It being 8:30, we are going to call together meeting number 64. I want to welcome everybody back and welcome new members to the committee. I welcome all of our invitees who are testifying today.
We're starting on an interesting mission: a study on Bill , an act respecting cannabis. I expect that it's going to be interesting, and it looks like we have some interest in the issue. We have several witnesses today.
I want to point out that with today being September 11, we're going to have a moment of silence at 8:46 in recognition of the disasters that happened in Virginia, Washington, and New York, when almost 3,000 people died in that awful tragedy, including between 24 and 29 Canadians. I will be interrupting at 8:46 and will call for a moment of silence, but in the meantime, I'll introduce our guests.
We have mostly federal, provincial, and territorial responsibilities on our agenda today. Our witnesses are, from the Department of Health, cannabis legalization and regulation branch, Jacqueline Bogden, assistant deputy minister, and Eric Costen, director general. From the Department of Justice, we have Carole Morency, director general and senior general counsel, criminal law policy section, and Diane Labelle, general counsel, Health Canada legal services. From the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have Kathy Thompson, assistant deputy minister, community safety and countering crime branch. From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have Joanne Crampton, assistant commissioner, federal policing criminal operations.
I want to welcome all of you and thank you for coming. I'm sure your lives are getting very interesting right about now, so you can share some of that with us.
My understanding is that Ms. Bogden is going to open up on behalf of everybody.
You'll have 10 minutes, Ms. Bogden, and then we'll open the floor to questions.
Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee. As the chair has already introduced me and my colleagues, I'll dispense with introductions.
As public servants, we're responsible for providing advice and support to ministers in developing this proposed legislation. I should also note that Bill was introduced to strengthen the laws for drug-impaired driving. It's being studied by the justice committee.
Mr. Chair, your committee is embarking on the study of an important, complex, and transformative piece of legislation. On behalf of my colleagues, I'd like to provide the committee with a brief overview of the proposed legislation. I'll focus on three main aspects. The first is the context that has informed the development of the new control framework for cannabis in this bill and the government's objectives. Second, I will highlight some of the key provisions of the bill, in particular the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government. In doing so, I will also describe how we're working with our provincial and territorial colleagues collaboratively. Third, I will describe the equally important work that is under way to support this legislative change, including increased public education and awareness focused on the health and safety risks of cannabis use.
Let me begin by describing the current context. Canada has some of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. Of particular concern are current patterns of use that we're seeing among teens and young adults. More than one in five Canadians between the ages of 15 and 19 say they have used cannabis in the last year. The rate is higher still for young adults. Nearly one in three Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 report using cannabis in the past 12 months. These rates of use are of concern given that the risks of cannabis use are higher for youth than for adults and that the risks increase the younger they start using it and the more often they use it.
Alongside these high rates of use among youth and young adults is an illegal market that's valued at $7 billion annually for organized crime and those who choose to break the law. This illegal market also places a considerable strain on the resources of Canada's criminal justice system. We see the results in the prosecution of simple possession offences. In 2016 Statistics Canada reported that over three-quarters of cannabis-related charges were for possession of cannabis.
Mr. Chair, against this backdrop it becomes clear that the status quo has not been effective at deterring use or preventing easy access to cannabis for young people. With Bill the government is setting out a new proposed control framework for cannabis. The government's objectives are clearly laid out at clause 7 of the proposed bill. These objectives are to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis, and to protect them from inducements to use cannabis. It also seeks to deter illegal activities through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures. It provides for the legal production of cannabis to reduce these illegal activities. It seeks to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. It would allow adults to possess and access regulated, quality-controlled cannabis. Very importantly, it would enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.
The proposed act is closely aligned with the findings of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. The task force consulted widely and extensively. It sought expert opinion from public health, justice, and law enforcement, among others. It sought the view of provincial, territorial, and municipal governments; U.S. state government officials; and, of course, Canadians.
The proposed act would create strict national rules that will control the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada. It would allow adults to have legal, strictly regulated access to cannabis that they could obtain through either a government-licensed seller or growing it in limited amounts at home.
In particular, the bill proposes a number of measures designed specifically to better protect young people from cannabis. For example, it would be illegal for adults to sell or to distribute cannabis to anyone under the age of 18, and provinces and territories could increase this minimum age.
The act would create two new criminal offences with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail for distributing or selling cannabis to a young person or using a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. The act would also prohibit promotion and advertising of cannabis that could be appealing to young people, similar to the restrictions we have in place right now for tobacco. It would also prohibit products, packaging, and labelling that are appealing to youth.
Adults would be permitted to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public or an equivalent amount in other forms. There would be penalties for those who break these new rules, and these penalties would be proportional to the seriousness of the offence. There would be ticketing options for minor offences. More serious violations, such as illegal commercial production or taking cannabis across Canada's borders, would be subject to fines or imprisonment.
I'd like to turn now to the roles and responsibilities of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. In keeping with the advice of the task force, the proposed act sets out a shared framework for the control and regulation of cannabis, which would require ongoing federal, provincial, and territorial co-operation. Under the proposed act, the federal government would be responsible for licensing and regulating the production of cannabis, including setting and enforcing high standards for health and safety. Consistent with their jurisdictional authorities and experience, the provincial and territorial governments would be able to regulate the distribution and sale of cannabis in their respective jurisdictions.
Provinces and territories together with municipalities would also have broad flexibility to adapt certain rules into their own jurisdictions and to enforce them through a range of tools including tickets. These could include setting a higher minimum age or stricter limits on personal possession or personal cultivation. Local governments would also have responsibility for establishing rules around whether cannabis can be consumed in public, enacting zoning bylaws governing where stores may be located, policing, and enforcing bylaws.
Mr. Chair, coordination among various levels of government is and will continue to be absolutely essential. For that reason, in spring 2016 federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of health, public safety, and justice established a working group of officials to facilitate consultation, information sharing, and collaboration throughout the design and implementation of this proposed legislation. Since that time, senior officials have been meeting every three weeks to discuss key issues, consult each other, share information, and coordinate our respective efforts, and this collaboration will continue.
Provinces and territories are preparing. Many jurisdictions have announced plans or launched public consultations or their intention to do so. We are completely committed to working together collaboratively in the months ahead as our respective jurisdictions prepare for potential implementation of this legislation if it is approved by Parliament.
Mr. Chair, as I near the conclusion of my remarks today, I'd like to describe briefly a couple of other dimensions of work that will support this legislation. First is a system of comprehensive monitoring and surveillance. It will help us to evaluate the implementation of the legislation and to make appropriate adjustments as necessary just as other jurisdictions, such as Colorado and Washington, have done. Second, as I mentioned as the outset of my remarks, is a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign in concert with provinces and territories, municipal health authorities, and other key partners. This campaign will provide Canadians, especially young Canadians, with the information they need to be informed about the health and safety risks of cannabis use.
In closing, Mr. Chair, I wish to emphasize that Bill seeks to provide a new, more effective control framework for cannabis, one that can ensure greater protection for young people and that will, in time, displace the illegal market. With that, we would be most happy to answer the committee's questions.
Great. Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, everyone. Let me say it is a great pleasure to be back in the parliamentary precinct. I must say I am amazed at the transformation of the Wellington Building. It's a very impressive building. It didn't exist in its present form when I was here.
As you've already heard, I'm Anne McLellan. I served as chair of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. I'm here today with Vice-Chair Mark Ware to share a brief overview of the work and the recommendations of the task force. Our mandate was to consult and provide independent advice on the design of a new legislative and regulatory framework.
The outcome of this work is our report, “A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada”, which we provided to the Ministers of Justice, Public Safety, and Health, as well as to all Canadians, on December 13, 2016. Our report contains more than 80 recommendations. Our advice details safeguards that we believe are important to achieve the objectives set out by the government to better protect the health and safety of Canadians by regulating access to cannabis.
We spent five months travelling across the country and hearing from Canadians, including representatives of indigenous communities, parents, youth, activists, growers, and patients who use cannabis for medical purposes. We spent time with experts and organizations, which shared diverse perspectives and helped us to appreciate the complexity of legalization and regulation. We met with officials from provincial, territorial, municipal, and indigenous governments, who emphasized the need for close collaboration amongst all levels of government.
We travelled to Colorado and Washington and spoke to officials in the Government of Uruguay—the only other country to have legalized access to cannabis—to hear directly from those who have had first-hand experience enacting systems for legal access to cannabis. We also received close to 30,000 responses from experts, organizations, and Canadians who took time to respond to our online questionnaire.
Through your committee hearings, you will, like us, hear a variety of thoughtful, informed, and passionate perspectives on myriad issues relating to legalizing and regulating cannabis. These perspectives will in some cases contradict one another. In considering the experience and expertise of those with whom we consulted, we sought to strike a balance between implementing appropriate restrictions in order to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use and providing adult access to a regulated supply of cannabis. Further, we wished to reduce the scope and scale of the illicit market and its social harms.
We also concluded that it is appropriate to proceed with caution. We are only the second nation to move forward in this way, and we were told by those who have gone before to expect surprises. While there are important lessons to be learned from other jurisdictions, designing and implementing a national Canadian system is a unique undertaking. This balanced and cautious approach, with a focus on protecting public health and safety, helped dictate where the task force ultimately landed on some of the more controversial issues.
I would like to highlight two issues that help illustrate our approach.
It came as little surprise to the task force that setting a minimum age for the purchase of cannabis was the subject of much discussion during our consultations. The task force's deliberations on the issue reflected this, and we gave serious consideration to the various recommendations, ranging from 18 to 25 years of age.
We recognized the increased risks associated with use of cannabis at an early age. Research suggests that cannabis use during adolescence may be associated with negative effects on brain development, yet we also know that adults 18 to 24 are the segment of the population most likely to consume cannabis. Nearly 30% of that age cohort reported past-year cannabis use in 2015. Setting the bar for legal access too high could result in a range of unintended consequences, such as leading young adults to continue to purchase cannabis on the illicit market where, among other things, there are no quality controls.
We heard—and you discussed these earlier with public servants—that the criminal prohibitions that exist today and have existed for more than 90 years have had little success in preventing access to cannabis and dissuading people from its use. In 2016, 80% of cannabis-related offences were for possession, which in turn led to 18,000 charges for cannabis possession. We also heard about the negative stigma of arrest and the potential lifelong consequences for those young adults who have criminal records for simple cannabis possession.
In proposing a federal minimum age of 18 and respecting the interests of provinces and territories to set a higher age if they choose, we aimed to balance the need to protect minors with the objective of reducing the illicit market. Based on our study, the task force also concluded that an age limit alone was insufficient to discourage and delay cannabis use. We recommended that robust preventive measures such as sustained public education along with smart regulation would better control access and use by young adults and mitigate health risks.
A second issue that garnered significant debate, with compelling arguments both for and against, was the issue of home cultivation. On the one hand, we heard concerns about the health and safety risks of home cultivation, the challenges of providing adequate oversight, in particular as it related to children, and the potential ease with which it could be diverted into the illicit market. However, it became clear to us that these concerns pertained most particularly but not exclusively to large-scale clandestine grow operations, not small-scale home cultivation.
We also heard arguments in favour of allowing home cultivation, premised on the belief that it can be done safely and responsibly with appropriate limits and safeguards. Ultimately, the task force recommended allowing a limited home cultivation of no more than four plants per household along with a prohibition on dangerous manufacturing processes, reasonable security measures, especially in relation to children, and oversight by local authorities. In our view, this recommendation accounted for the noted health and safety concerns and provided a framework for enabling small-scale cultivation for personal use by law-abiding adults much like what we currently see with the home brewing of alcohol.
In no way should our recommendations on home cultivation be interpreted as condoning large-scale clandestine grow operations, which we all have seen reported in the media and which cause significant risks to the health and safety of Canadians, including law enforcement and other first responders. On both these issues—age and home cultivation—we heard divergent and passionate views, as you will. Our recommendations reflect a belief that Canada, in embarking on this new path, must be both smart and pragmatic.
We must also look to those who have already gone down the path of legalization, few though they are. It is encouraging to examine the experience of Colorado, one of the trailblazers in cannabis regulation. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and Attorney General Cynthia Coffman recently wrote to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to provide a progress update that dispelled some of the misconceptions surrounding legalization.
They noted that, despite the fears of many, cannabis use among youth following legalization has seen no statistical significant increase, and I'm happy to report the same is true in the state of Washington when you look at its most recent stats. This was due in large part to strong regulatory provisions to help prevent use, such as age verification requirements and prohibitions on advertising, packaging, and products that appeal to children, and a robust public education campaign that highlighted the consequences of use.
Similarly, while initial data demonstrated a rise in cannabis-related emergency visits, the most recent data in Colorado shows a reversal in this trend. This reversal is, again, the result of targeted public education campaigns regarding the risk of use, and the necessity for safe use and storage. For example, all edible cannabis product packaging in Colorado must be childproof and resealable.
While there is no guarantee that Canada will experience similar outcomes, it is nonetheless encouraging to see that some of the concerns raised initially around cannabis legalization do not appear to be borne out by the most recent evidence in Colorado. Canada can learn from these experiences that through sound policy, robust public education, and enforcement of the regulatory regime created, many of the perceived risks of legalization can be mitigated.
I have often said that it will be critical that the government remain vigilant and be prepared to course-correct as evidence and experience indicate. There will be unforeseen challenges and unintended consequences. Only through careful and close monitoring and a willingness to be flexible and adaptable will it be possible to respond effectively to issues as they emerge.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, I look forward to questions and comments.
Good morning, everyone. My name is Dr. Mark Ware and I served as vice-chair of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation.
I am pleased to be able to address the committee today. I hope to be able to provide some suggestions from the time when I was the vice chair of the task force and also to draw parallels with my professional experience.
I believe that my greatest value to the committee can come from providing a researcher's perspective on the state of evidence surrounding cannabis, including its potential harms and benefits; outlining some of the challenges that the evidence may present to you as you explore some of the issues; sharing some of the considerations and conclusions from the task force's examination of how access to cannabis for medical purposes might be impacted following legalization; and finally, highlighting the importance of research in supporting sound public policy.
As a clinical physician specializing particularly on pain management, I have been studying cannabis for medical purposes for a long time. I have been able to witness for myself the paradigm shift in Canadian culture that has brought us to the point at which we intend to implement a framework for legal cannabis. This is a really remarkable change, but it is important to remember that it was a long process that started in 1996, with the legalization of hemp. This culminated in a regulatory framework on cannabis for medical purposes during the 2000s.
Through my own research and through many of the conversations the task force has had with experts across Canada, it has become evident that there is a wide variety of thoughtful, often diverging, and at times very colourful perspectives surrounding cannabis. I have learned that no one has a monopoly on the truth about cannabis. This is a theme that Ms. McLellan noted and it is something that I think is worth reiterating.
As you venture through this week of hearings, you will hear many perspectives. Ideally, all of our clinical decisions, as well as policy recommendations, would be based on clear, well-documented evidence. However, the task force recognized through our many conversations and readings that cannabis policy lacks comprehensive, high-quality research in many areas. On many issues, there is little doubt that the evidence is often non-existent, incomplete, or inconclusive. This is why we framed our recommendations as evidence-informed rather than evidence-based.
This is particularly evident when examining the harms of cannabis use. You will hear reference to studies that demonstrate associations between frequent cannabis use and mental illnesses, such as psychosis, and other studies that speak to the short-term effects on memory, attention, and psychomotor function, yet there is also agreement that many individuals suffer from a variety of serious medical conditions and may derive therapeutic benefit from cannabis, especially in relation to pain management.
In the course of the next few days, you will hear a great deal about associations between cannabis and a number of health-related outcomes. You will probably already have your own prior perceptions about some of these issues. You will no doubt rapidly become aware that for many of these associations there is uncertainty. Even among the scientific community, there is debate around the strength and the directions of these associations.
One aspect that I have been particularly struck by in considering the evidence on cannabis use is the lack of consistency on quantifying use. We talk of frequency of use—daily, weekly, monthly—but rarely of the potency of the cannabis itself. THC content varies enormously in cannabis preparations, yet is rarely considered in epidemiological and research studies. However, it is hugely important in terms of understanding the effects on the brain and other behaviours.
This is where legalization and regulation is likely to have an important impact. We will be able to accurately quantify cannabis use. Knowing what people actually use will allow us to learn the language of cannabis potency and concentrations in terms of THC or CBD percentages or milligrams per dose. This will allow for more informed research, and as a result, a more informed public.
This divide between the potential risks and the potential benefits is one of the factors that the committee will have to consider when it examines a number of topics and hears different points of view.
You will discover that there is no universal solution that can clarify all those points of view. The fact is that current research does not lead to a consensus. It is important to understand and accept that fact.
The case of access to cannabis for medical purposes is a notable example of divergent views. On the one hand, there are those—notably patient groups—with the view that a separate system for medical cannabis is necessary to preserve their relationships with health care practitioners and their access to specialized medical cannabis products. They stress that they use cannabis out of necessity, not choice, and they fear that their needs and access rights would not be accommodated under a single system.
On the other hand, we heard, primarily from representatives of the medical community, that there is no need for a dedicated medical cannabis system since the end of prohibition will mean that those who need access to cannabis for medical purposes will be able to do so through the general cannabis market. Given the lack of evidence and concerns about being responsible for authorizing the use of a substance that is not an approved medicine, they did not want to play the role of gatekeeper moving forward. Others pointed to the challenges of administering and enforcing a dual system.
Ultimately, weighing the different perspectives and using the principles of caution and balance, the task force determined that the most reasonable course of action was to preserve the medical system in its current form and re-evaluate its need in five years, once the legal system has had a chance to become established. The lack of consensus in different areas highlights the need for more research to ensure systematic monitoring, evaluation, and reporting, not only to better understand and mitigate risks associated with problematic use but also to understand the potential benefits of use.
The task force heard compelling accounts from patients who told us of the benefits they experienced from cannabis use, as well as from researchers in the medical community who called for more evidence to better understand its therapeutic potential. Both physician and patient interests would be served by advancing science and clinical research on the therapeutic uses of cannabis and associated cannabinoids. There is tremendous strength across Canada in terms of research capacity, from plant sciences to psychiatry, from neuroscience to nursing, from clinical trials to community practice. The Canadian discussion about cannabis legalization has already fostered communities of researchers to discuss the research and education agenda needed to support and inform the changing policy. There is an opportunity for Canada to take a leading role internationally in addressing questions that are of global importance.
Canada is embarking on a new path, a path that will provide us with opportunities to conduct additional research in order to better understand the detrimental and the beneficial effects of cannabis. As the body of probative data grows and is better understood, we can learn those lessons and consider them as we implement our programs and policies, in order to better protect public health and safety.
I feel that this is a unique and exciting opportunity for Canada to become a world leader in the area.
Taking all of the consultations of the task force into account, we provided our report to the ministers, and I provide my comments to you today with the conviction that Canada is well positioned to undertake this work carefully and safely.
Thank you. It's an honour and a privilege to have been invited to make submissions before this committee. My name is Michael Spratt. I'm a criminal defence lawyer. I'll leave it at that in terms of an introduction of myself. I have a more verbose introduction in my written submission, which should be translated and distributed to all of you shortly.
On February 21, 2010, while a young man named Michael Swan was watching Canada's gold medal hockey team play the United States, three young men from Toronto were driving down a dark highway toward Ottawa. The Toronto three, as they would come to be known, had a plan to make some easy money. They were going to steal Mr. Swan's marijuana. Swan was murdered later that night, killed by a single bullet that pierced his lung and tore apart his heart.
There was nothing particularly unique about Mr. Swan. He was a typical teenager. He came from a good family. He had a tight circle of friends and, like almost half of Canadians have done, he smoked marijuana. He also sold it, mostly to his friends, but rumours of his large pot supply had reached Toronto.
I represented one of the Toronto three. Like Swan, he was 19 years old. He had no prior criminal record. Now, he didn't shoot Swan but he was there when Swan was shot and he was convicted of second degree murder and now he's serving a life sentence.
Some cases stick with you. That's an occupational hazard of being a criminal defence lawyer. Often we remember cases because of the result, the unexpected victory or the wrongful conviction. I remember the Swan case because it was tragic. A young man was killed. Three young men were sentenced to life in jail, and a family was destroyed. Sadly, this kind of tragic story is not an isolated incident. The simple fact is that criminalization of marijuana kills.
But that's not all it does. The criminalization of marijuana is a drain on court resources. It diverts law enforcement resources away from truly harmful activities. The prosecution of marijuana offences unduly stigmatizes otherwise law-abiding citizens through the imposition of criminal records. The criminalization of marijuana disproportionately impacts individuals who are young, marginalized, members of over-policed communities, or racialized. In our drug laws there are, indeed, echoes of racism and bias. The government should be commended for taking a tentative first step toward a rational and effective drug policy.
There is promise in Bill , but there are also some serious flaws and room for improvement.
Bill contains no measures, for example, to address the tens of thousands of Canadians who have been stigmatized through the war on drugs counterproductive imposition of criminal records. The Criminal Records Act was first introduced in 1970 to augment the discretionary royal prerogative of mercy. The act detailed the manner in which persons convicted of criminal offences could apply for forgiveness for past wrongdoings. With the enactment of the Canadian Human Rights Act in 1985, offences for which people were pardoned could no longer be used as a discriminating factor by employers. Similar human rights legislation has been enacted provincially.
It is in the public interest to have a robust system of pardons. It is in the interest of society to reintegrate people back into society after they have committed a criminal offence. The logic is that even a partial removal of stigma of the conviction will aid in reintegration. It is well documented that the continued stigmatization of an offender is ineffective in reducing recidivism and reoffending. Those who have criminal records are less likely to be able to obtain employment, housing, cross international borders, and less able to fully engage in educational opportunities. Bill does not offer any measure whatsoever, such as an automatic, expedited, or subsidized pardon, to individuals who are convicted of activities that will now be legal under Bill C-45.
Nor does Bill take the opportunity to amend the currently unconstitutional sections of the Criminal Records Act that retroactively increased pardon ineligibility periods. These retroactive amendments were found to be unconstitutional and in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms by courts in Ontario and British Columbia. I was counsel in the case in Ontario. Both courts declared those amendments, the retroactive increase in pardon eligibility periods, to be of no force and effect. However, that unconstitutional pardon provision remains in force throughout most of Canada. As a result, if you don't live in Ontario or B.C., you're subject to an unconstitutional law.
Bill should amend the Criminal Records Act to remove the unconstitutional retrospective application of the pardon ineligibility period. It should restore pre-amendment waiting periods, and a further reduction in the waiting period should be available for individuals convicted of marijuana offences, offences that would now be legal under Bill C-45. Currently, 18-year-old, first-time offenders who are convicted of simple possession of marijuana the day before Bill C-45 comes into force will be required to wait five years before they're even eligible to apply for a pardon. Bill C-45 must remedy this situation.
Bill is also an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in too many circumstances. An adult who possesses 30 grams of marijuana in public is a criminal. A youth who possesses more than five grams of marijuana is a criminal. An 18-year-old who passes a joint to their 17-year-old friend is a criminal. An adult who grows five marijuana plants is a criminal. An adult who lets his one-metre tall marijuana plant grow an extra centimetre is a criminal.
This continued criminalization is inconsistent with a rational and evidence-based criminal justice policy and will only serve to reduce some of the positive impacts of the bill. The disproportionate effect of continued youth criminalization is anathema to criminal justice policy. Nowhere else in the Criminal Code is a youth criminalized for an act that would be legal if committed by an adult.
A century of failed drug policy has demonstrated that criminalization is a flawed and ineffective mechanism to discourage drug possession. Simply put, there is no reason to believe that making it a criminal offence for a youth to possess five grams of marijuana will deter youth from possessing marijuana any more so than the current criminalization does. The distinction between illicit and legal marijuana and the asymmetrical criminalization of marijuana will only serve to perpetuate the disproportionate enforcement of laws on the young, marginalized, and racialized members of our society.
Even under the new law, marijuana will still be criminal in many circumstances. Only now, the government's vice squad will need to carry rulers and will need to learn to divine the difference between identical legal and illicit forms of marijuana.
Bill also creates a statutory mechanism for police officers to exercise their discretion to issue tickets in the place of criminal charges for certain offences. This is well meaning but problematic, given what we know about the exercise of police discretion. Remember, police discretion currently operates disproportionally against a variety of marginalized groups. The ticketing option relies on discretionary police action. The choice of whether to lay a criminal charge is also discretionary and the results have been manifest in much of the discriminatory impacts of the current law. There's no reason to believe that's going to change under this ticketing option. The discriminatory impacts of police discretion should be eliminated through full legalization and strict regulation.
To its credit, Bill does attempt to reduce the prejudicial impacts of this ticketing option and there are provisions designed to prevent the public disclosure of judicial records, but that is dependent on the offender's ability to pay a fine. If a ticket remains unpaid 30 days after a conviction is registered, there is no corresponding right to privacy in a judicial record. I think the problem is obvious. In other words, if you are poor and can't pay a fine, you are further stigmatized through a public record. If you are well off and can pay the fine, your record is sealed. That judicial record is non-disclosable.
Given the research on the impacts of the disclosure of judicial records, the inability of the poor to purchase privacy rights, and the disproportionate enforcement of marijuana offences experienced by marginalized groups, it's quite likely that this ticketing provision in Bill will be found to violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Canadian drug policy and legislation is in need of reform. The war on drugs has been a complete and abject failure. The social and financial cost of criminalization outweighs any illusory benefit. Every year, scores of young men and women are killed over relatively small amounts of marijuana, killed because marijuana is illegal. Bill may limit but it does not end this problem.
Continued criminalization imposes unreasonable penalties on a relatively low-risk activity. In the real world, a drug record means limited employment, limited opportunities to travel, and other devastating collateral consequences. Only full legalization, decriminalization, and regulation of marijuana will truly protect society and remove the unfairness, racism, and over-intrusion by the state into an activity that in the context of existing criminal law is relatively harmless.
I would be happy to answer any questions this committee may have.
My name is David Johnston. I am president and CEO of CAPDM, which is the Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management.
CAPDM represents Canada's pharmacy supply chain, and counts within its membership, pharmaceutical distributors, self-distributing pharmacy chains, and prescription and non-prescription drug manufacturers. CAPDM was founded in 1964, and several of our distributor members have safely and comprehensively been distributing pharmaceutical products in Canada for over 100 years.
I would like to begin with a statement: distribution is not retail.
Effective coordinated wholesale distribution will be an essential element to the successful and safe legalization of cannabis. I'm also going to suggest that distribution has not yet been appropriately addressed by the federal or provincial governments in the current planning activities.
Let me start by providing some background information on the pharmaceutical industry.
Greater than 95% of pharmaceutical products pass through a pharmaceutical distributor. It is the system of choice for governments and industry in Canada for the distribution of pharmaceuticals. As a result, products ranging from over-the-counter headache medications to the most potent controlled substances are delivered to over 9,000 community pharmacies and 900 hospitals every day.
An order placed one day is on the shelf the next day regardless of the pharmacy's location. From a distribution point of view, the cost is the same regardless of destination. Consequently, in Canada there is no disadvantage, no difference, from a distribution point of view if you access your medicines from a small pharmacy in a rural town or a large chain in a downtown urban environment. This safe, secure, and efficient system is a global gold standard, and compares very favourably to other countries and jurisdictions.
Pharmaceutical distributors are also a buffer against drug shortages, helping to smooth out supply and demand between pharmacies and manufacturers by holding several weeks of inventory in their facilities, and working with manufacturers and governments to closely manage supply during times of constrained product availability. The industry is highly regulated through Health Canada, with multiple licences, and our members are subject to strict auditing and reporting requirements.
For a last point in this overview, pharmaceutical distributors support a two-way system; not only do they distribute but they also track the products, and have protocols in place that allow recalled products to be out of the market and back to the distributor within 36 hours.
Back to that opening statement that distribution is not retail, distribution is the movement of product between a producer and the access point, between, in this case, the licenced producer and whatever that public access point will be within the various provinces. Effective distribution is essential to the successful legalization of cannabis.
Discussions to date have been focused on production, and where legalized cannabis will be sold. In fact, in the 52 times the words “distribute” and “distributing” appear in Bill , with little exception, they refer to selling and retailing, not the specific activities of distribution. The word “distributor” does not appear in Bill C-45.
With this background, I would suggest that distribution needs to be an active discussion point, and the pharmaceutical distributors are the natural partners for the distribution of both medical and recreational cannabis. By leveraging this proven and highly successful system, regardless of the final retail point, whether it be a government-controlled retail outlet or a licenced private retailer, Canada will avoid the pending hazards that are looming by not addressing distribution, which have been dramatically and negatively experienced in other jurisdictions. For example, just recently in Nevada's legalization experience, retailers ran out of inventory in the first two weeks after launch because a buffer was not provided by a wholesale distribution system.
With fewer than 10 months until cannabis legalization, this is a crucial moment for the federal, provincial, and territorial governments as they wrestle with many complex issues. The provinces are deeply concerned by the short and, some may say, unrealistic time they face in preparing for legalized cannabis.
From experience, we understand what the provinces face. There are daunting complexities and enormous investments associated with establishing a new regime that incorporates best practices for a highly regulated, secure, and cost-competitive supply chain, is mandated to safeguard public health and safety, and which by its competitiveness will reduce the prevalence of black market cannabis.
The final report from the federal task force stated that a well-functioning distribution system, where the chain of custody is well-controlled, is critical to the overall success of the new regime. We couldn't agree more.
Today, the direction is to have the responsibility of cannabis distribution in the hands of the provinces and the territories. With the regulatory demands we experience every day in our Canadian pharmaceutical supply chain, we cannot imagine a functional and cost-competitive cannabis distribution environment that is built upon a patchwork of varying provincial models and regulations trying to incorporate the federal mandate for tracking, reporting, and recall measures.
Why reinvent a system in each province and territory when a proven one already exists? This is a proven system that is well established and requires minimum government investment, a proven system that already fulfills all of the requirements defined by the federal government and has an existing oversight and audit system, and a proven system that is cost effective, therefore allowing the legal market to out-compete the black market on price.
The adoption of a ready-made cannabis distribution model will deliver a turnkey solution that is ready to go and that relieves significant system stress, as the pharmaceutical wholesalers already have secure infrastructure, processes in place for safeguarding cannabis from diversion, and efficient, low-cost distribution services, keeping cost structures competitive to thwart black market cannabis. This is a channel-agnostic distribution model that will service a wide range of retailers, whether they be government-controlled retail outlets or other channels, a model that is already vigorously regulated via national standards and inspected regularly by Health Canada. Provisions for shipment data on a timely basis, providing government full transparency of product movement and next-day delivery capacities mean that retailers could maintain low inventories, thereby minimizing losses from theft and diversion and a quick and efficient execution of product recalls.
CAPDM and its members recommend, first, that distribution be recognized as essential to the success of legalized cannabis and that effective distribution become a key deliberation point for both federal and provincial governments. Second, we recommend that a national perspective for cannabis distribution be established to avoid an inefficient and potentially dangerous conflicting patchwork of distribution systems, and third, that the safe, secure, efficient, cost-effective, and comprehensive distribution network of the pharmaceutical distribution industry be evaluated as a turnkey option for a national system.
Finally, to return to my opening line that distribution is not retail, for the legalization of cannabis to be successful, strong production, distribution, and retail models are all essential. There are thousands of decisions to be made in the legalization of cannabis. For the essential element of distribution, the pharmaceutical distributors have a turnkey and proven solution to the safe, secure, comprehensive, and cost-efficient distribution of cannabis.
Thank you very much. I would be happy to answer any questions.
Good morning, everyone. I thank you for the opportunity to be here today.
My name is Shelita Dattani. I'm a practising pharmacist and I'm the director of practice development and knowledge translation at the Canadian Pharmacists Association. I'm here today on behalf of Canada's 42,000 pharmacists, who are medication experts and whose job it is to ensure that drug therapy is safe and appropriate for our patients.
Every day, pharmacists act as medication stewards on behalf of Canadians. We make sure that each patient's medication and dosage are right for them. We check for and resolve potential drug-related problems, and we work with patients to ensure that they understand their drug therapy. We also address side effects and interactions, and we monitor our patients' progress throughout their therapy.
We've seen more and more patients using medical cannabis over the last decade or so, and pharmacists have become increasingly concerned about the health and safety of these patients, especially those who are using cannabis in combination with or instead of other traditional medications, often without the oversight of a pharmacist. Our concern for patients in the medical cannabis stream further increases as we move towards legalization of recreational cannabis.
We recognize that Bill focuses mostly on legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes, but it's important that the government understand how the proposed legislation could impact patients relying on medical cannabis as part of their treatment plan for pain, epilepsy, MS, and other conditions.
We want to focus our concern around three areas: the separation of medical and recreational cannabis, the role of pharmacists in medical cannabis, and the use of medical terms such as “dispensary” in recreational sales.
As of March 2017, Health Canada reported over 201,000 patients registered to obtain medical cannabis through licensed producers or personal production. These patients have unique needs that differ from those of recreational cannabis users. Medical users might need strains and forms to alleviate symptoms and minimize intoxication, such as those available through cannabidiol or CBD, whereas recreational users might be seeking euphoric effects and strains with higher THC levels. Medical cannabis users also require the clinical oversight that comes with any medication therapy.
Other jurisdictions, such as Colorado and Washington State, have moved to legalization of cannabis. They have maintained different streams by restricting product strains and forms, establishing distinct access channels for medical cannabis and treating the medical stream as unique.
We are pleased that the Canadian government has signalled its intent to follow these best practices by maintaining two distinct streams once recreational cannabis is legalized in 2018, but we are concerned that current shortcomings in the medical regime could be exacerbated with the move to legalized cannabis if there aren't policies and practices in place to clearly differentiate between medical and recreational streams.
One clear example of this is around costs. If the cost of recreational cannabis is more attractive than that of medical cannabis, or if access is less restricted, patients may choose to go that route and they will be left without medical oversight, which could increase health complications for high-risk patients. The safety of our patients is paramount, and we need to ensure that medical cannabis users are supported and protected through a medical stream once recreational cannabis is legal.
Another consideration is the securing of medical cannabis strains from the recreational market to ensure enough supply of unique medical strains to meet patient needs. Medical cannabis users are often vulnerable patients who may have tried multiple other therapies before turning to cannabis or found only one unique strain of cannabis that provides them with relief. The medical cannabis strains must be protected from the recreational market in order to safeguard against shortages of these particular strains for those patients who use medical cannabis, as other colleagues have said, out of necessity versus choice.
Finally, there are more systemic benefits to maintaining a separate medical stream. Separating the medical cannabis stream would facilitate more clinical research and understanding of this complex drug, and doing so would create a more robust evidence base around the therapeutic benefits and risks for health care providers to inform them in the management of patient care and in the further development of guidelines.
In order to reduce harm, particularly for those who use cannabis for medical purposes, government must take steps to clearly differentiate the two markets before July 2018. A logical first step would be to ensure pharmacists' clinical oversight in dispensing of medical cannabis in Canada.
Across Canada, pharmacists just like me are regularly asked by our patients about the use of cannabis for a variety of different conditions, but as the medication experts on a patient's health care team, we don't currently have a role in dispensing medical cannabis. Health Canada attests to the complexity of cannabis and its potential interactions with other more traditional medications. Given these risks, we believe it's essential that patients have as much support as possible from qualified health care providers to strengthen patient safety and health-system accountability.
As the system works now, patients consult with their physician who may issue a document for medical cannabis. Supply is then managed through mail-order distributors or patient-grown cannabis. None of these options include consultations with medication experts at the point of dispensing to ensure that patients understand why they have been prescribed the medication, the best route and dose of administration for the patient, and potential side effects.
Also, as I've said before, for many patients medical cannabis is a third-line or fourth-line treatment, and these patients are often on a number of other medications. For example, veterans using cannabis to control post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms or patients with mental health conditions are also likely to be on a number of other medications, including psychoactive, anti-anxiety, and hypnotic medications. The potential for drug interactions in these patients is considerable, and the need for pharmacists' oversight becomes even more important.
With over 10,000 community pharmacies in rural, urban, and remote locations across this country, pharmacists are patient-centred practitioners who are well positioned to dispense medical cannabis and provide the required clinical oversight. Canadians think of us and their relationship with their local pharmacist when they consider where they will get their medication and who will counsel them and guide them on their medication therapy.
Pharmacists work with controlled substances every day. They have the framework and ability to ensure the safety, security, and tracking of the products that we dispense every day. We regularly use our clinical expertise to detect possible drug-therapy problems, and we're able to mitigate the potential risks associated with medical cannabis, including contraindications in patients with a psychotic illness, for example, or in pregnant patients. Further, we're often able to identify potential addictive behaviour which could lead to misuse or abuse. We should learn from our experience with opioids and the significant potential for addiction to psychoactive medications. We shouldn't make the same mistake by underestimating the need for clinical oversight with medical cannabis and all of its unique complexities.
While CPhA doesn't endorse any specific production or supply system for recreational cannabis other than a regulated process with health promotion as a priority, we believe that for medical cannabis it's essential that patients have as much support as possible from qualified health care providers. Patient safety should be the primary consideration. For this reason, we urge policy-makers to include and support pharmacists in dispensing medical cannabis and ensuring safe and effective use by patients in the medical cannabis strain.
Finally, in line with our call for separate streams for medical and recreational cannabis and the need for pharmacist oversight in the medical stream, our position is that recreational suppliers and retailers of cannabis be prohibited from using pharmacy-related terms such as “dispensary” or symbols such as the green cross.
Since the government announced its intention to legalize cannabis, we have seen a proliferation of so-called dispensaries across the country that claim to sell medical cannabis. As medical cannabis is legal in Canada under certain conditions, many Canadians are unaware that these are in fact illegal operations. The use of the term “dispensary” along with pharmacy symbols further compounds this misconception. We would urge the government to restrict the use of the word “dispensary”, and pharmacy terms and symbols for non-medical cannabis retail sites. These promote the notion that recreational cannabis has health benefits or is a medication, that the retail site is a pharmacy, or that the site has professional oversight from pharmacists. This regulation is particularly important to ensuring public safety and to further distinguishing between the recreational and medical cannabis streams.
Thank you again for the opportunity to represent Canadian pharmacists today. Pharmacists are committed to ensuring that our patients have access to appropriate medication therapy and that their therapy is both safe and effective.
As we move forward with the legalization of recreational cannabis, we're asking the committee to endorse the clear differentiation between the recreational and the medical cannabis streams, to recommend restrictions on the use of pharmacy-related symbols in the recreational stream, and to help strengthen clinical oversight of the medical stream by supporting pharmacists in dispensing and managing medical cannabis in the care of their patients.
Thank you. I'd be pleased to take your questions.
I would like to talk about a national e-commerce platform.
Like Mr. McKinnon, I did a lot of vicarious research this summer and this is what I discovered, from what I can remember. I'm teasing.
The illicit market is ubiquitous. It's coast to coast. There are a variety of products, imported and domestic. There are distributors, dealers, everywhere, who are trusted. Their prices are acceptable to the marketplace. The marketplace is sophisticated.
I'm told there are at least 12 websites that are making illicit cannabis available. There are home-delivery mechanisms. The C.D. Howe Institute has stated that the licit market must be able to compete with the illicit market for this whole scheme to work, and that it isn't just about price; it's about convenience, about choice.
I'm told, though, that there is nothing in Bill about a national e-commerce delivery platform. One of the major medicinal cannabis producers in the country told me bluntly that in the recreational regime, if we don't have a permanent robust e-commerce platform, the bill is not going to work.
I noticed in the task force report, it says:
Consideration should also be given to ensuring that online retail sales have appropriate consumer safeguards.
To accommodate those who may not have access to storefronts (e.g., small communities, rural and remote locations, mobility-challenged individuals) a direct-to-consumer mail-order system for non-medical cannabis should be considered.
My sense is that in order for a producer in Ontario to be able to mail product to B.C., it would have to be federally regulated under at least three heads of federal competence. It's a scheduled product, interprovincial commerce, and it's the mail, yet Bill doesn't explicitly address that.
Ms. McLellan, I'm wondering whether you have any recommendations about where we might want to look to improve the bill in that area.
I will. Thank you very much. I'll be speaking to it today. The notes will come to you shortly thereafter.
I'm here representing the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council today. I also want to share that I am a research affiliate with the Centre for Addictions Research of British Columbia, and vice-president of patient research and access at Tilray, one of the licensed producers here in Canada, located in Nanaimo, B.C. I've been working personally on medical cannabis for about 22 years now, so this is an area that's somewhat familiar to me. It's a pleasure to be here today, to be able to share some of our knowledge with you, as well as the work and research that we're doing.
I want to tell you a little bit about the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council. We're an industry association representing seven licensed producers and serving approximately about 40,000 patients from that group of producers. One distinguishing characteristic of the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council is putting a patient-centred lens on our policies and practices. We have a patient advisory committee made up of national organizations that include the Arthritis Society of Canada, the Canadian AIDS Society, Canadian Cancer Survivor Network, the GI Society of Canada, and a number of other organizations that help advise us when it comes to the policies that we put forward and our lobbying positions.
Some of the CMCC's priorities include lowering the cost of medical cannabis and improving access to patients. We've been urging the federal and provincial governments to maintain a clear separation between medical and recreational cannabis markets through differential taxation. We feel that medical cannabis should be treated like all other prescription drugs in Canada, and not be taxed. Certainly that's one thing I hope to be able to discuss as we take questions today, as to why medical cannabis should be zero-rated like other medications in Canada.
I'd also like to share that we're working with private insurers to help improve and increase the insurance coverage for medical cannabis patients as a precursor to getting provincial coverage for patients in Canada.
Today I'm going to share some results from a national patient survey that we conducted in January. It's the largest patient survey ever conducted in Canada, with 2,032 responses, and it will help illustrate some of the ways in which end-users are using medical cannabis in Canada, because there's a lot of overlap between the patient population and the recreational cannabis population.
The average age of this particular population is 40 years old. We see that it's actually middle-aged individuals, typically, who are seeking medical cannabis. A lot of the time they've had treatment failures and they're seeking alternatives to their current prescription drug use.
In terms of primary conditions, we find that mental health, which is a grouping of insomnia, mental health, and post-traumatic stress disorder, is actually the number one reason that patients are using medical cannabis. That covers 40% of all patients in Canada. That's closely followed by pain, which is a grouping of arthritis, chronic pain, and headache, which represents about 37.5%. What you see is that about 80% of patients in Canada are currently using cannabis as a treatment for pain or for mental health.
In terms of average use, we see that patients report using, on average, about 1.5 grams per day, and that 78% of patients use three grams or fewer per day. You're not seeing large patterns of use here. That data is consistent with research that's been done in Canada and the U.S., as well as in Europe over the last few years. It shows that most medical cannabis patients use between 0.5 and 1.5 grams per day.
In terms of primary method of use, I have good news to share. I've been doing this kind of research for the last 10 or 15 years. In this survey we find that the primary method of use reported is vaporization, at 31%. It actually beats out joints, pipes, and water bongs, which might have been more popular in the past. This is a really health-conscious shift that we're seeing from the medical cannabis population, but I also think it has policy implications as we move to regulate even the vaporization of products in Ontario and throughout Canada.
The key focus area of my research is cannabis substitution effect, which is the way that both patients and recreational users consciously and subconsciously use cannabis instead of other substances. I'll share a bit of data on that from this survey. In the survey—which as I said is by far the largest survey of Canadian cannabis users to date—69% of patients report substituting cannabis for prescription drugs, so they're using cannabis in order to reduce their dependence on prescription drugs. We also find ad hoc substitution for alcohol by 44%, substitution for tobacco by 31%, and substitution for illicit substances by 26% of the population that had previously used these substances.
I like to get a bit more granular with my data, so when patients say they substitute for prescription drugs, I ask them, “Well, can you name three prescription drugs you're substituting for, or up to three?”
It should be no surprise, knowing that patients are using cannabis for pain and mental health, that 35% of the substitution is for prescription opioids. That's closely followed by antidepressants at 21%, and then non-opioid pain medications at 10%. We also see very high rates of substitution for benzodiazepines, which are nearly as problematic in our society as opioids are in terms of dependence and public health impacts.
I wanted to get even more granular than that, so when patients cite that they substitute for opioids, I ask them, “Are you substituting at 25%, 50%, 75%, or are you giving up opioids altogether?” What we found is, of the 458 patients who cite substitution for 610 total opioids, understanding some patients use more than one type of opioid, a full 60% were given up altogether at 100%, and a further 18% were self-reported to be given up by 75% or more.
In terms of alcohol we get similar data. There were 513 respondents who substituted for alcohol, and 31% of those said they gave up alcohol altogether just as a kind of ad hoc effect of introducing medical cannabis into their course of care.
Now, I want to use that as the segue to look at some of the research that we've seen coming out of the U.S., both in terms of the medical cannabis states and the recreational cannabis states, because I think it can help inform what we can expect here in Canada. Over the past 20 years, over 20 states, as you know, have legalized access to medical cannabis. Right now, eight states have also legalized recreational adult use of cannabis. This has led to significant impacts on public health and safety. That includes a reduction in opioid overdose deaths. In fact, there's a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed a 25% reduction in opioid overdose deaths in medical cannabis states compared to the neighbouring states. The longer the medical marijuana program was in place in the state, the greater the effect. We also see reductions in alcohol-related automobile fatalities, reductions in violent crimes and homicides, and reductions in suicides. This answers one of the questions we heard today.
We also see a decline in teen use of cannabis. In fact, there was a report that came out from a national survey just last week that reported that teen use of cannabis has now declined to a rate that hasn't been lower since 2002. We're seeing a significant decline in the teen use of cannabis.
We are seeing a slight increase in the adult use of cannabis, but interestingly enough, it's also accompanied by a subsequent decrease in the use of alcohol and associated harms. The researchers suggest that all of the harms that I've mentioned that are reducing right now, whether they be violent crime, homicide, suicides, or otherwise, are being reduced because of that substitution of cannabis for alcohol.
Other impacts include great impacts on taxation. Colorado now makes more money on the sale and taxation of cannabis than they do on alcohol. This in the home, of course. Also, on job creation, in 2015 Colorado created 18,000 jobs and generated $2.4 billion in economic activity through their cannabis policies.
That leads me to a discussion that I think is important for this committee to consider, which is the importance of brands when it comes to defeating the black market. We heard today previous speakers talk about the fact that right now, if you go online, you can order cannabis from 20-plus different sources online across Canada. None of those are legitimate sources of cannabis, and it will be incredibly important to allow Canadian consumers to differentiate between the illicit market and the new and emerging licit market. One of the ways they can do that is through the importance of brands. The rationale for responsible branding directed to adults includes eliminating the confusion between the illegal and legal markets, allowing professional companies to separate themselves from less scrupulous competitors, differentiating high-quality products from low-quality products, and providing an opportunity to educate consumers about responsible consumption.
Now, this has started an initiative that's taking place right now between a number of the licensed producers in Canada—in fact, 16 licensed producers representing 90% of the medical market right now—and both industry associations, the Cannabis Canada Association as well as the Canadian Medical Cannabis Council. This is an initiative we're doing with Advertising Standards Canada to develop a self-regulatory regime to allow responsible branding to adults when it comes to the recreational access to cannabis.
The principles of this initiative are that marketing by licensed producers will only promote brand preference and will not attempt to influence adult non-consumers.
Marketing by licensed producers will not be directed to persons under the age of 18, or whatever the limit is in the individual provinces, be it 19 or higher. All advertising messages will contain responsible use statements, which goes much further than what we see from the current alcohol industry. Licensed producers may voluntarily obtain pre-clearance of advertising campaigns to ensure that they meet these guidelines, and licensed producers will agree to adhere to provisions of the Canadian Code of Advertising Standards.
In conclusion, I would like to say that medical cannabis, as I've reported, is primarily being used in the treatment of chronic pain and mental health, that medical cannabis patients commonly self-report substitution for pharmaceutical opioids and alcohol, often leading to complete abstinence from the substances identified, and that branding can not only reduce the harms associated with the legalization and regulation of adult use of cannabis but can also maximize the potential public health and safety benefits.
Thank you very much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. We very much appreciate the opportunity to appear before the standing committee.
My name is Keith Jones. I am on the board of directors of the Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. In my day job I'm a general manager of Rowland Farms, which is a large farm in southern Alberta. We've been growing hemp since 1998 when the industrial hemp regulations were first put in place and it first became legal to cultivate hemp here in Canada.
With me is Robert Rae, who is also on the board of directors of Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance. As well, Robert is with Canada Hemp Foods, which is one of the hemp products distributors operating here in Canada. Robert's business involves exporting hemp products to a number of countries around the world.
Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance is a member-based organization that has 250 farmers as members, as well as processors, distributors, plant breeders, and researchers. We're a not-for-profit industry association that is volunteer-driven. We had the opportunity to reach out in Ottawa earlier this spring and were invited to review the cannabis legislation, Bill , when it came out and to consider making a presentation to the committee if we felt there were some unintended consequences that might arise out of the legislation for the hemp industry.
We're here today because we are concerned that, as drafted, Bill jeopardizes 1,200 jobs in the Canadian hemp industry today, for two specific reasons.
One is that the current legislation does not differentiate between hemp, cannabis, and marijuana.
Related to that, the current legislation assigns responsibility for regulating the production, transportation, and distribution of all cannabis products to the provinces and the municipalities. That is going to create a tremendous burden on the current hemp industry. We operate our own farm in five municipalities, and to try to bring the regulators up to speed will probably curtail our business for a couple of years, based on that requirement right now.
Our proposal for the committee's consideration is, in order to prevent the unintended consequence of derailing the Canadian hemp industry, to exempt hemp in the legislation as item 5 under schedule 2 exemptions by exempting whole hemp plants from the legislation and, because that exemption would then be in place, to carve hemp out of the cannabis regulation within CDSA.
That, then, is our request. I'd like, Mr. Chair, to provide a bit more background in support of our request.
Hemp is very different from marijuana and from cannabis, in that hemp varieties originate from plant breeding that has been done to reduce the total THC in the hemp plant down to below 0.3%. You can't get high from smoking hemp, unless you were to smoke a telephone pole of it, which would be very difficult to do. It is from the plant cannabis sativa. Through the experience of the industrial hemp regulations over the last 19 years, Health Canada has approved a list of cultivars that are known to be hemp. They're confirmed to consistently have no more than 0.3% THC in them.
Health Canada has done a lot of work since the industrial hemp regulations have come forward and has those definitions readily at hand.
Hemp has been proven to be safe. In 19 years of cultivation, there have been no reported public safety risks associated with hemp cultivation and transportation, and there have been no recorded incidents of criminal activity associated with the hemp industry. At the time the hemp regulations were first put in place, there was a lot of learning to be done, but 19 years have given us a pretty good track record for proven safety.
Our farm produces hemp specifically for the food market. We grow a hemp plant to harvest the grain at the top of the plant. We're currently prohibited from harvesting the leaves or the buds of the hemp plant as part of the industrial hemp regulations. We can harvest the straw for fibre, but as yet a fibre industry hasn't developed in Canada.
In Canada, the Canadian industry is known as the global leader in the food use of hemp. Canada is known for having the biggest hemp industry supporting safe food use of hemp. In 2016, Canadian industry exported $145 million of hemp food products to other countries around the world. Today you can walk into most grocery stores in Canada and get a bag of hemp hearts. Again, de-hulled hemp and hemp hearts have a fantastic nutritional profile, known both for the high omega-3s in the oil profile, as well as a very appealing plant protein profile. Hemp is becoming a very popular food product.
The potential of the hemp industry is strong as well. We've grown to 100,000 acres of production. The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance forecasts that with some modernization of regulation associated with hemp, we can grow the industry to over a billion dollar industry within the next seven years. We've barely started working on the feed market, the fibre market, and the natural health products market. There is great opportunity for the hemp industry going forward. In December, the federal cannabis task force recommended a relaxed regulatory regime for hemp in their report. We're appreciative of that recommendation.
In terms of our specific proposal, we're looking to see hemp exempted from Bill , by including it in schedule 2 under exemptions. I'll provide the specific definition, which again draws on the Health Canada definition of hemp. We'd ask that hemp and hemp plant parts, including the whole hemp plant, be exempted under item 5, under schedule 2 exemptions, with hemp to be defined as “cannabis plants grown from certified seed of Health Canada's list of approved cultivars”. Those are the cultivars that are confirmed to regularly produce an absolute maximum 0.3% THC.
There's tremendous interest in CBD as another health constituent or health component. The Europeans are working extremely aggressively on this, and the FDA has an open comment period seeking input on CBD. When you breed THC out of hemp, you naturally get more CBD, which is why hemp is looked at as a very good source for CBD. The medical industry is looking at a number of uses for CBD and potential medical benefits arising from CBD. Whole plant use of hemp would enable the access of a number of people—Canadian patients and others around the world—to a very low-cost source for CBD itself. We think that's a real benefit that can come from the hemp industry as well.
Thank you very much for your attention. Robert and I will be very pleased to answer any questions that we can going forward.
I apologize in advance for asking more questions than I'm answering today.
We've just engaged Saskatchewan residents in an online survey respecting the various provincial responsibilities. Once we get our results, we'll have a better idea about where to go from here. Over 20,000 people have completed surveys over the last three and a half days. It's a staggering number, which only points to the importance of what we're doing today.
The other point I'd like to make at this time is that legalizing cannabis—or really, legalizing certain people over a certain age to have, use, share, or grow certain amounts of cannabis—wasn't something on our provincial agenda. While we're not being dragged kicking and screaming to the dance, putting on our dancing shoes wasn't something we had planned on doing. There are a lot of responsibilities the federal government has put on our provincial plates, without giving us a lot of time to get things ready for implementation.
Among other things, a province is responsible for designing and licensing the distribution and retail sale in their jurisdictions as well as carrying out associated compliance, taxation, and enforcement activities. Provinces are also responsible for setting additional regulatory requirements to address issues of local concern such as setting a higher minimum age or a more restrictive possession or personal cultivation limit. Provinces and municipalities are responsible for establishing zoning rules for cannabis-based businesses, restricting where cannabis may be consumed, and amending provincial traffic safety laws to further address drugged driving. Saskatchewan already has laws in place in respect of licence suspension for drug impairment by new or experienced drivers and zero tolerance for drug use by new drivers.
We must engage with our people, businesses, communities, partners, and other stakeholders regarding these issues and implement processes and practices before July 1, 2018. We must be ready to implement or deal with minimum age of purchase; legislation, regulation, and statute changes; and regulating personal cannabis cultivation and potency rates. We will have to maintain quality control at the point of sale. We will need to ensure that what consumers are getting is what they're supposed to be getting and not something that might be harmful. We have to regulate distribution, retail sales, consumption, and possession, by which I mean where cannabis may be permitted, how it may be consumed, and how to price and tax it.
A taxation framework for cannabis must carefully consider the distribution model and methods of administration and enforcement to ensure that tax is appropriately applied and collected. In setting a rate of tax to be applied to cannabis, the government must consider a rate that is high enough to deter the use of cannabis from a social acceptability perspective but not so high that individuals choose to purchase it illegally to avoid payment of the tax. I call this the “sweet spot”.
In addition, we must address issues such as engagement, public education, and awareness strategies, occupational health and safety, workplace safety issues, and drug-impaired driving laws. We have to engage in regulation of cannabis sales and distribution to and from our first nations communities. We have to provide oversight for municipal authority respecting zoning, licensing, taxation, and fees. And we need to participate in inter-jurisdictional collaboration and analysis regarding age, retail models, taxation, and pricing. We want to have a landscape that's as familiar across the country as possible, so that we don't have different jurisdictions with widely different laws.
The real question is, can all this be done in time? We hope so, but there is much to accomplish in a very short time. Having 12 to 18 months post royal assent would have been an easily attainable time frame. Instead, that was reduced to 14 months after the introduction of the bill.
One of the problems we have in Saskatchewan is that we have set legislative sessions for the spring and the fall as well as a relatively strict timetable for introducing legislation. We give notice in January, get approval in the spring, and then introduce legislation in the fall session. Any bill is then debated and voted during the following spring session.
Cannabis legalization, as proposed, takes us so far away from this timetable that they are complete strangers. We must go outside our normal practice rules in order to meet the July 2018 deadline. Although we're doing our best to do so, there are no guarantees we'll be able to meet this federal deadline.
In addition, we've had to begin our processes without a federal bill in its final form. While we know today what Bill says, will it look like this by the time it gets to royal assent? There are innumerable examples of other bills where changes, sometimes significant ones, are made during the legislative approval process. Canadian jurisdictions, however, are being asked to proceed without a safety net in the expectation that there will be no major changes en route or that we'll have to be flexible enough to be able to respond to those changes once we embark on our own implementation strategies.
Saskatchewan has some concerns about cannabis legalization. To name a few: ticketable offences; enforcement and regulation generally; public education, awareness, prevention, and treatment; minimum age; labelling and packaging; workplace safety; and whether a phased-in or staged approach would work better.
With respect to ticketable offences, Saskatchewan agrees that a cannabis ticket, as set out in part 2, is a criminal matter. A conviction for such an offence is a criminal conviction, and that is where the issue lies. We appreciate the effort at increasing justice efficiencies by using a ticket, but does that format lead an individual to believe that their payment of the fine is the end of the matter? Is it like a traffic ticket? Do they appreciate that they would then have a criminal conviction that would affect their ability to cross a border, for example? The ticket itself must make this very clear. As provinces, we are engaging in discussions with our federal colleagues about these issues. Perhaps proposed sections 51(3), 52, or 53 should also include a provision that a conviction is a criminal one.
A second issue, and perhaps a more important one about ticketing, concerns proposed subsection 52(b) respecting its requirement that the judicial record kept by a province must be separate and apart from other judicial records. As the conviction is a criminal one, we don't see the need for this requirement. Should we have to create a separate record-keeping system for just these offences? Not only will Saskatchewan have to redesign our system at great cost, it will take considerable time to do so, and for what purpose in the end? An offender must still disclose the conviction if they cross a border. The conviction will still show up in a criminal record check.
With respect to enforcement and regulation, while laudable, cannabis legislation is being implemented without enough scientific foundation. I think we heard from Dr. Ware this morning in that respect. Is there a consistent blood/drug concentration that equates to an individual's impairment? Can all of the toxicology experts agree that at x nanogram percent of THC in blood, everyone is impaired? They can with alcohol. My discussions with the toxicologists suggest that they are aren't at .08 on that point. We are designing a criminal law system through the interactions of Bill and Bill , yet the science hasn't quite caught up to us.
We're also concerned that drug-impaired driving will increase due to legalization, and significantly higher numbers of standard field sobriety testers, SSFT, or drug recognition evaluators, DRE, must be trained and in the field when legalization takes effect very soon from today. Not only does it take time to train officers, doing so comes at significant cost. While in Saskatchewan we're reducing these costs as much as possible, by doing the DRE two-week classroom training at home—we're doing that in Saskatchewan—we still have to send our officers to either Florida or Arizona for their third week of training, and that's expensive.
Moreover, roadside testing is still in its infancy. Recognized practice rules are not yet in place, nor are there any approved roadside devices. Again, our scientific friends and those in the Department of Justice are working very hard in that respect. We're 292 days away, and we don't have any instruments that are being approved at this time.
The costs of these devices are likely to be significant, and our law enforcement and municipal officials are very concerned that the combination of training needs, device procurement, and the ongoing per-test and analysis costs will be much greater than they can absorb.
Let's put this into perspective. Recent funding announcements from Public Safety Canada will help. They've offered $81 million over five years for provinces to share. But what does that mean? There's $81 million over 13 provinces and territories. That's $6.231 million each over five years, which is $1.246 million per year, per jurisdiction.
To put that into context, we estimate the cost for a device, an approved screening device, will be $3,500. We also know that it costs us about $3,500 to send an officer to Arizona or Florida for the week-long training. It costs $1,000 to train an officer for SSFT. I'm not an accountant, so forgive me, but if we take $1.246 million divided by $3,500, that comes to 356. So we can purchase 356 devices or train 356 officers or some combination of both with the money that's being offered. We'll have to absorb the rest.
On another point, in requiring blood analysis—and we see the scientific reason for having to do so—are our laboratories capable of handling such a large influx of samples? Are there enough labs? Are there enough lab techs to conduct testing in a timely manner? We're left with a situation where a sample may be taken one day and take weeks or months to be analyzed.
Last, our police authorities are concerned that enforcing a four-plant personal grow provision will be very difficult, especially if the cultivation is inside or away from view. There's virtually no way to regulate this. Our officers are very concerned about this.
With respect to public education, awareness, prevention, and treatment, we found that a position shared across ministries and agencies in Saskatchewan is that the primary focus for this topic has to be youth and young adults. Safe use and awareness of potential consequences caused by the drug must be addressed, and although this is an area of joint responsibility, the federal government must lead the way well before implementation.
We know that cannabis use by young people in our country is amongst the highest in the developed world, yet our youth appear to be ill-informed regarding its dangers. For example, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction in its recent report, “Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis”, noted that youth consider cannabis less harmful than alcohol, yet cannabis use significantly increases the risk of injury or death in vehicular accidents. The health risks associated with cannabis are also little known. We can likely expect, however, that there will be increased demands for our health resources from addictions, mental health, and medical perspectives.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting Cannabis Canada. We really appreciate the opportunity to share some of our perspectives as well.
I'll tell you a little bit about our association. We have over 20 members who are licensed producers, and they have been licensed by Health Canada. We have a patient committee that tries to help give feedback to our members. We also have a committee on regulations, which interacts with the office of medical cannabis on a regular basis to try to improve the regulations even more so we have more quality products. We also have a communications standards committee. We are just about to continue discussions with the secretariat. Hopefully we'll be able to assist them as well.
Since 2013, Canada's licensed producers, large and small, have been effective partners in the establishment of this strict, well-regulated system for the production and distribution of medical cannabis that is the envy of the world. It's for this reason that the Government of Canada is entrusting Canada's licensed producers to be the foundation of the production system for legalized, adult-use cannabis.
Licensed producers are eager to work in collaboration and compliance with the federal and provincial governments to quickly establish effective, low-risk distribution and retail models that are well regulated, highly secure, and tailored to the needs of each province. Bill must include measures that will allow the legal industry to compete with the black market, notably in relation to price, branding, and advertising, within well-regulated parameters to help eliminate confusion in the marketplace about legitimate sources and to guide Canadians in their use of a new and complex product. The medical cannabis system must also be protected for the benefit of Canadian patients.
Since 2013, as I said, we have been involved as trusted partners of the government, and we want to continue to do that with the provincial governments as well as the federal government. Licensed producers have proven that they can deliver state-of-the-art, sanitary, secure, and professionally operated production facilities; products packaged and labelled to protect children and to ensure that adults have information to make informed choices; a proven distribution and retail system that ensures that products reach their intended recipients with no diversion to the illegal market; and production and retail without impacts on the surrounding communities or collocation with alcohol.
Eliminating the black market is one of the government's main objectives in legalization. There are a number of factors that will impede the ability of the new legalized system to compete with the firmly entrenched black market. Governments need to be mindful not to impose pricing or taxes that will make it impossible for licensed producers to compete with the black market. The parliamentary budget officer of Canada pointed out in his November 2016 report that “The higher the premium for legal cannabis over the illicit price, the more Canadians will purchase cannabis on the illicit market”. Using the same research, the C.D. Howe Institute estimates that even a relatively modest dollar premium per gram would result in about 35% of the market remaining unregulated.
There's also the question of branding and advertising. Licensed producers need to be able to differentiate from and compete with the black market. Indeed, if governments are serious about undermining the black market and want to do it as quickly as possible, they need to ensure that legal businesses have the opportunity to distinguish their products from the illegal.
Moreover, consumers need information from a knowledgeable and experienced source about an unfamiliar product to help them have a safe and consistent experience. There are a wide variety of cannabis strains, with different potencies and effects, depending on their THC and CBD levels. The THC is the hallucinogenic part. You can have it very, very low, as we mentioned before, at .01 or .05. It also could be mainly CBD. There are characteristics such the odour and product form. For instance, now we not only have the dried flower, we vapourize it. We also have oil, and we have capsules. We're trying to find different product forms to help people ingest the product in a different format than smoking. It is important that the legal industry be able to properly communicate the features of each one to inform both consumer choice and safe and responsible use to reduce potential harm.
You'll also be aware that there's ample confusion in the marketplace about the legality of different sources of cannabis.
Canadians need to be able to easily distinguish between what is a legal product and what is not. They need to know where, how, and from whom to get legal, safe cannabis. Branding and advertising within agreed-upon parameters—for example, no targeting of children or youth—provide consumers with the signposting that they need to distinguish legitimate products and sources. This way, adult Canadians can better understand where they can safely purchase the highest quality product.
It would be unfortunate if Canadians continue to be exposed to messaging from illegal sources and silence from legal businesses. Without the ability to brand and advertise, the burgeoning legal industry will be handicapped in its efforts to dislodge the well-entrenched black market. Cannabis Canada Association hopes that the health committee will champion the need for responsible and strictly regulated branding and advertising of cannabis to adults.
Finally, given our mandate and commitment to Canadian patients, we would ask that the committee also lend its support to the preservation of the current medical cannabis system. With the advent of legalization, policy-makers need to ensure continued proper access for patients. As ruled by Canadian courts, without a medical system, Canadian patients may lose insurance coverage, public or private, making their prescribed medication inaccessible.
Important distinctions between medical and non-medical use of cannabis include the following: medical use continues to be overseen and prescribed by health care professionals; health care insurance plans can continue to include medical cannabis in coverage; patients, including young patients, have access to the strain, potency, and amount that manages their symptoms as per their physician's prescriptions; patients can access their medication in specified public places in all non-smoked forms including vaping; and medical cannabis is affordable, zero-rated for taxation, and accepted by drug formularies and public and private insurance.
In conclusion, Bill seeks to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis, to protect public health and public safety by establishing strict product safety and product quality requirements, and to deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties for those operating outside the legal framework. Cannabis Canada fully supports these objectives. Cannabis Canada has unparalleled expertise and practical experience in how to distribute safe, quality-controlled cannabis and ensure that only those who are eligible to access it do access it.
In the interest of advancing the government's objectives and dislodging the well-entrenched black market as rapidly as possible, Cannabis Canada Association respectfully recommends that Bill take into account the need to ensure that the legal industry is in a position to compete with the black market in terms of price; that a certain amount of branding and advertising within strictly regulated parameters is allowed, both in terms of the need to differentiate legal products and sellers from black market products and sellers and to guide Canadians in their use of a new and unfamiliar product; and that the current medical cannabis system is preserved, or, at least, the necessary protections for patients are put in place, including the right to vape their medication.
We want to continue to assist the governments, both federally and provincially, and continue to protect the public safety and our patients. We are committed to helping the government for the distribution or for the regulations, etc., and we will continue to work very hard alongside you. We do not want to lose your trust.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank the witnesses for being here. At the end of the day, we really want to focus on the health and safety of Canadians and, for me particularly, our kids. I don't think there's a lot of argument out there about medical marijuana and adult responsibility. I look back at the 's rationale for doing this and I asked witnesses today, and it keeps coming out, he keeps repeating that the status quo is not working.
I really want to thank witnesses this afternoon. I think it was you, Mr. Lucas, who quoted some well available statistics that show it's trending down and, depending on which ones you want to quote, as high as 50% of boys in 2002, I believe, down to 22% today. The 's rationale is saying the status quo doesn't work. I find it quite interesting that Ms. McLellan, who's a former Liberal cabinet minister, was almost giddy here today saying we got a letter from Colorado saying it hasn't gone up. Well, guess what? Legalization in Colorado hasn't shown a decrease in the use of cannabis by kids, so I think this is really important that we dig into this a little more and also dig into the provincial jurisdiction.
I found it a little rich that the federal Liberals were criticizing the provinces on this, because there's so much science that still isn't known. So much of the heavy lifting is with the provinces and territories, so I want to take this opportunity to thank Saskatchewan for actually showing up here today. We've invited other provinces and territories and I think you're the only one that's shown up. I know my own province of Ontario just passed a little preliminary thing. They don't even want to show up here and answer some questions on it.
With you taking all the heavy lifting, I was wondering if you can go over some of the concerns that you may have with controversial things like home cultivation, and legal age of possession as well. You mentioned in your opening the drug levels and the levels in blood and how controversial it is. Are we going to be seeing a lot of court challenges on these things as far as enforcement?
That's correct. No one on this committee would dare say that cannabis is completely without harms, to be clear, but the level of dependence on cannabis and the severity of that dependence is limited to about 9% of the population who use it on a regular basis, and the severity is much less than you would see in terms of dependence levels with tobacco, alcohol, or otherwise.
More and more research is starting to suggest not only that it is it not a gateway drug—it's been disproved over the last 20 years that it's a stepping-stone drug—but that for many it can be an exit drug to problematic substance use.
In some cases it's very conscious. We have doctors prescribing cannabis deliberately for the treatment of chronic pain to deliberately reduce the use of opioids by patients. In other cases, though, it's completely subconscious, like what we're seeing in Colorado right now, the only state in the U.S. where you didn't see an increase in beer consumption last year, because of legalization efforts. It happens, then, at the population level.
I want to clarify that in Colorado there is research suggesting that youth use has gone down. It's moderate—it's about 12%—but it has gone down. I also want to mention, because you mentioned increased use of cannabis by women, that we are actually seeing women and seniors as being the largest group right now coming into the medical cannabis program. That alone may account for the statistical bump we're seeing, in terms of women using cannabis as well.
As you suggested earlier, we might see upon legalization a 2% to 4% increase initially that will flatline once again and go back to regular use. What you'll typically see is that those who are using will continue to use, but right now the law is not dissuading a lot of use. That's one of the challenges when we talk about youth right now: the law is not controlling black market distribution to children.
Let me add one more thing. I'm a former high school teacher. I once asked a grade 11 class, “What drugs can you access in the next 24 hours?” They listed off LSD, they listed off mushrooms, and they certainly listed off cannabis. The two toughest drugs for them to access in a 24-hour period were alcohol and tobacco.
Now, I'm not so old that I don't recall ways that we circumvented even those regulations, but once you take cannabis out of the black market, once you take a drug out of the black market, put in age restrictions and ID, and take the power of the black market away from distributing that drug, you can really impact rates of use. I think, then, that we can expect those youth rates to actually go down, post-legalization, despite the fact that it may seem counterintuitive in many ways.
My name is Dr. Laurent Marcoux. I am pleased to be here today in my role as president of the Canadian Medical Association, the CMA. I am joined by Dr. Jeff Blackmer, vice-president of Medical Professionalism at the CMA.
As the national organization representing over 85,000 physicians and physicians-in-training, the CMA has long been concerned about the health risks of cannabis, especially when smoked. These include cardiovascular, pulmonary and mental illnesses, motor vehicle accidents, and addiction.
In legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes, the federal government needs to exercise caution. It must establish public health objectives and be accountable for them. It must focus on protecting Canadians and reducing harm.
The CMA is therefore recommending a broad public health approach, which would focus on preventing problematic drug use, ensuring access to treatment services for those who wish to stop using, and increasing the safety for those who are using through harm reduction.
The goal of this approach is to decrease the negative health, social and economic consequences of drug use for the individual, the community and society as a whole.
Children and youth are especially at risk of harm, given their brain's development. And they are among the highest users of cannabis in Canada.
To better protect this part of the population, we are recommending that the age of legalization be set at 21 years. The quantities and the potency of cannabis should also be more restricted to those under age 25.
Despite these increased risks, however, evidence shows that youth today do not believe cannabis has serious health effects. A comprehensive public health strategy for cannabis must therefore include education, similar to what has been done with tobacco.
Educational strategies should be implemented before, and no later than the enactment of any legislation in order to increase awareness of the harms and to conduct further research on its impact. The CMA urges the government to support the widespread dissemination of lower-risk cannabis use guidelines incorporating its messages into educational strategies.
Once legislation is in effect, cannabis will be available for those who wish to use it for health issues, either with or without medical authorization. We are therefore recommending only one regime for both medical and non-medical use. However, this regime will need to ensure access for those unable to acquire cannabis legally, for example, those below the minimum age.
If the government does decide to maintain two separate systems, we recommend that the legislation be reviewed within five years to assess, for example, the number of users in the medical system and the number of physicians authorizing medical cannabis use.
Cannabis use has significant health risks, and we continue to call for more research into its effects. Legalizing won't change the risk. The government's focus should therefore be first and foremost on protecting Canadians, especially the young, and reducing harms to health.
Thank you. I'd be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Good afternoon, Chair, committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you from a law enforcement and public safety perspective regarding Bill .
My name is Trevor Bhupsingh. I'm the director general of law enforcement and border strategies at Public Safety Canada. I'd like to briefly introduce my colleague, Jennifer Lutfallah, who is the director general for enforcement and intelligence programs at the Canada Border Services Agency.
My colleague and I are here today to answer your questions about our respective organizations' roles in relation to .
The government has taken a balanced approach to the cannabis legalization and regulation. We are confident that the necessary law enforcement and public safety considerations are incorporated into the bill, and are informing the development of the regime that will be put in place to regulate cannabis.
Bill reflects the collaborative work that has been accomplished by Health Canada, the Department of Justice, Public Safety, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Canada Border Services Agency, along with provincial and territorial governments and law enforcement stakeholders.
Public Safety Canada has taken a leadership role in working with law enforcement from across the country and with our international partners to ensure that the legalization and regulation of cannabis is accomplished through a public safety lens. In preparation for the cannabis task force work, Public Safety held a round table discussion on the legalization of cannabis with law enforcement and provincial and territorial government representatives. The discussions provided clear direction on elements and perspectives that required consideration and needed to be reflected in the proposed cannabis act and the legalization regime. This information was provided to the task force and helped guide their consultations with law enforcement, other stakeholders, and Canadians.
Law and border enforcement recognize that a legalized cannabis regime needs to protect public health and safety, particularly among youth. In this regard, Public Safety Canada and its partners, such as the RCMP and the CBSA, have focused on several key objectives in the development of the bill. First, the need to keep criminals and organized crime networks from infiltrating the legal cannabis market, strengthening laws to reduce the cannabis black market, and protecting youth.
Legalizing cannabis is a significant change in social norms, but what we know is that cannabis has been a very lucrative commodity for criminals. This too needs to change. The RCMP and law enforcement across the country can attest to the fact that organized crime has been heavily involved in the illicit cannabis market, making significant profits that are used to fund illegal activities. It has been estimated that there are up to 650 criminal organizations in Canada, and up to 50% of those have been identified as being involved in the illicit cannabis black market.
It's difficult to fully anticipate how organized crime and the illicit market will react once the cannabis regime comes into effect. Organized crime involvement and any commodity or activity can change as the supply and the demand shift and the opportunity for their profits are affected. However, much work is under way to keep cannabis profits out of the hands of organized crime. Public Safety Canada is supporting other federal departments that are leading discussions on cannabis taxation and pricing. These are important aspects that will help ensure that projected revenues from the production, distribution, and sale do not flow to organized crime.
As the new regime is built, requirements under the act, such as the criminal record checks for those who want to produce cannabis, will keep criminals presently operating in the illicit cannabis market from moving into the legal regime. RCMP, federal policing, and other Canadian law enforcement will continue to work nationally and with international partners to target organized crime and criminal networks. Public Safety Canada will support these efforts by monitoring change in the illegal drug market.
Regarding border security, the CBSA currently investigates and interdicts the unauthorized cross-border movement of cannabis at Canada's ports of entry while maintaining the free flow of legitimate travel and trade.
The new legislation will maintain the existing cross-border framework with respect to the illegal movement of cannabis. As such, the Canada Border Services Agency will continue to examine persons and shipments for cannabis at our ports of entry, pursuant to the Customs Act. The agency will also continue to work closely with law enforcement partners, such as the RCMP and local policing agencies, who are responsible for investigations pursuant to the new cannabis act.
It is important to note that the proposed cannabis act does not impede law enforcement's ability to target and dismantle cannabis operations. The bill sends a strong message about the seriousness of crimes that involve cannabis. For example, the maximum penalties for criminal offences under the proposed act for producing, distributing, selling, and importing and exporting cannabis can result in 14 years' imprisonment.
Another very important objective of the government is that Public Safety Canada and our law enforcement community will work to support protecting youth. The act clearly reflects the view that we want to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth by restricting access to cannabis and deterring unlawful activities with cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures. This is why adults who use youth to commit a cannabis crime would face the same 14-year maximum penalties as those who illegally sell or traffic cannabis. Further, provinces and territories have the ability to establish their own provisions to prohibit persons possessing any amount of cannabis under the minimum age. This will also give police the authority to seize cannabis from youth, while not subjecting them to criminal prosecution for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis.
The government has been clear that strictly regulating cannabis within the legalized framework is of the utmost importance. As such, a ticketing scheme is put forward under the proposed legislation. This would allow law enforcement to issue a criminal ticket to an individual 18 years or older for relatively minor violations of the rules set out in the act, including possession of cannabis beyond the legal limit of 30 grams but up to 50 grams, or five or six plants for home cultivation, and/or outside the prescribed restrictions. The penalty for these acts is a monetary fine of $200.
Public Safety Canada recognizes the degree of effort required to ensure the necessary public safeguards are in place as we move forward with the proposed cannabis legislation. We will continue to work with Health Canada and the Department of Justice on all aspects of the new regime, including licensing and compliance, and a robust public awareness campaign specifically targeting youth. We will be communicating the new law and enforcement regime to police and all Canadians through online training modules and by leveraging media and social media opportunities. Furthermore, we'll be undertaking continuous research, data collection, evaluation, and open dialogue across Canada with law enforcement stakeholders. We'll work to support law enforcement to implement and operationalize the new legislation.
The proposed new cannabis act will be an important piece of legislation from a law enforcement and public safety perspective.
Thank you. My colleague and I are happy to take questions.
Good afternoon. I am Inspector Martin Bruce of the Vancouver Police organized crime section. With me is Staff Sergeant Bill Speam. Bill is the subject matter expert in investigations related to organized crime.
On behalf of Chief Adam Palmer, I would like to thank the honourable members of the committee for the opportunity to make a submission on Bill . Being mindful of the committee's time, I will be brief.
The concerns of the Vancouver Police Department are very likely to be those echoed by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and other public safety partners. However, in the local context, our concerns fall into four main areas: access by youth, personal cultivation, the role of organized crime, and the implementation timeline.
With regard to access by youth, our view is that allowing 12 to 17-year-olds to possess or socially share up to five grams of marijuana will create issues when police need to interact in a number of settings where youth are present, but particularly in our schools. For example, what powers will our officers have to intervene and seize marijuana that's being offered to a vulnerable student by another youth, or to deal with any other nuisance calls involving youth effectively? We note that the proposed ticketing scheme will apply to those aged 18 years and over.
This possession ability combined with personal cultivation in the home appears to conflict with the government's stated objective to create a highly regulated environment that minimizes youth access to the drug.
With regard to personal cultivation, we oppose it and believe it will be a catalyst for overproduction that will flood the illicit market and effectively undermine the pricing structure and supply offered by the regulated regime. It will also bring with it the potential for home invasions, break and enters, robbery, theft of electricity, nuisances, and other calls for service that make communities less safe and further stretch police and other first responder resources that are already grappling with the opioid overdose crisis in this province and elsewhere.
The four-plant maximum will be impossible to effectively enforce and as the new act will be layered over existing medical marijuana regulations, it will be difficult for front-line officers to determine what authorities they have in the myriad of potential circumstances that will exist. Seizures later determined to be unlawful may leave police agencies liable for degraded marijuana stored over time that has to be returned to owners. Officers will also have the potential to be the subject of British Columbia Police Act complaints for misinterpretation of the various provisions.
As to the role of organized crime, if the pricing structure and availability of regulated marijuana isn't set at realistic levels, organized crime will take advantage in the same way they have done with illicit tobacco products. To meet any increase in demand, criminal elements will also have the potential to increase output especially in urban settings under the cloak of personal production and through a proliferation of residential marijuana grow operations.
With regard to the implementation timeline, the implementation of Bill leaves us with many unanswered questions, especially around where responsibilities will ultimately lay and around how and when that information will be conveyed. In the absence of that detail, we have concerns that the remaining timeline poses significant challenges with regard to the appropriate training and equipping of our members, amending our procedures, and potentially adapting our facilities.
Finally, we would seek assurances that funding will be in place for a comprehensive public education strategy, that it will be implemented well in advance of legalization, and that such a campaign will focus on the developmental harms associated with youth, other known harms linked to marijuana use, and the dangers associated with the impaired operation of motor vehicles.
Thank you again for providing us with this forum. We would be pleased to answer any questions the committee might have.
Education is one of the important matters in this file, as Dr. Marcoux pointed out. I am happy to see that education can play an important role in helping Canadians make informed choices about the consumption of products that are currently unlawful, but that will soon be legalized. That is cannabis, of course.
We can see that budgets are different. When we are talking about budgets, we have to talk about budgets as well because the two are always closely linked. I am certainly in favour of increasing education budgets to stop a surge in consumption among the young.
We are well aware that consuming marijuana has consequences for the young. You have talked about cognitive problems. Potentially, it can permanently affect the brain.
I draw a parallel with alcohol consumption, which also has health consequences, albeit somewhat different from those that cannabis has.
But how do we explain the very marked differences from one province or territory to another, Ontario and Quebec, for example, in terms of the legal age for consuming alcohol? If I am not mistaken, it is 21 in Ontario and 18 in Quebec, despite all the medical consequences that alcohol consumption can have.
The Canadian Confederation has a certain logic that makes it participatory. So each province may express its own views and pass its own legislation in the areas over which they have jurisdiction. How do you explain that, in Ontario, it will be legal to consume marijuana at 19, when the legal age for consuming alcohol is higher, at 21. How do you explain that logic?
Previous witnesses have mentioned that it is easier for young people to obtain marijuana than alcohol and cigarettes. How do you react to comments like that? I am a little concerned by it all.
Perhaps there is no easy answer, but I would like to hear what you have to say about it.