. Perry Kendall, who was a very credible witness. We also heard from Veterans Affairs Canada that the department pays for medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD in veterans. The witnesses all said that we need to have more research on medical marijuana, but it has been very difficult to do so because of the approach of the government.
I find it contradictory that on the one hand, the Conservatives are willing to encourage research to look at risks and harms, yet there is not one recommendation in the majority government report that calls for research on medical marijuana and some of the benefits that have already been shown. So much for a parliamentary study. It is actually shameful that it is so biased and prejudicial.
We believe that we need have more research done. We believe that we need to take a broad public health approach. In fact, what we think should happen, and this is one of our recommendations in our report, is that we should:
Establish an independent commission with a broad mandate, including safety and public health, to consult Canadians on all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana and to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.
Why do we come to this conclusion? We come to this conclusion because it is very clear that the current unregulated market has been a complete failure. It produces violence, stigma, and, in fact, control by organized crime. It is very clear.
I think most Canadians understand that criminalization is not the answer. In fact, criminalization produces a huge amount of harm in and of itself. The reality is that whether the Conservatives can see it or not, they know that it is there. It is very clear that they politically choose to deny it. Our marijuana laws need to be modernized, and they need to be based on evidence and public health principles.
This is something that is taking place throughout the world. We only have to look south of the border to see that different states, whether it is Colorado or Washington, are taking a much more realistic public health approach to marijuana based on a balance of prevention, public health, well-being, harm reduction, community safety, and public education.
That is the kind of approach we need in Canada. It is something the government has politically decided it wants to reject. It simply wants to play a little political game. All it talks about is youth. I have not heard anyone in this House or any witness who came forward say that they think marijuana should be available to youth. In fact, that is precisely the reason we need a regulatory approach; it is so we can set clear rules as to where use can take place, and it should be adults who look at issues of commercialization. We need to look at issues of distribution, just as they have done in some of the states south of the border.
The government's sort of political mantra on this focuses on youth. There are issues around the use of any substance, whether it is alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance, but that is only part of the question we are looking at. I would argue strenuously that a regulatory approach, a public health approach, would enable us to have much better coordination and an overview of what we need to do in terms of ensuring that youth do not have access to substances, whether it is marijuana or anything else, that are harmful.
It is staring us in the face that this is the classic example of the response of the Conservative government to an issue. It is tougher laws and bringing in mandatory minimum sentences. That is what it did for drug crimes. However, everything we see before us is telling us that criminalization of drug use, whether it is marijuana or other substances, is actually producing more harm.
It is abundantly clear that what is needed is a public health approach, which has been adopted by the medical health officers across the county and has been supported by many major cities across the county. Certainly the city of Vancouver has led the way on this issue.
I find it astounding that, still today, as this report comes forward, the Conservatives are using this as a political hammer. I want to say that I do not think it is going to work. It is a failure.
Canadians actually understand what this debate is about. Canadians understand that criminalization is something that has failed in this country. The so-called war on drugs, just as we saw with Prohibition in the 1930s, actually produces more crime and violence. That is what we are facing in Canada today. We can look at what has been happening in Surrey or Vancouver. We can see the gang violence and the violence that comes about as a result of prohibition.
In this party, we would rather be on the side of evidence. We would rather be on the side of reality. We would rather be on the side of a proper regulatory approach that produces a coherent response, based on public policy and public health, to the issue of marijuana.
The Conservatives can rant all they want and try to create a black and white situation in which people are either with them or against them, as we have heard so often in the House, but Canadians are not fooled. Canadians know that we need to have these laws modernized. They know that we need to have proper oversight and a regulatory approach that will actually help young people be safer.
We need a regulatory approach that would ensure that we have proper rules, regulations, and guidelines about where marijuana use can take place. These are all very important questions.
I am very proud of the fact that the NDP produced a brief report in the overall Standing Committee of Health report in October. It lays out very clearly the principles and the direction that we believe are absolutely necessary in dealing with the issue of marijuana use in Canada.
To conclude, I will again reiterate that, one, we think it should be pursued as a public health approach; two, we believe that we need to fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana; and three, we call for an independent commission with a broad mandate to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.
Mr. Speaker, I find it very interesting that we are speaking to the concurrence on a report that was tabled in April 2014. This is obviously no longer about a report and its concurrence, but about politics.
At no point when we were studying this in the health committee did people start talking about the Liberal leader. We were talking about marijuana. The fact that the summary is about a report that was not even mentioned is quite amusing and fairly transparent, which is probably the only time the government has been transparent about anything.
The Liberal Party of Canada rejects this report. We do not concur with it, and we presented a dissenting report. I want to be very clear that this report does not reflect the testimony and advice we heard from expert witnesses who presented to committee. In fact, much of the testimony, specifically around scientific evidence, is absent from the report. There is very little scientific evidence in this report, so we find the report inherently flawed.
The Liberals asked that the study include the benefits versus the risks, as all drug studies do in any kind of appropriate review of any drug. My colleagues in the New Democratic Party also asked for it. It was completely rejected. We have a study that is very flawed because it looks at only its harms and risks, and not its benefits. In fact, in the testimony we listened to during the whole course of the five committee hearings on this, we heard about the benefits, but they were completely discarded in the report. Many witnesses said that this should be looked at in a objective, scientific manner, in the same manner in which all drugs are assessed.
What we heard was very clear. We have the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommendations, based entirely on evidence and because of the high use of marijuana among youth aged 11 to 15 years old in Canada. UNICEF reports that Canada has the highest use among all other countries. The UNICEF report is a comparative report, based on looking at other countries in the world.
The minister continues to refer to one report that says that the rate is going down. It is one simple report, and it is a Canadian report. It is not a comparative report. It simply says that the rates are going down. The minister has yet to prove to anyone what she is in fact referring to when she says that new reports have shown this.
The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey showed very clearly that of the 41.5% of Canadians who had used marijuana in the past, at least once in their lifetime, 25% were chronic users. In that report, what we did not break down in the report was that 17% of people who used cannabis did so for medical purposes. Of that 17%, 50% use it for pain and the other 50% use it for depression, insomnia, and anxiety, which suggests there is a medical benefit to marijuana. Incidents among youth remained at 20.2%, as per UNICEF.
Here is what we did not see in the report. Every scientific group presented conflicting evidence.
Mr. Philippe Lucas of the University of Victoria said that regulated access to marijuana was associated everywhere that it was done with a decrease in the recreational use of other drugs, such as alcohol and prescription drugs. It is important to look at the regulated use of marijuana.
Dr. Evan Wood at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Urban Health Research Initiative pointed out that the illegal status of marijuana did not prevent youth access, since 80% of young people in a U.S. suggested that cannabis was very easy to obtain.
Dr. Le Foll of the University of Toronto and Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad of the University of Montreal recommended legalizing marijuana through a system of strict regulation of use and taxation, which would help reduce its health risks and harms. However, they also said that if we regulated it, there should be oversight of content, including the level of THC, which we know has gone up a great deal since the 1960s. They also said that we could look at less harmful ways of using medical marijuana and marijuana per se.
Clearly, we have all of these very well-known incredible researchers and physicians saying that we should legalize marijuana and that wherever that is done, it not only brings down the use by youth, but also brings down the use of other related drugs that are used in conjunction with marijuana, such as alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs.
We recommended that the Government of Canada explore a regulatory framework of legalization, working with experts in the field, that aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of youth. We wanted to explore what the legislation would look like based not only on best practices of other countries, but by bringing in the experts to show exactly what should be included in that kind of recommendation, one of the biggest things being age-related.
Data from 2002 told us that hospitalizations in Canada related to cannabis accounted for 0.3% of all hospitalizations in our country. Yet hospitalizations for the use of alcohol was 5.8%, and for tobacco was 10.3%. Tobacco and alcohol are legal drugs in our country. The direct cost to the health care system of cannabis in 2002 was $73 million, for alcohol it was $3.3 billion, and for tobacco it was $4.4 billion. Here we have huge health risks associated with two legal drugs.
When the minister spoke so movingly about how much she cared about youth and how much she cared about the harms of the drug, did she mean that she intended to make alcohol and tobacco illegal in the country? I do not know. If she really cares, that is what she might be talking about.
One of the things that we learned was that a public awareness campaign was very important. For instance, Dr. Tony P. George of the University of Toronto said that in the United States it was found that the perception of harm among youth would decrease if there was a public awareness campaign. However, what he did not say was that a public awareness campaign needed to focus on accurate information, because using scare tactics have been shown to be the least effective way. The government put out its ad that was a scare tactic and did not have any accurate information at all in it.
This is important. When the government asked the Canadian Medical Association and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to help it with the public awareness ad, both of these groups, which are very credible organizations, said no because the ad was all about scare tactics and did not have anything to do with accurate information.
Here we have this predisposed bias of which the government is taking care. Therefore, if the government cares so strongly, why would it not want to legalize it?
We found a lot of conflicting reports about the harms and risks of using cannabis versus the benefits of using cannabis. From some groups we heard that there were obviously risks of cognitive impairment, brain development, respiratory effects, mental health problems, motor vehicle accidents and cardiovascular disease. Then we heard from others that there was no direct causality between chronic marijuana use and long-term cognitive effects. We heard that there was a comprehensive meta-analysis done at the University of British Columbia that showed no substantive systemic effects of long-term cannabis use and neuro-cognitive function. Therefore, we are getting two sets of conflicting reports.
Then we heard again that there were long-term effects of marijuana toxicity on the lungs and yet others suggested that research in this area was unclear and that more studies were necessary, especially with the vehicle for inspiring marijuana, either with paper and all of the leaves, which has an effect, or vaped. We heard two sides of that argument, all from very credible scientists.
Some witnesses said that marijuana impaired cognitive function and psychomotor skills, and that it could lead to driver impairment. Others said that, in fact, traffic fatalities related to cannabis were always combined with multi-drug use or alcohol. Therefore, we cannot take these simplistic responses that we have been hearing from across the way that this bad and this is good, unless we understand the causality of certain things and the multi-factorial causality involved. Always in terms of motor vehicle accidents there was use of another drug, mostly alcohol.
All researchers pointed out that MRI and brain activity studies showed that the developing prefrontal cortex was where marijuana had its biggest effect. However, other researchers warned that other factors could contribute to intellectual attainment in certain youth who used marijuana, because we had to take into consideration the multi-factorial causality: economic static, social stress and personality characteristics. Therefore, we cannot say that one plus one equals five in the way the report suggests.
In summary, all of the contradictory evidence pointed to a need to look at benefits versus harms and risks. We heard that cannabis increased anxiety and psychosis and yet other physicians and scientists said that it was used as an antipsychotic. One is a benefit and one is a risk. We heard that evidence of panic attacks and increased depression came from the use of cannabis. Then we heard that cannabis was used to diminish anxiety and chronic pain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS and post traumatic stress disorder. I find it increasingly amusing, and I do not know if maybe the was not aware of it, that Veterans Affairs Canada pays for the cost of medical marijuana for PTSD patients.
Much of this contradictory testimony was not included in this report. In fact, the vast majority of witnesses pointed to inconclusive evidence so far of direct harms and risks and the need to research. The Liberals suggested that extensive research be done on the risks and benefits, and we got an absolute no from the Conservative members of the committee. The report, as we can see here, does not mention research.
It is unfortunate that much of the evidence from credible witnesses would be taken out of the report. It is unfortunate that something as serious as a drug is being used by Canadian youth starting at the age of 11. Remember when people used to smoke cigarettes, when they 10 and 12, behind the barn. We now see, with all of the regulation that came about in terms of tobacco use, 11 and 12-year-old kids are not hiding out behind the barn. In fact, there are enormous fines if a young person tries to buy cigarettes. Therefore, we can see how the legalization, regulation, age-related specifics and strong penalties for selling to young people has had an impact.
I remember when I graduated from medical school, and I am sure many in this room can remember this, that the whole idea was to get absolutely blind drunk at the graduation. Today, with the work of MADD and the regulation on age-related limits being imposed and enforced with regard to alcohol, we have dry grads. Any kind of public health approach to anything needs to be based on evidence. We need to look at the benefits of the drug. Every drug has a benefit and every drug has harms. Aspirin has benefits and also has huge harms.
Let us really talk about scientific evidence and data. We cannot look at any drug without doing both. This report, which we do not concur in, does not speak to both and does not weigh those two pieces of evidence so we can look at that drug in the way we look at all other drugs. Also, we have heard that the cost to the health care system of alcohol and tobacco is, by thousands, more costly and harmful than cannabis.
Here, we have some stuff we have to look at. If we are going to look at evidence-based systems, we have two drugs in use currently that are regulated and that are legal and that have a lot of evidence to show that regulating and legalizing and imposing penalties makes us decrease the use of those drugs.
The idea that this is being used as a political football is a disservice to our caring about the young people we do not want to see drink, smoke and use cannabis. Why would we take cannabis and treat it so differently? It is a drug, just like alcohol and just like nicotine.
Let us really talk about good scientific evidence, objective data. We in this party care about youth. We do not want to see our young people using cannabis in large amounts. We do not want to see them using it at all. We know how easy it is to get. Eighty per cent of youth have testified it is easy to get.
Let us start regulating this drug, very clearly, and let us start putting penalties to the drug, but let us also, at the same time, do research so that we do not deprive our population of any benefits that this drug could have.
I notice that the minister talked a lot about Vancouver and the municipality of Vancouver and how it is licensing dispensaries.
Way back, in about 2001, Health Canada decided to license dispensaries for the production of medical marijuana because there was evidence that for people with MS, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, depression, certain mood disorders and terminal illness, it did have impact. Doctors would write prescriptions. People would go to the licensed dispensaries, that Health Canada licensed, and they would be able to get their prescription filled.
The current government came in and decided that, in fact, it did not like the idea that Health Canada licensed it. The government decided to commercialize the industry, giving licences to commercial entities, and stalking people who needed to use this drug and who would grow two plants. We actually set up regulations in which people could grow two plants, for personal use only. Now, people are not allowed to do that. The current government cancelled that. What we have are thousands of commercial industries waiting to get licensed to produce medical marijuana and we have not got very many of them done. Those that have licences are in the single digits.
We have a government that entered the fray and changed what was working extremely well. Now we are in limbo. The Province of British Columbia and certain health authorities in British Columbia took the Government of Canada to court because it did not want people to grow two plants and people were now going to have to buy it at enormous prices from these commercial entities. The Supreme Court of British Columbia said, “Well, no, you can't do that. You cannot protect people who are taking something that is helping them, in effect. If some physicians are prescribing it for them, you cannot remove that at a cost that many people cannot afford.” Many of the people who use this for medical purposes are either terminally ill or disabled and are not working full time. They do not have money to buy an extraordinary amount of drugs. We know, in this country, that most people cannot afford to buy prescriptions for diseases like hypertension, diabetes, et cetera, because the cost of drugs is so high.
The government absolutely admitted that there was a medical benefit to it because it was going to license commercial industries for the production of medical marijuana.
The City of Vancouver, because of the chaos caused by the current government that does things and then never follows up on them, has been sitting in limbo now for about two years. We find that there are many dispensaries being set up that are not licensed and are not legal. The cities of Victoria and Vancouver had to take matters into their own hands to license and bring some control to the chaos of the current government.
Finally, I am saying we presented a dissenting report. I gave all the reasons we cannot concur with the report that we are discussing today.
Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to contribute to the debate today. I would like to note that I will be sharing my time with the member for .
The health committee did an excellent job in producing the report before the House today that enumerates the evidence provided by expert witnesses detailing the serious health risks and harms of smoking marijuana.
From the debate that has happened today so far, it is really clear that our government's position is starkly different from that of both the Liberal Party and the NDP. I would argue that we are really the only ones who have a strong focus on the health of Canadian youth.
For the benefit of my colleagues I will read a portion of the report, which is in fact a quote from Dr. Harold Kalant, a professor of pharmacology in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, who has been involved in researching the harmful effects of marijuana since 1959. Dr. Kalant said:
…the use of cannabis for pleasure comes at a cost, and society must ponder whether the pleasure is worth the cost…society as a whole must give careful thought to changes in policy that could increase the number and severity of health problems caused by use by its more vulnerable members, which, as I have pointed out, means its younger users.
This is just one of the quotes from one of the experts who testified during the committee's study. This particular expert has over half a century of his own professional expertise and research to back up his testimony. It is one of the reasons I am concerned when the Liberal leader wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for Canadians and make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes.
The report from the health committee details comments from not only Dr. Kalant but others too that highlight the problem with the proposal to legalize marijuana. For the benefit of my colleagues, I will quote again directly from page 15 of the committee's report. It states:
Witnesses such as Dr. Kahan, Professor Kalant and Dr. Sabet do not support the legalization of marijuana because it would increase the health risks and harms associated with its use. They suggested that the legalization of marijuana would increase its availability and lower its price, which would make its use more widespread....the legal status of alcohol and tobacco does not prevent youth from gaining access to it, nor does it eliminate the black market for tobacco, where content remains unregulated.
Legalization is irresponsible in my opinion and can only have one effect: increasing access to and use of marijuana by our young people. Our Conservative government does not support making access to illegal drugs easier. We have made significant progress in recent years, reducing drug use through the national anti-drug strategy. What is more, this strategy is working. The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey's most recent figures report that while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, this has dropped by almost 45% since 2004. That is a significant reduction. This speaks to the success of our approach in educating families on the serious health risks with smoking marijuana
The same survey highlights the problems with the Liberal leader's plan. Seventy per cent of youth drank alcohol in 2012, which is of course a regulated substance. Comparing 20% to 70%, it is very clear that the legalization process would, at least in my opinion, add to increased use.
Not only have medical experts and families lined up to criticize the Liberal plan, but we have also heard hard numbers demonstrating the fallacy of his logic. Having marijuana in stores just like alcohol and cigarettes would not decrease the use in this country and it could actually triple its use. Remember that figure of 20% compared to 70%.
I have to go back to the question I just asked the hon. member. We look at the tremendous concern and effort by our municipalities and provinces around the issue of smoking and by individuals suing tobacco companies. It really contrasts moving forward and encouraging use, on one hand, with the huge costs and enormous effort being put into concerns about the use of tobacco, as an example, on the other hand.
The committee report also put forward some important recommendations that have helped inform our Conservative government's action to prevent kids from smoking marijuana.
The first recommendation tasked the government to work with relevant stakeholders and experts to develop a campaign to raise public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use.
Health Canada did just that. The preventing drug abuse campaign ran from mid-October to early December and provided parents with the tools they need to talk with their families about the risks of smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse.
The campaign featured ads that focus on the fragile brains and bodies of teenagers, and demonstrated how marijuana use and prescription drug abuse can cause permanent damage to their development.
I can remember key instances in my past career when I saw young people who came in to the ER with their first psychotic episode. As we did the histories with families and friends, we heard of heavy use, and so anecdotally there were certainly some causal relationships, and we saw traumatized and devastated families and friends, and we saw young adults whose lives had been changed irreversibly.
Health Canada worked with research experts throughout the development of the campaign to ensure that it was based on the most up-to-date peer-reviewed scientific evidence.
I'm pleased to say that the results of this collective effort were extremely positive. Over 60% of parents saw the campaign, and of those, more than 80% understood the message of the dangers drug use can inflict on youth.
The second recommendation from the committee's report was regarding the need to increase awareness of the scientific evidence regarding marijuana's health risks and harms. Again, we have taken action in this area as well.
In April 2014, the hosted a round table with representatives of the health care community and research experts to discuss the scientific evidence of the risks associated with the use of marijuana by youth, especially over the long term.
The committee's third recommendation calls for further strategies to address the risk of impaired driving due to marijuana consumption.
Canadians, unfortunately, know all too well the risks of impaired driving related to alcohol and the devastating impact it can have on families and communities. We should be just as intolerant of impaired driving due to drug use, and there is a real misconception that driving while under the influence of drugs, such as marijuana, is harmless.
Our government shares this concern and is committed to ongoing enforcement of impaired driving laws and is working with provinces, territories, and key stakeholders on strategies and initiatives to prevent drug-impaired driving. I contrast this work again with the Liberal plan to legalize and normalize the smoking of marijuana.
The Liberal leader wants to allow for and expand home grow ops in residential neighbourhoods, normalizing marijuana and creating grow ops in neighbourhoods across the country. He quickly condemned our Conservative government's work to end these dangerous neighbourhood grow ops saying:
Our worries are that the current hyper-controlled approach around...marijuana that actually removes from individuals the capacity to grow their own, is not going in the right direction.
...we don't need to be all nanny state about it ...
Again, we heard that same comment from the previous speaker.
Liberal MPs have brought their leader's legalization policy to its logical conclusion by supporting marijuana dispensaries in B.C. that are, as of today, operating illegally and providing marijuana to children. In fact just a few weeks ago the Vancouver Police, who had so far been loathe to enforce the law, finally raided one of these dispensaries when an employee was caught selling marijuana to a 15-year-old who actually ended up in hospital.
The message that our and have sent to the City of Vancouver is crystal clear: storefronts selling marijuana are illegal, and under this Conservative government will remain illegal, and we expect the police to enforce the law.
To sum up, the committee's hearings over the course of a month and the testimony heard from expert witness have painted a very clear picture. Marijuana is an illegal drug that is so for a reason: it has lasting and serious health effects for kids who smoke it.
Whereas the Liberal leader would legalize marijuana, making it easier for kids to buy and smoke, this Conservative government wants to prevent kids from smoking marijuana.
I would like to thank committee members for their report and end with a quote from the former president of the Canadian Medical Association who said:
...especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise and contribute to this timely discussion on the health committee's report on marijuana's health risks and harms. The report details clear evidence of marijuana's risks for addiction, the effects on the developing brain, and the level of awareness among Canadians regarding the health risks and harms associated with marijuana use.
Our government shares the committee's concern about the harmful effects of marijuana on youth. That is why we are working to stop kids from smoking marijuana. This approach is in stark contrast to the Liberal leader's policy of legalizing marijuana and making it available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes. The Liberal leader's approach is irresponsible and shows that he is just not up to the job.
There is increasing evidence that marijuana today is much more potent than it was even three decades ago. On average, it is 300% to 400% stronger. We also know that smoking it can seriously harm the developing brain. Numerous studies show that being exposed to THC early in adolescence, frequently and continuously over time, can not only interfere with brain development and harm brain function but can increase the risk of triggering a psychotic episode or a mental illness such as schizophrenia. These lasting and serious health risks, enumerated in the report before this House today, demonstrate how the Liberal leader's plan to make smoking marijuana a normal everyday activity for Canadians is irresponsible.
Regular marijuana use poses a risk of becoming dependent on the drug, and those who begin as teenagers have a one in six chance of dependency. These are facts the Liberal leader has either willfully ignored or missed entirely.
The normalization of marijuana would have a very serious consequence on intellectual function. Marijuana impairs concentration, reaction time, memory, and the capacity to make decisions effectively. These are essential abilities needed in operating a vehicle, going to work, paying attention in school, or indeed, delivering responsible leadership. When it is mixed with alcohol, as many young people may do, these functions are further impaired.
The Liberal plan to legalize and normalize marijuana sends a message to youth that smoking marijuana is not only an acceptable activity but is one endorsed through government regulation. The Liberal leader's policy is irresponsible. It ignores marijuana's lasting and serious health effects, as reported by the health committee in the report before the House today. It is quite simply bad policy.
We know that exposure to marijuana use before birth also has an impact on the intellectual development of children, based upon the findings of the Ottawa Prenatal Prospective Study, which followed groups of children of mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy and compared them to the offspring of mothers who smoked tobacco or did not smoke any substance at all. It followed them from birth until young adulthood. The study found that children of mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy experienced certain cognitive harms, beginning at school age, that stayed with them into their adult years. These harms were reported as being significant enough to affect the children's educational attainment.
The many dangers and unpredictable consequences of drug abuse make this a real and widespread public health issue, and no one feels that more acutely than families.
This Conservative government takes the responsibility to inform Canadians of the real and lasting health effects of smoking marijuana seriously. Unlike the Liberal leader, this government wants to stop kids from smoking marijuana
In 2013, we invested an additional $11.5 million to support the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse drug prevention strategy. The 2014 economic action plan also committed $44.9 million to expand the national anti-drug strategy, which educated Canadians about the serious effects of drug use and abuse.
What is more, we are seeing results. According to the Canadian drug use monitoring survey's most recent report, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and 45% since 2004. These are some encouraging figures, which demonstrates that when families are made aware of the health risks associated with substance abuse, they take notice. Another interesting point from the same report is that while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, 70% drank alcohol. The Liberal leader's plan to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, could see kids smoking marijuana at more than triple the rate seen today.
Early in her mandate, the met with the Canadian Medical Association and a broad range of researchers and health stakeholders to discuss the harmful effects of smoking marijuana. The clear message coming from this meeting was that it is imperative to make sure that health messages on the serious and lasting effects of smoking marijuana were reaching parents and their children. They also said that kids do not know how harmful marijuana is to their health and that parents think it is the same as it was 30 years ago. They do not realize how harmful it is today.
Researchers recognize psychosis and schizophrenia as real and serious health issues resulting from marijuana. That is why they recognize the need for action, and the Government of Canada has responded. The Canadian Medical Association called for a national marijuana smoking cessation campaign for youth. The president of the CMA said, “Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome”. The former president of the CMA was a strong advocate against smoking marijuana, having stated that “especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”.
Contrast these experts with the Liberal leader's plan to legalize and normalize the smoking of marijuana by our young people and it shows that he is just not up to the job. What is more, the Liberal leader not only wants to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, but wants to allow for expanded dangerous home grow ops in neighbourhoods across Canada.
This Conservative government does not support making access to illegal drugs easier, and we will continue to support strategies that stop kids from smoking marijuana. Health Canada, for example, has done its research to advance its successful awareness campaigns. Its recent marketing campaign was aimed at educating parents on how to talk with their teenagers about the dangers associated with smoking marijuana. The campaign, which ran from October 20, 2014, to December 28, 2014, featured television ads that focused on the fragile brains and bodies of teenagers and how smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse can cause permanent damage to their development. Additional web and social media content, including print-ready resources on the dangers associated with drug abuse, was developed to encourage parents to get the facts and tips on how to speak with their children about drug abuse.
After the completion of this campaign, surveys were conducted to look at recall and awareness levels and to evaluate the ads' overall effectiveness. I am pleased to say that over 60% of parents saw the campaign, and of those, more than 80% understood the message about the dangers such abuse can inflict on youth.
What I found particularly striking about this campaign was that it was designed to help parents protect their children from the dangers of marijuana, first by describing the harmful affects it can have on the developing brain and second by equipping parents and educators with the information they need to keep their children safe.
This Conservative government's approach is to educate families about the lasting and serious health effects and to stop kids from smoking marijuana. The Liberal leader's plan is irresponsible, ignores the facts in the health committee's report, and is simply bad policy.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and contribute to this important debate today.
The government has sought concurrence in a report from October 2014 from the Standing Committee on Health, entitled “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”.
I start by noting the title because, as members will note from my remarks to follow, it seems to be the theme of the government to emphasize one part of this complex public policy debate involving marijuana. I was not the deputy chair of the health committee, as I am proud to be now. At the time, it was my colleague from , who has been leading the charge on this debate for the official opposition. I salute her work on the dissenting report. I would like to focus my remarks upon this dissenting report and then talk more generally about the war on drugs and what has led us to this state today.
The report that the government wishes us to concur in is a report that focuses, as its title would suggest, on health risks and harm, which are of course not to be minimized. However, there is another side to the story, and that is why the New Democratic Party produced three recommendations in a dissenting report, the subject of which I would like to address today.
The dissenting report starts by saying what I did: that the current study was unbalanced and designed to focus on the harms of marijuana policy and use in Canada. It then says that significant testimony was dismissed, so the committee was not allowed to hear and address points of view that were different from the government's preconceived notions about marijuana. The dissenting report also says that so-called opinions are what were at stake, rather than evidence-based decisions, which everyone in health policy says is the important way to do business. As a result, there were more witnesses focused on harms and risks than on the other side of the debate.
The point I want to make by way of introduction, which the dissenting report clearly addresses, is that a war on drugs is simply not working. To that end, I would like to refer to last month's issue of The Economist magazine, a very right-wing publication from the U.K., which starts a full discussion on illegal drugs with the following:
In 1971 Richard Nixon fired the first shot in what became known as “the war on drugs” by declaring them “public enemy number one”. In America and the other rich countries that fought by its side, the campaign meant strict laws and harsh sentences for small-time dealers and addicts. ... Billions of wasted dollars and many destroyed lives later, illegal drugs are still available, and the anti-drug warriors are wearying.
The article concludes by saying:
Those preparing to prosecute the next drug war need only look west to see what lies ahead of them: more violence and corruption; more HIV/AIDS; fuller jails—and still the same, unending supply of drugs.
Prohibition, which seems to be the only solution offered by the government, is simply not working. Billions of dollars later, even The Economist magazine has acknowledged that reality. That is why the NDP has sought a more balanced approach, focusing on health promotion, public education, and safety. To that end, three recommendations were made. I would like to address each of them in turn.
The first was that we “pursue a public health approach to marijuana focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction.”
Let me be very clear. No one is suggesting that somehow there are no risks or harms associated with this activity, and I hope I am not misunderstood. Particularly for youth, there are issues that need to be addressed, without a doubt. However, to avoid a public health approach and to simply revert to a war-on-drugs approach is not going to work in addressing those harms.
For example, many people came forward—including a constituent of mine, Dr. Philippe Lucas—to advocate a public health approach to the non-medical use of marijuana and other drugs in order to minimize risks and harms. Public awareness campaigns aimed at youth have to focus on accurate information. I am old enough—and I believe you are too, Mr. Speaker—to remember the reefer madness ads that used to be around in my day. It was a joke. They did not work, and they were dismissed by most of the young people whose marijuana consumption the ads were trying to change.
Using a zero tolerance approach has not worked either. Something more nuanced is required. We should listen to the experts like Dr. Lucas and others to that end, so I will come back to that first recommendation, the public health approach.
The second recommendation by the NDP in its dissenting report is to “fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana.”
Medical marijuana has become a large industry. Dr. Perry Kendall, from my part of the world, claims that approximately 50% of the people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain. There are a number of illnesses, such as HIV-AIDS and multiple sclerosis, for which it has been proven to be an important contributor to treatment. Indeed, Veterans Affairs Canada pays for the cost of medical marijuana to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, research on medical marijuana, which could provide benefits in many areas, is limited because of the prohibition approach that the government takes to this issue. We need more research. I am the first to acknowledge that. Funding research on clinical effectiveness and, yes, on risks to youth and others is critically important.
The expansion of the use of medical marijuana in Canada has been absolutely remarkable. In an article in the National Post back in March 2014 that examined the marijuana medical access regulations program, I was shocked to see that in 2001 there were 88 Canadians authorized to possess marijuana under those regulations. As of 2013, that number had gone up to almost 37,000 Canadians. There were 85 marijuana production licences in 2001; in 2013, there were almost 30,000.
We can see that this is an enormous issue and a challenge, but it seems to be beyond dispute that medical marijuana has certain benefits.
The third recommendation that I would like to focus on is the one that is the most salient in this discussion: that we “establish an independent commission with a broad mandate, including safety and public health, to consult Canadians on all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana and to”—here is the punchline—“provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.”
We believe there needs to be this kind of independent commission to hear from people from different communities, including the law enforcement community, the medical community, the legal community, and others, to figure out how we can provide guidance to Parliament on instituting an appropriate regulatory regime, because prohibition has failed. All it has produced is violence, stigma, and control by organized crime. Simply continuing with the criminalization model is not going to work. We need to use evidence-based solutions to figure out an answer to this problem together.
Dr. Lucas is now with Tilray, a licensed producer of marijuana on Vancouver Island near Nanaimo. He has pointed out that cannabis prohibition creates more harms than cannabis use itself and that prohibition has failed to control the use and domestic production of marijuana. He points to higher and higher arrest rates in certain parts of the country, and one of my colleagues made reference to the very uneven enforcement across the country with respect to marijuana.
He says cannabis is our top cash crop in Canada and claims it has been used by approximately 50% of the population. He says prohibition ensures that young Canadians can access unregulated cannabis of unknown potency and quality and points out that it is a well-known fact that the potency of this drug has changed dramatically since the 1970s and that the drug is often cut with other products that are either very addictive or cause great harm to those people who take them. There is no quality control. People do not know what they are getting.
Youth cannabis rates have been going up. They have gone down in the last little while, but they have generally gone up. So much for the war on drugs. So much for saying, “Thou shalt not, young people.” It has not worked. We know that. Certainly in my part of the world, it is self-evident.
Cannabis enforcement is highly disproportionate across the country. That much we know. Young men, visible minorities, and first nations are greatly overrepresented in cannabis arrest statistics. That is a fact as well. Gangs, organized crime, and so forth are part of the picture, as we all know.
There are other ways to address the problem. The country I am most interested in at the moment is Portugal. In 1997, opinion polls in Portugal said that drug use was the country's biggest social problem. Now, 12 years since Portugal decriminalized personal use of small amounts of marijuana and other drugs, meaning less than 10 days' worth, what has happened is that drug use now ranks 13th in concerns. All parties in that country—left, right, and centre—support the policy of treating drug use as a health issue, and that is the first thing that was said in the dissenting report of the NDP: that this issue needs to be understood as a public health challenge and that we have to address it as such.
In Portugal, all parties support the policy of treating drug use as a health issue, not a crime. HIV rates have plummeted as well. However, decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Portugal uses what they term “dissuasion boards”, made up of doctors, psychologists, and other specialists, which aim to get addicts into treatment and prevent recreational users from falling into addiction. When necessary, they can impose fines and community work. However, removing the fear and stigma of criminal punishment has encouraged drug users to seek the help they need.
There are different approaches around the world that need to be studied if we are going to come to terms with this issue. That is why the fundamental recommendation of the NDP in its dissenting report, again, is to create an independent commission to guide Parliament on instituting an appropriate regulatory regime for the non-medical use of marijuana.
The law of unintended consequences is with us in so many areas. We now know that states such as Colorado and Washington have essentially legalized marijuana. After a year, have there been increased rates of driving under the influence? Has there been an impact, positive or negative, on youth who consume this drug? What is the reality of that? We need an evidence base.
We have the benefit of seeing whether there have been any unintended consequences. We could now check out that experience, as well as see what has been done in Uruguay or Portugal and other parts of the world. We could see whether or not there are lessons for Canada.
That is why this independent commission has to look at what is going on in other countries and see how we can address this issue. There is no doubt that issues with respect to youth have to be addressed first and foremost, so what lessons do we have in that regard?
One thing is clear: the Conservatives' “Let's just say no” is not going to work. Zero tolerance and the war on drugs have been an unmitigated disaster. We can just look at any of the streets of any city in Canada.
The question is, what we can do if we are serious about addressing the situation with respect to youth? What are the lessons we learned? That is why this commission ought to be taken very seriously.
I remember when Mr. Justice Le Dain led the Le Dain Commission back in the 1970s. We have many insights from that experience, but all that data needs to be updated. One thing that is clear is that this is not a black and white, yes-or-no issue.
Somebody who is often a witness in British Columbia cases involving drug use and addictions is Professor Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a scientist, he says that, as with any social initiative, there could be negative effects. He advocates close monitoring of excessive use among adolescents. As I said, driving under the influence certainly has to be addressed. With respect to politicians, he says that we need to inform them that they have underestimated the complexity of this problem.
It is a complex problem. That is why these yes-no, on-off solutions, the “thou shalt nots”, just simply do not cut it. We need to hear from experts like Dr. Kleiman going forward.
That is why we talk, in the second recommendation, about the need to fund research. We need to know whether this product that is so prevalent can have benefits. We need to know what those benefits are and what the risks are. Everything in life is risk versus benefit.
We can say that alcohol is a drug, which it is, that is causing harm to many families, has a staggering impact on the workplace, et cetera, but I do not think anybody is recommending a prohibition on that substance, yet we have to figure out ways to address it more effectively. I suggest that marijuana is no different in that regard and requires the kind of multi-faceted solution. As I mentioned, the commission could address it.
The NDP has talked for many years about the idea of decriminalizing and ticketing for small amounts of marijuana, and investing in additional education and programs to reduce marijuana use by young people. I was pleased to hear the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police say that it was open to that suggestion. It wanted an expanded range of enforcement options and so forth.
This is a problem among our young people. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, in August 2013, Canadian youth were the top users of marijuana in the developed world. In fact, 28% of our youth were considered in that category. However, apparently marijuana use among Canadian youth has declined to 20.3% in 2012, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.
Why has that happened? If that statistic is accurate, does it apply across the board to all demographics, all communities, aboriginal, non-aboriginal, visible minority, non-visible minority? What part of the country more or less? I would think that if we had a serious public health problem, we would want to grapple with that very type of question.
Maybe a one-size-fits-all regulatory solution does not make sense. In which case, how will we deal with it in different parts of the country if we do not assume that it is simply a criminal law issue that needs to be addressed through a simple prohibition model?
Those are exactly the kinds of things that the independent commission advocated by the New Democratic Party would address to provide guidance on implementing an appropriate regulatory approach, a modernized marijuana legal regime based on evidence and public health principles, seeking to balance prevention, public health and well-being, harm reduction, community safety and public education. Those are the hallmarks of good public policy.
I suggest that addressing the marijuana issue, both recreational and medical, is no different than any other challenge in the sphere, and that evidence-based policies need to be understood on the basis of comparative research and other countries, assessing best practices made available to Canadian legislators so we can come up with a made-in-Canada solution to address it to meet the unique needs of our country and our population.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to speak about the serious health risks of marijuana. I will be splitting my time with the member for .
The health committee's report largely confirmed what members of the House already know. The health risks of smoking marijuana are simply irrefutable. Whether that be schizophrenia, psychosis, challenges with respect to impact on blood pressure or, quite frankly, even blood sugar, members of this House should know that Canadians kids who smoke marijuana far too frequently experience these risks.
Compare this reality with what the Liberal leader plans to do in legalizing marijuana that would see marijuana sold in stores, just like cigarettes or alcohol or, quite frankly, even candy. This approach is simply irresponsible, and I can tell the House about the risks in which it puts children. Unlike members of the opposition, I stand in emergency departments and see these children as they come in first hand. I see the impacts on these children and how terribly disturbed they are when they hit the emergency department.
No matter what the opposition says, no parent in my riding or no parent, I would think, in this country, wants their child to experience the severe experiences of psychosis or schizophrenia, things we would never want to see our children experience.
The Liberal members, as I said earlier, actually think that aspirin is just like marijuana. If we asked anyone in the area of the world I come from, they really think an aspirin is helpful when they need it, but they would never use marijuana in the same way.
This Conservative government wants to stop kids from smoking marijuana, and I just want to highlight a few of the initiatives that our government is undertaking.
In 2007, our government announced the national anti-drug strategy. The strategy contributes to making communities safer and healthier by coordinating to prevent the use of illicit drugs and the abuse of prescription drugs. It is helping with efforts to treat dependency for those who have serious addiction problems, and by working toward reducing the production and distribution of illicit drugs, some of which have already been mentioned in the House already. We are doing that. We have taken action on it. We started in 2007.
Research shows that marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug by young people. Almost one in five students in grades 7 to 12 have used marijuana in the past year. The average age at which teens first try marijuana is 14 years old.
These statistics are alarming and confirm that the Liberal plan to legalize marijuana and their leader's insistence on normalizing the practice is, quite frankly, irresponsible and will make it even easier for kids to buy and smoke marijuana.
If the Liberal leader had his way, he would make marijuana more accessible, and has even called this Conservative government's action to shut down home grow ops, “hyper-controlled”. I would rather have that “hyper-control” and make sure children in my riding are protected rather than what the opposition is suggesting. Home group ops are dangerous and are found throughout Canadian neighbourhoods already because the courts are standing in the way of our action to shut them down to make sure children cannot access marijuana. This Conservative government will not tolerate home grow ops and we will continue to fight the courts on this issue.
We do not support making access to illegal drugs easier for kids or any Canadian. Under the national anti-drug strategy, we are undertaking specific action to address marijuana use by our young people, and we are seeing results. According to the Canadian drug use monitoring survey, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and 45% since 2004. The Liberal plan to legalize marijuana can only have one effect: increasing access and use.
Health Canada monitors and assesses emerging scientific evidence of the harms of marijuana use, and conducts ongoing monitoring of changes in the prevalence of youth and adult use of marijuana.
Through significant funding, Health Canada helps raise awareness through various projects and research initiatives. These projects help raise awareness of the health risks of marijuana as well as support health professionals, like myself, in their efforts to prevent marijuana and drug abuse. The effects of marijuana use, as I said, are serious, lasting and cannot be ignored.
The opposition would try to lead people to believe that the literature does not exist, but it does. As this report and scientific literature detail, the short-term effects of marijuana use include anxiety, fear or psychosis, among other things. lt can also lead to problems with concentration and the ability to think and make decisions, which can impede a child's ability to learn and succeed long term.
Long-term use can lead to an increased risk of triggering or aggravating psychiatric or mood disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. I am not sure how many opposition members have met someone who is suffering from schizophrenia, has met someone suffering from bipolar disorder, but those people really suffer. They cannot function to the level of their true potential because of those impacts. These effects can cause lifelong problems for the individuals and their families. This Conservative government recognizes the need to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids. We do not support making access to illegal drugs possible, like the Liberals.
The hon. member of Parliament for has even stated, “...we have known all along that the long-term effects of cognitive problems coming from the smoking of marijuana over long periods amongst young people, under about 40, are high”
The Liberal leader has seen these facts and decided to completely ignore these harms and risks to Canadian youth. Preventing youth from smoking marijuana is particularly important for our most vulnerable communities. Research indicates that the typical age of onset of most substance abuse is between grade 7 and grade 9. Vulnerable communities can be at a higher risk of drug use for a variety of reasons. There may be reduced access to youth programming and limited access to safe drug-free environments.
The Liberal leader will not help deter youth from using marijuana, but instead, would rather normalize it and make it even more accessible. I guess we are supposed to then have even more programming to make sure that we can treat these children who have been impacted by becoming addicts to this terrible drug. This will not help vulnerable communities that struggle day in, day out with drug abuse.
While the Liberal Party focuses on the legalization of marijuana, our Conservative government is helping Canadian families with multiple projects to greater help youth at risk. Research shows that there is a wide range of reasons why youth begin using marijuana. Through using these data, more finely tuned prevention and educational materials have been developed, tested and distributed to children and their families.
The Liberal leader's plan to legalize marijuana and normalize smoking marijuana trivializes its risks and quite frankly sends the wrong message to our young people. Telling kids it is okay to smoke marijuana, telling kids it is okay to use marijuana every day is not a message Canadian parents want to convey to their kids.
Making marijuana available on store shelves like alcohol and cigarettes will reverse the progress that has already been made in educating young people and their parents of why this is a dangerous substance.
In addition to other projects through the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, our government is also providing $11.9 million over five years extending until 2018 for activities that help reduce drug abuse among youth. These activities include reviewing and synthesising research evidence on the effects of marijuana during adolescence and examining the effectiveness of brief interventions for reducing the use of marijuana.
These activities look at the effects of cannabis and strive to educate young people with up-to-date information about the serious and lasting harms of marijuana.
The former president of the CMA also stated very firmly the position against this, “...especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”. This is a statement that should be taken very seriously, a statement from a well educated physician. This Conservative government takes this issue very seriously and we will continue to fight to prevent kids from smoking marijuana.
In conclusion, I offer yet another quote from Dr. Meldon Kahan who is the medical director of the substance use service at the Women's College Hospital in Toronto. He said during the study by the committee, “...public health organizations need to conduct public health campaigns to counter the prevailing myth that cannabis is harmless and therapeutic”.
As the current president of the Canadian Medical Association has said, “Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome.”
I can say irrefutably having met children who have been under the influence in the emergency department with their parents in exceptional distress, whether it be because they are experiencing a psychosis, or because they have become bipolar, we need to do everything we can to make sure that this is not a legalized drug so that we protect Canadian children, unlike the approach of the Liberal leader who wants to normalize this for every Canadian kid.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the health committee's report, “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”, and how this Conservative government is addressing the problem of youth smoking marijuana.
I would first like to thank the committee for its excellent work on this issue, and especially for the detail that the report offers regarding the lasting and serious harms that come from smoking marijuana. This report makes it clear for all to see that the Liberal leader's plan to make marijuana more available to kids is irresponsible and disturbing.
The Liberal Party wants to legalize marijuana, making it even more accessible to young Canadians. This is irresponsible and completely ignores the scientific evidence regarding its health risks and harms. The serious and lasting health risks of smoking marijuana are irrefutable. The rate of marijuana use among youth in Canada is already twice the rate of use among adults. The committee also found that Canadian youth age 11 to 15 are among the highest users of marijuana compared to their peers in other countries. Evidence suggests that Canadians are also not as well informed about the risks of smoking marijuana as they are about other illicit drugs. These statistics are alarming, and this Conservative government is concerned about the harmful effects of marijuana on youth.
Unlike the Liberal leader, we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier. Marijuana is dangerous, and it is irresponsible for governments to communicate that it is somehow safe and normal for kids to smoke it. Research has already shown that marijuana is harmful to the lungs and brain. The Liberal leader wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for kids and have it sold in stores just like cigarettes and alcohol. The Liberal leader has chosen to ignore the serious and lasting health effects of smoking marijuana, which the health committee has painstakingly detailed in the report before the House today. Marijuana is illegal and is so for a reason. Its lasting and serious health effects cannot be understated.
That is why our government's anti-drug approach through the national anti-drug strategy is working to stop Canadians of all ages, especially kids, from smoking marijuana. Since the launch of the strategy, its drug treatment funding program has provided funding for 29 projects across Canada. Concerning problems related to smoking marijuana, we are also helping with efforts to treat dependency for those people who have serious addiction problems.
We are also providing $1.2 million to the Nova Scotia government for a project entitled “Nova Scotia's strengthening treatment systems project” to increase the uptake of treatment practices by addictions workers. A key target group for these projects are those suffering from concurrent mental health and substance use disorders. This client group suffers from two serious health problems: illicit drug use, like marijuana; and ongoing mental health concerns. The Liberal leader ignores these vulnerable individuals when he attempts to normalize the smoking of marijuana and its lasting and serious health risks.
Our government is also providing $1.2 million to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health to undertake its project implementing evidence-informed practice in Saskatchewan's addiction treatment program. This project is working toward improving its standardized treatment practices across addiction and mental health sectors. When addiction is coupled with problems such as anxiety and depression, the related challenges are compounded for clients as well as the professionals in charge of their care.
The good news for my colleagues is that the rate of kids smoking marijuana in Canada is actually trending down, thanks to this good work. According to a Canadian drug-use monitoring survey's most recent report, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and by 45% since 2004. The same report noted that, while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, 70% of youth drank alcohol.
The Liberal leader's plan to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, would mean increasing the rate at which youth smoke marijuana to the same rate at which they consume alcohol, almost tripling its use.
The president of the Canadian Medical Association said:
Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome.
We know that work needs to be done to reduce the rate at which our kids smoke marijuana, but the Liberal leader is choosing to ignore the advice of experts, showing once again that he is just not ready for the job. The Liberal leader's own MPs are even on the record defending illegal marijuana storefronts in B.C. and elsewhere. His refusal to condemn these illegal operations, which are regularly caught peddling marijuana to kids, should not surprise anyone. These storefronts are the Liberal vision of Canada.
Make no mistake, storefronts selling marijuana are illegal under this Conservative government and will remain illegal, and we expect the police to enforce the law. A marijuana store on every street corner fits perfectly with the Liberal leader's on-the-record statements defending the dangerous home grow ops in Canadian neighbourhoods, which this Conservative government is fighting in court to shut down.
The irony of the Liberal plan to legalize marijuana is that it would in no way reduce the rates of youth smoking marijuana or, indeed, the illegal drug trade. Expert witnesses who contributed to this report by the health committee actually spoke to this point at length. I will quote Dr. Harold Kalant, who said:
...I would point out that the hope that legalizing would eliminate the black market would be true only if it were sold legally at a lower price than the black market. If you do that, the use is likely to increase greatly.
However, this expert's testimony conflicts with the Liberal vision of Canada, so its leader will pay it no mind. Dr. Kalant offered further thoughts on the subject, which I will highlight here before I conclude. He said:
...the use of cannabis for pleasure comes at a cost, and society must ponder whether the pleasure is worth the cost. ...society as a whole must give careful thought to changes in policy that could increase the number and severity of health problems caused by use by its more vulnerable members, which, as I have pointed out, means its younger users.
The Liberal leader asserts that our government's work, which actually shows results in stopping kids from smoking marijuana, is a “hyper-controlled” approach. He cannot even agree with the actions being taken against home growers. He wants to make smoking marijuana an everyday activity for Canadians and completely ignore its serious and lasting health risks. He ignores the risks that the home grow ops put on communities.
The Conservative government is making significant progress on the complex issue of drug addiction. We all have a role to play and a contribution to make. Our government believes in collaborating with our key partners in these efforts. We applaud the work being done and support these efforts by our partners in undertaking research and knowledge brokering, by making intelligent policies, crafting important legislation, and providing funding where appropriate.
The Conservatives' approach to stopping kids from smoking marijuana is working. It is the right public health message to send to Canadian families, and above all, it is responsible.
Again, I want to thank the Standing Committee on Health for undertaking this work and for this insightful report on marijuana's health risks and harms. My hope is that the Liberal leader takes this report seriously and takes the time to listen to the medical experts who agree with the former president of the Canadian Medical Association, who said, “especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”.
Mr. Speaker, it is my honour to stand in the House to make a small contribution to this debate on concurrence on a committee report with respect to the harms and risks of marijuana use.
Let me start with a few facts that I believe we can all agree on. Among Canadian youth, there is the highest incidence of usage in the developed world. Therefore, the war on drugs has been an abject failure. If that were not the case, we would not have the usage rate among youth being among the highest in the developed world.
Extensive resources are being allocated to the war on drugs, whether it is police, prosecutors, resources within the legal system, or probation officers. All of these resources are being dedicated to this losing battle.
There are winners and losers in this battle. The winners are those involved in organized crime. Organized crime is profiting from the abysmal record this country has on the war on drugs. The losers are kids, who are using marijuana at a higher rate than anywhere else in the developed world, and taxpayers, who are paying for the resources within the legal and law enforcement systems, the prosecutors, and the judges. They are the losers.
It is time for an adult conversation in this country about marijuana usage. We know that the Conservatives have a bit of an aversion to adult conversations. We need not look any further than the recent debate in the House with respect to physician-assisted death. The Liberals dedicated their opposition day to setting forth a process to have Parliament respond to the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Carter. That process was defeated, and we were assured by the government that it would institute its own process that would be extra-parliamentary and would hear from groups. We are still waiting, the clock is ticking, Parliament is about to rise, and the deadline imposed by the Supreme Court is about to be upon us.
To bring it back to topic, it is high time for an adult conversation on marijuana use, not megaphone participation, not screaming at one another, not scare tactics, but a reasoned conversation based on health, evidence, hearing from experts, and learning from experiences in other jurisdictions. We can learn from other jurisdictions that are ahead of us on this issue. Colorado and Washington are going through this right now, and there is no good reason why the experiences that have taken place in those jurisdictions cannot form part of the discussion and our examination here.
I believe it was Einstein who said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Yet time and time again, we see that the response to any complex social problem is mandatory minimum sentences and budget cuts. That is it.
There are young people in this country who are being saddled with criminal records for possessing six marijuana plants. They are being saddled with criminal records that will affect their futures, employability, and ability to travel to the United States. If they want to get their records expunged, there is no such thing as a pardon. A record suspension is expensive and time consuming. How many young lives have been jeopardized and how many young people who have made an error in judgment and want to turn their lives around are saddled with this one-size-fits-all approach?
We have before us a report that is unbalanced and fundamentally flawed. The Liberal Party has submitted a dissenting report that sets forth a much more balanced and reasonable position on a problem that is not black and white. There are shades of grey. There always are with any complex social problem. They cannot be solved with mandatory minimums and budget cuts.
The Liberal Party has recommended that the government explore a regulatory framework of legalization, working with experts in the field, that aims to keep marijuana out of the hands of youth. We have recommended that the government work with relevant stakeholders and experts to develop a campaign to raise public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use and that the Government of Canada fund research aimed at improving the understanding of the short- and long-term harms and benefits related to the use of marijuana among all cohorts of society.
The approach of the Liberal Party is one that respects evidence and respects Canadians. It is not one that is oversimplified, which is what we are hearing in the talking points from the other side. Canadians are ready for an adult conversation. It is high time that the Government of Canada participated in and facilitated that discussion and trusted Canadians.