Seeing quorum, we will call our meeting to order. This is meeting number 67 of the Standing Committee on Health. We are doing our study on Bill on cannabis. Today our panel is focused on prevention, treatment, and low-risk use.
I welcome all of our guests who are here both by video conference and at the table.
As individuals, we have here today Michael DeVillaer, assistant professor and policy analyst at McMaster University, and by video conference, Mark Kleiman, professor of public policy at the Marron Institute of Urban Management at New York University.
From the Canadian Nurses Association, we have Dr. Lynda Balneaves, a registered nurse and medical and non-medical cannabis researcher, and Karey Shuhendler, policy adviser, policy advocacy and strategy. From the New Brunswick Medical Society, we have Dr. Serge Melanson, by video conference from Moncton. From the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness, we have Dr. Robert Strang, chief medical officer of health, by video conference from Halifax.
Thanks very much. We'll start with 10-minute introductory remarks from each organization. Then we'll go to questions from the members.
We'll start with the Canadian Nurses Association, Dr. Balneaves.
Good morning, Mr. Chair, and members of the committee. My name is Karey Shuhendler. I'm a registered nurse and policy adviser for the Canadian Nurses Association, the national professional voice representing more than 139,000 registered nurses and nurse practitioners.
I'm pleased to be here today with Professor Lynda Balneaves, registered nurse and medical and non-medical cannabis researcher, who will be able to answer questions that are more technical in nature.
Professor Balneaves currently serves as an associate professor in the Rady faculty of health sciences college of nursing at the University of Manitoba, and is a nursing leader in the fields of shared treatment decision-making and complementary and integrative health care. She has published and presented on topics related to knowledge translation, integrative oncology, treatment decision-making, and medical and non-medical cannabis.
At the outset, I would like to thank the committee for studying this important issue and for inviting CNA to provide its recommendations. Legalization of non-medical cannabis will impact public health, and as such, requires a preventative approach to reduce the health risks and social harms associated with cannabis use. CNA welcomes the federal government's work to table Bill , which would guide the legalization, regulation, and restriction of access for non-medical cannabis. CNA supports the passing of the bill and believes that legalization is an excellent option for addressing the harms of cannabis.
CNA recently conducted a national survey of nurses to assess the readiness for legalization, determine knowledge gaps and resources needed, and collect input on the sections of Bill that pertain to the scope of CNA's work.
While the two-month survey remains open until tomorrow, preliminary results indicate that a majority of nurse respondents favour the government's move toward legalization, and that the focus should be on preventing access and associated harms for young persons through a variety of mechanisms, including considerations around packaging, labelling, display, promotion, and sale of cannabis and cannabis accessories. Legalization can support the regulation of quality, dose, and potency, while minimizing social harms as well as the costs of prohibition. In addition, legalization can improve access to research potential harms or medical benefits.
In reviewing the bill, CNA was pleased with the moderate public health approach taken on the complex issue of cannabis legalization. In its current form, Bill promotes the removal of harms associated with the prohibition model, while recognizing the need to protect vulnerable populations, including youth. CNA has provided four recommendations for amending the proposed legislation, all of which are outlined in our brief. We encourage the committee to include all of CNA's recommendations in its final report, including those related to the sale and promotion of cannabis and cannabis accessories, and considerations around promotion and use related to alcohol.
Cannabis should not be treated in the same way as alcohol. The harms of alcohol use and current alcohol policy can be downplayed at times and should not necessarily serve as the model for cannabis policy simply because it is already established. Additionally, cannabis is different in that there are therapeutic indications and particular formulations for medical use. Thus, medical access should not be forgotten in the wake of legalization. While these other recommendations are not the focus of our presentation today, we would be pleased to answer any questions on the full range of recommendations put forth in our brief.
This morning we would like to focus on two of the four recommendations, namely, those related to youth criminal penalties and the inclusion of a comprehensive public health approach to the legalization of non-medical cannabis.
Our first recommendation, regarding youth criminal penalties, is specific to clause 8 and related subclauses. These state that a young person, aged 12 to 18, in possession of one or more classes of cannabis the total amount of which, as determined in accordance with schedule 3, is equivalent to more than five grams of dried cannabis, is guilty of an indictable offence, is liable and/or guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction, and is liable to a youth sentence under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Not only can a criminal record limit an individual's ability to travel to certain countries, it can also lend itself to considerable social harms. For youth in particular, a criminal record can be a barrier to volunteer opportunities, which are often required by school curriculums, and can play a role in scholarship decisions. A criminal record can also reduce career opportunities and contribute to poverty and poor health outcomes. Legalizing cannabis while maintaining criminal penalties for youth can disproportionately disadvantage young people, particularly those from marginalized or racialized communities, potentially barring them from opportunities to equitably advance and contribute in our society.
Given the evidence that 21% of 15-year-olds to 19-year-olds in Canada have used cannabis in the past year, such legislation could potentially impact a large number of youths. Alternatives to a traditional punitive approach to addressing both minor crime as well as problematic substance use have demonstrated success. Examples such as drug courts, which use a restorative justice approach, offer an alternative to traditional justice processes. These models offer full engagement and accountability of the offender, and help to address the broader range of contributing issues such as poverty, health, or social justice issues that may have brought the person to commit the offence in the first place.
Consider a 15-year-old struggling with problematic cannabis use caught possessing more than five grams for personal use. He uses non-medical cannabis to self-medicate for undiagnosed anxiety and depression which is exacerbated by the stress associated with living in poverty. Would criminalizing possession or even imposing a significant fine help this teen, or would he be better served through a drug court system with a restorative approach, where the teen can be accountable in his own healing, provided with opportunities to link with health and social service organizations to address the root causes of poverty, and offered treatment services to address undiagnosed mental health and substance use issues?
With this in mind, CNA recommends that youth possession of cannabis not be subject to criminal penalties, that the government use a restorative justice approach as the guiding principle for addressing youth possession, and that such depenalization eliminate current or future repercussions for youth by removing the provision under clause 8 and related subclauses of the cannabis bill.
Our second recommendation is for the government's investment in a public health approach to cannabis, including a comprehensive public education program. CNA strongly supports the recommendations made to the federal task force on cannabis legalization and regulation to learn from other jurisdictions, such as Colorado and Washington, and to invest in comprehensive public health and education programs including those related to cannabis use while driving well in advance of legalization.
Canada spends more than one billion dollars annually to enforce cannabis possession laws, arresting about 60,000 Canadians for simple possession, and this accounts for about 3% of all arrests. Legalization should remove significant social harms as well as the financial costs associated with enforcement under the current model of prohibition.
With this in mind, CNA recommends that once legalization is in place, the government use a portion of the savings from enforcement and/or revenue from sales to invest in initiatives that contribute to positive health and social outcomes. Such investments should include tools, training, and guidelines to support public education programs for cannabis harm reduction strategies, programs for substance use prevention and treatment, and research to better understand the harms of non-medical use, as well as the potential benefits of medical use. Cost estimates for these measures can be derived from jurisdictions where cannabis has already been legalized, from public education campaigns that have been launched, and from current federal government investments in public education related to tobacco use.
Nurses are the largest group of health care providers in the country and are often a person's first point of contact with the health care system. As such, nurses are well positioned to contribute to the development and delivery of this kind of health education.
Results of a Nanos Research poll commissioned by CNA in August of this year, which will be tabled, note that more than nine out of 10 Canadians support or somewhat support nurses educating Canadians on the risks associated with non-medical cannabis use.
Preliminary results of CNA's national survey of nurses noted that 49% of respondents indicated that they felt comfortable initiating a conversation or responding to patient concerns about the risks associated with non-medical cannabis use. Based on these results, CNA is committed to providing additional educational resources on non-medical cannabis to support nurses caring for people across the continuum of care.
I would like to close by emphasizing that the legalization of cannabis is an excellent opportunity to reduce harms associated with non-medical cannabis use, but we must get this right. CNA encourages the committee to urge the federal government to incorporate all of the recommendations put forward by CNA.
Thank you and good morning. My name is Dr. Serge Melanson. I am the chief of staff and an emergency room physician at Moncton Hospital here in New Brunswick. I'm speaking today on behalf of the New Brunswick Medical Society, a professional association representing more than 1,600 physicians in New Brunswick.
As a professional association, we believe that we have a key role to play in advocating for improvements to health care delivery in New Brunswick. We have led the way in various initiatives, such as the promotion of team-based health care delivery. We have also been successful in promoting healthy living initiatives and policy changes to protect youth from health hazards such as smoking and the use of tanning beds.
We recently launched a campaign to make New Brunswick one of the top three healthiest provinces in the next 10 years. We've also collaborated with schools to improve healthy food choices, and we have promoted the mandatory use of ski helmets to prevent head trauma.
I would like to thank the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health for inviting me to speak today to the concerns of the New Brunswick Medical Society about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
In June this year, our organization published a position paper on the recreational use of marijuana, which included recommendations to the Government of New Brunswick on an appropriate framework to limit the harmful effects of marijuana use on New Brunswickers.
We also want to inform the public about the health issues associated with cannabis use, and we recently launched an information campaign for the public on marijuana use.
Like tobacco and alcohol, cannabis use can lead to negative health impacts. While Canadians will have the choice to consume marijuana legally in little less than a year from now, it is essential that they understand the risks. Making cannabis legal does not make it safe. We understand that the goal of the federal government in legalizing and strictly regulating cannabis is to decriminalize use of the drug and reduce illicit sales of the substance, but we believe there are still substantial concerns to address when it comes to the particulars of legalization.
Our position on legalization is in line with that of the Canadian Medical Association and their recommendations built on Canada's experience regulating alcohol and tobacco. We also support the guidelines developed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for low-risk use of cannabis. One issue of particular concern to us in this discussion, from a prevention and low-risk use perspective, is the proposed minimum age for the legal possession and purchase of recreational marijuana. We believe very strongly that the proposed age of 18 under Bill sends the wrong message to young Canadians—that it is safe for them to consume marijuana at that age. There is clear scientific evidence that the brain of a young adult is still developing up to the age of 25 and that marijuana consumption can have adverse effects on brain development. While we would ideally like to see the legal age for recreational marijuana set at 25 in Canada, we recognize that this is not likely feasible and that 21 may be a more realistic age for the prevention of illicit purchase by young adults.
Over the past 14 years of practising emergency medicine in Moncton, I've seen first-hand a significant increase in the amount of cannabis use and its negative health effects in patients presenting to the emergency department, whether it be as the primary cause of their medical problem, something that is worsening an existing chronic disease, or something that may be unrelated to why they're there. I deal with the effects of cannabis use in the ER in a number of situations. These can be patients experiencing unexpected effects due to cannabis being laced with dangerous chemical additives, patients experiencing a cannabis-triggered issue called cyclical vomiting syndrome, cannabis triggering serious mental illness, and patients experiencing such serious health issues as chronic lung disease as a direct result of cannabis use.
I see patients who have consumed cannabis, adolescents and young adults, for the most part, who then go on to develop their first episode of psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other significant mental health issues. Teens or young adults consuming cannabis will have a higher likelihood of developing these mental health issues if they continue to consume cannabis. Some young people may also be under the impression that these medical issues are curable. The reality is that these are lifelong diseases. Young Canadians are taking a significant risk in consuming cannabis. We believe there is a clear association between cannabis use and the onset of psychotic disorders, because the brains of these young adults are still in development.
Since we know that the recreational use of marijuana will be legalized and that increased use is likely to have an impact on health care, it is important that the provinces and territories have adequate resources to deal with it.
If Parliament adopts Bill , the Government of Canada will be responsible for ensuring that the provinces and territories are adequately equipped to react to increased pressure on the health care system.
In addition, the Canadian government must ensure that the provinces and territories have the resources to adequately measure the impact of legislation to better adapt their awareness and education efforts to the situation, as well as their intervention and treatment services over time. Research on public health will be needed to measure the harmful effects of increased cannabis use on our communities and our citizens.
It is also critical that governments at all levels invest the necessary resources to support a strong and ongoing education and awareness campaign. If Canadians are to be presented with the choice to consume legal cannabis, they must have easy and clear information on the risks associated with making that choice.
In closing, I would like to make it clear that a decision by the Government of Canada to legalize the use of cannabis must be advised by these precautionary principles. Government has a fundamental responsibility to protect its population. It is of particular importance, on the legalization of cannabis, for government to ensure that it is living up to its responsibilities to all Canadians.
Good morning to the committee, and thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. I'm appearing on behalf of the chief medical officers of health for the 13 provinces and territories. I'm providing a collective public health perspective, not jurisdictional positions from any of the provinces and territories.
My remarks will be focused on this morning's topic of prevention, treatment, and low-risk use, but by necessity will touch base on other topics such as legal age, labelling, and packaging, which have been discussed in other sessions.
I have assumed that by prevention you mean the prevention of population and individual harm in relation to how cannabis is produced, distributed, retailed, and used, the prevention or at least the delaying of onset of use by those below the legal age, and the prevention of harm to populations that may be at increased risk.
Prevention is not just about providing information and education about risks and harms. Appropriate education and social marketing can be effective but only if they are part of a comprehensive strategy. Policy decisions related to how cannabis will be sold, how it will be priced, how it will be labelled and marketed, and the level of availability and accessibility are the most critical when it comes to preventing population harms, preventing harmful individual use, and minimizing underage use.
To be more specific, to have the strongest prevention approach, we make the following recommendations:
Cannabis should be distributed and sold through government monopolies where the primary objective is protecting public health and safety, and not revenue generation.
As recommended by the task force that advised the federal government, there should be no co-sale of cannabis with tobacco and alcohol products.
At the outset, price will need to be set to maximize purchase from the legal market, but over time, price needs to be used as a key tool in decreasing overall demand as well as encouraging consumption of lower-harm products, such as products with lower THC concentration and non-smokable forms.
Product promotion such as advertising, marketing, sponsorship, and product placement, including at the retail environment, needs to be prohibited at the federal level and complemented by similar provincial restrictions.
Product packages should be plain with clear and prominent warnings about risk.
At the retail level, prepackaged products such as cigarette-type joints should not be allowed as those can facilitate marketing, promotion, and glamorization of cannabis use.
The number, location, and density of retail locations, along with hours of operation, need to be carefully developed to balance access to legal products—and accounting for the current legislation's allowance of personal growing and online or mail order purchases—with prevention objectives.
Over the long term, a minimum age of 21 would be better than 18 or 19 at balancing between shifting young adults to legal supplies and decreasing use by those under age 18. I'm going to explain that recommendation a little more, because it is a key point that keeps coming up.
We know that one of the objectives is to move people from an illegal to a legal market. Certainly, setting age 19 or 18 will bring young adults into the legal market in the short term, but if one of our key objectives is to decrease use amongst youth who are under 18, and will always remain underage no matter if the age is 18, if they are using cannabis, they are going to have to access it from an illegal source. We know from clear evidence around tobacco and alcohol that setting an age of 21 versus 18 or 19 will, over time, have a greater impact on decreasing cannabis use rates and therefore keeping those individuals out of any market for cannabis for those under age 18. If one of our primary objectives is to have a set of circumstances that decreases use of cannabis by those who are underage, we are far better off with an age of 21 than of 19.
Moving along, public smoking and vaping of cannabis should, at a minimum, follow the current approach to public tobacco smoking and vaping, to prevent further normalization of cannabis smoking and re-normalization of smoking behaviours in general.
The approach to bringing edible and other concentrated and derivative products into the legal market needs to be done extremely carefully to minimize the normalization of cannabis consumption and protect children and youth. With respect to edible products, it must be made clear through legislative requirements that products that contain cannabis plant materials and extracts and active ingredients are not food products.
Since it is easier to loosen regulations than to tighten them, the initial regulatory approaches should err on the side of being more restrictive. Adjustments can be made as time progresses based on comprehensive monitoring and research. Such monitoring and research will need to be adequately resourced and established.
Programs that shape social and physical environments to support health and well-being in general, such as supporting healthy pregnancies, enhancing early childhood development, and ensuring adequate housing and income, are all important measures for primary prevention of problematic substance use in general and are and will be important in preventing problematic cannabis use.
Along with this submission, I'm pleased to attach a more detailed position paper from the provincial and territorial chief medical officers of health, as well as the Urban Public Health Network, who are the medical officers of health in urban centres. That more detailed report has been provided to the committee.
With respect to treatment, I do not have experience or expertise in the treatment of cannabis use disorders, but I would say that there are no treatment approaches or therapies that are specific to cannabis use disorder. There is a need for improving appropriate access to treatment of people with cannabis use disorder today as part of the need to improve treatment and access for people with a range of substance disorders. Whether the need for treatment will increase or decrease will really depend on decisions and the implementation of policies that I've discussed previously.
With respect to lower-risk use, an updated set of guidelines for lower-risk cannabis use, the development of which was led by Canadian experts, was publicly released in June of this year. Those guidelines have been endorsed in principle by the council of the chief medical officers of health. In summary, these guidelines recommend that the most effective way to decrease risk is to abstain; that the older one is when cannabis use is initiated the lower the risk of developing problematic use and adverse health effects over the lifetime. Higher THC concentration products have greater risks, so low THC concentrated products should be used. Synthetic cannabinoids, such as shatter, expose users to more acute and severe risk and should be avoided.
To protect lung health, routes of intake that involve smoking and combusted cannabis material should be avoided. Along with that, methods such as deep inhalation and breath holding that increase the psychoactive ingredient absorption also should be avoided. Frequent or intensive use has the highest risk of harm, so if people choose occasional use, one day a week or only on weekends is recommended. Avoiding driving while using alcohol and/or cannabis is extremely important.
Populations that are at higher risk from harm from cannabis and therefore should avoid use are pregnant women, people with a history or close family history of psychosis or substance use disorder. The combination of risk behaviours, such as early age of onset and frequent use, likely magnifies the risk. These low-risk cannabis use guidelines should form a key part of public awareness and educational initiatives related to cannabis legalization and should be incorporated in product labelling and should inform legalization policy decisions by all three levels of government.
With respect to Bill , the provincial and territorial chief medical officers of health and Urban Public Health Network recommended in the paper I have provided that this initiative be guided by public health goals and objectives written into a statute. We were very pleased to see the public health orientation adopted by the federal government for this initiative and the explicit articulation of public health objectives as codified in the purpose section of the act, proposed section 7. We encourage provinces and territories to adopt similar public health orientation and include explicit articulation of similar objectives in their statutes.
Last, we suggest that the bill be amended to replace the word “illicit” with the word “illegal”. The term “illicit“ is stigmatizing in nature, and since stigma and discrimination reduction are important aspects of this initiative, we suggest avoiding using the term “illicit” whenever possible. We suggest using the term “illegal” instead, as it is a simple, clear, and unambiguous term that refers to the legal status of possession of the substance and it avoids the stigmatizing nature of the word “illicit”.
Thank you for your time and this opportunity. I look forward to our discussions.
Mr. Chairman, committee members, I bring to this presentation 40 years of experience in the prevention and treatment of drug problems. I've been a counsellor, a community developer, a teacher and a policy analyst. I think my interest is really in drug policy broadly defined to include alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and it's within that context that I view this new drug industry we are establishing.
When we think about prevention of drug problems, we usually think of providing people with information to help them make informed decisions. Another necessary part of an effective drug prevention program is development of a regulatory framework for drug industry practices. This is a critical part of what we mean when we talk about strict regulation.
Alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and cannabis are not ordinary commodities. Each year in Canada, alcohol and tobacco alone are associated with approximately 40,000 premature deaths, six and a half million days in hospital and a cost to the Canadian economy of over $30 billion. I want to emphasize that those are annual figures. The alcohol and tobacco crises have been with us for a long time, so long we don't think of them as crises. Despite our efforts at prevention and treatment, they persist year after year.
Recently a new drug epidemic has emerged. The opioid crisis began when a drug company aggressively launched a misleading advertising campaign for an opioid painkiller, oxycodone. The same company is now taking the same drug to the developing world with the same misleading information. During the campaign to legalize recreational cannabis, Canadians have received repeated assurances that this new industry will be strictly regulated, like other legal drug industries, and that this will provide the needed safeguards of the public's health.
A half century of international drug policy evidence tells us it is not so simple. Across our established legal drug industries, we see frequent failures in the striking of that important balance between industry revenue and protection of public health. The result is an enormous amount of harm that stresses our communities, families and treatment programs.
The state of the union is that we have three legal regulated drug industries and three public health crises. Early indications from the emerging legal cannabis industry suggest that it may be on a similar trajectory.
Perhaps it is time for a new approach. Many of the decisions in the development of legislation require the striking of that balance, sometimes a choice, between facilitating the success of a new drug industry and protecting public health. The logistics of cannabis legalization, as I'm sure everybody is realizing now, are incredibly complex. The stakes are high, outcomes uncertain, and caution is wise. Accordingly, I hope that the Standing Committee on Health will assign priority to the protection of public health and the prevention of harm.
I will provide four specific suggestions for doing so.
The first issue is a minimum legal age for cannabis use. Research shows that young people acquire their cannabis through their network of peer relationships. This is very important. The peer networks of young people, say 15- to 17-year-olds, are more likely to include 18- and 19-year-olds than they are to include 21-year-olds. Consequently, over the long term, a minimum age of 18 or 19 will, as we've heard, give easier access to cannabis for 15- to 17-year olds than will a minimum age of 21.
My first recommendation is that the government should choose public health protection over a larger legal market by setting a minimum age of 21.
The second issue is the importance of a full ban on advertising and other forms of product promotion. Research shows that advertising increases use of a drug and that increases in use of a drug are associated with increases in related problems. Advertising, even with strict limits, will increase cannabis use and related problems.
My second recommendation is that the government should choose public health protection over market growth by legislating a full ban on all forms of cannabis product promotion.
The third issue is the importance of a non-profit model or options for cannabis supply. We already have three legal, regulated, profit-driven drug industries which have not succeeded in protecting public health. We can reduce the risk of creating a fourth by removing the profit motive from cannabis sales. An essential difference is that a non-profit retail model would serve only the existing market, with no product promotion or product innovation intended to increase the size of that market.
My third recommendation is that the government should choose public health protection over market growth by restricting the retail of cannabis to a non-profit organization with public health governance.
The fourth issue is the importance of social justice for prevention and treatment. Between now and the widespread availability of legal recreational cannabis, which will require an amount of time well beyond July 2018, people are expected to continue to “just say no” to the use of recreational cannabis. It is unrealistic to expect that to happen. Charges for simple possession of cannabis amounted to well over 17,000 in 2016. Issuing of more criminal records will continue to have a devastating impact on the social determinants of health of these mostly young Canadians. Prohibition also poses a problem for those who are dependent on cannabis and are seeking treatment to improve their lives. In my experience as a counsellor, I never encountered a patient who was helped by a criminal record. It actually impeded their efforts.
My fourth recommendation is that the government should immediately decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis.
Mr. Chair, that concludes my prepared statement. Thank you again for this opportunity. I will do my best to address any questions committee members may have.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.
It's a great honour to have been asked to address this distinguished body as part of this genuinely historic process. I've been working on cannabis policy for almost four decades now. My firm was the adviser to the Washington State Liquor Control Board as it implemented Washington's cannabis legalization.
I would urge you in this process to pay attention to results, not slogans. The case for the legalization of cannabis is not its lack of risk, as we've heard from the other witnesses this morning. The case for legalization is the inability to control the illicit market and the harm the illicit market does and the fact that lots of people would like to use cannabis and can, in fact, do so harmlessly.
There is a tendency in public policy debates and in policies themselves to lurch from one extreme to another. At least in the U.S., we're in the process of lurching from considering cannabis an evil weed to considering it a harmless herb. Unfortunately, each is an imprecise characterization.
For almost any drug, the majority of the users of that drug do so harmlessly, and indeed, with some benefit to themselves. That's what keeps them using it. A minority wind up losing control of their consumption and engaging in problematic use. Tobacco in the form of cigarettes is the one exception to that, where most of the users engage in problematic use.
That minority of heavy users, however, accounts for not only almost all the damage involved with the use of any drug but for a large majority of the consumption of that drug. I don't have the numbers for Canada, but in the U.S., more than half of all the alcohol consumed is consumed as part of drinking binges, even though most drinking occasions are not to intoxication and are harmless. Eighty per cent of the alcohol consumed in the U.S. is consumed by people who drink more than is good for them. We see comparable numbers with cannabis.
The goal of legalization, I suggest, ought to be the availability of cannabis to those who want to use it temperately while minimizing the number of people who get in trouble with it; so, access without excess. As we've heard from others this morning, that is not a goal that is automatically served by a free market, because that same 80-20 rule that drives public health concerns—as I said, 20% of the heaviest users are going to do themselves most of the damage—also drives marketing concerns.
If you are in the business of selling a drug that some people become addicted to, they are your best customers. What from a public health point of view is a diagnosis, from a marketing point of view is a target demographic. That's equally true whether you're British American Tobacco or Imperial Distillery or the Ontario liquor board. If your goal is to maximize the amount of money you make, you're going to focus on cultivating heavy users, and that's precisely the opposite of the public health objective we ought to be serving.
There's a widespread belief that we should regulate cannabis like alcohol, as if we've been successful in regulating alcohol. That seems to be an obvious fallacy once you have stated it. I think it would be wiser, if we're going to imitate some currently illicit market, to imitate the tobacco market, where, short of prohibition, the government makes aggressive efforts to minimize problematic use. That's a policy regime I've called grudging toleration. It seems to me that we ought to be grudgingly tolerating cannabis and not allowing its promotion.
A key element in promoting or controlling heavy use is price, again, as has been noted. It's important to understand that the natural tendency of the price of cannabis as a legal commodity is toward zero. A joint is a small amount of dried plant matter in a wrapping. The legal product that's closest to that is a tea bag. If we allow a free market in cannabis, the price of a joint will tend toward the price of a tea bag, and that's not where we want it to go. We already see in Colorado and Washington steady and rapid decreases in prices in the legal stores. My colleagues Jon Caulkins at Carnegie Mellon and Steve Davenport at RAND Corporation estimate that Colorado and Washington legal prices are falling at 2% per month and there's no bottom in sight.
The way to counteract that, if you're not going to have a public monopoly, is with aggressive taxation. That cannot be taxation based on retail price, because as the retail price goes to zero, the tax will go toward zero. The right way to tax cannabis, from a policy point of view and a health point of view, is to tax the active agent, THC. We need a specific excise, not an ad valorem tax. It should be substantial. Something like $50 a gram of THC would more or less maintain current illicit prices in the newly licit market, and that seems to me a reasonable objective.
Information is another key element of any prevention policy where we're trying to prevent a substance use disorder. Restricting marketing seems to me a very important idea, not merely because the advertising itself will attract new users, as it's intended to, but because the presence of advertising dollars will influence the editorial content of advertising media. It's striking that in the U.S., the first mass-market magazine to warn about the dangers of tobacco smoking was Reader's Digest. It wasn't because it was the most progressive or intellectually adventurous magazine; it was because it was the only one that was supported by reader subscription rather than by advertising. Controlling cannabis marketing will have a big impact on the way cannabis is described in editorial content.
Every cannabis buyer has to confront some seller, either somebody taking an order over the phone or a clerk in a store. That point-of-sale contact is the one place where we can make sure of connecting with every consumer. It seems to me that it would be wise to require those people to have training in pharmacology and in substance use prevention so that people, particularly new consumers, aren't getting their first information about cannabis from somebody who sells cannabis for a living and is frequently a very heavy user themselves. Those retail clerks ought to have a professional qualification and a professional obligation to give advice in the interests of the consumer and not in the interests of the store owner. They ought to be more like pharmacists than packaged goods clerks.
There are two things we might want to encourage both at that point-of-sale and in publicly funded information. One is the notion of use to less than intoxication. The striking difference between cannabis today and alcohol today is that most occasions of alcohol use are not to intoxication. That is not the case for cannabis. “Getting stoned” is a common synonym for cannabis use. It is possible that we might introduce to the population the notion that one might take a puff in order to improve the taste of food, or the sound of music, or the pleasure of conversation rather than having cannabis intoxication as the primary activity one is engaging in. I have no reason to think that this will work, but it's something we could try.
The other thing I'd like to see emphasized, both at point-of-sale and in mass media, is the importance of abstaining from combination use. Forty years ago in the U.S., cannabis on the one hand and alcohol and tobacco on the other were virtually opposites socially. They represented different cultural forces. Now in the surveys, heavy tobacco use, heavy alcohol use, and heavy cannabis use are all the same population.
Through cannabis legalization, one beneficial possibility is that you could substitute for other more dangerous drugs. We undertake policies to encourage that possible beneficial tendency.
I'm going to ask the question in French. You may want to use the earpieces if you need a translation.
Mr. Chair, I just participated in a town hall meeting last night in my region. More than 150 people came to get information. The facts are troubling. Before I tell you about it, I want to point out that I'm very impressed with the panel we have with us this morning. It includes experienced people from various areas of activity.
In my riding of Thérèse-De Blainville, north of Montreal, in the Lower Laurentians, 45% of youths 17 to 24 years of age admit to having used marijuana in the past year. The average for Quebec is 35%. In the case of youths 11 to 17 years of age, that percentage is 28%, while the average for Quebec is 24.9%.
Yesterday wasn't a cry of alarm, but I said it was urgent to act. This morning, that urgency is even stronger. With all due respect to my colleagues opposite, who want to delay things, it is clear that all the approaches that have been taken over the past 100 years have been a dismal failure in terms of preventing cannabis use among young people. The consequences, of which we are speaking at length, are serious. It has been pointed out in particular that the brain continues developing until the age of 25.
Yesterday, I was informed of some of the issues that you also raised. For me, the important issue isn't the money, but prevention and the health of our young people. But we are urging them to turn to the illicit market and organized crime. These aren't just dealers of cannabis, but of other drugs as well that we want our young people to experiment with even less.
The age issue concerns me. If it is decided that, for medical reasons, the required age should be 25, that isn't a problem. In fact, we all agree that using has consequences. However, we seem to be forgetting that, as of age 18, young people are given the responsibility of voting for representatives like us, who pass laws.
Are we going to tell them that they have the right to vote, but that they don't have enough social conscience to make an informed choice for their own health before the age of 21 or, in other cases, the age of 19 or 25?
I don't understand the logic of that.
Each province is independent in its choice of age. There is a difference between alcohol and cannabis, but are we going to do it for each product that will eventually be on the market?
That said, I would like to hear from the nurses. I quite enjoyed Mr. De Villaer's speech. I almost fully agreed with you, although a little less on the age issue. I would like to know a bit more about these kinds of issues. In terms of the market price, on the street, we were talking yesterday about $20 for 3.5 grams. Price is an important factor. If we offer prices that aren't consistent with the market, we won't change anything.
I have used up four minutes, but I can tell you that the last night was very informative.
I would like to hear your comments on the age issue, the logic around it and the related consequences.
I think there are some positive aspects of Bill arising from the task force report. For example, it looks as if the direction we're going in is that advertising for cannabis products will only be allowed in places frequented by adults. That would include cannabis retail outlets, perhaps alcohol retail outlets, gambling casinos, maybe in promotions before adult-rated films. There are a number of possibilities there.
I think that presumes that only young people are affected by advertising and marketing, and yes, absolutely we should be trying to do everything we can to prevent marketing advertising reaching young people. We're still not doing it with alcohol, for example. Alcohol advertising is everywhere you look these days, and there's no way of shielding young people from that.
Adults will still be exposed to advertising, and we should be very careful not to underestimate the power of that industry to influence behaviour. Remember, this is the industry which back in the 1960s convinced everybody that smoking these dried leaves in paper would make you more successful socially, and romantically, and career-wise without doing any harm to your health. Half the adult population bought it. I think we're more sophisticated these days than we were back then, and that will help, but adults are still very susceptible to advertising. Advertising works.
Public health has been making this statement for a long time now, and we see it's beginning to have an impact. We see prominent health journalists, André Picard, for example, writing about the way alcohol is so aggressively promoted and advertised. Even within the advertising industry, Terry O'Reilly is an icon in the Canadian advertising industry, and he was recently making some comments in his programs about the way in which alcohol is very aggressively targeted toward women. CAMH data shows that alcohol use among women is increasing just as it is among men.
This is why I proposed that we really do everything we can to completely ban advertising of all kinds. Plain packaging is very important. I'm glad to see that being talked about. With regard to retail outlets, one of the things I would like to see is a plain packaging approach to retail outlets as well, because of the principle that a pack of cannabis or whatever, as with cigarettes, is an ad. Every time somebody pulls it out, it's an ad. Plain packaging minimizes that to a significant degree, and I would like to see that same thinking applied to retail outlets as well.
Thank you for your testimony this morning.
Mr. DeVillaer and Dr. Melanson, I want to go back to age limit and the advice you gave. I totally understand the health lens you've applied to this and the recommendation that the age limit be set at 21.
I want to do a really quick backdrop for you, because you are speaking to a federal act and not a provincial act right now. Federally, the definition of youth is 12 to 17 years of age. You would be charged and convicted, if you were under 17, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and your name would be kept private and the record would be sealed or destroyed after set time frames. Federally, at the age of 18 you would be charged as an adult, and if you were convicted, you would have a criminal record that's a public record.
If we took your advice federally and moved the age limit to 21, then 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds would be subject to criminal charges and would have public criminal records. I think the intent of the federal legislation is to protect adults from that, so people 18 and over would be legally allowed to possess cannabis up to a certain amount. It's a minimum age, so provincially or territorially, they could go to a higher age. They could say 21, and in that case, 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds who were caught in possession of marijuana would be charged under the provincial charges acts. It's a fine, a ticket, or a seizure. There would be no criminal record. Think ticketing or liquor licence charges. It seems to me that this is a better solution.
Is your advice of 21 really aimed at provincial-territorial age limits, or is it really your belief that the health consequences for 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are so extreme that they should be subject to criminal charges at the federal level? Given that view, do you think the advice at the federal level is still correct, that it should be 21 before we legalize it?
You know, on our fourth day of hearings, it's quite apparent that one of the major focuses of the testimony and the attention of committee members has been the impact of cannabis and cannabis legalization on young people, on youth. We've heard that Canadian youth are among the highest users of cannabis in the world, perhaps the second highest. We've heard about the impact on their health and their career prospects and the impact of legalization and criminalization on them. We've heard about brain development. We've heard that they apparently suffer from holding myths and misinformation about cannabis. We've heard advice from people about how to effectively talk to young people about cannabis. We've heard different thoughts about their access to cannabis and whether they do or don't have easier access to cannabis than liquor. We've heard about their attitudes towards cannabis, yet we haven't heard from a single young person at this committee.
Millions of Canadians use cannabis and have acknowledged it. They use it today, have used it, and will continue to use it. The parliamentary budget officer has estimated that somewhere between five million and seven million Canadians will use cannabis once this legislation comes into force, and of course, millions of Canadians, I think, voted very clearly last election for a legalized approach to cannabis, yet we haven't heard from a single, ordinary Canadian at this committee.
We have large, established producers of cannabis in this country right now that have been responsible, for I think a decade, for producing cannabis for the medicinal market. Dispensaries across this country, both in Ontario and British Columbia, and maybe in other provinces, have been very actively serving the market, mainly while politicians and police forces have quietly ignored them. We haven't heard from a single producer of cannabis or the dispensaries about their experience over a decade.
Finally, this legislation, we've heard, also seems, by design, to be excluding edibles and concentrates and non-smokable cannabis products, despite the health concerns and despite the obvious contradiction that the very purpose of this bill is to bring products out of the illicit market, to get rid of organized crime, and to regulate these products for the health and safety of Canadians, yet we haven't heard from a single producer of those products.
I think these are very important stakeholder groups, and I believe that it's important to hear from them for the committee's full consideration of the most comprehensive evidence on this legislation. Therefore, colleagues, I wish to serve notice that I am going to be moving the following motion, to be debated at some convenient point later in the day, because I want to give my colleagues a chance to think about it. The motion will read as follows:
“That pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), this Committee meet for an additional two days for the purpose of the consideration of Bill , and that the chair be empowered to coordinate the witnesses, to a minimum of 32 witnesses (eight per stakeholder group), the resources, and scheduling necessary to complete this task in accordance with the following guidelines: (1) Witnesses are to represent the following stakeholder groups in four two-hour panel blocks per day: (i) existing Canadian licensed producers and dispensaries; (ii) producers of edible cannabis products and other non-smokable forms of cannabis; (iii) ordinary Canadians who made a written submission to this committee regarding Bill C-45; (iv) young Canadians, 15 to 24 years; (2) That witnesses for each panel block be allotted as follows: two Liberal, one Conservative, one NDP; (3) That witnesses be directed to prepare oral remarks for 10 minutes in length, and that the witnesses be invited to submit written statements prior to appearing; (4) That the meetings be held prior to September 30, 2017.”
Colleagues, to conclude, the purpose of this is not to hold up these hearings. I'm mindful of the government's timeline. It is September 14. I believe that we are meeting next week to hear from ministers. I want to give the clerk and the chair and the parties time to put their witnesses in, but I think extending these hearings for another week and a half to hear from these important groups would be very important.
I'm going to conclude by saying that I've heard from no one but 50-year-olds and 60-year-olds about how to talk to young people. I think it's time we heard from young people about their thoughts on this bill.
We'll reconvene our meeting number 67.
As we ended our last session, we learned that our colleague, , has passed away. We're going to take just a moment in consideration and remembrance of Arnold. He put up a long fight and passed away last night. Arnold never stopped. He worked right until the last minute. He never slowed down. He was always present. He put up a good fight.
[A moment of silence observed]
The Chair: Here we are on meeting number 67. We're studying Bill . We welcome our guests and our panellists. We're pleased to have you. I think we're somewhere near the 80th panellist we've had so far. They've just been incredible panellists. They have brought great knowledge, background, and experience to us.
I'm going to introduce our panellists here today. From Brazeau Seller, we welcome Trina Fraser, partner. From the Department of Employment and Social Development, we welcome Brenda Baxter, director general, workplace directorate, labour program, and Eric Advokaat, senior director, occupational health and safety, workplace directorate. From Fasken Martineau, we welcome Norm Keith, partner.
Thank you very much.
The way we do this, each organization has a 10-minute opening statement, and then we go to questions after that. We'll start with Trina Fraser.
Mr. Chair and members of the committee, I am very pleased to appear before you to discuss workplace safety.
I am accompanied by my colleague Eric Advokaat, senior director of Occupational Health and Safety.
Responsibility for labour matters in Canada, including workplace safety, is shared between the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. For more than 100 years now, the labour program has been protecting the rights and well-being of both workers and employers in federally regulated sectors, which represent approximately 8% of Canadian workers. This includes creating and maintaining safe and healthy workplaces.
As part of its mandate, the labour program is equally responsible for the administration and enforcement of the Non-smokers' Health Act.
Enacted in 1989, the purpose of the Non-smokers’ Health Act and the non-smokers' health regulations is to protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke in federally regulated workplaces, including in the federal private sector, federal crown corporations, designated federal agencies, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the federal public service, and Parliament, as well as on certain modes of transportation, such as ships, trains, and aircraft.
The administration of the Non-smokers’ Health Act is the joint responsibility of the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour and the Minister of Transport. The former is responsible for the act's application to federally regulated workplaces, and the latter for its application to common federally regulated transportation carriers.
The Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour is solely responsible for designating inspectors to ensure compliance with the act. Fines for offences under the Non-smokers’ Health Act range from $1,000 to $10,000 for employers, and $50 to $1,000 for individuals.
Since 2007, over the past 10 years, there have been a total of 39 complaints under the Non-smokers’ Health Act, with an average of less than two per year in the past five years. This represents 1% of all of the health and safety complaints under just one part of the Canada Labour Code. There are very few complaints under this act.
To date, no prosecution has been filed under the Non-smokers' Health Act.
Since the Non-smokers' Health Act and the non-smokers' health regulations were introduced in 1989, public views with regard to smoking and second-hand smoke have greatly evolved.
In 2007, in light of scientific evidence on the danger of second-hand smoke, the non-smokers' health regulations were amended to eliminate provisions allowing for the designation of smoking rooms and areas in federally regulated workplaces. Since then, all persons, including employees and members of the public, have been prohibited from smoking in any federally regulated workplace and on certain modes of transportation, except in highly restricted smoking areas such as living accommodations or motor vehicles to which only one person has access during a shift.
More recently, new amendments to the Non-smokers' Health Act were proposed under Bill .
The proposed tobacco and vaping products act, Bill , would amend the Non-smokers' Health Act to add a prohibition against the vaping of tobacco in federally regulated workplaces and on certain modes of transportation. In addition, the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation recommended that federal, provincial, and territorial jurisdictions extend the current restrictions in place for smoking tobacco to the smoking of cannabis. As a result, amendments to the Non-smokers' Health Act are correspondingly being proposed through Bill .
Bill proposes to amend the definition of smoke under the Non-smokers' Health Act to include cannabis. Provincial and territorial governments would be responsible for deciding whether to restrict the smoking and vaping of tobacco and cannabis to other public spaces. Should both these bills be approved by Parliament, the smoking and vaping of tobacco or cannabis would be regulated under the Non-smokers' Health Act in all federally regulated workplaces and on certain modes of transportation such as trains, planes, and boats where they cross provincial or international boundaries.
The changes we are proposing would assist in the protection of employees' health and safety at work under federal jurisdiction purview.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Thank you and good morning.
In a moment, I am going to take you to five recommended changes to the legislation. I have advised and represented employers and employer associations on this issue for many years and have written a book on the subject of alcohol and drugs in the workplace. I think these changes are essential if in fact recreational marijuana is to be legalized on July 1, 2018, as the bill proposes. Essentially, at the present time, there is no actual or proposed legislative framework that will be necessary to prevent this amendment from resulting in injury, accident, and death.
I will give a bit of background. I filed this in the brief, and the footnotes are available for the facts I'll provide you with.
In Canada, in 2015, the most recent year for which numbers are available, there were more than 232,000 lost-time accidents with 852 fatalities. There are approximately just under 3,000 motor vehicle fatalities every year in Canada. What we know from the Colorado experience is that, at least in the first full year after recreational cannabis was legalized, the number of motor vehicle fatalities, including transportation workers, increased by 225%. It more than doubled. Unless there is a rigorous legislative framework added, which is not yet proposed in the legislation, tragedy will be the result of this amendment allowing recreational marijuana to be legal in Canada.
The other statistics that employers are concerned about are as follows. Ninety-three per cent of businesses deal currently with substance abuse in some form on the part of their workers. This is a serious and important issue. More than 38% of workers' compensation claims are related to alcohol or drug abuse. The risk of a worker having an injury—again, the footnotes provide the references for the authority—is 2.7 times higher if they're involved in alcohol or substance abuse. The presumption of my submission is that the legalization of recreational marijuana will not only increase social acceptance and use, it will also exacerbate what my clients are seeing already, and that is an increased use with the view that legalization is around the corner.
The courts, in fact the chief justice when I was arguing the Irving Pulp & Paper case, suggested to me and other counsel in that random alcohol testing case that the legislature and Parliament is the better place to establish a comprehensive framework than to deal with this case by case, litigated in the courts and before arbitrators. Let me provide you—and, again, I hope that the brief has been provided to members of the committee—with the five recommendations in our submission that we would ask you to consider. They are essential to making sure that workplaces, workers, and the public affected by workers are safe.
First, the Canada Labour Code obviously deals only with a limited number of workers, about 8% or 9%, but there is a duty that exists in every other provincial statute, and that is a duty to protect worker health and safety. Workers also have duties, but the first recommendation is to acknowledge the reality that exists today and will be exacerbated by the legalization of marijuana. There is no current prohibition against a worker coming to work under the influence of cannabis or another drug, so the first requested recommendation is to prohibit workers from coming to work under the influence of cannabis or other drugs, unless they have medical authorization, and thereafter with consultation by the employer. That's a common-sense suggestion that we think should be considered.
Second, safety sensitive positions are discussed and debated without a legal definition. A safety sensitive job is obviously a pilot who takes us in the skies and has to be sober, a truck driver driving on an international or interprovincial trucking route, which is therefore federally regulated, or perhaps a provincially regulated tower crane operator. A safety sensitive position has yet to be defined under the Canada Labour Code. It needs to be, because things flow from that. Greater scrutiny and greater regulatory oversight need to be applied to safety sensitive positions, so our second recommendation is a definition for the term “safety sensitive position”.
Third, there needs to be a positive duty, we submit, for workers, supervisors, managers, who have a lawful prescription for medical marijuana to deal with a medical condition, or other drugs, to report that to the employer if they fall within the safety sensitive positions. There needs to be a connection there for disclosure, transparency, and later I'll make the point, protection of those workers to make sure they're not unfairly discriminated against.
Fourth, and this might be the most controversial of what I'm going to recommend, is the idea of testing for workers, randomly, for cannabis and other drugs if they occupy a safety sensitive position. The law, as you may know, has been set not by Parliament's leadership but by the courts reactively in case-by-case analyses.
The most recent decision on alcohol and drug testing is the Irving Pulp & Paper case. I was involved for an intervenor for that file. That's where the chief justice made the comment, “Mr. Keith, wouldn't it be better if the legislature took leadership in this issue to set a legislative framework as opposed to reacting case by case?” I couldn't disagree with the now former chief justice. But they went on to hold that random alcohol testing, where there's a clear legal Criminal Code threshold for impairment was not permitted in a dangerous pulp and paper place down in New Brunswick that was three blocks from a public school, because there weren't enough cases of people causing accidents when they were drunk. That essentially is the employer's view of the ruling, in Irving Pulp & Paper. It's troubling.
However, Irving Pulp & Paper says you can test if somebody does have an accident, post-incident, or if the employer determines that they are impaired at work. Why do you have to wait? Why can't you, as we do with RIDE programs around holiday season, have a deterrent and detection process of random testing in workplaces? The suggestion is for only safety sensitive positions, so there's not an over-inclusive net being cast.
Last, to complement this and the reporting obligation, we're recommending that the Canada Labour Code be amended to require workers to report if they're in fact taking drugs lawfully. This is an accommodation provision. Some might argue that there is implied case law about the duty to accommodate, and that's true, there is.
I think clarity is part of a comprehensive legislative framework to give employers and unions the legal obligation to accommodate workers who declare that they have a dependency or an addiction problem and they also fit within the safety sensitive regime. If the employee self-declares they have a problem, they're protected. They have job security, but they'll be assisted in hopefully a constructive rehabilitation program.
I think the requirement, as in Elk Valley Coal, the Supreme Court decision dealing with the duty to accommodate, should be if you in fact self-disclose before you cause the accident, because after that, there is accountability that the employer needs to be able to invoke for the worker.
To wrap up, hopefully these five recommendations will be looked at as part of a more comprehensive workplace safety legislative framework that will be fair to workers, protect workers from themselves, from other workers, and reduce the legal risks that employers are unfairly given when in fact they're blamed for not preventing a worker for coming to work sober and safe.
Clearly this legislation is controversial, to legalize recreational marijuana. I'm not commenting on that, but given that it's a very complex social experiment, assuming the government goes ahead with it, then the workplace safety issues and the recommendations we propose hopefully can be well received.
Mr. Chairman and committee members, thank you for having me here today.
I'm going to approach the panel topic of workplace safety from a different perspective, from the employee perspective, and specifically from the perspective of a specific group of employees, those being the thousands of workers across the country who currently work within the illicit cannabis industry.
It is estimated that over 13,000 individuals in British Columbia alone participate and work in the illicit cannabis industry. This represents an estimated wage amount of over $600 million. These are obviously estimates only. We don't have reliable statistics, but I think it's safe to say that across the country we're talking about tens of thousands of workers involved in cultivation, processing, or sales of illicit cannabis. The safety of these workers is threatened in a number of ways. In the retail sector, dispensary workers face a threat to their personal safety through the risk of robbery. Dispensaries are a ripe target for thieves due to cash on hand and due to the fact that thieves know that there's a good chance the robbery won't even get reported to the police. There may be environmental risks associated with working in an unregulated grow op or lab, and of course, the personal liberty of these workers is threatened by the risk of criminal prosecution.
I'm here to suggest to you today that the risks to these workers can be mitigated while simultaneously the objectives of legalization are advanced as these workers are provided a meaningful opportunity to participate within the legal market. This can be done by codifying within the bill and the regulations to the bill a tolerance for applicants with certain prior illicit market participation.
Subclause 62(7) of Bill provides that the minister may refuse to issue a production licence if the applicant has contravened the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the CDSA, in the past 10 years. That, in and of itself, excludes anyone who has been convicted of producing, trafficking, or even possessing cannabis in the last decade. The bill also provides that additional grounds for refusal may be prescribed by regulation.
We don't yet know what those regulations will look like, but we can look to the current access to cannabis for medical purposes regulations, the ACMPR, for a sense of this. In section 36 of the ACMPR, not only is the minister required to refuse to issue a production licence where the CDSA has been contravened in the past 10 years, but the minister is also required to refuse to issue a licence where law enforcement has provided information that raises reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant has been involved in the diversion of a controlled substance to an illicit market. The use of the words “reasonable grounds” here is important because it means that a conviction is not required. Charges are not even required. A mere reasonable suspicion is sufficient to result in the refusal of your application.
In addition, the ACMPR provides that all directors and officers of a licensed producer as well as certain key employees must be security cleared. Clause 67 of Bill also refers to security clearances, so it appears that this concept is being brought forward into the cannabis act, and again, under section 112 of the ACMPR, mere reasonable grounds to suspect that the applicant has been involved in the diversion of a controlled substance to the illicit market is a factor to be taken into account by the minister in deciding whether to grant a security clearance.
Under the ACMPR clearly we have a framework that essentially denies prior illicit cannabis market participants from obtaining a licence to produce medical cannabis, and also precludes them from holding many key positions with a licensed producer. This also creates a chilling effect on licensed producers with regard to hiring those with prior cannabis convictions, and it appears that we are heading in the same direction with Bill .
This can be contrasted with the approach that's being taken in the United States. Of the eight states in the U.S. that licensed the production of recreational cannabis, seven have legislation that contains what I would refer to as amnesty provisions regarding prior cannabis convictions. Massachusetts, Nevada, and Colorado deny licences to those with a prior felony conviction, but they expressly exclude certain marijuana offences from that rule. Oregon, Maine, and Washington exclude certain marijuana convictions completely from the consideration of whether a licence should be granted. The draft regulations in California are the most inclusive. They provide that a prior conviction for the possession, sale, manufacture, or cultivation of a controlled substance, not involving minors, shall not form the sole ground for denial of a licence application. At least 11 states that have legalized medical cannabis also have some form of amnesty provisions in their legislation.
What I submit to you is that this is the direction we need to take in Canada as well. We need to consider and debate the parameters of acceptable prior illicit market participation. Many of these individuals would embrace the opportunity to operate legally. They would comply with regulations. Granted, some would choose to continue to operate outside of the law, so as not to be burdened by government regulation, and so be it. They would be dealt with on the offence and enforcement side of the equation, but there should be an opportunity to comply and participate.
At the very least, mere possession offences should not inhibit legal market participation, but what I'm suggesting is that we should go further than that because the cannabis entrepreneurs that I'm referring to are producing and selling cannabis products, so they would still be excluded. We need a more nuanced approach to the issue of licensing and who should be prohibited from obtaining a licence. For example, we can exclude those convicted of offences that involve young persons. We can exclude those with established connections to organized crime. We can exclude those convicted of offences that involved guns, violence, or controlled substances other than cannabis. We can build reasonable parameters that exclude those who are likely to be a threat to public health and safety, while also providing an opportunity for those who would not be.
I am a business lawyer. I have advised the medical cannabis industry since it was privatized three and a half years ago with the MMPR. I have seen the shortcomings of this system, but I've also seen the potential of this industry. Current licence producers are not averse to an inclusive industry. What they want is for everybody to be on a level playing field and to be subject to the same set of rules. I'm certainly not suggesting this from the perspective of being a cannabis activist and I'm not suggesting that illicit market participants have somehow earned the right to participate as a reward for their civil disobedience. I'm suggesting it because I believe it's the only way legalization is really going to work. The stated objectives of the bill include the reduction of the illicit market and it attempts to do so by imposing criminal sanctions on those operating outside of the legal framework, but this, in and of itself, will not work. We know this because it hasn't worked. Those who are excluded will continue to operate outside of the law. A better approach would be to design a framework for legalization which permits the inclusion of prior illicit market participants. This will enhance the public health and safety objective by subjecting those individuals to government oversight and regulation. It will increase tax revenues, as these individuals report and pay tax on their income. It will allow the legal industry to benefit from the breadth of knowledge that is possessed by these individuals and it will protect these individuals, by allowing them to work in a safe, regulated environment, free from the risk of criminal sanctions. If we fail to create an inclusive cannabis industry, the black market will thrive, and if it thrives, cannabis will continue to be easily accessible to minors, the public health and safety objective of restricting access to unregulated cannabis products will be compromised, and we will continue to place an unnecessary burden on the criminal justice system.
I would also add that a meaningful opportunity to transition into the legal market involves having regulations which are not so onerous that they effectively exclude small operators. The task force on cannabis legalization and regulation, in fact, recommended that the government encourage market diversity by creating a space for smaller producers. Under the ACMPR, what I am seeing is that the cost of compliance, in particular relating to security requirements, is a real barrier to small-scale production, and a meaningful opportunity to transition also requires expanding the scope of cannabis products to include edibles and other derivative products. This is what the market wants and demands and it will be required in order to transition the existing producers of these derivative products into the legal market.
In my opinion, sir, no. The companion bill seems to assume that it's only the public that might be harmed or killed by somebody under the influence of cannabis. It ignores every working Canadian who goes to work every day, especially in and around safety sensitive positions.
Since there is no threshold measurement for cannabis impairment yet, and the technology may be evolving, it's difficult to always persuade people that you can do a random test in the workplace that's meaningful, but the TTC has done it. The courts have upheld the random TTC alcohol and drug testing program, but they're in litigation, and their litigation may go for years. If it goes all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, it may take another decade.
Workplace stakeholders need a framework, and if it's a federal bill that legalizes recreational cannabis, it only makes sense that, even though federal jurisdiction doesn't extend over all workplaces, the federal government should also provide leadership for the serious safety risks. I could bore you with example after example. I've got three cases currently that I'm retained on in the courts where somebody died because they were impaired. In all cases it's the employer who gets blamed.
There needs to be a more rigorous review, and I would suggest these amendments to the Canada Labour Code specifically for workplace safety. The bill on the traffic side deals with public safety to some extent and a little bit indirectly for transportation workers' workplace safety, but you don't want to be walking near a construction site where there's a tower crane where a worker is not screened or worries about cheating the system by being stoned at work and dropping a concrete bucket on somebody's head.
It's a terrible thought, and I deal with it more than I'd like to in my practice, and to just say that under the general duty clause for employers, you have to find a way to do it, when the courts are not generally permitting random testing, I think misses the point that there is already increased use and acceptance, especially in the construction industry in Ontario. It will get more prevalent as you have legality and as you have increased social acceptance. I don't think current legislation addresses the concerns that I have raised.
Again, this is a great panel. I wish I had more time with you.
I'd like to start off with Mr. Keith.
I'm from Oshawa, and we have a lot of unions, a lot of labour. I was happy that you brought these things forward because it parrots what I'm hearing from labour interests as well.
There are a few other things that they've brought up with me that you haven't included. These are things along the lines of blood testing, DNA collection, who would own that management cost, who pays for compliance.
There are new technologies. I guess there are other technologies for alcohol, where you can actually put it on heavy equipment. A person has to blow into it and then it will operate. If these new technologies come out, again, who pays for that? With regard to the data collected, who owns that? There are a lot of questions with this piece of legislation. You pointed out just a few of the inadequacies.
You quite rightly say that it's a complex social experiment, but it's also a poorly thought out implementation of public policy. I think by having witnesses here today, it's important that we can look at it and say that the responsibility of government is the health and safety of Canadians. This panel is I think the only one we have on looking specifically at workers.
I will ask you a few things here. We know that with smoking cannabis over the weekend, it can be in your system for days. We've heard that it can be a cumulative effect, even weeks later. Will this be problematic if mandatory testing becomes a standard in the workplace? Again, who is going to define impairment? You mentioned the blood levels. There are a lot of inconsistencies there.
Will it not be hard to punish or reprimand employees for having cannabis in their system for something they were doing legally over the weekend or in the evening in the privacy of their own home? Can you give us some advice on how that should be managed?
I'm not a doctor and I don't even play one on TV, but I've done a lot of reading in the area.
What I'd encourage the committee to look at is the injunction decision of the Honourable Justice Frank Marrocco on the TTC policy “fitness for duty”. What it essentially does is it takes a consensus of medical experts on cannabis impairment from around the world, gets a consensus statistical average of what the readings are of THC—tetrahydrocannabinol, the active psychoactive ingredient in marijuana and hashish—and then doubles it. It says that anything below that threshold is considered a negative; everything at or above it is a positive.
To protect the privacy concerns of workers and union leaders, the results are not disclosed to the employer. This is the standard for all testing in Canada, limited as it is.
Then the results are reviewed by a medical review officer, and sometimes there is a legitimate explanation and/or a medical authorization—in the vernacular code, a prescription—and a conversation takes place between the worker and the medical review officer or doctor. It is only after the assessment is done that, to protect the privacy and the medical personal interests of the worker, it may be reported as a positive to the employer.
If the employer gets a positive result, the worker—with a union representative, if they're unionized—gets to advise or self-declare, if they have a dependency or an addiction. If they do, human rights legislation across Canada requires the employer to treat it as a disability, and they are accommodated to the point of undue hardship, which is fancy legal talk for saying they're sent to rehab. If they recover and they're sober, they can come back.
That often is happening today. The problem, however, is that there is no detection or deterrent effect because of the inability to have random testing, which is the law, set down by the Supreme Court of Canada in Irving that is being tested by the TTC.
All of that litigation—
A lot of statistics, largely out of the U.S., indicate that as soon as you have a random alcohol testing program in place, use goes down by more than 50%. Allowing testing will reduce the risk for everybody, period, but then you get to the problem about somebody who is being tested. Is the employer going to pay for it? Generally, yes they are, if they want it.
Should they be authorized to test everybody? Our suggestion is no, it's just in the case of a safety sensitive position, in other words, a position in which somebody such as a TTC bus driver or a pilot can injure themselves seriously, or others, or the public.
The Sunwing case, which has been very public, is a disturbing one, because it took flight attendants to turn in a drunken, incapacitated pilot who was not otherwise subject to testing. None of us wants to think of getting on a flight when we don't have confidence in the flight crew.
In terms of the mechanism, I think it's going to be a choice that employers make, when they have dangerous workplaces with safety sensitive positions. Employers, however, will probably choose to invest and bear that cost because of the cost of injury in workers' compensation costs, the moral imperative, the loss of a good worker, but also the risk of prosecution.
I'm not sure whether you're aware of the Metron Construction case in which four workers died, three of them impaired heavily with THC, on Christmas Eve 2009. The employer was punished by a trial judge; they received a large fine of $200,000. They were further punished because they failed to prevent workers from being stoned on the job. That's what the court of appeal said; that was one of the three reasons in the Metron case. I've given you the citation.
In other words, an employer who doesn't prevent workers from coming to work when not sober and safe has a real financial risk. That's part of the motivation of a good employer: they care about their workers; they care about the public; they don't want to be harmed. They also care, however, about their bottom line: it's bad business for workers to come to work under the influence of cannabis or other drugs and cause accidents, injuries, or worse.
Thank you to all of our witnesses.
Mr. Keith, I think that you have pointed out a real gap in the legislation that will result in workers and employers not being adequately protected when marijuana is legalized. I say that because I think I have some experience in this area. I was the director of engineering and construction at Suncor. We had a drug policy that was a zero tolerance policy that we wanted to implement.
I live in a reasonably small community. We have a lot of tradespeople, and we're well aware of which tradespeople chronically use marijuana. We were unable to do anything about them being on the job site or do any assessment. There was no random testing allowed, and there was no mandatory testing allowed. I would contrast that with some of the best practices that we see elsewhere.
I also worked in the States, with Dow Chemical, Shell, ExxonMobil, and a number of organizations. They not only do random testing, which does give the result that you have indicated in terms of the reduction, but a lot of times there's a mandatory health test where they do drug testing for cannabis before somebody is allowed to join a project construction job.
I think there are examples out there. I would like to see some legislation drafted in here.
I guess, if we decide that we're going to do testing, then, I wonder about the cost that this will put as a burden on organizations. At Suncor, if somebody was using a prescription drug, they had a duty to report to the health nurse. We had a nurse on duty who could do a blood test, but, if you don't have that, then how are going to get those resources in place?
I think the other concern I have is with the data you mentioned on WSIB, that 38% of incidents are related to that. It's a very high number of claims that are refused. As cannabis comes in, and there is such a controversy about whether you're really impaired or not and what the technology can do, I worry that will result in further WSIB claims.
Could you talk a bit about the resourcing impact to the businesses?
I think, in the amendment to the Canada Labour Code that we're suggesting, it authorizes employers with workers in safety sensitive positions only to do random testing. Again, it is primarily for the purpose of deterrent, but also for detection, and there is a cost associated with that, as you point out.
I think employers may not all be happy to spend that kind of money. They may want to share that cost. That's permitted, if they're unionized, by negotiating a term in the collective agreement. It's unlikely, in my opinion, they'd ever get that agreement.
I think employers who are probably reluctant would be smaller employers with fewer resources. I think most employers, especially with dangerous jobs and safety sensitive positions, realize that preventing accidents is a huge, not only legal burden that they avoid, but also a huge cost burden. I think of the old saying that an ounce of prevention is worth pound of cure. I think most employers would likely—I can't speak for all of them or any of them in particular—embrace that additional cost if it was legally authorized to do it.
What is troubling for employers—and this is what many employers and employer associations have said to me—is that we think we have a pretty good case for random testing, especially after the TTC case, but we don't want to be in litigation for the next eight to 10 years. That's the risk. That's why a legislative framework, even if it's seen as a balanced and restrictive framework, with protections for privacy built in, absolutely.... I would point the committee back to the TTC decision. It very clearly sets out the TTC policy, and it has been judiciously approved, although that's being appealed.
Who knows where it will all end up legally? The point is, how many more accidents do you want to have in a dangerous workplace? How many do we as a society think we want to tolerate in balancing the prevention versus the privacy concerns?
The other point, simply—I didn't make it earlier, but it responds to your question of cost—is, even if the employer bears the full cost, union leadership has really ignored one fundamental problem. That is, they have in every legislation, federally and provincially, a duty of fair representation of all their union members, not just the member who's using drugs. Guess who gets hurt and killed? Union members by union members. There's a lack of leadership or accountability of the union leaders in saying that they are accountable for everybody, and they should encourage reduction of the idea of the use of impairing drugs or alcohol in the workplace. If deterrents through testing are helpful, let's work with employers for a better method to do that.
If there was a framework in the legislation, as we suggested, I think that would be a good start. That would allow employers to do that.
That's a hypothetical suggestion.
Let me respond partly with an example. I have a formwork contracting client, who is the largest formwork contracting client in the province of Ontario. They estimate anywhere from 45% to 55% of their workers are using cannabis illegally right now. They have no means to test. They've had a few people thrown off the job who are visibly smoking on smoke breaks. That's what's happening right now.
On a smoke break at a construction site, since it's not prohibited and because it's open air, people are toking up and they're comparing smoking cannabis to smoking a cigarette, when the impairment effect is different. It's almost as if they were breaking out a case of beer on a smoke break. That's a better metaphor or comparison.
Employers don't want to get embroiled in criminal investigations related to the workplace. They don't want workers to get hurt. They just want the workers to come to work sober, to be able to do the job safely, and to get the productive work done.
The spirit behind the suggestion for a legislative framework.... I keep quoting the former chief justice because I think the courts are frustrated that there's no leadership and legislation on this complex issue and the balance that's been discussed here between privacy rights and the right to safety of workers in the public.
The practical reality is that there aren't enough police to police everybody who's going to smoke and put somebody else at risk, or do cocaine or drink alcohol. Some of the substances are legal and some of them aren't.
The focus here is not so much on the legality, but that legal cannabis will increase social acceptance and use. The risks are becoming higher for workers and co-workers in safety sensitive positions. The spirit behind the legislative framework I'm suggesting is to make and enhance protective measures in the workplace for the safety of workers and the safety of the public, while at the same time respecting the privacy rights of workers.
Employers just don't want to get involved in the problem of having criminal investigations at the workplace. They will resist it. I've been advising employers for a long time and that just seems to be a common theme, regardless of industry or jurisdiction.
I just wanted to correct the record a little bit here with respect to some comments made by my colleague, Dr. Carrie.
The task force on legalization of marijuana travelled across Canada. I think they were five or six months on the job. They had 20,000 submissions from all walks of life, all professions, all areas. Under this section, on what we heard, they dealt specifically with people working in safety sensitive positions, such as health care workers, law enforcement personnel, and employees in transportation, construction, and resource extraction industries. They heard about the challenges associated with providing reasonable accommodation of employees who use cannabis for medical purposes. Employer groups were in to see them calling for more guidance from federal, provincial, and territorial governments about appropriate workplace drug use and drug testing.
So I think there was extensive consultation by the government through the task force in the area of testimony that Mr. Keith is bringing to us and others have today.
Again, we are dealing with implementation at this point.
I guess that's my question to you, Mr. Keith. With concerns being heard by the task force, the concerns you bring forward.... As I've already told you, there is already case law, and there seem to be permissions in place for employers for safety sensitive positions to advise in advance that someone will be tested and to implement those. You said we're partially there.
In terms of implementation, I heard you suggest we should more comprehensively address the issue in the Labour Code. Is there anything more you would add to those five recommendations?
Mr. Chair and committee members, thank you for the opportunity to participate in your hearing today. I am here in the capacity of minister of health of the Métis National Council. I am also the president of Métis Nation British Columbia. I'm pleased to be here to provide the Métis nation perspective on Bill .
To provide some background, the Métis are a distinct aboriginal people as defined in section 35 of the Constitution. The Métis nation emerged with its own collective identity, language, culture, way of life, and self-government in the historic northwest prior to Canada's westward expansion following Confederation. The Métis nation continues to exist as a distinct aboriginal people and seeks to advance its right to self-determination, including self-government within Canada.
The Métis National Council is governed by five members. These governing members are Métis Nation British Columbia, Métis Nation of Alberta, Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, Manitoba Métis Federation, and the Métis Nation of Ontario. MNC governing members, through their registries and democratically elected governance structures at the local, regional, and provincial levels, are mandated and authorized to represent the citizens who comprise the Métis nation.
About one-third of all indigenous people in Canada identify as Métis. According to the 2011 census, more than 450,000 people reported they were Métis, with almost 85% located in the western provinces and Ontario. More than 70% of Métis live in urban centres, the largest concentrations being in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, and Toronto.
I'd like to talk a bit about the overall health status of Métis people. In the Métis context, we take a “social determinants to health” approach. Everything is interrelated; what happens in one area impacts upon another.
Such historical and current events as residential and day schools, the sixties scoop, racism, loss of family unit security, loss of community wellness and unity, and loss of culture and language have had a lasting impact upon Métis health and wellness.
Métis are vulnerable to chronic diseases such as mental health disorders. These disorders include depression, anxiety, substance use, and chronic pain, including emotional pain. For example, we know from the Métis health status and health care utilization study done in Manitoba in 2010 that Métis had statistically higher rates of depression, anxiety, and substance use than the general population.
The federal task force on cannabis legalization and regulation spoke to the risks of vulnerable populations. The Métis are a vulnerable population in terms of overall health status. It is therefore important that we be involved as equal partners in the work ahead.
I would like to take this opportunity to commend the and Government of Canada for entering into the Canada-Métis Nation Accord in April of this year. This commitment sets out a nation-to-nation, government-to-government relationship between Canada and the Métis nation. Under this accord, we have co-committed to advancing a range of priorities, including Métis health and wellness.
Now I will speak more directly to the proposed legislation. The Métis National Council supports the stated purpose of Bill , including its intent to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis, to protect young persons and others from inducements to use cannabis, to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system, and to enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.
Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to engage with or consult our citizens and communities on the proposed bill or its regulatory framework. There are indeed a number of matters of importance to the Métis nation, including the potential impacts that legalizing marijuana will have on health and wellness, justice and corrections, and economic development.
The Métis National Council proposes four key recommendations to ensure that there are opportunities for more adequate engagement with the Métis nation in implementation matters.
Recommendation number one is that the Government of Canada ensure meaningful engagement of the Métis nation in the development and implementation of a regulatory framework for cannabis.
The task force advised the Government of Canada that successful implementation of a regulatory framework will take time and will require that governments meet a number of challenges with respect to capacity and infrastructure, oversight, coordination, and communications. It indicated that federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous governments will need to work together on information and data sharing in coordination of efforts to set up and monitor new systems. Organizations that have appeared before the committee recognize the importance of consultations with indigenous communities on legislation, preventive measures, and interventions to meet local conditions and cultural requirements. We support these recommendations.
Recommendation number two is that the Government of Canada provide the Métis nation with resources to minimize the harms of cannabis use in the Métis population.
The Métis National Council agrees with the task force on cannabis legalization and regulations advice that a public health approach should be taken to promote health and reduce harm. This approach considers the risks associated with cannabis use, including the risks of developmental harms to youth. It is imperative that resources be provided to Métis governments to mitigate harms associated with cannabis use. The Métis nation is prepared to work with all levels of government to undertake health promotion activities and to develop approaches to minimize harms in the Métis population. Funding supports should be provided by the federal government to Métis governments to undertake this work.
Recommendation number three is that funding be provided by the Government of Canada to support prevention, education, and treatment supports, especially for Métis youth. Of particular concern to the Métis nation is the health and wellness of Métis youth.
We understand that legalizing cannabis will have impacts upon the Métis, particularly Métis youth. The Métis population is young. According to Statistics Canada, 41% of the Métis population is under 25, compared with 30% of the non-indigenous population. Many of our Métis youth are already dealing with issues surrounding drug use and addiction issues. We know from a Métis study by McCreary Centre Society in B.C. in 2013 that around half, 48%, of Métis youth had tried marijuana. Among those who had tried it, 23% had used marijuana on six or more days in the preceding month, 30% of males and 18% of females.
We want to ensure that Métis, including Métis children and youth, have access to information to enable them to make informed decisions. We also want to ensure that Métis children and youth have access to Métis-specific prevention, education, and treatment supports. On that front, we agree with the task force that governments should commit to using revenue from cannabis regulation as a source of funding for prevention. Funding should be provided to Métis governments to address these needs.
To minimize harms, we would like to see the minimum legal age set at 19 years. The age of 19 is consistent with the legal age of drinking in most provinces.
Recommendation number four is that the Government of Canada work with the Métis nation in enforcing public safety and protection. The Métis nation supports the task force's recommendations that the federal government take a leadership role to ensure that capacity is developed among all levels of government, including Métis governments, prior to the start of the regulatory regime; that it develop and coordinate national research and surveillance activities, including Métis population-specific research and surveillance; that it establish a surveillance and monitoring system inclusive of Métis; that it engage with indigenous governments, including Métis governments, to explore opportunities for their participation in the cannabis market; and that it engage with indigenous communities, including Métis communities, to develop targeted and culturally appropriate communications.
In particular, resources should be provided to implement an evidence-informed public education campaign targeting the Métis population. Métis are the experts in relation to their own health and health needs and can play a meaningful role in public education.
The Métis nation seeks to work as an equal partner in the development and implementation of regulatory matters and in optimizing help for Métis people in Canada. The Métis nation is committed to working with all levels of government to ensure that the task of legalizing and regulating cannabis is done carefully and safely. Métis governments have the ability to effectively reach Métis people and communities in ways no other government can do. We look forward to contributing to the work ahead.
Thank you again for the opportunity to participate in this panel. We welcome any questions you may have.
Before I begin, I want to extend my condolences to the family, colleagues, and friends of , a member of Parliament who passed away this morning. I'm sure he will be greatly missed by his Ontario Liberal caucus colleagues and members of Parliament, who valued his thoughtful contributions to the democratic process in Parliament. Just on a personal note, I've known Arnold Chan throughout the last 15 years, when he worked with Dalton McGuinty and in the private sector as well. He was an upstanding individual who will be sadly missed. Again, our condolences.
I also want to acknowledge the unceded territory of the Algonquin Nation. I am presenting here today as the Ontario regional chief. I'm also the national chair of the Assembly of First Nations chiefs committee on health.
As we all know, Bill , the cannabis act, intends to provide legal access to cannabis and to control and regulate its production, distribution, and sale. The objectives of the act are to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis, to protect public health and safety by establishing strict product safety and product quality requirements, and to deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties on those operating outside of the legal framework. The act is also intended to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis.
As the committee has already heard earlier this week, police officials have stated they will not be prepared to deal with Bill when it becomes law on July 1, 2018. That's consistent among many jurisdictions and communities. It's accurate to say that first nations are also not prepared to deal with the ramifications of Bill C-45. In fact, this is a critical issue that is going to have huge impacts on first nations and all Canadians, but we're not yet in a position to fully understand and fully address those impacts.
In this part of my presentation I will probably put a lot of questions to the committee, because there are some unanswered questions, as you know.
The first is: does Canada even know the full impacts of cannabis yet? This is a situation where we're damned if we do and damned if we don't, and that speaks to the issue of engagement readiness. The reality is, the complexities of much of the process—just as an example, environmental legislation, or even getting communities' engagement ready, to ensure we have a substantive say on any legislative changes—make it a daunting task. It's complex in nature.
The Assembly of First Nations does not yet have a position on cannabis. It has been proposed that a national first nations summit on cannabis be held in the very near future.
In Ontario, it's accurate to say that first nations are much more engaged with the province's plan to establish a cannabis control board by July 1, 2018. Last Friday, when the Ontario government announced its cannabis plans, the chiefs of Ontario were briefed in advance by the and the . In the coming months, we will establish a bilateral table to work collectively on the Ontario cannabis control act. We are meeting with INAC minister on October 2, just prior to the first ministers' meeting. Rest assured, this will certainly be one of the major issues on the table for discussion.
Initial meetings with Ontario are proving to be respectful and focused on the real issues and challenges faced by first nations in preparation for the retail and distribution of cannabis. There will be many issues and opportunities that will need to be addressed. First, how will first nations communities regulate the sale and consumption of cannabis at the local level? Some of our communities may want to explore the potential of jointly owned cannabis operations, which will—or may—be federally approved.
What I mean is that there are going to be some jurisdictional issues and questions. As you know, unlike our brothers and sisters within the Métis community, we have a very specific land tenure under the Indian Act. Some communities may want to ban the sale and consumption of cannabis, much like dry communities ban alcohol, stemming specifically from provisions in the already embattled Indian Act.
Land governance, again, unlike with our Métis brothers and sisters, is going to be the crux of the challenges we face. All you have to do is look at the tobacco issues that we're faced with in many of our jurisdictions. I'll only speak for Ontario, but we have spent years dealing with those issues at the community level.
Any provincial legislation needs to have the flexibility to support first nations communities in pursuing development in ways that align with their own specific cultural and community values, for example the banning of recreational cannabis around community events and ceremonies. We take our protocols and ceremonies very seriously, and to a large extent cannabis has not been part of those ceremonies and community protocols. How do we deal with that? How is our jurisdiction respected if the communities set out their own laws and ordinances around that?
I remain optimistic that first nations will directly benefit from any revenue generated from these ventures. While historically Ontario first nations have been neglected in resource revenue-sharing with the Province of Ontario, this new industry provides an opportunity to turn a new leaf and to examine innovative revenue-sharing opportunities. We just need to avoid the potholes in the path going forward.
However, the biggest concern that first nations in Ontario and across the country have with Bill is the health and safety of our peoples. According to the national native alcohol and drug abuse program, cannabis is the second most-abused substance after alcohol, followed by cocaine and opioids. It was estimated as far back as 2003 in Ontario that an additional $33 million per year was needed to treat first nations drug and alcohol addictions. This is as a result of decades of underfunding.
What will happen when cannabis is legalized and more of our people are able to access this drug? We know there will be an increase in the need for addiction treatment. We know there will be a need for an increase in law enforcement as well. When the states of Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis sales in 2013, American Indian tribes were negatively impacted. This should be examined. Cannabis products were sold illegally on reservations as far as New Mexico, Arizona, and North and South Dakota. The primary targets were native American teenagers.
To quote the July 25, 2014 Denver Post article:
...tribal leaders are fighting a heroic but losing stand as state-legalized marijuana, cannibis-infused food, liquids, e-cigarette cartridges and other products make their way to young people from Colorado and Washington state-licensed dispensaries.
How are we going to ensure this does not happen here in Canada? For example, first nations policing is already chronically underfunded and understaffed. Over the past several decades the Chiefs of Ontario have passed at least 43 resolutions calling for more funding for first nations community policing.
To quote from our May 2017 “Strategy for a Safer Ontario” position paper:
The federal First Nations Policing Program fails to meet the needs of First Nations Police Services in Ontario, and its archaic assumptions place the safety of First Nations Officers and their community citizens at risk.
The Ontario Police Services Act provides a legislative basis for police services in the province of Ontario. However, first nations police services are not afforded the same protections other police services receive in the province, because there is no equivalent legislation for them specifically. Securing funding that is stable and sustainable is an ongoing necessity to improve the delivery of first nations police services. Funding is needed to build capacity to ensure the safety of first nations officers in responding to calls, to create specialized services, and to ensure there is adequate housing and infrastructure in support of first nations police services.
The need for training beyond front-line policing training is an integral part of community policing. This training should include cultural awareness training for native and non-native officers alike, so they understand the cultural norms of first nations communities. It should also include understanding social services, including dealing with addictions and other societal problems common in first nations communities.
On that list of quotes, I want to emphasize that you just had folks here from the police chiefs' organizations federally, and they were stating they are not going to be prepared, so you can only imagine what is going to need to be examined for first nations communities. We definitely are going to render ourselves hopeless here if something isn't looked at and responded to.
From the economic development standpoint to date, resource revenue-sharing agreements have largely been left to the provincial governments in relation to geological and environmental resources such as mining, forestry, and hydroelectric power. The bill has completely neglected any specific opportunity for first nations to participate meaningfully in or have any resources to appropriately respond to the implications of this emerging market.
Section 60 of Bill states that the Attorney General of Canada may enter into an agreement with the government of a province, or with any provincial, municipal, or local authority, respecting the sharing of fines and fees that are collected in respect to the prosecution of offences and for the compensation, administration, and enforcement of this act.
If the Government of Canada is serious about its dedication to a government-to-government relationship, first nations need to be included in this section to provide adequate responses to the implications of this bill within and surrounding first nations communities. This could include supporting first nations emergency responders, such as police, ambulance, and fire response, which will be impacted by manufacturing and sales within this emerging industry. A revenue-sharing agreement with first nations would ensure quality emergency response to promote community safety, which is an important factor in self-government.
While there may be some first nations that are unwilling to participate in the industry, which is their prerogative, there will be others that will want to participate as meaningful partners or even sole owners of related businesses. Within section 6.1(a), the minister may establish classes of applications for licences and permits. First nations should be a separate class and have a designated number of licences and permits attached to the class. The act permits the minister to revoke licences based on business incorporation being formed or organized outside of Canada.
As the Attorney General continues to work on federal legislation that impacts first nations' own ability to self-govern, more first nations will begin to assert their sovereignty and their jurisdictions. This could include self-regulation on cannabis but also on business licences and incorporation.
At this point, let me just make a very quick observation and suggestion. With respect to taxation in the province of Ontario, we know for sure that within the provincial and territorial regimes, when it comes to retail and distribution, that is going to be a ticket item. That's going to be part of the bottom line. We feel it's very important to examine what has happened in Ontario.
We will certainly want to explore the issue of taxation, and we know that the only way to do that within the context of the harmonized sales tax in Canada is through a CITCA. That was a heavy negotiation in Ontario. This legislation and the relevant policy-makers should be looking at that very closely, because taxation will become an issue.
It is always important to be mindful of the changes to come in how colonial legislation includes the impact on the first nations' ability to generate revenues to appropriately govern their nations.
In conclusion, there are a lot of unanswered questions about how the legal sale of cannabis will affect first nations. This is why the AFN is calling for a national cannabis summit. How will our communities benefit in terms of economic opportunities and revenue-sharing? How will our people be affected in terms of health and safety, and how much funding will the federal government set aside for first nations in terms of education, especially for our youth, on the impacts of cannabis? How will we use the many millions of dollars generated to treat the ongoing issue of cannabis addiction?
At the AFN's AGM this past July in Regina, told the chiefs that there simply is no funding in the current budget to properly fund first nations police services. Canada must take funding of first nations policing services as its top priority. Before Bill becomes law next year, our communities must have the proper health, policing, and public safety resources in place.
Let me repeat, there appear to be more questions than answers. This leaves first nations—and, I might say, the feds, provinces, and territories—in a compromised state leading into an accelerated timeline on legislation.
To that end, my concluding question to the committee is, who is going to pay for the impact of hasty and forced legislation?
Thank you, and I'm open for questions.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
Also, I want to thank the panel for being here today, but again, it emphasizes my frustration that we have such a short period of time with you. I have a lot of questions, but I only have time for a few.
I'm thinking about the 289 days. We've had the advantage of Colorado and Washington in front of us, which have said that to be successful, before you come to the date when you implement, you should have proper education—or in other words, in your case, very important culturally appropriate education—and prevention measures and data collection. You should be working on baseline now and then figuring out how to collect this moving forward. On treatment, you should know how to get especially our kids into treatment, and there's also the research.
What I found very disturbing from your testimony is that it appears that the federal government hasn't reached out through other levels of government to get any of this in place, and we have 289 days. For me, when we see some of the Liberal members criticize other levels of government and law enforcement for not being ready yet, they've had two years to get this in place.... I'm very much concerned, but again, I have a lot of questions, and I would like to talk to you about probably some of the more difficult, controversial things.
Chief Day, you brought up something that no other panellist has brought up about the autonomy and the unique circumstances of some of your communities. You brought up this idea of dry communities. I was wondering if you could explain the rationale for this a bit, but also, because I probably won't have time to ask you again, maybe you can fit in this next part that I think is really important, because this legislation obviously doesn't allow for the necessary autonomy you need. If you could get one thing into this legislation, what would you like to see?
Those are the two things. First, could you talk to me about the controversial...about dry communities? Nobody has brought that up. I want to put you on the spot for that. Also, what would you like to see? Because if they're going to do it this way, we want to make it the best legislation we can to protect the health and safety of our kids. What we learned from Colorado and Washington—and Chief Day was right on it—is that organized crime targets youth. We want to make sure that this is the best legislation we can get. I'll shut up there and let you speak, Chief Day.
Thank you, and good afternoon.
I'm a scientist, and for almost 20 years I've been conducting research on the impact of health warnings, product labelling, and the effect of branding and marketing in the areas of tobacco, food, and most recently, cannabis. I want to be clear that I don't accept any industry funding, and I don't represent any organization for or against cannabis legalization. I've also served as an adviser to the World Health Organization and regulatory agencies around the world and been an expert witness in tobacco litigation, including on behalf of the Government of Canada.
Now I'd like to focus on the public health implications of three areas. One is restrictions on branding and package, the second is health warnings, and the third is product labelling.
Of all the areas covered in the act, marketing and promotion can have the most direct impact on who uses cannabis, what types of products are used, and for what reason. The marketing restrictions proposed in the act are largely modelled on those for tobacco products in Canada. Like tobacco legislation, the cannabis act seeks a balance between allowing product information to reach adult consumers while prohibiting marketing that promotes use, especially among young people.
The question, of course, is how to balance and how to accomplish that balance, and I would like to touch upon several lessons from our experience with tobacco marketing over many decades.
The first lesson is that branding has the greatest impact on young people, those whom the act seeks to protect.
The second is that limited marketing restrictions have limited effectiveness. When most traditional forms of tobacco advertising were prohibited, the marketing expenditures didn't stop. They simply shifted to other channels, including packaging and the retail environment. For this reason, Canada and other countries are implementing what we call standardized or plain packaging of tobacco products that removes logos and brand imageries from packs, but allows product information to be displayed.
Plain packaging is an effective public health measure. Not only does it reduce the promotional appeal to young people, it also enhances the impact of health warnings. If the government were to pursue its objectives without implementing plain packaging, the government would find itself with the responsibility to police thousands of individual packages to ensure that brand imagery does not increase appeal among youth or promote a positive lifestyle. That's an incredibly resource-intensive and difficult task that has proved ineffective for tobacco products, as it almost certainly would for cannabis products.
The third lesson from tobacco is that, once marketing and promotion is allowed, it's very difficult to scale back through regulation or new legislation. Consider that it's taken 50 years and multiple legal challenges for Canada to achieve the current restrictions on tobacco marketing. It is much harder to restrict marketing after it's been permitted than it is to loosen restrictions, and once it's been allowed, the effects of promotion and marketing can persist long after removal. In short, it's very hard to put the genie back in the bottle.
The fourth lesson is that the removal of branding does not promote illegal or contraband sales. Testimony to this committee earlier this week suggested that restricting cannabis branding would make it more difficult for consumers to distinguish between illegal and legal products. That simply is not accurate. Cannabis products acquired through legal retail outlets will be clearly distinguished by health warnings and other labelling requirements. It's simply not credible to associate reduced branding with an advantage for illegal products. The same argument has been made by tobacco companies to oppose plain packaging laws, and these arguments have been refuted in multiple legal rulings. Overall, if the government wishes to prevent lifestyle advertising and promotion to young people, the act should include plain packaging.
Health warnings are another essential component of labelling policy. The question is, what should cannabis warnings look like? What does Canada want to say about the risks? Is driving high really all that risky? Does it really harm a baby when their mom uses cannabis when pregnant? Most Canadians are uncertain about the potential risks of these products, and they want this information.
Health warnings are the most cost-effective, self-sustaining way of communicating with Canadians about cannabis. Should cannabis warnings look like the ones on cigarette packs? Well, if they don't, they should at least incorporate the same basics of effective warnings. That is, they should be large, they should use colour, and include pictures. Large pictorial warnings are the most effective way to reach children and youth and the most vulnerable members of our society with low literacy.
Warnings aren't just about scaring consumers away from a product. They are about informing consumers, but they also provide an opportunity to provide support for those who need it, and for addiction. In Canada, every cigarette pack includes a telephone helpline number and a website for helping Canadians quit smoking. We have evaluated this, and it works well. I would urge the government to display the same services on cannabis packages to demonstrate its commitment to reducing addiction.
Lastly, I'd like to briefly discuss labelling of product contents and dose. I think there is strong consensus that THC levels should be displayed on packages, but we can't simply rely on providing numbers to consumers. How many people in the room today intuitively understand what 50 milligrams of THC means? Is that a little? Is that a lot? What does it mean in terms of different products or routes of administration?
Consider that Canada is about to start using what we call traffic-light labels or high/low symbols on food packages. We're going to be doing that because it's easier for consumers to understand and use. The same principles should apply to cannabis labelling. If it's important enough to use symbols for canned soup and sugary drinks, it's important enough for cannabis products.
I would argue that THC and dose labelling should also be reflected in the actual packaging. When edibles are eventually sold on our market, each dose should be individually packaged. Think about individual pieces of gum that are packaged within the larger packaging, or those little Halloween chocolate bars that we hand out, which are now sold, again, in a larger packaging.
To conclude, overall the public health impact of cannabis will largely be determined not simply by whether it's becoming legal, but by how it's regulated in a legal market. Comprehensive restrictions on marketing and promotion should be given precedence in the act and should include plain packaging. Large, clear health warnings that use images will provide governments with an efficient and highly cost-effective means of communicating with consumers. They should also be used to support Canadians who need help with addiction.
Regulations should also heed the lessons from Washington, Colorado, and other states that have legalized cannabis, to ensure effective labelling standards for edibles and different forms of cannabis. Collectively, these measures will demonstrate the government's commitment to ensuring that cannabis legalization benefits public health.
Thank you very much.
Good afternoon, everyone. I'm Mike Hammoud, president of the Atlantic Convenience Stores Association, ACSA. On behalf of the ACSA, I'd like to thank the Standing Committee on Health for inviting us here today to speak on the labelling and packaging of retail cannabis as it pertains to Bill .
Within the context of my presentation today, it is our understanding that the objectives of the act are to prevent minors 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. It is also our understanding that the act is intended to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis.
More specifically, the focus today is on the labelling and packaging of regulated cannabis products at retail. To that end, I believe our experience with tobacco retailing has significant relevance to the issues you are dealing with.
First, I will begin with some information about the ACSA, our members and our collaborators. Secondly, I would like to delve into the specific issues of the labelling and packaging of regulated cannabis sales, and our experiences with tobacco packaging and labelling.
The ACSA was established in 2009 as a not-for-profit trade organization to promote responsible convenience retailing and to represent the economic interests of our convenience store members. Today, our membership includes more than two-thirds of the convenience store locations operating in Atlantic Canada.
In collaboration with the Canadian Convenience Stores Association, the Western Convenience Store Association, the Ontario Convenience Stores Association, the Quebec Convenient Stores Association, and the National Convenience Stores Distributors Association, we have considerable experience with and insight into convenience retailing.
Convenience retailers are heavily regulated, be it lottery, food services, beverages, alcohol where available, and in particular tobacco. In tobacco retailing, we have experienced monumental change over the years and we have worked with regulators in our industry to achieve what we believe to be two primary goals. The first is to minimize tobacco consumption among minors; the second is to minimize the rampant distribution of illegal tobacco.
Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, I am of the firm belief that we can bring relative and pertinent insights to your deliberations, so let's move on to the labelling and packaging of federally or provincially regulated cannabis at retail.
At present, legislation—Bill —has been put forward that would introduce plain packaging for tobacco products in Canada. As mentioned earlier, this legislation would eliminate the branding of products. By this we mean the trademarks, individual logos, graphics and colours that differentiate one product from another. With a standardized generic package, the only brand identification would be the product name in a small and simple standardized font. Everything inside would look the same.
The catalyst for this is Australian plain-packaging legislation that came into effect in late 2012. However, that example and others demonstrates that plain packaging doesn't work. In the case of Australia, the reality is that an examination of all publicly available, relevant and reliable data, after five years points to the same conclusion, that there's been no statistically significant decline in Australian smoking prevalence. In the Australian plain-packaging environment, there has also been a dynamic shift in market share between legal and illegal tobacco products, with consumption of illegal products increasing.
Is there a correlation between plain packaging and illegal consumption? Our Australian colleagues are of the opinion, and we concur, that plain packaging is the catalyst for a race to the bottom in terms of the lowest price point being the primary purchase motivator. When the price becomes the primary purchase motivator, that opens the door to illegal purchases that can be made at a fraction of the price of legally sold product.
In Canada, we estimate that illegal products account for some 20% of the overall consumption of cigarettes, with the illegal market share being upwards of 33%, and higher in Ontario. In the end, labelling and packaging are immaterial to many tobacco purchases relative to access to cheap smokes. How would this be any different for retail sales of cannabis?
We know that many illegal cigarettes are sold unbranded and loose in poly bags, also known as baggies, but it should be noted that plain packaging opens the door to increased distribution and sales of counterfeit or look-alike packaged cigarettes, simply because it is so much easier for illegal producers to replicate the packaging. Will your average smoker know the difference? It's unlikely.
More recently, plain tobacco packaging became mandatory in France as of January 1 this year, in what was described by proponents as a decisive weapon against smoking. To the surprise and shock of many, first-quarter sales of cigarettes in France increased 7% compared with the same period in 2016. The French health ministry dismissed the sales increase, saying that plain packaging would not influence current smokers, that plain packaging was principally targeting younger people, and that the impact would only become apparent in the medium- to long-term future. What we have, then, is a plain-packaging advocate saying that plain packaging will have no impact on established smokers, and that the target population for plain packaging is youth.
Well, look at the situation in the Canadian context. As far back as 2003, there have been strict rules in place in Canada related to tobacco marketing that prevent the advertising or promotion of tobacco, testimonials, accessories, and anything else tobacco-related that could be appealing to young people. Today there is also mandatory use of locked cabinets or screens at point of sale to hide tobacco products from display.
At the same time, a large majority of retailers are vigilant in screening out underage buyers through the widespread practice of asking for proof of age identification. Our industry takes great pride in its ability to be a responsible and diligent partner to government in the controlled sale of age-restricted products like tobacco. Such training programs as “We Expect ID” are a commitment to assist retailers and their staff in upholding the highest standards of professionalism and ethical conduct and to support public health and safety. Underage youth in Canada today have negligible exposure to cigarette packaging and labelling. In our opinion, the unintended impacts of plain packaging, such as the lowest-price mentality among consumers or the risk of increased contraband sales, far outweigh any perceived benefits.
It is notable that youth cannabis smoking rates in Canada are twice as high as youth smoking rates. According to Health Canada, the national youth tobacco smoking rate in 2015 was 10%, while the national youth cannabis smoking rate was 21%. Generic packaging would not be an effective tool in achieving what is a common goal for all of us, which is negligible rates of both tobacco and cannabis consumption among youth. We believe that if governments are serious about reducing smoking, be it tobacco or cannabis, then there is much more work that can be done in the areas of education and smoking cessation.
Convenience retailers believe that the types of initiatives in place for tobacco retail sales in Canada can be replicated effectively for the retail sale of cannabis without resorting to the questionable value and impact of plain labelling and packaging. As is the case with tobacco, industry, anti-cannabis groups, health care organizations, and governments should work together to minimize the number of youth and adults consuming cannabis.
In conclusion, we recommend to the committee that branding on cannabis retail packaging be allowed for two important reasons: one, to reduce the ability of criminals to produce and distribute contraband product; and two, to minimize the impact of lowest price point by educating and allowing legal consumers to make informed decisions on their product choices.
Thank you, Mr. Chair. Good afternoon, honourable members. Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today.
As you heard, my name is Melodie Tilson. I'm the director of policy with the Non-Smokers' Rights Association. With me is our senior policy analyst, Pippa Beck. Together we have more than 40 years of experience in tobacco control.
Our organization, the Non-Smokers' Rights Association, has been at the forefront of tobacco reforms in Canada since its inception in 1974, leading campaigns for the federal Tobacco Products Control Act and its successor the Tobacco Act, and for plain packaging as far back as 1994—so the impetus for plain packaging around the world including Canada did not come from Australia's move in 2012 just to correct that piece of misinformation—and for world-precedent setting graphic health warnings on packages, to name just a few.
It is this wealth of experience in effective regulation of an addictive and harmful product, one that is primarily smoked, that we bring to bear on your consideration of issues related to the appropriate regulation of cannabis and in particular the packaging and labelling of these products.
First let me say we are pleased that the government recognized the importance of taking a public health approach to the regulation of cannabis. Such an approach prioritizes measures to maintain and improve health by minimizing the harms associated with use. However, where there is a profit motive in the selling of drugs, public health is at risk. Make no mistake.
The tobacco industry has shown us what an uncontrolled industry is willing to do in pursuit of profit. Big tobacco is the disease vector whose activities and behaviours are responsible for the entirely preventable epidemic that we continue to battle today. Cannabis legalization needs to be protected from commercial interest or Canada could face big tobacco 2.0, big cannabis. Indeed, there are indications from jurisdictions that have already legalized cannabis that this risk is very real.
The federal government has the opportunity to learn from tobacco's grievous history and to get the legal framework for the cannabis industry right or at least more right from the outset.
So what should a public health approach to cannabis regulation entail? We fully support the government's goals of preventing youth from accessing cannabis and protecting public health and safety by establishing strict product requirements. Note that expanding the cannabis industry and its market should not be a goal.
Given the focus of this panel, I will devote most of my remarks to packaging issues, but before doing so, I would like to highlight a few other areas where cannabis regulation would benefit from lessons learned in tobacco control.
Keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth will require devoting adequate resources to enforcing the ban on underage sales and imposing penalties for non-compliance that are high enough to serve as deterrents.
Safeguarding public health requires measures to protect the public from breathing second-hand cannabis smoke. This means including the smoking of cannabis in all federal and provincial smoke-free laws as recommended by the Canadian Cancer Society and others to this committee.
Finally, providing adequate public education is essential, not only about the risks of use, but also about the risks of breathing second-hand smoke and about relative risk. There is little public understanding of the fact that smoke is smoke, and most of the risk comes from inhaling smoke whether tobacco or cannabis, or of the fact that vaping poses much less risk to health than smoking.
One of the reasons for Canada's success in reducing smoking rates is our multipronged, decades-long effort to de-normalize tobacco products and tobacco use so that smoking is no longer a social norm. Tight restrictions on advertising and promotion have been integral to changing the social norm.
The task force on cannabis legalization and regulation rightly concluded in a discussion paper that:
Since marketing, advertising and promotion of marijuana would only serve to “normalize” it in society and encourage and increase usage, it has been proposed that these should be strictly limited so as to dampen widespread use and reduce associated harms.
In its final report, the task force recommended comprehensive restrictions on advertising and promotion and plain packaging for cannabis products.
Our organization supports a comprehensive ban on cannabis promotion with the exception of information advertising in stores off-limits to minors. Because packaging is a key form of promotion, NSRA strongly supports requiring cannabis products to be sold only in plain packaging.
The recommendation for plain packaging is based on a large body of robust research including consumer product research and internal tobacco company documents.
There have been more than 100 studies from at least 10 countries, including 25 empirical studies conducted in Australia since plain and standardized packaging was implemented there five years ago, and the experience in jurisdictions that have already legalized cannabis.
I would like to show you just a few examples of cannabis packages available in jurisdictions where it is legal, but where packaging is not strictly controlled.
As you can see, a wide range of consumers are targeted, from youth, obviously in these examples, to perhaps young adults to sophisticated adult consumers. It is no wonder it has been said that a product is just a product. The packaging is the brand. When most other forms of promotion are prohibited, the package not surprisingly becomes the most important marketing vehicle. As early as the 1970s, tobacco companies foresaw the day when their ability to promote their products would rest solely on the pack.
According to a 1979 document by British American Tobacco:
Under conditions of [a] total [advertising] ban, pack designs…have enormous importance…. Therefore, the most effective symbols, designs, colour schemes, graphics, and other brand identifiers should be carefully researched. An objective should be to enable packs, by themselves, to convey the total product message.
There is substantial evidence from consumer product research that effective packaging increases sales. For example, when milk in school cafeterias was sold in plastic bottles instead of the traditional gable-top cardboard cartons that we're all familiar with, sales increased by as much as 24%. Students said the milk tasted better, and all of a sudden it became cool and fun to drink.
Shape and colour are two design elements that exert a strong influence on brand image and the impact of packaging. Package colouring is one way tobacco companies target specific brands to specific subpopulations.
This pack of Vogue Super Slims featuring pastel colours on the outside as well as matching liners is a prime example of a brand targeting young women. The brand name Vogue Super Slims clearly preys on the body image concerns of young women. Also noteworthy is the pack's diminutive size. Various studies demonstrate that consumers perceive that cigarettes in these tiny packs are less harmful than cigarettes in a standard pack. The pack size also enables tobacco companies to circumvent the intent of Canada's large graphic health warnings. As you can see, with a pack of this small size compared to a standard slide and shell pack, the image has virtually no impact, and the text is illegible.
As their ability to exploit packaging elements to promote sales has been curtailed, tobacco companies have become more creative with brand and variant names, using names to connote aspirational lifestyles, reduced risk, or misleading product attributes. For example, the brands LD Club Night and Peter Stuyvesant New York Blend both conjure images of a hip urban lifestyle.
We are concerned that without restrictions here in Canada, the same will happen with cannabis brands. A quick Internet search revealed evocative names such as Suicide Girls, Pura Vida Health, and Everyone Does it.
The large and growing body of research on plain and standardized tobacco packaging shows that plain packaging reduces the ability of the pack to create and communicate brand images, increases the effectiveness of health warnings, reduces package-based deception, and ultimately reduces tobacco use. Indeed, prevalence of smoking in Australia, despite what my colleague has said, is at a historic low with an independent assessment concluding that the packaging reforms were responsible for one-quarter of the total decline in smoking rates during the first three years after plain packaging was implemented.
Given the government's stated intention of taking a public health approach to regulating cannabis to reduce harms, a comprehensive ban on promotion is warranted, including strict controls over brand names and a requirement that cannabis products be sold in plain packaging with no promotional elements, health claims, or any kind of false or misleading statement. Only essential information should be permitted on cannabis packaging.
To conclude, we support a public health framework for the legalization and regulation of cannabis sales in Canada. We believe the measures we have proposed will go a long way to further safeguard the interests of public health.
As Professor Hammond said, “it is [much] easier to loosen restrictions” on advertising, promotion, and packaging down the road if warranted, rather than trying to rein in a burgeoning market and a powerful industry.
Thank you. We look forward to your questions.