Thank you very much. I'll take my full 10 minutes.
Thanks for having me at this committee. I've been a cannabis activist for all of my adult life. I run a cannabis dispensary, and I've probably sold more cannabis than all the other witnesses combined.
It's good to be here today, but I have my doubts that this committee will actually act upon the evidence being brought before them in the testimony they're hearing. I say that because I have been at this a long time. When I first got started as a cannabis activist in the 1990s, the government was introducing the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to replace the Narcotic Control Act. At that time, there was a great deal of testimony and hearings, and about two dozen groups came forward who said that prohibition was a failure, the war on drugs was a failure, we should legalize, end prohibition, and approach things differently. The only groups that supported that legislation were the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian pharmaceutical association. Everyone else was against it.
The government said it would pass this law and have a drug policy review afterwards. That review never happened. Canada's Senate took it upon itself, and it issued a comprehensive and detailed report on cannabis in 2002, a five-volume report that probably remains one of the best analyses of cannabis and cannabis policy today. That report was also completely ignored. I encourage committee members to take a look at that Senate report from 2002 because it is an incredible document. It recommended legalization of cannabis for all Canadians over the age of 16. These were Conservative senators, not a bunch of pot smokers, and they recommended legalization for everyone over the age of 16. That was ignored.
The year I was born, 1971, the Le Dain commission recommended decriminalizing cannabis possession and cultivation and working toward legalization. That was also ignored. For all my life, I've seen our government listen to testimony, do research, have studies, talk to people, and then ignore the results. I hope that doesn't happen here today.
The cannabis act is a bad piece of legislation. It is flawed in a great many ways. It doesn't even decriminalize the joint that I have in my pocket now, which I'm going to smoke after this committee hearing. The idea that we're going to have licit and illicit cannabis and that we're going to have the police trying to decide which cannabis is good and which is not good is simply not going to work.
In cities like Vancouver, where it's already effectively decriminalized, we're not going to see much of a change in policy. In northern areas, first nations communities, or the poor people who are demonized and affected most by cannabis prohibition, you can bet police will be going after them and asking where they got their cannabis from, telling them that it's illicit cannabis and that they're going to charge them with possession. It is absurd at a time when we're talking about decriminalizing all drugs that we're still not even decriminalizing cannabis possession under this legislation.
I was asked to speak today about edibles, but to me that's a category that's too restrictive. We should be also discussing hashish, tinctures, capsules, extracts, creams, drops, suppositories, all the many ways you can use cannabis. At my dispensary, we sell buds and all these other products, and the buds we sell are less than half of everything we sell. When I hear that in Ontario they're saying that they're going to set up these legal shops right next to the dispensaries to put them out of business, I think that's great; it's not going to affect my clients at all. Ninety-five percent of my customers will continue to shop with me even if there's a legal shop next door. It's simply not going to have the range of products that are really available and necessary.
As an activist who wants to see better drug laws in Canada, I don't like this at all, but as a business owner, it's great. This is going to keep me and other dispensaries in business for many years to come. This will do nothing at all to shut down dispensaries or affect the black market.
We had a pretty major court case, the Owen Smith case, and Kirk Tousaw, who spoke yesterday, was the lead lawyer on that case. The courts ruled that medical patients have a right to access not only smokable buds but cannabis in all these other forms as extracts. Health Canada's response was to allow licensed producers to make cannabis extracts with no more than 3% THC, which is a complete disregard of both the letter and the spirit of that court decision. It's not surprising, because that has been the attitude of the government and Health Canada for years. Every time we get a court ruling against...to expand the cannabis access, the government and Health Canada take the most restrictive possible interpretation of that decision.
The result of this is that the government has lost control over cannabis, and it has lost control for many years now. We've been systematically dismantling Canada's cannabis laws for the last 20 years, beginning with the laws against bongs, vaporizers, and pipes, which are still on the books under section 462.2. That law has never been removed, and yet it would be hard to find a city that doesn't have multiple bong shops in it today. We did that in the 1990s by simply defying the law and opening up bong shops. There were raids and conflict, kind of like now with dispensaries. After time, police and communities realized that the war on bongs was a failure, that nobody wanted to see it happen, and they gave up. As a result, we have effectively legalized bongs and pipes, seed banks, vapour lounges, and we're on the way to doing it with dispensaries as well. In many cities, we already have.
We're not, then, going to follow these laws. With large aspects of this legislation you're creating laws that are simply unenforceable and you are giving the police a task impossible to do.
I'm currently facing charges for giving away cannabis seeds. I've given away more than seven million viable cannabis seeds over the last two years. I've travelled to 22 cities across Canada in the last two years giving away seeds.
I was charged in Calgary in 2016 for giving away cannabis seeds. They've set aside a three-day trial for me at the end of October—three days in court in our justice system. It is letting alleged murderers and rapists go because they don't have space in our courts, but they're going to make three days for me for a trial for giving away low-THC cannabis seeds to those who want them. I believe those charges will be dropped before they go to trial, because what a waste of time this would be, but the fact is, our courts cannot handle the massive civil disobedience campaign that Canadians have been launching. It's simply not going to succeed.
I would like to remind the committee that the origins of Canada's cannabis prohibition in our drug war is not some well-intentioned effort to protect public health or protect children or any of that. Our war on drugs, the war on opium and the war on cannabis, began as a racist and ignorant effort to eliminate Chinese people and other racial communities from Canada. That's how it started; there's no question about that. There's no time since 1908, when the Opium Act was passed, or since cannabis prohibition came in the twenties and today, when these laws changed from being racist and ignorant and bigoted to being somehow well-intentioned and good for our communities. These laws are bad in their origins and continue to be terrible today.
The fact is that the war on drugs is really a war on plants, and cannabis may just be the world's greatest plant. There's no other plant that has the nutritional, industrial, social, and medicinal value that cannabis has.
The other aspect of this war on drugs and the war on plants is the fact that coca leaf, opium poppy, psilocybin mushroom, and peyote cactus are all also good plants with thousands of years of social and cultural use. The war on drugs is really a war against these plants and against nature, and it's time that it comes to an end.
Do you want to know who is to blame for the fentanyl crisis that we're experiencing across Canada? It's you. It's our Parliament, which has passed these laws that prohibit reasonable access to opiates. The fentanyl crisis is entirely the fault of Canadian policy.
We don't have a drug problem in Canada; we have a prohibition problem in Canada. When we end prohibition we will see the vast majority of the problems we associate with drug use go away.
Cannabis, in fact, is not a problem. Cannabis is part of the solution. In Vancouver we now have two sites that are offering free or discounted cannabis medicines to opiate users as a substitution project. There's evidence out of the U.S. showing that American states that have access to dispensaries have less opiate use and fewer opiate overdose deaths than those that do not.
I believe, from my personal experience and from the research, that cannabis dispensaries are saving lives every day in Canada. At my dispensary, people tell me that I helped them get off opiates, helped them improve their health, helped save their life. This happens all the time.
It's similar with alcohol. Many cannabis people find, when they're using alcohol, that they can get off alcohol by using cannabis. Cannabis is a substitute for more dangerous drugs in so many ways.
It's easy to regulate edibles and extracts. Give them childproof packaging. Make sure that the products are properly labelled and that the dosages are correct. It's easy to do; it's not complicated at all. Further, CBD should really be de-scheduled entirely and removed from the CDSA. CBD is highly beneficial. There is no psychoactivity at all; it's an incredibly safe medicine. There's no question that CBD should be removed from the CDSA and allowed entirely.
The fact is, we can buy enough alcohol, tobacco, or even aspirin.... Aspirin you can buy without any age limit at a corner store, and one bottle of aspirin can kill you. The idea that we're treating cannabis so severely and so restrictedly when other more dangerous substances are allowed makes no sense at all. It really shows the failure of this legislation.
I would urge this committee to go beyond cannabis; to accept that cannabis is a good plant and that prohibition is wrong; to stop handing over this industry to the black market, as you've been doing for so many decades; and to recognize that it's not just cannabis. The whole war on drugs is an absolute failure, and it's time to legalize and regulate and put policies in place that are based on science. We've had this research for 40 years or more now. We know that the war on drugs is a failure. We know that cannabis is essentially harmless, and certainly less harmful than the alcohol or tobacco that is used every day.
That's what I have to say. Thanks for having me here. I hope that this committee will listen to the evidence presented and make some serious changes to this legislation. Thank you.
Sure. I got the translation here. You brought up very important points. I think that testing and quality control are absolutely important in any kind of legislation.
The other thing is how these products are going to be produced and provided, through what vehicle. Is it a muffin, brownie, gummi bears, soda? Currently, in the U.S., in Colorado, you have an infinite number of consumable products. The appeal to children is certainly important, and I think that's clearly in the legislation here and that it is absolutely paramount to anything that you guys roll out.
The other thing, is how do you test it? If there is one method of testing for a brownie, can you do the same test in a gummi bear and get accurate results? We don't know the answer to that yet. I think science needs to be done to validate test methods through different vehicles for these products.
Packaging is absolutely important to prevent unintended consumption. A lot of the problems happen—and I believe Colorado has had this issue and I'll let Mr. Vigil talk about that more—when you get people who consume cannabis-containing products and they are not aware of it, and then they have adverse reactions and things of that nature.
Education about the time course and the delay and onset of effects and the magnitude of effects is key. The other thing that's actually really important also is education about who should or shouldn't be using cannabis. In contrast to what our Sensible BC friends here are saying, it's not a harmless drug, and people with a certain genetic background or family history of psychosis will respond to these substances differently than will other folks. People with cardiovascular disease are at higher risk of cardiovascular problems due to an increase in heart rate and cardiovascular stress.
There are very important considerations that have to be made when you roll out legalization of a drug like cannabis.
The ratio of extracts to buds is probably about 60:40. Of course, there are also smokable extracts as well—hash and shatter and things like that—which are also very beneficial but are used in a smoke format. People are more inclined to use edibles when they know it's a safe amount. People do not want to ingest vast amounts of THC and hallucinate. That's not what they're looking for. People tend to smoke because it's easily titrated. You have the amount you need and then you're done. With edibles, it can be a long wait.
Edibles can be very useful for pain relief and for longer-term effects, especially for medical users who don't want to be smoking constantly. They find the right dosage in an edible or suppository, which by the way is an incredible way of using cannabis, with very low psychoactivity and good to get a high dose, medicinally or otherwise. When they talk about legalizing—oh, we're going to sell it in liquor stores—are you going to sell cannabis suppositories in liquor stores?
We sell a cannabis cream called MJ creams. There's no psychoactivity at all; you rub this cream on your skin and it's great for psoriasis, eczema, and topical pain relief. This could be put on a baby or on anybody of any age. I don't see any reason to have an age limit on a cannabis-infused cream that has no psychoactivity.
We have to broaden the range of things that we're looking at. At our dispensary it is very rare for somebody to come back and say I took too much of the edible and I had a bad experience. We tell people, as doctors do with prescription drugs, start up with a lower dose. If that doesn't work, work your way up to a higher dose. Try a little more at a time until you reach the point where you're getting the effect you want, and then you've got enough.
If the government is not going to allow edibles and extracts, we're going to continue to sell them through dispensaries, through the black market. They'll be unregulated, but we do our best to make sure these products are safe and labelled. Given the constraints of legality, we do our best, and I think we do a pretty good job already: a lot of the fearmongering around edibles and extracts simply hasn't materialized in Vancouver, or Toronto, or other cities that have dozens and dozens of dispensaries. We're not really seeing a lot of problems coming out of this, and that's an unregulated, self-regulated market. If we have some proper rules in place, the problems will be minimal.
Again, it's a great panel. Thanks to all of you for being here.
I want to get right to my questions, because we know that this is rolling out in 288 days. There's not a lot of time, and I think it's really a really missed opportunity. We had Colorado here earlier saying that, really, before we get this rolled out, we should have our public education program in place, with really good factual information—which we don't see here—and data collection should be in place, along with treatment research and things along those lines. For the last two years, really, the Liberal government hasn't been doing anything, and again, we're jamming all of this into one week.
I want to particularly thank you, Mr. Larsen, for being here. I think you're the first person we've had here who is on the ground and actually integrating with and talking to the public about this very important issue and this transformative piece of legislation.
I'm going to throw out all my questions, and I'm going to throw all of them out to you, because I only have five minutes. I have four main questions that I'd like you to answer.
First of all, there are a lot of questions about cannabis from parents and educators. What do you do for your clientele on education? When they have questions for you, do you have basic scientific pamphlets and things along those lines? Where do you get your product? How do you assure quality control? Also, I'm curious as to what you would say a good age cut-off would be, and I'm not talking about medicinal use. I'm talking about recreational use.
Those are the four questions. I probably only have four minutes left for my time. Would you be able to comment on those four questions, please?
For quality control, it's a challenge, because we're not able to access Health Canada's certified labs. They will test our cannabis if we have someone send it in who is legally allowed to possess, but if I put it on my website that a lab tested our cannabis and say “here are the results”, Health Canada will call that lab and say that they're going to lose their licence, that they can't test dispensary cannabis. I can put out whatever results I want, but only I know if I'm telling the truth. I can't tell you which lab did the results. That leaves us in a very difficult position.
We also do our own study. The first thing we do when we get raw buds into our dispensary is look at them under a microscope. I would encourage members to do the same thing. You can see a lot in terms of mould, mildew, the quality of the trichomes and the resinous glands, if they're there and they're ripe. That's just the first step. If it most of it doesn't pass that, we will do a taste test on it. Someone will smoke a bit of it. You can tell if there are chemical contaminants and if it's been over-fertilized. Then we'll send it to a lab, if we can, and after that, if it meets all the standards, we'll put it our shelves.
On edibles and other products, with edibles we typically supply our producers with our cannabis, with an extract, so that we know they're getting a standardized amount and we know where it comes from. We can give them the same strain or a very similar product to help them standardize what they're making. A lot of edibles makers don't use raw buds. They will use an extract so they can make something of a known potency and then put that into their product to help them standardize the dosages.
As to age limit, if I were in charge of the world, I'd make it 16 years old to buy cannabis from a legal place.... That being said, I'm happy with the limit being the same as alcohol. That's not a problem.
The one thing I see lacking in this legislation is that there is no allowance for a parent to give cannabis to their child. You can give alcohol to your children at pretty much any age. A lot of young kids have half a glass of wine with dinner, and we don't criminalize those parents. If those parents were to give their children cannabis or share a joint with their 17-year-old child or something, they could be criminalized and face some serious repercussions. I think that is an issue. To me, the use of cannabis by youth is a family issue to be determined at the family level. This legislation doesn't allow for any sort of family decisions on that, which I think is really a big problem.
Thank you very much for your testimony.
This is our last day of a full week of testimony on this bill from people in the industry and consumers from different walks of life. By the end of this week, we will have heard from 100 or more different witnesses. It's been excellent. If we had done this in our normal process, we would have been at it for about three months. This has really allowed us to delve deeply into the issues, and it's allowed us to compare and contrast testimony, which is often difficult to do when you have it stretched out so much.
When we come to clause-by-clause, I think the edibles will be the one that we're really reviewing. Right now, edibles are excluded from the legal definition of marijuana, so they wouldn't be permitted. I'm going to give you what I've heard in terms of the pros for including and the cons for excluding and ask you if there's anything I'm missing in this analysis.
On the positives for including edibles, I've heard it's public health: otherwise, we're encouraging smoking and ingesting of cannabis through smoking. Edibles give you a healthier alternative for ingesting cannabis. Second, what I've heard is that if we don't bring it into the legal market, it really does allow the black market or whatever market to really continue and to grow in that particular market space. I think Mr. Larsen spoke to that quite pointedly.
Those are the two reasons I've heard for inclusion.
On the reasons for excluding, I've heard that this is a social change, a social experiment for Canada, so go slow and see how what you have is working before you push on to a greater market. Kids' access and kids' accidental ingestion seems to be higher with edibles than with products that you need to smoke. Also, this is hard to regulate and hard to inspect. There's more complexity in edibles than in the more raw plant, although with the work they've done in Colorado, I think there are some pretty good and easily adapted regulations in place. The fourth point has been, “What the heck, it's easy to make at home, so if people want the edibles, they can go and get them.”
Those are the pros and the cons. I rambled through them quickly, so is there anything else you think I should know as we're thinking about the pros and cons of edibles? Is there anything you'd add to those lists?
Good morning, and thank you for having me here today.
My name is Hilary Black, and I'm the founder of the first medical cannabis dispensary in the country, founded in 1997. In the interest of disclosure, I am also employed by a licensed producer, but I am here today representing the BC Compassion Club Society, and thank you for having me.
Cannabis legalization will affect some of the most vulnerable members of Canadian society, critically and chronically ill patients. We are offering you seven recommendations in our submission to assist you in prioritizing patient needs. My comments today are focused on three main areas: transitioning the BC Compassion Club Society into the legal market; facilitating affordability; and supporting research. This submission additionally addresses the need for a legal range of products and advertising education restrictions. My colleague, Marcel Vandebeek, will be making some comments about the need to eliminate barriers for small-scale growers.
We have been distributing medicinal cannabis openly and safely for over 20 years. We are a non-profit society with over 11,000 registered patients. We have a subsidized wellness centre. Last year alone we provided 3,400 holistic treatments like massage, counselling, clinical herbalism, and nutritional counselling for little or no cost to our membership. We are a front-line harm reduction organization. Our clients are often marginalized, have numerous diagnoses, mental health issues, and substance issues. They fall through the cracks of the health care system until we catch them.
We have developed a gold standard of education. We know how to maximize benefits, minimize risks, and avoid adverse effects. We offer each member a 60- to 90-minute intake and education session. This is not possible in a pharmacy. Our community supports us, our neighbours, businesses, local police, health care practitioners, and patient organizations. We are a community. We have Christmas parties, picnics, and neighbourhood cleanups.
The courts have repeatedly commended our work. In 2002, the Special Senate Committee on Illegal Drugs toured our facility and recommended that our model be replicated across the country. I was nominated by Senator Pierre Claude Nolin—may he rest in peace—and received a Diamond Jubilee Medal recognizing our significant contribution to Canada. Our model is enshrined into Vancouver's city bylaws with incentives to encourage the replication of our services because our practitioners have up to a three-year wait-list.
Members of the task force visited us last September. You are all also invited to come and visit us. When they released their report, Anne McLellan said that what they learned there, putting aside certain issues of illegality, is that there can be a holistic, wellness-based, street-level approach that serves generally a highly marginalized population, and that this is a model that the report references and suggests the government should take a look at going forward.
Despite this extensive recognition from many levels of government, as cannabis is legalized, we are at risk of becoming more criminalized than we were for the past 20 years. We have a massive responsibility to ensure that the health care of our members is not interrupted, and we respectfully suggest that you share that responsibility with us.
We are a historical medical cannabis institution. We implore you to do everything in your power to protect the roots of this industry. Washington and Colorado prioritized transitioning long-standing medical cannabis dispensaries into the new framework, and we should be following suit.
For decades I have watched patients struggle, choosing between purchasing the medicine that allows them to function and other necessities, such as having groceries in their fridge. The problem is the status of cannabis. It's not an approved medicine. Access has been granted through the courts. It is again a category of one and not treated like other medications, although many patients access it through physician authorization.
This status is problematic for both tax and insurance. Both of these could be solved by creating a fast-tracked regulatory pathway for cannabis to be an approved drug or medicine. For good reason, we do not tax other prescription medications. The courts have stated in Hedges v. Canada that legislation imposing tax on medical cannabis resulted in confusion and uncertainty and needs work.
Another solution is to amend the Excise Tax Act to ensure medical cannabis is zero rated like other medical necessities and prescription medicines to relieve this unjust financial burden.
I'd like to introduce to you Mounia Lahbabi, who has worked at the House of Commons as a parliamentary assistant to MP Peter Julian for over 12 years. She has been prescribed cannabis for her medical conditions diagnosed while employed by the House of Commons, including Crohn's disease, osteoarthritis, and cervical degenerative disc disease. She exhausted standard medical treatments for these devastating conditions, which proved to be ineffective and have harmful side effects. Cannabis immediately eliminated the need for immunosuppressants, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and other pain medications. It relieves her symptoms, which include nausea, insomnia, and debilitating, unrelenting neuropathic and chronic pain. Without cannabis, she can't eat, can't sleep, and she can't function.
The costs of her medication are unaffordable, but she cannot go without it. Her family has racked up thousands of dollars in debt in order to afford her prescribed medical cannabis. Even though medical cannabis lacks a drug identification number, Sun Life, responsible for the administration of claims under the public service health care plan, informed Mounia that they are set up and ready to cover the costs of this necessary therapy once it is in included in her plan.
Now I'd like to introduce you to Mandy McKnight. She's employed by the Canada Revenue Agency. Her son, Liam, is nine years old and diagnosed with Dravet syndrome, a catastrophic form of epilepsy for which there is currently no cure and the prognosis is unknown. Before trying cannabis, Liam had tried over 10 anti-epilepsy medications that failed to control his seizures. He was still suffering up to 80 seizures a day. The side effects from the benzodiazepines and barbiturates were severe, including brain atrophy. Since being prescribed cannabis when he was just five years old, Liam is doing remarkably well and his seizures are more controlled than on any other medication. The cost to the family is over $1,000 a month plus HST. The alternative therapies, which are less effective and come with terrible side effects, cost between $2,500 and $3,000 a month, but they are covered.
Both Mandy and Mounia have had health claims for coverage rejected by their employer.
Give medical cannabis a drug identification number, or something akin to it, perhaps a cannabis identification number, to facilitate fair taxation and insurance. Take care of patients and Canada's public servants. It's the right thing to do. You could lead this government, the country, and the world by including cannabis in the federal public service health care plan. Treat patients with the dignity, compassion, and support that they deserve.
We have an opportunity to be world leaders, expanding the evidence base of benefits and the safety profile of medical cannabis. We are facing an opiate and overdose crisis, and cannabis has tremendous potential as a harm reduction tool. We urge you to invest significant resources in human clinical research in cannabis and cannabinoids, and to prioritize researching into the potential of cannabis in managing pain and as a harm reduction tool for addiction and substance abuse. The Compassion Club has acquired tremendous experience with people who are struggling with problematic substance use. In using cannabis as a harm reduction tool, we have witnessed the potential of high-potency edibles and resins being substituted for recreational and medical opiates, methadone, alcohol, and cocaine. This country needs solutions to the opiate epidemic, and cannabis has incredible potential.
We implore this committee to do everything in its power to transition the community-based, long-standing, front-line harm reduction organization, the Compassion Club, and other long-standing medical cannabis dispensaries, which pioneered the medical cannabis movement and industry, into the new regulatory framework. Please consider the seven recommendations in this submission to improve the care of patients.
Thank you, and I'd like to introduce you to my colleague, Marcel Vandebeek, who will be making some brief comments.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and the standing committee, for your invitation to appear here today.
We will be speaking on behalf of two organizations, Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, also known as CFAMM, and the Arthritis Society. I am the founder and executive director of CFAMM, a national non-profit organization focused on the needs of medical cannabis patients. The Arthritis Society is Canada's principal health charity providing education, programs, and support to the over 4.6 million Canadians living with arthritis. Over the past two years, the organizations have collaborated extensively on important issues surrounding medical cannabis research, access, and affordability. The brief submitted to the committee is a joint submission between the two groups, and any follow-up can be done with me or Janet Yale, CEO of the Arthritis Society. You may recall Janet recently appeared before this committee on other issues including national pharmacare. I would also like to introduce Daphnée Elisma, CFAMM's Quebec representative and a member of our patient advisory board. She'll present in French momentarily. First, I'd like to share a bit about my personal story.
So much of what we hear about cannabis is focused on the harms and risks, which of course are important issues, but my experience and the experience of many other patients is quite the opposite. On April 22, 2007, at the age of 14, I woke up with a constant headache that still remains today, 24-7. This neurological condition known as new daily persistent headache is said to be one of the hardest pain conditions to treat. After trying over 40 prescription medications and all other therapies, I was nearly ready to give up. I had no quality of life. I could not leave the house due to noise sensitivity and low energy. I dropped out of grade 8 and struggled throughout high school. I finally turned to medical cannabis. It helped reduce painful flare-ups and allowed me to sleep. Although not a cure, the effective symptom management enabled me to concentrate and be successful in my academic studies. I advocated for insurance coverage, and was the first in Canada to be successful in getting insurance coverage for medical cannabis in this manner.
Medical cannabis patients are often looked at as stereotypical stoners, yet to me, Daphnée, and the patients we represent, effective symptom management translates to increased quality of life and functionality. Cannabis is a medicine. There are over 200,000 authorizations for the use of cannabis as a therapy to manage a variety of health conditions, including seizures, pain, insomnia, nausea and vomiting, and side effects from prescription medications.
Although there is legal access to medical cannabis, many challenges are still associated with its use. We need more research. Access to various product forms and retail distribution is an important issue, and affordability remains one of the most pressing concerns facing patients.
As the government progresses with legalization, one of the primary goals is to reduce consumption. Although laudable for recreational purposes, the government's goal ought not to be to restrict access to medical cannabis, a medicine, but rather to ensure a safe, reliable, and affordable supply for those who medically require it.
We will be highlighting three issues today: the importance of a distinct regulatory framework, research, and affordability, which Daphnée will speak to. Although we need more research, a recent review by the U.S. National Academies found substantial evidence for the use of cannabinoids in conditions including chronic pain, MS, and chemotherapy-induced nausea.
The two most studied cannabinoids are THC and CBD. THC, the cannabinoid that causes the stereotypical high associated with cannabis, has medical properties including analgesia. CBD, a non-impairing cannabinoid, which has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anticonvulsant effects, also limits the impairment and side effects caused by THC. Many patients use these two cannabinoids in combination to gain the most effective symptom management while limiting potential impairment. Again, for most people using cannabis for medical purposes, this is not about getting high, but rather effective symptom management and increased quality of life.
Cannabis is a legitimate medication and it must be treated that way. It is important that it be treated that way in a distinct regulatory framework. In crafting Bill we want to commend the government for recognizing the need to maintain a separate and distinct regulatory approach for medical cannabis, and we want to make sure that this is maintained. Beyond the government's constitutional requirements to provide reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes, we believe cannabis and patients' needs are best suited to be addressed in a distinct regulatory framework. Moving forward beyond Bill , it is important that the government prioritize and adequately support the needs of patients by addressing their unmet needs.
Of course research is a very important issue. There is an enormous deficit of properly funded research and Canadian clinical trials in the therapeutic use of medical cannabis. This creates barriers to patient access, as many physicians express reluctance to authorize medical cannabis in the absence of robust, peer-reviewed research.
The lack of scientific and clinical research has also been cited by Health Canada as a key reason why medical cannabis is not yet regulated as a therapeutic product, which affects the ability of patients to access medical cannabis through private or public drug plans. In particular, more research is needed in terms of dose, indication, and form. To that end, we have asked, as part of budget 2018, for the federal government to commit $25 million over five years to support medical cannabis research. This investment would go a long way towards expanding the evidence base for medical cannabis, and it's a small amount compared to the $274 million already proposed for enforcement.
Although we fully support enforcement and research into the risks associated with recreational cannabis use, we believe it's necessary for the federal government to invest in research specific to the medical use of cannabis. This is an urgent and vital step towards further understanding and recognizing the legitimate medical use of cannabis and ensuring the sustainability of a distinct regulatory framework.
In terms of improving access, in addition to the continuation of mail order and personal production, we believe that pharmacies should have exclusive authority to retail medical cannabis, and that further product forms should be made available. Sales through pharmacies would go towards improving affordability, including the elimination of sales tax based on the Excise Tax Act, and increasing the potential of insurance coverage.
Pharmacists will help ensure that patients across the country receive reliable education on safe and effective use from trained health care professionals with regulatory oversight. While retail and distribution decisions are largely provincial competencies, in order for pharmacy distribution to happen, the access to cannabis for medical purposes regulations will need to be amended.
I will now pass it to Daphnée to discuss affordability.
After over a decade at Health Canada and as a jurist, I advocate for patients who use medicinal cannabis. In fact, I use cannabidiol, or CBD, to successfully ease the complex regional pain syndrome that I suffer from as a result of breast cancer treatment.
The issue of low rates is a major challenge for the patients we are representing here today, as medicinal cannabis is the most effective medication to treat their illness.
First, we recommend that cannabis for medical purposes be tax-exempt. When a patient purchases prescription drugs and medical necessities, they are exempt under federal law. Since medicinal cannabis meets those criteria, the government should allow the removal of sales tax, making it more affordable.
Next, we are calling for policies and programs to facilitate the coverage of medicinal cannabis costs under public and private regimes. We recommend that the government approve cannabis as a therapeutic product, including giving it a drug identification number, to facilitate reimbursement.
Basically, patients who use cannabis to treat their physical or psychological condition feel discriminated against. The government makes a distinction between these patients and those who use conventional medications, such as opioids, to treat the same disease. As a result, the patient is often forced to use an opiate instead of cannabis because it is less affordable.
Taxation and non-reimbursement of medicinal cannabis represent undue hardship for patients. Improving the rights of patients who use medicinal cannabis must remain at the heart of the discussions.
I would like to thank committee members for giving me the opportunity to address them today.
Thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee again this morning. I will ask for the committee's understanding. I've had a bit of a cold in the last few days, so my voice is not as good as on Monday, but I will do the best I can.
My colleague Mr. David Pellmann is responsible for the office of medical cannabis. As public servants, we are responsible for administering, on behalf of Health Canada, the current regulatory framework that enables Canadians to have access to cannabis for medical purposes.
I'd like to provide the committee with an overview of the regulatory framework, focusing on four areas. One is how the current framework is designed, how it works, and the number of Canadians who presently benefit from it. Two, I will outline the robust requirements and controls that apply to licensed production of cannabis, which are designed to protect public health and safety. Three, I will describe some of the key improvements that Health Canada has made to the program over the last six months. Finally, I will outline why and how this framework would be preserved under the proposed cannabis act that is before you.
Canada has had a system of access to cannabis for medical purposes in some form since the late 1990s. The regulatory regime was put in place following a court decision that determined that the Government of Canada must provide some lawful means for Canadians to access and possess cannabis for medical purposes. The framework has evolved considerably over time as the government has introduced improvements and has responded to a number of court challenges and decisions.
Most recently, in April 2016, the Federal Court determined that the regulatory framework that was in place did not provide individuals with reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes. In this instance, “reasonable access” was defined as having access to available and affordable cannabis.
In response to this decision, a little over a year ago, Health Canada introduced a new regulatory framework, which is called the access to cannabis for medical purposes regulations. Under this new regime, Canadians who have the authorization of their health care practitioner can access cannabis in one of three ways. The first is by purchasing quality-controlled cannabis from a federally licensed producer, where individuals register directly with the licensed producer and the product is delivered securely to their home, either through the mail or by courier. Individuals also have the option to register with Health Canada to produce a limited amount of cannabis at home, or to designate someone to produce it for them.
As I mentioned, Canadians must have the authorization of their health care practitioner in order to access cannabis for medical purposes. Health Canada believes that the decision to use cannabis for medical purposes is one that is best made by a health care practitioner and his or her patient.
On its website, Health Canada provides information designed specifically for health care practitioners. The department also works closely with provincial and territorial regulatory authorities, which in turn provide guidance to the health care practitioners in their jurisdiction.
Health care practitioners are authorizing cannabis as a treatment for a wide range of symptoms associated with medical conditions, including nausea in patients undergoing chemotherapy, loss of appetite and weight loss associated with HIV/AIDS, and pain and spasticity associated with multiple sclerosis and arthritis.
At this time, under the new regulations, there are more than 210,000 active authorizations for the use of cannabis for medical purposes. Of this number, 200,000 active registrations are with federally licensed producers, where individuals purchase their product directly from them, and 10,000 individuals are registered with Health Canada to produce a limited amount of cannabis at home, or to designate someone to do it for them.
The number of client registrations with licensed producers is continuing to grow, at a rate of approximately 9% a month, since licensed production began in 2013. The number of health care practitioners who are authorizing the use of cannabis has also grown steadily. There are now 10,000 health care practitioners authorizing use, which is double the number from June 2015.
I would now like to describe briefly the system of regulated production of cannabis in Canada. There are currently 58 producers who are licensed to produce cannabis for medical purposes. These producers are the only legal commercial source for regulated, quality-controlled cannabis for medical purposes in Canada.
The regulatory framework sets out a series of strict requirements that must be met to protect the health and safety of Canadians and the integrity of the legal system. For example, licensed producers are required to use good production practices in their facilities, such as a sanitary program and a dedicated person responsible for quality assurance. They must test each and every lot for mould, bacteria, and other potential contaminants before those products can be released for sale to the public. Licensed producers must also test each lot for THC and CBD potency, and those results must be displayed on the label.
In terms of preventing diversion to the illegal market and ensuring the integrity of the legal system, all licence holders, directors of a corporation, and senior personnel in the facility must have a security clearance. This security clearance involves a criminal record check as well as a law enforcement record check to identify any known associations or affiliations with organized crime. In addition, all facilities must have physical security and inventory control measures to prevent theft or diversion.
These standards and controls are backed by rigorous compliance and enforcement. Last year, Health Canada inspected each facility an average of seven to eight times, conducting roughly 275 inspections. These inspections verify that good production practices are being met, the test results for all products that are produced, that only authorized pesticides are being used, and review inventory records and the security control measures that are in place in the facilities.
I will also note that Canada's system of regulated production of cannabis is recognized internationally. We receive frequent visits and calls from other countries for advice on our patient-focused approach, strict licensing regime, and compliance and enforcement program.
I will now outline some recent improvements to help ensure that Canadians continue to have reasonable access to cannabis and can have confidence in the quality-controlled supply of cannabis for medical purposes. In May of this year, Health Canada announced it will require all licensed producers to conduct mandatory testing of all cannabis products for the presence of unauthorized pesticides. In addition, Health Canada is conducting unannounced inspections of all licensed producers and randomly testing lots and products for unauthorized pesticides. Also in May this year, Health Canada added additional resources and introduced a number of improvements to streamline the licensing of producers and enable increased production of cannabis, while maintaining quality control and oversight. These measures will also help ensure that a legal, quality-controlled supply of cannabis would be available should the proposed cannabis act be approved by Parliament.
The question of whether to retain a separate framework for access to cannabis for medical purposes was a key question the government asked the task force of experts on cannabis legalization and regulation to consider. The task force consulted broadly and extensively with experts in public health, law enforcement, patients and advocates, including the others who have joined me at the table today, as well as licensed producers. During these consultations, the task force heard how cannabis is making a difference to Canadians living with serious health challenges such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and fibromyalgia. It also heard about the role that cannabis can play in pain management and palliative care, and the relief that cannabis offers to children with severe forms of epilepsy. Based on its findings, the task force recommended the government maintain a separate medical access framework to support patients. It also recommended that the government monitor and evaluate patients' reasonable access during the implementation of this new legislation and evaluate within five years. The government has accepted the advice of the task force, and the proposed cannabis act that is before you will enable the framework to continue.
In closing, Mr. Chair, I wish to emphasize that Health Canada is committed to enabling Canadians to have reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes. We will continue to monitor closely, as we do today, and be prepared to take additional measures if necessary. Finally, we will continue to seek the feedback of patients and producers to continuously improve how we administer, and ensure that Canadians are well served by, the program.
We would be happy to answer your questions. Thank you.
I'll call our meeting back to order.
This is meeting number 68 of the Standing Committee on Health in the 42nd Parliament.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Thursday, June 8, 2017, we're studying Bill .
We welcome our guests. The focus of our meeting on this panel is municipalities: the impact on municipalities and the challenges they will face.
From the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, we have Ms. Lisa Holmes, president. From Cannabis Culture, we have Jodie and Marc Emery. By video conference, from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, we have Brock Carlton, chief executive officer, along with his friend, Bill Karsten, second vice-president. Mr. Karsten is also a councillor from the Halifax Regional Municipality. They're both in Fort McMurray, and we'll be hearing from them shortly.
Welcome to you all.
The way we start is we offer each organization 10 minutes for an opening statement, and then we go to questions.
We'll start, in the order that I introduced you, with the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association.
Mayor Holmes, you have 10 minutes.
Good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to address your committee today.
My name is Lisa Holmes. I am the mayor of Morinville, Alberta, and the president of the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, which is also known as AUMA.
AUMA is an association of all urban municipalities in Alberta, spanning all types of villages, towns, and cities, including Edmonton and Calgary, that are collectively home to almost 90% of Alberta's population.
AUMA was the first provincial association of municipalities in Canada to take action on addressing the potential health and safety implications coming from the legalization of cannabis. Several years ago, we struck a working group to develop recommendations relating to medical cannabis production facilities and actions to address illegal grow ops. Since then, and since the announcement of the government's desire to legalize cannabis, we have been working with other associations across Canada to proactively identify the importance of an integrated approach between the federal, provincial, and municipal governments on the implementation of Bill . It is our desire to find ways for our three levels of government to collectively ensure appropriate systems are in place to educate the public, restrict inappropriate usage, address health and safety issues, and enable coordinated enforcement.
Our concern is with the timing of these conversations taking place. AUMA strongly supports a slower timeline for implementing this legislation, given the complex nature of the health and safety issues that need to be resolved and the need for comprehensive and coordinated legislation by all three levels of government. The speed at which the federal government intends to move ahead puts our local communities at risk. The federal government must lead this process at a much more measured pace and allow both provincial and municipal governments to work together to create an appropriate framework for each province.
The provincial regulations, including those related to alcohol and drugs, traffic safety, and employment standards need to be developed well in advance of the federal implementation date. To be frank, with this issue, we at AUMA do not feel that municipalities are being treated as an equal partner at the planning table, and it is imperative that all three levels of government be given appropriate time and support in order to prepare all of the required regulations and bylaws that are necessary for the areas we are each responsible for.
Municipalities will be at the front line of this. We are the level of government that's within the local community. We are operating closest to the people, and we will be the ones that have to implement, enforce, and address the impacts of this new regulatory regime. Our members are concerned about the downloading of these new duties related to cannabis legislation without the accompanying resources to ensure that the duties, particularly enforcement, can be effectively conducted. Funding and resources must be made available to municipalities to develop capacity and to offset administrative costs around licensing, education, inspection, and enforcement. Equipment and training costs related to enforcement must be fully funded through either a cannabis tax or by the federal or provincial government so costs are not downloaded onto our local communities.
With respect to health and safety matters, AUMA supports the federal task force recommendation around minimum age of purchase, advertising and promotion, packaging and labelling, and public education strategies, provided municipal governments are engaged in any of these matters impacting them as legislation and regulations are developed.
Public education, with respect to potential risks and harms of cannabis must be a political and policy priority for the federal government. We support early and intensive public education as well as an approach to packaging, marketing, and advertising similar to that of tobacco in order to limit the appeal of cannabis to youth.
These health and safety issues span the production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis. For example, municipalities had been advocating for sufficient fire and building code changes to regulate the growth of cannabis, particularly in residential properties, so that current and prospective property owners are protected from the adverse effects that a home-grow can create.
As well, the sale of cannabis products needs to be carefully considered to ensure it eliminates the illegal drug market while not occurring in a way that is dangerous to youth or others in our communities. Municipalities will work with you to do that by setting out restrictions on where cannabis is publicly consumed. However, around 96% of the urban municipalities in Alberta have yet to enact bylaws or policies that regulate the use of cannabis in their communities because the lack of information and certainty around what will be included in the regulations, both federally and provincially, don't allow us to move forward. Most of the municipalities that have started to work on this have only extended their current policy and bylaw around smoking to include smoking cannabis products. There is a significant amount of work we have to do, and municipalities will be left with little or no time after the federal and provincial frameworks are adopted to put our own bylaws and policies in place that are necessary to keep our communities safe.
Again, it is our belief that production, distribution, and consumption of cannabis raise significant health and safety concerns in the local community. Given that actual enforcement will take place at the local level, the federal government should engage with municipal governments and police forces to determine the best method of achieving their overarching objective to minimize harm. AUMA did a survey of our membership and found the number one issue that urban municipalities in Alberta are concerned about regarding this legislation is public safety issues such as impaired driving and policing and enforcement. Given the limitations within the current testing available for cannabis impairment, AUMA believes the additional rules to discourage drug-impaired driving, such as a per se limit, should not be put in place until there is a robust body of evidence and a reliable testing mechanism to support the measurement of impairment at a time a person is driving. We recommend the federal government invest in research to better link drug levels with impairment and crash risk, and a national comprehensive public education strategy to send a clear message that cannabis causes impairment and that the best way to avoid driving impaired is not to consume.
In Alberta, our protective services do not just include the RCMP, but also municipal police forces, community peace officers, and bylaw officers. All these groups must be a component of the enforcement activities and require funded training and equipment relating to traffic so they can detain potential offenders until other law enforcement agencies can validate and, if necessary, lay charges. The training and equipment required is very expensive and that is not a cost our municipalities, especially the small ones, can absorb. It is concerning to us as municipal elected officials to hear from the RCMP that we contract to police our communities that it will not have enough time to train its officers before the July 2018 implementation date. Without that training and the equipment necessary for the enforcement of these regulations, the laws, and the bylaws, there is a lack of confidence from Alberta municipalities that we can meet one of our core mandates: ensuring the highest degree of safety and security for our community.
Again, I offer our suggestion that the federal government take a measured and phased-in approach to cannabis legislation. This approach is essential as we are working within a complex environment and, although many of us are trying to predict what will happen, none of us can claim to know exactly what outcomes will arise as a result of this legislation. This approach will provide opportunity to adjust strategies as required after all three levels of government and the stakeholders have the time to assess how this legislation and corresponding regulations will impact them. Our main ask is simple: slow down, learn from other jurisdictions, and provide time for all of us to get this right the first time.
I appreciate this opportunity to bring forward the comments from AUMA, and I'm available if you have questions. Thank you.
I look forward to the five, Mr. Chair, and thank you for inviting us.
We are from Cannabis Culture, which has been an activist organization since 1994 that has been dedicated to overgrowing this government, which in our language is to legalize this government. I said “overgrow”, not “overthrow”.
With all due respect to the fact that this is the health committee, marijuana is one of the safest substances on earth. I walk down Sparks Street, and marijuana is safer than every product they're selling there. It's safer than candy. It's safer than eating at McDonald's. It's safer than prescription drugs, tobacco, and alcohol, all of which are commonly available on this street. It's safer than cheerleading in high school. It's safer than football in high school. It's safer than hockey in high school. You could rarely make a more safe choice than choosing to use cannabis for whatever reason.
That's why I think it's wholly unworthy of a parliament to spend a whole week discussing the health concerns of a substance that has not killed anybody while being supplied by the free market—some call it the black market—for the last 50 years. Imagine. Can you conceptualize any other product that hasn't killed anyone in 50 years? Cars kill people all the time. Alcohol, tobacco, prescription drugs, and foods kill people. Obesity kills people.
Of everything you do in society out there, exercising your own bodily autonomy, guaranteed to us by the Supreme Court in the Morgentaler case to control our own bodies, there are few things you could take that are not more harmful than cannabis. In fact, even government-approved water in Walkerton, Ontario killed eight people, so water is more dangerous than marijuana, realistically.
This should be at the justice committee. The reason is that I've been in 36 prisons and jails for pot. I was exiled by my own government for five years to the United States for selling seeds by mail. Can you imagine? This country was founded on agriculture and farming, yet I spent five years in jail, co-authorized by my own government, because I sent seeds to willing adults to plant plants. We've come to this. The justice committee should be looking at this because 2,400,000 Canadians have been criminalized with charges of cannabis offences since 1965.
There is nothing else in this country remotely close to 2.4 million people getting charged for doing something they love, which is growing, selling, or consuming marijuana and harming no one else. If we have organized crime in there, it's because you created it. Had you not criminalized marijuana, nobody would be handling marijuana except organized regular retailers in our usual business regime. So you're the problem. You're at fault. We've had prohibition for 93 years. I've never seen Parliament modernize or ameliorate those terrible things in any of that time.
I spent three months in Saskatoon Correctional Centre for passing one joint. I was sent to the United States for five years for sending seeds to Americans, and we have done every manner of disobedience. As I said, I've been arrested probably 27 or 28 times, and I've been jailed 36 times. I've been jailed in nine out of 10 provinces for my activism. I've seen prisons in this country. We need to get rid of this criminalization...and the legalization that everybody really wanted when we thought we were electing Mr. Trudeau and his platform...was simply the way it was brought in.
In 1923 the justice minister got up in Parliament and told the Speaker that they had added a new drug to the schedule, and that was it. There was no other discussion, nothing else. So you can legalize it in the exact same way, “Mr. Speaker, we've removed cannabis from the schedule.” That's the only legalization that's really permissible. It's the only one that's really legalization. Everything else is a recriminalization. In fact, I dare say, there are more criminal offences in the new cannabis act than there currently are in the existing legislation, so you're broadening it to include more people with more offences, and virtually everybody who needs to be legalized, all the growers in this country, all the sellers, and all the consumers, will still be criminalized under this cannabis act. Only licensed producers, a very small minority, are going to be allowed to grow marijuana. You can't possess marijuana that doesn't even come from a licensed producer or some Ontario government monopoly, Quebec government monopoly, or New Brunswick government monopoly.
Before at least we were only criminalized. Now we're going to be criminalized and exploited by our own governments. We're going to be used as a cash cow, have our own culture usurped from us and handed over to a bunch of bureaucrats and politicians who probably never smoked pot in their lives, don't understand anything about these people, and don't understand anything about us. It's a total insult to about five million Canadians who adore this plant, love this plant, use this plant, consume it, sell it, grow it, and have been involved their whole lives, like I have, in this plant, and to listen to this kind of discussion....
The government that has oppressed us is going to come and be our liberators and hand it to us and dole it out like we're children. Children. We're being condescended to in the worst possible way. We're adults. We make choices. If you're concerned about children, great. Deal with that, but for most of the country who smoke marijuana, they're 18 years old to 80 years old.
Thank you, Mr. Casey. That's five minutes. I'll let my wife continue. She's going to tell you how great marijuana is.
Mr. Chair, I'd like to thank you for inviting me to speak here. I represent, I believe, the victims of prohibition while I'm here.
We've heard from a lot of experts, bureaucrats, and a lot of people who have a lot to say, and it's fantastic that we're having this discussion. The idea that we're sitting here today talking about legalization in this country means a lot to me. I campaigned for the Liberals as a nomination candidate because I believed in legalization.
Not only am I currently a victim of prohibition myself, out on bail before you here after being arrested six months ago, but prior to that I was a drug war widow. I spent years with my husband taken away from me and imprisoned in a foreign country he had never been to, with the Drug Enforcement Administration saying very clearly that it was because of his legalization activism and because he gave millions of dollars to legalization reform groups around the world. That was the DEA's own chief, Karen Tandy, and it's a press release you can easily see. He says it was for seeds, but the U.S. government says it was for legalization activism.
We're here to talk about legalizing cannabis, which means we should not have any law enforcement concerns. If it's going to be legal, law enforcement should focus on actual crimes with real victims, such as rape, assault, murder, theft.
I have law enforcement family members. My aunt and uncle are in Alberta with the RCMP and work with MADD. My sister is with the Vancouver Police Department. I care about law enforcement. I care about the laws. I care about this country and our citizens, but our country, these laws, and our citizens are being harmed by this prohibition and by any criminalization of cannabis. Even if cannabis were dangerous, even it it killed people every day and contributed to rape, assault, and murder of our young adults all across this country the way alcohol does, it shouldn't be illegal. We should have the free choice to consume, grow, or share a plant that isn't just benign or neutral, but as you've heard, it actually helps people. It saves lives.
I know we have only a few minutes here, but I want to cite.... If you read my brief.... I submitted 10 pages...reduced to five.
Let's look at the actual health impact of cannabis. The American Journal of Medicine in 2013 and the Journal of Health Economics in 2017 said that cannabis use reduces obesity, that it results in healthier, thinner, consumers. The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015 said that cannabis is medicine. The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 said that a 20-year study found no damage to lungs from cannabis. This is backed up by Dr. Donald Tashkin, whom the U.S. government asked to prove that it causes lung cancer. They found it actually prevents it. You can go to cancer.gov. The U.S. government says that cannabis and cannabinoids attack and kill cancer cells. They shrink brain cancer cells—that's in the Molecular Cancer Therapeutics journal of 2014. You have the American Journal of Public Health in 2014 saying that cannabis access reduces suicide rates.
My father took his life when I was nine. This gold necklace here was his. I was on anti-depressants for many years, and they caused me harm. We heard just yesterday that anti-depressants increase suicide rates by 33%. That's why I got off anti-depressants and I use cannabis instead. I use illegal cannabis, because I'm out on bail, so I'm not allowed to go to a dispensary.
I'm going to show you a marijuana joint. This is what we're here to talk about. This is cannabis, and it's not hurting anybody. But I've been inside the U.S. prison system, and I'll tell you that I didn't cry for myself or my husband as victims of prohibition; I cried for the children, the mothers, and the families who were there visiting their loved ones, the little babies who saw their daddy on the other side of the visiting room. They asked, “Why is my daddy here? He didn't hurt anybody. They say prisoners are bad, but my dad, he's not bad, is he?” The moms are trying not to cry, and these little kids are saying, “Mom, please don't cry. Please be brave.” These are the victims of cannabis prohibition. Cannabis prohibition has far more victims and far more devastation than cannabis ever could.
Right now we have a drug crisis in this country. It's the opioid crisis. None of you here have not heard of it. You have the United States National Institute on Drug Abuse saying that cannabis dispensaries reduce opioid deaths. You have so much evidence showing that. Even the Harvard study in Frontiers in Pharmacology says that it improves cognitive functioning. The American Psychological Association in 2015 said that teens, even chronic users, do not have later issues. The British journal.... They find cannabis is the safest substance.
I get emotional here, because I followed the law. Every year my husband was incarcerated I had to cross that U.S. border knowing that they could ask me if I use pot and that I could be denied the ability to see my husband. I managed to get through, because I followed the rules as closely as I could.
Then we decided to engage in peaceful civil disobedience, just like Dr. Henry Morgentaler, who received the Order of Canada for breaking the law to provide a much needed service. Civil disobedience is the only way we've managed to change these laws in this country with respect to cannabis.
Thanks very much, Bill.
As you may know, FCM's 2,000 member municipalities represent 90% of Canadians in every region, province, and territory, big cities, rural towns, northern and remote areas. Our communities are where people live, work, and raise their families. Often when federal plans move forward, this is where the rubber hits the road.
Clearly, it is in our communities that cannabis will be sold and consumed. As a result, municipal governments will be at the forefront of regulation when it comes into effect across Canada. FCM members are already your eyes and ears. We know how the regulation of cannabis, both medicinal and illegal, is applied in a market that is evolving rapidly. We know how change can improve or disrupt cities and communities across Canada. Canadians need some local expertise to help shape the regime relating to recreational cannabis.
Locally, implementing this new regime will be a monumental task, one that is heavily dependent on future action of the federal, provincial and territorial governments. This is another good reason to ensure that the municipalities will participate in this process and will therefore know what is expected of them.
In my 20-plus years at FCM, I've seen it time and again. When the federal government systematically engages with local governments, Canadians win. It's true for infrastructure, economic growth, public safety, and it will be true for recreational cannabis. It's important to understand that FCM is ready and a willing partner in moving forward safely and effectively.
I now would like to turn it back to Vice-President Karsten to talk about our specific recommendations.
Committee members, the fact is that passing Bill will trigger an extensive implementation process across all orders of government, and I'd like to place emphasis on what our member from Alberta said, “all orders of government”. Municipalities will have to adapt local bylaws, rules, and programs as a direct result for things like zoning, land use, business licensing, enforcement, and much more. But much of this work will stem from regulatory frameworks that federal, provincial, and territorial governments still have to design and build.
FCM is pleased and proud that we have published a legalization primer for our members from coast to coast to coast, and a fuller guideline and guidebook is being initiated and is on its way to our members. These tools will help our municipalities from coast to coast to coast get moving on issues that they can address immediately and build work plans for the remainder. But for the work plans to succeed, municipalities need clarity and engagement on a whole range of various issues.
Our first recommendation is that the federal government coordinate with all orders of government to develop its regulatory framework for Bill . We believe the key to meeting a July 2018 launch timeline safely and effectively—again I emphasize safely and effectively—will be concurrent legislative, regulatory, and bylaw development by all orders of government. We'll inch forward locally, based on what we see our federal, provincial, and territorial partners doing. Those partners still have important decisions to make in areas such as minimum age for consumption and what kind of retail distribution model to use.
There is also much uncertainty in the area of shared responsibility for shared impact that I would like to share with you. It's a short list of things like the personal cultivation issue, workplace health and safety issues, public education, nuisance issues, municipal zoning, municipal authority to zone in cases where federal production facilities may exist, and actually others that we haven't mentioned in the list here today.
The federal government has formalized its consultation with the provinces and territories through a working group. We understand that, and that is a great first step. However, FCM would welcome sustained municipal engagement with this group to align the needs of all governments.
As part of this coordination, our second recommendation to you, sir, and to your committee, is to prioritize decision points that prevent local governments from moving forward with implementation work. To prioritize those decision points is critical to us safely and effectively moving this forward.
There are areas where decisions at the federal, provincial, or territorial levels will drive the local response, such as provincial retail distribution models, rules around personal cultivation, as I've mentioned, first nation and municipal boundary overlaps, which has been raised by some of our members, the authority to prohibit cannabis use and sales where applicable, and municipal options if cannabis becomes legal federally without provincial or territorial laws and regulations in place.
We believe the federal government should proactively engage with all orders of government in the coming months to ensure roles and responsibilities are very clearly defined.
Our third recommendation is for federal funding to defray start-up costs for local implementation. There is absolutely no doubt that there is an expectation that municipalities will be on the front lines of enforcing issues, such as local zoning, density bylaws, things like rules around minimum age of purchase, personal cultivation, issues like possession limits, smoking restrictions, and public nuisance complaints that are bound to happen. Also, as alluded to earlier in the other presentation, there are safety concerns related to the building code. We believe these are appropriate roles for municipalities, and municipalities alone. However, growing into them will definitely impose immediate costs. Municipalities generally simply don't have the fiscal flexibility to invest what's needed under the required timeline.
I'm pleased to point out that one of your committee members is in fact a former councillor in a municipality and that other members of Parliament have also served in that capacity.
The federal task force acknowledged that implementation will require new capacity. I would urge federal leadership to ensure all governments grow this capacity before legislation comes into force, before cannabis revenues start flowing. I will point out that we were pleased to see that the government did announce funding this week for training.
Our fourth recommendation is for a smart revenue-sharing model that includes all orders of government. The administration and enforcement will impose ongoing costs on local governments. We are looking at additional staff time, resources for training, for public health, for licensing, administration, for bylaws, etc. There's a lot more we could add, obviously. We are equally as passionate about our points and our information as other speakers, so our final recommendation is to ensure that slower than hoped cannabis revenues don't jeopardize the regime's safety and effectiveness. That is our final recommendation.
A primary objective of the cannabis act is to deter criminal activity. As experts say, the way to starve the black market is to keep the price of legal cannabis low. For this reason, the parliamentary budget officer warned that revenue from cannabis sales may start out slow, small, between $356 million and $959 million per year, but local governments, regardless of what that number is, will still face significant administrative and enforcement costs. We therefore need to know that federal support will be available if cannabis revenues take time to catch up.
Mr. Chair, we can summarize our recommendations in two ideas: the government should engage municipalities in building its regulatory frameworks and revenue models, and any cannabis regime sustainability depends on equipping local governments with the tools they need to administer and enforce it out of the gate and long term.
We're proud that the municipal sector has a track record of delivering local solutions to national challenges. We look forward to working with the federal government throughout the progression of the cannabis act. We thank you for your time, and we would also be happy to take any questions you may have. Thank you.
Thank you all for coming.
I commend the FCM and the AUMA for their work on this. Quite frankly, I'm happy to see that both your organizations had the foresight to be thinking of this beforehand and for coming here to talk to us and to give us input on how this needs to be done. This is in contrast to the provinces, which have reported in the press that they will have trouble meeting our timeline. We invited all of them. All but Saskatchewan declined to appear here. As the only one that showed up, Saskatchewan said it wasn't a priority for them at all, and it really wouldn't be doing anything on this except for the fact that we have a timeline on them that they have to deal with.
In contrast to what we've seen in the way of input from the provinces, I thank you for your foresight in thinking about this beforehand and coming here today.
As for the costs, I was going to quote some of the figures, but you have already talked about what we have committed to help with law enforcement and training. We do understand that there's going to be costs to this borne by law enforcement, provinces, and municipalities. That is why we've committed...and I keep having to look at these numbers because I cannot commit them to memory. It's $274 million for law enforcement and border efforts, and another $161 million for the training of front-line officers in recognizing impaired driving. We know that this is going to stretch your resources.
There will be other costs as well. Right now, as the system goes, we have people who are being arrested and charged, and in the courts. We know that's expensive. We know that's costing a lot of money.
I'll start with you, Ms. Holmes. Would you not agree that that money in the system is going to be saved? Is that not going to be a substantial savings to our system, when we're no longer arresting people and charging them with simple possession?
I understand that driving and cannabis is a major issue and a concern. I'm not advocating impaired driving. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the United States released a report in 2015 called “Drug and Alcohol Crash Risk: A Case-Control Study”, and did not find an increase in crash risk associated with THC. Even more recently, in July 2017, the American Journal of Public Health
—as we are here at the health committee—found that changes in motor vehicle crash fatality rates for Washington and Colorado were not statistically different from those in similar states without recreational marijuana legalization. This is a recent study, so please do look this up.
I'm not encouraging impaired driving, but the vast majority of cannabis consumers are not driving impaired. Their judgment is not impaired as with alcohol. With alcohol, you think you can drive and you know you can't. With cannabis, you know when you can't and you won't drive. We also have to consider the hundreds of thousands of medical marijuana patients in this country who are unable to drive, contribute, or work if they don't use cannabis. If you criminalize those who drive under the influence of cannabis, you're going to criminalize every patient and poor medical user across this country.
What we're also finding is that this targeted harassment, as we've admitted, would require taking someone to a hospital, using a needle, and drawing their blood against their will when they don't get to give consent, and for what: to prove that they've consumed cannabis, or to prove that they're impaired? Impairment is proven by performance, whether you're driving on pharmaceutical drugs with a label that says not to operate heavy machinery or vehicles while using those pills, whether you're driving angry because you had a fight, or whether you're driving and texting. Texting has proven to increase crashes. We know it, and it happened immediately. We could immediately say that cellphones and texting create distracted driving and create increased crashes on the road. It's demonstrable. It's proven.
With cannabis, you can't prove it, and that's why the police and law enforcement are falling all over themselves trying to figure out how to find a test and how to set a blood limit. As an official endorser of Washington state's Initiative 502 campaign, I was part of the legalization, along with my husband's prosecutor—so you can find common ground with people who worked against you before—but they admitted that they only had a blood level for cannabis because having that would encourage the public to support the initiative.
What we have to acknowledge is that decades of prohibition and misinformation generated by the government and fear about driving with cannabis are actually discouraging people from finding out the truth about cannabis.
As I said, the American Journal of Public Health studied this extensively in 2017, as did the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 2015. Cannabis is not a crisis for the roads. Police should be focusing on alcohol and truly dangerous drugs.
There are three reasons Canadians came around to support legalization. Number one is that we shouldn't criminalize our fellow Canadians who are otherwise law-abiding. They should not be banned from travelling to the United States, lose their job for failing a drug test, or have their kids taken away by the Children's Aid Society. None of that criminalization or harm should happen to peaceful, non-violent Canadians.
Number two, this industry already exists. It's worth billions of dollars. The Fraser Institute and many others have analyzed it and said that cannabis should be legal because it already exists. It's already being grown, sold, shared, and consumed. It's in every movie and TV show. It's everywhere. It's normalized, except with the government. We should allow the existing industry to come out of the shadows and into the light.
The third reason to legalize is that law enforcement has spent billions of our tax dollars on going after people for pot. I'd much prefer that money go toward health care, education, social housing, anything, or allowing our law enforcement to focus on serious crimes that have victims.
Bill , as presented, will not offer amnesty or pardons to people who have been convicted. It will not allow people like my husband and me to be free from a criminal record. It will not allow the existing industry to transition into legality. In fact, it introduces tougher new penalties and prohibits those who have been victimized by prohibition from being allowed to transition. We're being locked out from participating and locked up for being unable to participate.
Although the third reason for marijuana legalization is law enforcement spending, on Friday we saw an announcement of a quarter of a billion dollars of additional tax money going toward marijuana law enforcement. Legalization is supposed to mean you no longer have to enforce a law against it. We know that marijuana law enforcement is extremely costly, and many police offers don't even want to enforce the law, which is why they often don't charge some people but do charge others.
As , who is not with us right now, has admitted, marijuana prohibition and law enforcement target people of colour, indigenous groups, the poor, and the marginalized. This bill will not legalize anything we've been fighting for.
I think we'll move to municipal issues for a while.
Mayor Karsten, you spoke in terms of needing an extensive implementation process, co-ordinating with all levels of government and so forth. Certainly, that's been under way ever since this process began. I know that Parliamentary Secretary Blair has consulted across the country, with both provincial partners as well as municipal, so I think that is under way.
Other things like prioritizing decision points, federal funding and so forth, are really out of the scope of what this committee is commissioned to do. Our job is to examine Bill , which deals really with the treatment of marijuana in terms of whether it's legal or not. It doesn't deal with impairment issues. Impairment issues are dealt with in Bill , the study of which is going to be under way soon. Bill C-46 does provide additional mechanisms, additional tools, for detecting and processing impairment situations.
I'd like to correct the record. Ms. Gladu said that in Colorado the impaired driving rate increased. We have a letter from the Governor of Colorado and the Attorney General for Colorado too, the Attorney General of the United States, saying that in the first six months of 2017 impairment actually decreased by 21%. I take note of Ms. Emery's reference to the national highway safety board, which indicates not a major increase at least in impairment offences, so I would suggest that impairment is probably not the issue to talk about in respect to legalization.
To be more specific, right now in British Columbia we have situations where illicit growers will rent a property and turn it into a grow op, which is not appropriate for the property, not appropriate for the landlord, so policing grow ops does become an issue and I think that with this new legislation, that sort of thing will cease. I would suggest to you that's a case where this legislation will reduce the load on municipalities so I would ask all three of you witnesses if you would like to testify to that.
Starting with Mayor Karsten, please.
Again, thanks to all our witnesses. This has been a great panel.
I guess I'm looking at 288 days. This started out as an election promise, and I think it was very poorly thought out. At the end of the day, I think everyone, all the witnesses, want to look after the health and safety of Canadians, particularly our kids. We've heard from other jurisdictions, and what I'm really seeing is a disconnect here. In the United States, with Colorado and Oregon, it seems it was the people up. There were referendums, and it moved up through the process. Here we have a government that wants to do it top down.
Mayor Holmes, we've heard that a lot. The jurisdictions that have done this are telling us quite clearly, “Before you do this, make sure you have public education in place, data collection, research and development, treatment prevention, workplace safety, and all of these things in place.” It seems that the government doesn't realize that a lot of that stuff they're downloading to the provinces, the territories, the municipalities, and indigenous people without giving them the back and forth, like you were saying, to be a partner at the table. The federal government doesn't even have its law in place, and now they're expecting the status quo on the ground to adapt and everybody to just to fall in line, and we're going to be happy on July 1, and we'll get this all figured out.
I was wondering if there are any programs where municipalities can go to the government. They made these announcements, and they're great at announcements, but are there any practical things that you can work with? I couldn't even imagine what it's going to be costing you guys. For these things, public education and data collection, are there any programs where you can get funds and help from the federal government to implement what you need to have implemented in just 288 days?
I would like to address this.
With teenage use, the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2017 reported that teens do not experience an increase in psychotic symptoms with cannabis alone. It happens that when they use tobacco or alcohol along with cannabis, that can aggravate the symptoms. It's a very small percentage of people, already predisposed, who might be aggravated.
The British Association of Psychopharmacology in 2016 said there's no IQ loss in teenagers, that even long-term chronic users of marijuana do not suffer any decrease in IQ. We can see over history the increase in use of marijuana, but schizophrenia rates do not go up, IQ rates do not go down, and as I said, the American Psychological Association in 2015 said that even chronic teenage users don't have any further health problems later on in life.
I'd like to touch on growing in the home, since this touches municipalities. The reason people are growing in houses is that it's valuable. It's risk and reward. The more you prohibit or over-regulate something, the more people are going to try to get around that, or it will increase the value.
With growing in houses, however, in February of last year, Federal Court Justice Michael Phelan analyzed growing inside the home and found that, despite the testimony of Len Garis and other law enforcement officials, cannabis growing in the home can be done safely and in most cases is done safely. That's why he offered a federal injunction to provide permission to patients to grow cannabis in their home.
When I came into this building, I noted that there's a giant green wall with plants on it. That's a hydroponic system. It's an indoor growing operation right here in this very building, but it's done safely. The vast majority of consumers, growers, and even sellers of cannabis do not want mouldy bud. They do not want bad conditions in the home. The worst cases you find with grow ops that do damage and destruction are not among patients and advocates, but profiteers.
The only reason those profiteers are even involved in the growing and selling of cannabis is that when government over-regulates it and criminalizes it, it increases the penalties and it increases the reward. Just make it extremely cheap and extremely available. Organized crime is not going out there selling you sugar, because it's available everywhere, and if we had cannabis just as available, you would take away the profit motive from organized crime and they'd have to find some other job to do.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to respond.
Mr. Ayoub, I appreciate the question and I concur. That is pretty much evidenced by what the parliamentary budget officer suggests. I don't think everyone's just going to go into a car and smoke marijuana. I agree with you, sir.
The budget officer warns, and it was alluded to earlier, that revenues from cannabis sales may start out small. I want to suggest, however, as I alluded to, that when it comes to local governments, we will still face the significant administration and enforcement costs.
I'd like to present to you, in 30 seconds or less, the fact that in Colorado, municipal governments collected sales tax directly on cannabis. These are the kinds of conversations we need to have. It's just not right to roll it out, then come back to the municipalities and tell them that this is the way it's going to be, without our being involved.
They received an additional 15% of the state's marijuana tax cash fund. There were other examples, such as Washington state. The point is, the costs to municipalities, regardless of how the sales or retail end evolves, are going to be relatively large up front. That's what we want to have the conversation about.
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 the Committee regarding Bill C-45;
iv. Young Canadians, 15 to 24 years old.
2. That witnesses for each panel block be allotted as follows: 2 Liberal, 1 Conservative, 1 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 meeting be held prior to September 30, 2017.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to speak to my motion and give the rationale behind it.
Bill is groundbreaking legislation in many respects. It changes a century of legal, social, economic, and cultural policy in this country. It's 131 pages long and contains 226 clauses, plus schedules. It deals with a number of complex issues about cannabis decriminalization. It involves cultivation, possession, age of access, health impacts, enforcement, production, packaging, labelling, international implications, edibles and concentrates, education, research, and other issues.
In June the Liberals proposed five days of hearings to be conducted the week before Parliament resumed. They solicited the opinion of Canadians over the summer when Canadians are probably least engaged in public policy. They have scheduled these hearings before Canadians could even be fully engaged. In many respects the hearings are over before most Canadians are really engaged in them.
Scheduling the entire week of hearings before the House of Commons resumes avoids scrutiny in the House of Commons and restricts the ability of MPs to raise evidence in the House of Commons questioning the ministers and government as responsible government should allow us to do. It restricts the committee's ability to properly follow up on issues that arise from the testimony. We've heard a lot of testimony this week that raises many issues which I think MPs on all sides of the table would like to be able to follow up on.
At that time in June, both the New Democrats and Conservative opposition objected to those five days. We said we would need more days. I want to pause to emphasize that this committee is the only phase of the legislative process where Parliament hears from the public, from stakeholders, from experts. It's the only opportunity for public input, and I believe it's very important to hear those views as we do our jobs and study this bill.
In June when the opposition objected to the limitation of five days of hearings, the Liberals agreed, saying they were open to holding more hearing days if needed. Now, today, after five days of hearings, it's obvious that there are glaring holes in this bill, that many issues have been raised, and that, most important, there has been an absence of critical voices.
First of all, we have not yet heard a word from from young people. We haven't had one witness, age 15 to 24. Yet we have heard from all sorts of people about how important it is we get this cannabis legislation right for young Canadians, to know precisely the health impacts on developing brains, and to talk to young people in a manner they will accept and understand. We're charged with protecting the health of young Canadians, and yet we don't bother to hear any of them tell this committee how they feel about this issue.
Second, we haven't heard a word from ordinary Canadians. There were many ordinary Canadians who wrote this committee with submissions and requested to appear, but we didn't schedule a single one of them.
Third, we haven't heard from licensed producers themselves, the very people who have been growing cannabis legally in this country for the past 10 years.
Fourth, we've heard a lot of evidence—and I think some exaggeration and maybe even some mythology—about the impacts of edibles, but we haven't heard from a single edible and concentrate manufacturer or industry.
Quite honestly, I think these are glaring errors, yet for some reason I believe the Liberals do not want to hear from a single one of those groups.
Mr. Chair, the New Democrats support legalization. We broadly support this bill. Frankly, we believe this bill can be brought into force by next July, and we're willing to work with the government to do so. We want to work with the government to fix the holes in this bill that we've already identified: the absence of edibles and concentrates, the fact that there's a lack of a national e-commerce platform, the fact this legislation does not deal with pardons, the fact that we have border issues and international considerations, the fact that it still criminalizes many Canadians, including maintain a maximum penalty of up to 14 years in prison for Canadians. There are all sorts of aspects to this bill that I think require further scrutiny.
It is not the New Democrats' intention to be deleterious or to delay in any way the government's stated objective of hitting July 1. That's why, in the context of my motion in the text, I said that we could hold those two days by September 30. We know that the ministers are scheduled to appear next week, on Tuesday. We know that after that process we're going to need at least a week or two to prepare the many amendments before we start the clause-by-clause examination of this bill, in which we'll go through the entire bill line by line and discuss and debate and move amendments. We'll be into October, no matter what. I think it's eminently reasonable to schedule two more days of hearings to hear from those groups that are so important to hear from prior to September 30, so that we can make sure we have the broadest, most comprehensive evidence and information that we can get before this committee while still allowing the government to meet its stated objective.
I'll conclude by saying it's my understanding the Liberals are going to vote against this motion. They're going to have to tell Canadians, explain to them, why the voice of youth is not important to inform this bill, why the voice of ordinary Canadians is not important. I want to stop and say on that point that this bill isn't for producers. It's not for dispensary owners. It's not for edible cannabis manufacturers. This bill is for the millions of Canadians who voted in the last election for the promise of the legalization of cannabis, and to proceed with this bill without hearing from them is unacceptable.
The government side may argue that they heard from the task force. That was to inform the process. Who I want to hear from on this legislation are those people. Now that legislation has been drafted and tabled before Parliament, they have a right to now offer their comments on the actual proposals that have come before us, particularly when the government has ignored several recommendations of the task force in this legislation.
I really hope the Liberal government will see fit to include these important voices. If not, I hope they have a good explanation as to why these important voices are not important to be heard at this committee.
I will conclude here. The difference is this: it's not enough to say that people can contact MPs on their own, or we can hold town halls, which many of us have done or are doing. To testify at this committee is to testify in front of the entire health committee, in public, recorded, televised, and in both languages. That provides a unique opportunity to hear that voice that is not fully accommodated in any other fashion.
For all those reasons, I would urge my colleagues to support this very reasonable motion, so that we can bring Canadians the best, safest, and healthiest cannabis legislation that we can possibly craft as Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.