moved that Bill , be read the third time and passed.
She said: Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill .
On October 13, I introduced two pieces of important legislation in the House of Commons. First, Bill proposes a framework for legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The second complementary piece of legislation, Bill , proposes new and stronger laws to more seriously tackle alcohol and drug-impaired driving, including cannabis. I am proud to note that Bill C-46 has been passed by the House and is being studied in the other place.
I am pleased to speak again today about Bill and discuss some of the amendments that were carried during the Standing Committee on Health's extensive study of the bill. I would like to thank all committee members for their considerable amount of work on this file. The committee reviewed 115 briefs and heard from nearly 100 different witnesses, who provided their invaluable perspectives on a wide array of issues, ranging from law enforcement to public health.
Groups represented at committee included the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Criminal Lawyers' Association, the Métis National Council, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Officials from Colorado and Washington state also provided testimony on their states' experience in the legalization of cannabis.
After hearing from the witnesses, several amendments were proposed at clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. I will speak to some of these worthwhile amendments in a moment, but first I would like to remind members what Bill is all about.
Bill would create a legal framework whereby adults would be able to access legal cannabis through an appropriate retail framework sourced from a well-regulated industry or grown in limited amounts at home. Under the proposed legislation, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments will all share in responsibility for overseeing the new system. The federal government will oversee the production and manufacturing components of the cannabis framework and set industry-wide rules and standards.
To that end, our fall economic statement of 2017 has earmarked $526 million of funding to license, inspect, and enforce all aspects of the proposed cannabis act. Provincial and territorial governments will in turn be responsible for the distribution and sale components of the framework.
Beyond the legislative framework outlining the rules for production, retail sale, distribution, and possession, cannabis will remain a strictly prohibited substance.
Division 1 of part 1 of the proposed act clearly sets out that many of the offences that currently apply to cannabis under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will continue to exist under the proposed cannabis act. This is very much in keeping with the recommendations contained in the final report of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation.
In its report, the task force recommended that criminal offences should be maintained for illicit production, trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, possession for the purposes of export, and import/export.
I will now speak to the amendments adopted by the committee. Let me begin by saying that our government supports all the amendments adopted by the Standing Committee on Health. At this time, I would like to speak about five specific amendments that were adopted during clause-by-clause consideration of Bill .
First, the height restriction for cannabis plants permitted to be grown at home was eliminated. The 100-centimetre height restriction was intended to balance the interest to allow personal cultivation while safeguarding against the known risks associated with large plants, including the risk of diversion outside of the licit regime. The height restriction, indeed the proposal to allow even limited personal cultivation, attracted significant commentary both before the health committee and in the general public.
We understand the complexities leading to the task force's recommendation of a 100-centimetre height limit and accept the health committee's conclusion after it listened to several witnesses about the problems that such a limit might realistically create.
Our government agrees that this issue is best addressed outside of the criminal law. Should they wish, provinces and territories. relying on their own legislative powers. could address plant heights and if legislative authority exists or is extended to municipalities, they could do so as well.
Second, the addition of the good Samaritan provision will exempt individuals from criminal charges for simple possession if they call medical services or law enforcement following a life threatening medical emergency involving a psychoactive substance. Evidence demonstrates that individuals experiencing or witnessing an overdose or an acute medical condition are often afraid to call emergency assistance due to the fear of prosecution. A good Samaritan clause in the proposed cannabis act will help to ensure that individuals contact and co-operate with emergency services in the context of a medical emergency, knowing that they will not face prosecution for minor possession offences.
Third, the amendments to the Non-smokers' Health Act, provides flexibility to prohibit the smoking or vaping of tobacco or cannabis in specific outdoor areas or spaces by regulation in federal workplaces to protect people from exposure to tobacco or cannabis smoke. This aligns with the recommendation by the Canadian Cancer Society.
Fourth, courts will have the discretion of imposing a fine of up to $200 for an accused convicted of a ticketable offence rather than imposing a fixed fine in the amount of $200. This will ensure that the courts can consider a range of factors in setting the fine, including the ability of the accused to pay the fine.
Finally, an amendment was adopted to require a review of the proposed cannabis act three years after its coming into force and to table a report in Parliament on the results of this review.
Given the transformative nature of the proposed legislation, it is important that our government clearly communicates to Parliament and to the Canadian public the impact the legislation will have on achieving our objectives of protecting youth and reducing the role of organized crime. This will enable us as parliamentarians to determine whether future changes to the legislation are necessary to help ensure the protection of public health and safety.
I will now speak to the significant discussion that has occurred in relation to the treatment of young persons under the proposed cannabis act.
On the one hand, the Standing Committee on Health heard from witnesses, including criminal defence lawyers and the Canadian Nurses Association, who argued that youth possession of cannabis should not be subject to criminal penalties, because making it a criminal offence for a youth to possess five grams of cannabis would not deter them from possessing. It would only serve to perpetuate the disproportionate enforcement of laws on young, marginalized, and racialized members of our society.
On the other hand, others, including opposition members, have called for a zero tolerance in relation to the possession of cannabis by youth. Our government is mindful of the concerns raised in relation to the exemption of young persons from criminal prosecution for possession or sharing of up to five grams of cannabis and the suggestion that this decision is sending the wrong message to youth.
As I discussed at my appearance before the committee, our government has drafted Bill to specifically ensure that there are no legal means for a young person to purchase or acquire cannabis. Young persons should not have access to any amount of cannabis.
At the same time, criminalizing youth for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis recognizes the negative impacts that exposure to the criminal justice system can have on our young people, particularly marginalized young persons.
Our focus aligns with what the majority of respondents conveyed to the task force; that criminal sanctions should be focused on adults who provide cannabis to youth, not on the youth themselves. This does not mean that our government sees youth possession or consumption of cannabis as acceptable. Our government has given much thought as to how we will keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and discourage them from using cannabis at all.
Our government has been encouraging the provinces and territories to create administrative offences that would prohibit youth from possessing any amounts of cannabis without exposing them to the criminal justice system. Police would be given authority to seize cannabis from youth with small amounts. Provinces and territories use this measured approach for alcohol and tobacco possession by young persons, and it has proven to be successful. We were pleased to hear that Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta have already announced their plans to create just such prohibitions, and we expect other jurisdictions to follow suit.
This approach is complemented by the other significant protections for youth in Bill . The proposed act creates new offences for those adults who either sell or distribute cannabis to youth, or who use a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. It protects young people from promotional enticements to use cannabis, prohibits cannabis product packaging or labelling that are appealing to youth, and prohibits the sale of cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines.
In addition to these legislative mechanisms, I would also like to remind members that our government will be undertaking a broad public education campaign to inform Canadians of all ages about the proposed legislation, including penalties for providing cannabis to youth and the risks involved with consuming cannabis. This public education campaign will focus on helping young Canadians make the best choices about their future and to understand the risks and consequences of using cannabis. This public education and awareness campaign has already begun, and it will continue to be an ongoing priority. To that end, last month our government announced $36.4 million over five years in funding for public education and awareness. This is in addition to the $9.6 million over five years toward a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign, and surveillance activities that we announced in budget 2017.
I will now turn to the implementation and timing of Bill . Much has been conveyed about the timing of the implementation of the proposed cannabis act, with the suggestion being made that provinces and territories will not be ready, or that law enforcement will not be ready. Several witnesses at committee, however, rightfully pointed out that we need to act now. The Canadian Public Health Association responded to claims that we are not ready for legalization by advising the committee of the following:
Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of time, as Canadians are already consuming cannabis at record levels. The individual and societal harms associated with cannabis use are already being felt every day. The proposed legislation and eventual regulation is our best attempt to minimize those harms and protect the well-being of all Canadians.
Witnesses at committee further pointed out that there is always a perception that more time is needed, but that any delays would contribute to confusion among the population.
Our government agrees that we need to act now, and we have been working closely with provinces and territories on many fronts, including through a federal-provincial-territorial senior officials working group. The working group has been kept apprised of developments on this file over the last year through meetings via teleconference every three weeks, as well as in-person meetings. Most recently, a meeting took place here in Ottawa on October 17 and 18.
Since the introduction of Bill , several federal-provincial-territorial issue-specific working groups have also been established to collaborate more closely on a range of complex issues, including drug-impaired driving, ticketable offences, taxation, and public education.
Our government recognizes that providing support to provinces and territories for this work is critical. That is why we have committed, for instance, up to $81 million specifically to the provinces and territories to train front-line officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of impaired driving, build law enforcement capacity across the country, and provide access to drug screening devices.
Our government is encouraged by the tremendous amount of work that has already been carried out in the provinces and territories. Many jurisdictions committed to and have completed public consultations on how cannabis legalization should be implemented.
Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta have released proposed legislation and frameworks describing how they will approach recreational cannabis, and Manitoba has enacted the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act. Clearly, many provinces are moving forward in anticipation of the July 2018 time frame.
Recognizing that some provinces and territories may not have systems in place by the summer of 2018, our government is proposing to facilitate interim access to a regulated quality controlled supply from a federally licensed producer via online ordering, with secure home delivery through mail or courier.
Our government's intention is to offset the broader costs associated with implementing this new system by collecting licensing and other fees, as well as through revenues generated through taxation, as is the case with the tobacco and alcohol industry. Discussions with provinces and territories around the proposed taxation plan have already begun and will continue. As part of our consultations on this matter, we welcome the feedback of all Canadians to ensure that we achieve the goal of keeping prices low enough to put criminals out of business while helping to offset the costs of education, administration, and enforcement.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Canada's current approach to cannabis continues to contribute to the profits of organized crime, risks to public health and safety, and exposes thousands of Canadians to criminal records for minor cannabis offences each year. Most Canadians no longer believe that simple possession of small amounts of cannabis should be subjected to harsh criminal sanctions. I would like to conclude by encouraging all members of this House to support Bill , as amended by the Standing Committee on Health.
Mr. Speaker, throughout the debate at second reading, through committee hearings, and now finally, in the final debate, mounds and mounds of evidence have been introduced and cited, painting a grim picture of the consequences of the government's determination to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
Still, the Liberal government is bound and determined to ram this legislation through, so that by July 1, 2018, Canada's 151st birthday, youth as young as 18 will be able to legally purchase marijuana from government outlets, and use this drug with virtually no restrictions.
I have been allotted 20 minutes to present my objections to this harmful legislation, but would need hours to present all the evidence presented by doctors, psychiatrists, researchers, police, parents, and a host of specialists warning the government not to go down this road, and of the serious consequences if it does.
I will instead focus on a few articles and studies, and ask the members across the floor, how can they can justify their actions, having had prior knowledge to these?
I hold in my hand mandate letters from the to ministers on expectations and deliveries. I will be using them in my presentation to point out just how this action by the Prime Minister has been broken by his ministers.
The presented all ministers with these mandate letters after the last election.
The mandate letter to the reads:
I expect you to work closely with your Deputy Minister and his or her senior officials to ensure that the ongoing work of your department is undertaken in a professional manner and that decisions are made in the public interest.
I wonder if the minister, at that point, informed the about this document from her own department, modified on August 19, 2016. I am sure she was aware of it. This document, among other things, states:
Using cannabis or any cannabis product can impair your concentration, your ability to think and make decisions, and your reaction time and coordination. This can affect your motor skills, including your ability to drive. It can also increase anxiety and cause panic attacks, and in some cases cause paranoia and hallucinations.
It further states:
Cannabis should not be used if you:
are allergic to any cannabinoid or to smoke;
have serious liver, kidney, heart or lung disease;
have a personal or family history of serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression, or bipolar disorder;
are pregnant, are planning to get pregnant, or are breast-feeding;
are a man who wishes to start a family;
have a history of alcohol or drug abuse or substance dependence.
A list of health outcomes regulated to the short and long-term use include the following:
increase the risk of triggering or aggravating psychiatric and/or mood disorders (schizophrenia, psychosis, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder);
decrease sperm count, concentration and motility, and increase abnormal sperm morphology;
negatively impact the behavioural and cognitive development of children born to mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy.
This document was available to the minister. It clearly shows that in reaction to that, she is breaking what the instructed her to do. I am going to read another that the Prime Minister has written:
No relationship is more important to Canada than the relationship with Indigenous Peoples.
That was to the in the opening statement. Why did the minister not sound the alarm and give the the message that she received from President Aluki Kotierk of the Nunavut Tunngavik? She said:
The federal government needs to consult with Inuit on whether cannabis should be legalized and, if so, when, as well as plan to deal with the possible negative impacts of legalizing cannabis...
It goes on. Chief Gina Deer of the Mohawk Council of Kanawakee stated:
Our community has been zero tolerance for many years on drugs. Now when you tell them that we have to accept marijuana as a legal product and not as a drug, it’s hard to accept, especially for elders.
The further stated to the
I expect you to re-engage in a renewed nation-to-nation process with Indigenous Peoples to make real progress on the issues most important to First Nations, the Métis Nation, and Inuit communities--issues like housing, employment, health and mental health care...
This is what Chief Isadore Day stated in testimony at committee:
It's accurate to say that first nations are also not prepared to deal with the ramifications of Bill C-45. Does Canada even know the full impacts of cannabis yet? When the states of Colorado and Washington legalized cannabis sales in 2013, American Indian tribes were negatively impacted.
Further, Chief Day also stated at committee that despite hearing this, the Liberals continue to reaffirm that it's important that we focus on getting this job done as quickly as we are able.
The chief reiterated that one of the biggest concerns that first nations have with Bill is the health and safety of our people. He cited statistics that cannabis is the second most abused substance among indigenous people. He added that in Ontario alone, $33 million is needed to treat first nations with drug and alcohol addictions. He concluded by stating that there appears to be more questions than answers. This leaves the first nations in a compromising state, leading to an accelerated timeline.
The also said to the minister:
Work with the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs to address gaps in services to Aboriginal people and those with mental illness throughout the criminal justice system.
She should have told him about the health report that I mentioned previously, and the concerns that his own government had with the legalization and usage of marijuana.
Health Canada stated warnings, and I have mentioned some, but it serves to mention these as well:
Cannabis contains hundreds of substances, some of which can affect the proper functioning of the brain and central nervous system. The use of this product involves risks to health, some of which may not be known or fully understood. Cannabis should not be used if you have a personal or family history of serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia...
The loves to point out to the , who just spoke, his great love and respect for the charter. In his mandate to the minister he stated:
You are expected to ensure that the rights of Canadians are protected, that our work demonstrates the greatest possible commitment to respecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
A child advocate group in New Brunswick has done an assessment of violations to the rights of the child treaty, and has a very serious concern that this legislation is going to see legal challenges. I wonder if the minister should have told the that a court challenge, which is what it has stated, is a good idea under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Section 7 states:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.
The minister should have warned him that by legalizing marijuana, a drug with psychoactive properties, the Government of Canada will encourage the sale and consumption of marijuana, thereby putting all Canadians at greater risk of encountering harm and death through impaired driving accidents and workplace accidents, smoking-related sicknesses, and other marijuana-induced injuries. For example, police chiefs across the country have expressed their concern that they will not be able to keep the public safe from drugged drivers. Thus, the proposal to legalize marijuana runs contrary to the charter provision, the right to the security of the person.
To the , he wrote:
As Minister...your overarching goal will be to lead our government’s work in ensuring that we are keeping Canadians safe.
Here again, I would raise the report from the health department, but I would also make mention of a report that has just come out, “The Legalization of Marijuana in Colorado: The Impact”. The executive summary states, “Marijuana-related traffic deaths when a driver was positive for marijuana more than doubled from 55 deaths in 2013 to 123 deaths in 2016.” This same executive summary states, “In 2009, Colorado marijuana-related traffic deaths involving drivers testing positive for marijuana represented 9 percent of the traffic deaths. By 2016, that number has more than doubled to 20 percent.” It goes on, and there are statistics that talk about what happens to the youth and how youth use has risen dramatically as well.
This might be my favourite. The wrote to the , the same minister who has repeatedly, in this House, stood up and said that the current government will listen to science, because the Prime Minister told her this:
We are a government that believes in science – and a government that believes that good scientific knowledge should inform decision-making.
I wonder if that minister told the about the report on the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, or possibly this report from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Here is a great one she should have read, from Frontiers in Psychiatry: “Persistency of Cannabis Use Predicts Violence following Acute Psychiatric Discharge”. There is this lengthy report from the World Health Organization: “The Health and Social Effects of Nonmedical Cannabis Use”.
It goes on and on. I am sure the minister read the “Market Analysis of Plant-based Drugs C. The Cannabis Market”, from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Every one of these reports points to the same conclusion: the use of cannabis is restricted for a reason. There is a reason governments have, on a continual basis, made that their practice.
I have often stated in this House that I am genuinely impressed by the Liberal caucus. It is full of doctors and lawyers and Ph.D.s and Rhodes scholars. This is not a group of people who could be excused for not having the information.
I found a great article by James Di Fiore, written in the Huffington Post. He wrote:
I've written about my modest contribution to the elimination of pot prohibition before. To recap, in 2011 I was hired by the Liberal Party of Canada's upper brass to pressure their delegates to vote yes on a policy initiative that would push for legalization. For three months, my team approached marijuana advocacy groups and rallied their members to bombard [all] delegates via email, tweets and Facebook messages. The plan was to put enough pressure on delegates until they voted for a Canada who would shed its draconian views on weed. When we started, just 30 per cent of delegates [30 per cent of that caucus] were in [the] camp. After the votes were tallied at the Liberals' 2012 convention, more than 75 per cent of delegates voted yes.
This group can make the right choice. I know that there are many in the Liberal caucus who are opposed to what the government is doing and what the is forcing them to do as well. Now is the time for them to stand up, make the right choice, and vote against this dangerous bill.
I might add that the Prime Minister is not leading a bold charge that will make this an example of progressive nations. Let us listen to what Prime Minister Mark Rutte, of the Netherlands, said, in a 2014 article about the use of marijuana. “People should do with their own bodies whatever they please, as long as they are well informed about what that junk does to them”. The Dutch have a different approach to the whole idea of marijuana.
The article went on, “Rutte added in the same interview that cannabis legalization of the Colorado model”, and I should emphasize that the Colorado model is for those 21 years old and over, “where the state taxes and regulates all levels of the supply chain, and adults 21 and over are allowed to purchase weed from state-licensed stores—was out of the question. 'If we were to do that, ' he said, 'we'd be the laughing stock of Europe.'”
This not going to be a progressive move by the and the Liberal caucus. As a matter of fact, while the Dutch system has some major drawbacks, current UN treaties forbid countries to legalize and regulate drugs for recreational use. Specifically, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs,1961, states that member states have a general obligation “to limit exclusively to medical and scientific purposes the production, manufacture, export, import, distribution of, trade in, use and possession of drugs.”
Piet Hein van Kempen, a professor of criminal law and criminal procedure in the Netherlands, was recently asked by the justice ministry to study whether international drug treaties offer any wiggle room to legalize, decriminalize, tolerate, or regulate cannabis in any other way for recreational use. His answer was an emphatic no. Maybe when the gets to meet his new best friend, Xi Jinping, he can tell him about his plans to legalize marijuana and ask for his thoughts. I am sure he would give the Prime Minister a history lesson on what took place in Chinese society.
The Liberals are on track to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes by July 1, 2018. They say they have had extensive consultations, conducted the largest online survey, and completed a report called “A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada”. The Liberals say they have consulted with Canadians; provincial, territorial, and municipal governments; indigenous governments; representatives of organizations; youth; parents; and experts in relevant fields. Ignoring the warnings of doctors, police chiefs, and first nations parents, they have pushed this bill rapidly through the House.
This bill would drastically change Canadian society, the full ramifications felt for years to come. They say it will protect us and take marijuana out of the hands of criminals. I suggest it would enslave our youth and make the government the new pusher on the block.
That the motion be amended by deleting all the words after the word “That” and substituting the following: “Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, be not now read a third time, but be referred back to the Standing Committee on Health for the purpose of reconsidering clause 226 with the view to establish a coming into force date that complies with the wishes of those provinces, territories, municipalities, law enforcement officials and first nation groups who require more time to prepare for the legalization of cannabis.”
Mr. Speaker, when the Liberals promised Canadians cannabis legalization last election, I think that reasonable Canadians understood legalization to mean the end of criminalization, the end of stigmatization, and the end of the prohibitionist approach to cannabis. It is why I, along with millions of other Canadians, was somewhat surprised to read the fine print of Bill only to discover that it is not legalization at all, but would just make cannabis less illegal. The proposed legislation would create a litany of new cannabis-related criminal offences, most of which carry a maximum sentence of up to 14 years in prison. As renowned criminal defence attorney Michael Spratt put it:
[Bill C-45] is an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in many circumstances.
An adult who possesses more than 30 grams of marijuana in public is a criminal. A youth who possesses more than five grams of marijuana is a criminal. An 18-year-old who passes a joint to his 17-year-old friend is a criminal. An adult who grows five marijuana plants...is a criminal...This continued criminalization is inconsistent with a rational and evidence-based criminal justice policy and will only serve to reduce...the positive effects of [the bill].
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health has claimed that these harsh penalties are reserved for some “gangster in a stairwell” selling cannabis to children, but this is exactly the sort of reefer madness rhetoric that has fuelled prohibition for nearly a century. The evidence before the health committee was directly contrary to this view. In fact, 95% of cannabis producers and consumers in this country are non-violent, law-abiding citizens who have nothing to do with organized crime whatsoever.
If criminalization and the threat of imprisonment prevented people from using cannabis, then Canadians would not be consuming an estimated 655 metric tons of it every year when we have full criminalization and life sentences for trafficking. Indeed, the prohibitionist approach has been repeatedly discredited by its failures throughout history. Cannabis consumption has increased steadily throughout the so-called “war on drugs”, and Canadian youth consume cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world today. Of the 4.6 million people the parliamentary budget officer projects will use cannabis at least once in 2018, nearly 1.7 million, or more than one-third, would be in the 15 to 24 age group.
For far too long, we have wasted billions of dollars in resources in the criminal justice system by criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens at an alarming rate for simply processing and consuming cannabis. In fact, we still are. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, under the Liberal government after it promised Canadians legalization, the most recent year of available data, there were 55,000 offences related to cannabis reported to police, and police charged 17,733 people with pot possession. Given that cannabis possession will soon be made legal in Canada, the NDP has been clear from the outset that we should immediately decriminalize the possession of recreational cannabis for personal use pending full legalization.
Now, petty possession is a crime that the himself has admitted to committing while serving as an elected official. This admission of past cannabis use belies his repeated assertion that “Until we've changed the law, the current laws exist and apply.” I guess he meant that they apply to other people and not to him.
It is a shame and hypocrisy of the highest order that the current government continues to prosecute and convict Canadians for simple cannabis possession, which is something the government admits should be legal. The government knows full well that current cannabis laws are not applied consistently across this country. Indeed, their discriminatory impact has been well documented by Canadian researchers, like Simon Fraser University's Dr. Neil Boyd.
Furthermore, given the extensive body of research on the negative impacts of carrying a criminal record, it is clear that pursuing thousands of convictions for actions that we no longer view as criminal will needlessly harm vulnerable Canadians, particularly young people, racialized communities, indigenous people, and other marginalized groups, mainly the poor.
I want to be clear that because I support genuine cannabis legalization, I acknowledge that Bill is an improvement on the status quo. That is why Canada's New Democrats will support this legislation. This bill allows for the legal possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis, permits the legal cultivation of up to four cannabis plants per dwelling or house, and creates a framework for the development of a legal recreational cannabis industry in Canada.
I must note, however, that Bill , inexplicably, allows the provinces and territories to derogate from these basic freedoms. This should be a major concern to anyone who wants genuine cannabis legalization in Canada, and those who are urging this House to rush this legislation through.
I also want the record to show that after we revealed gaping holes in the Liberal government's cannabis legislation, the NDP worked in the best spirit of Jack Layton to reach across the aisle to give Canadians what they actually voted for, genuine cannabis legalization.
For anyone who doubts the positive role an effective opposition can play, I will point out that we were able to convince the Liberals to do the following: drop the ridiculous 100-centimetre plant height limit belied by all evidence and the experts; bring in edibles and concentrates, albeit not immediately, but within a year; and recognize the necessity of craft cannabis growers being brought into the legalized production framework.
Mark my words, these improvements would not have happened had the New Democrats not worked diligently at committee to bring forth the witnesses and evidence, and push the government to do the right thing. I will give the government credit because, unlike the previous Conservative government, which hardly ever took any suggestions from this side of the House, the Liberal government has proven able to listen to the evidence and make adjustments, albeit not as far as we would like.
In addition, at the health committee, we put forward 38 practical amendments to fully align Bill with its purposes section and the evidence we heard from expert testimony. The purposes include bringing the illicit industry into the light; making sure that Canadians have access to safe, well-regulated cannabis products; and taking the production and distribution of cannabis out of the hands of organized crime and bringing it into the regulated legal industry.
That is what the New Democrats paid attention to when we moved our amendments to make sure that this legislation aligned with those purposes. Unfortunately, the Liberal government has refused to do that in all cases, edibles being the most notable example. The government is content to leave edibles and concentrates in the hands of the black market, in the hands of organized crime, totally unregulated for up to another year and a half to two years from now. It cannot explain why.
Our proposed changes, besides legalizing the sale of edibles and concentrates, included providing pardons to Canadians saddled with a criminal record for offences that will no longer be offences under Bill . This amendment was ruled outside the scope of Bill . However, given the 's previous statements, it is rather shocking that the Liberal government would structure a cannabis legalization bill in such a way that pardons cannot be included via an amendment, with these ruled outside the scope of the bill. When the Liberals say they have taken their time and consulted widely, maybe they could explain to Canadians how, after two years, they somehow forgot to deal with the issue of pardons for the criminal convictions that Canadians carry for cannabis possession when they Liberals know how devastating the effects are of those criminal convictions on people's economic and social lives.
We also proposed amendments to empower provincial governments to create parallel production licensing regimes to give them the flexibility to implement legalization in the manner best suited to their jurisdiction. For example, this amendment would have allowed provinces to let craft growers, small-scale producers, outdoors growers, and artisanal growers compete against large federally licensed corporate entities. That was voted down by the Liberals.
We proposed decriminalizing the penalties section in line with the Tobacco Act, proposing instead that the legalization take a regulatory approach, with significant fines for offences, rather than criminal ones. One of the purposes of Bill , as laid out in section 7, is to “reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis”. Penalties in the bill, in the NDP's view, should be consistent with that stated intent.
With the Liberal government's rejection of these amendments, I am very concerned that Bill will continue to harm many Canadians after it becomes law in this country. Unconscionable prison sentences, arbitrary possession limits, and barriers to small craft and artisanal producers are just a few of the damaging provisions that need to be corrected.
However, I am heartened that this bill would at least require a mandatory review of the act's operation in the next Parliament. I view this as a tacit admission by the government that it knows that this bill contains problematic sections that will need to be fixed. In fact, it was a Liberal amendment to move the review from five years to three years. I think the Liberals know that this bill has flaws that will need to be fixed.
Truthfully, I would prefer to get it right the first time around. As it currently stands, the federal government has left the heavy lifting of legalization to the provincial, territorial, municipal, and indigenous governments. The task force on cannabis legalization was very clear in the lead up to legalization that the federal government should “Take a leadership role to ensure that capacity is developed among all levels of government prior to the start of the regulatory regime”. Yet, when asked if the federal government had even been talking with first nations and indigenous governments on a nation-to-nation basis to ensure that capacity were developed, Ontario Regional Chief Isadore Day told the health committee, “No, they haven't, and again, it's going to be really critical.”
By freezing out stakeholders and insisting on meeting an arbitrary politically motivated deadline, the Liberal government is clearly sacrificing quality legislation for speed. This has led to the emergence of a complex patchwork of different approaches to cannabis across Canada, and will put many Canadians in the position of perhaps breaking the law unintentionally. For example, some provinces may not allow any home growing. In fact, Quebec just announced this very measure. Some provinces may choose to lower the public possession limit from 30 grams. Some provinces may forbid public consumption. Some municipalities may ban cannabis sales and consumption completely.
I want to be clear to any Canadians watching this. The Liberals put forth legislation that will allow the provinces to deviate from people being allowed to grow four plants at home and from being legally able to carry 30 grams of cannabis in public. For those who are searching for and have waited for decades and decades for cannabis legalization, they should be aware that federal leadership in a national legalized structure for cannabis is not going to be delivered by this bill. We see that already, as I have mentioned, with the Quebec example. In that province, one will not be able to grow plants at home. I do not think that is what cannabis advocates have been working for all these years.
The Liberals' recent attempt to unilaterally impose an excise tax without consulting other jurisdictions directly contradicted the recommendations of the McClellan report. The Liberals' attempt to keep half the excise tax revenues at the federal level ignores the fact that the bulk of expenses related to legalization will fall to the provincial, territorial, and municipal levels.
For our part, Canada's New Democrats will continue to reach across the aisle to help ensure that legalization is done right and on time. Ever since the Liberal government of the day ignored the recommendations of the 1971 Le Dain commission, our party has been calling on successive governments to stop saddling Canadians with criminal records for using cannabis. We strongly believe and continue to maintain that these unjustifiable arrests must end as soon as possible.
I would be remiss not to use this occasion to outline some simple truths about cannabis that I fear are far too often drowned out of the public discussion by prohibitionist fearmongering. Number one, in almost all contexts, alcohol and tobacco are far more personally and socially harmful than cannabis. Cannabis does not make people aggressive, a person cannot fatally overdose on cannabis, and cannabis is not a carcinogen. We heard this point repeated over and over again by experts at the health committee.
Number two, cannabis has a broad range of therapeutic benefits. It is used as an effective medicine by Canadian patients suffering from conditions ranging from epilepsy to PTSD, from cancer to arthritis. I believe if this point were properly understood by the Liberals, they would not recently have announced a plan without consulting patients to impose a new excise tax of $1 per gram on medicinal cannabis, or 10% of the final retail price, whichever is higher.
At the end of 2016, there were 129,876 Canadian patients with authorizations from physicians to use medicinal cannabis, and since the first Canadian veteran was reimbursed on compassionate grounds in 2007, Veterans Affairs Canada now covers the cost of medicinal cannabis for over 3,000 Canadian veterans, yet the government wants to tax them.
Shockingly, however, the federal government does not cover medicinal cannabis for indigenous people, a discriminatory policy that puts a lie to the s claim that his most important relationship is with indigenous communities.
The Liberals' medicinal cannabis tax is misconceived, unfair to patients, and damaging to public health. It is simply poor public policy. The cost of medicinal cannabis is already high, given that unlike prescription drugs and medically necessary devices, it is not tax exempt under federal law. Medicinal cannabis is neither exempt from the GST nor eligible for reimbursement under nearly all public or private insurance plans, so patients are currently forced to spend hundreds, or thousands, of dollars each month to acquire a sufficient supply of medicinal cannabis, or choose a riskier option, like a prescription opioid because it is tax exempt and covered for reimbursement. That is perverse.
Medicinal cannabis should be treated like other medically prescribed therapeutic medicines. Looking forward, New Democrats will use every tool at our disposal to scrap that flawed policy decision.
Third, just yesterday, in the House, the Conservative member for told Canadians that legal cannabis is just as dangerous as fentanyl, and home-grown cannabis is “virtually the same as putting fentanyl on a shelf within reach of kids”. This is an outrageous and dangerous falsehood, and grossly insensitive to those who have lost loved ones to fentanyl overdoses. Trying to capitalize on their personal tragedy for political purposes is shameful, callous, and unsupportable. I call on the Conservative Party to correct the record and for the member to offer a sincere apology to every Canadian who has been affected by the fentanyl crisis.
That brings me to truth number four. Cannabis and cannabis concentrates have been consumed by humans for thousands of years without bringing about the alarmist predictions peddled by prohibitionists. Cannabis is not a carcinogen, there are no lethal overdoses from cannabis and cannabinoids, and cannabis can be used to reduce anxiety and enhance enjoyment of many activities. Much like unwinding with a glass of wine, millions of adult Canadians find occasional cannabis consumption a relaxing and pleasurable way to spend their free time.
Ultimately, I have come to understand that a genuinely legalized and properly regulated cannabis industry in Canada has enormous potential in many respects. Done right, an appropriate legal approach can achieve impressive benefits economically, technologically, and medicinally. It can advance Canada's cannabis producers, retailers, and innovators on a global scale. It can generate world-leading intellectual property, innovation, and sustainable development benefits, and it can help establish an evidence-based understanding of cannabis that has been so marred by decades of misinformation and mythology.
At the very time that many other jurisdictions are also grappling with the failures of prohibition, why on earth would we pre-emptively cut ourselves off at the knees by legally prohibiting cannabis exports to markets where it would be legal to import it, and yet Bill explicitly prohibits all importation and exportation of recreational cannabis. The world is rapidly waking up to the potential of safe, regulated, and legal cannabis products. Countries like France, the Czech Republic, Belgium, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, Croatia, and Slovenia look to reexamine their approaches to cannabis, and Canada should be establishing itself as a first-to-market world leader. While the U.S. cannabis industry continues to be hindered by the Trump administration's reefer madness thinking about cannabis, Canada should be taking advantage by empowering our entrepreneurs and developing export markets all around the world.
Millions of Canadians use cannabis. They have used it in the past, they will use it today, and they will continue to use it in the years to come. They are not criminals. They are our parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, loved ones, and citizens of this great country who voted for genuine cannabis legalization in the last election. The NDP will continue to work positively and constructively to develop the smartest, safest, and most effective cannabis legislation and regulations in the world, because it is time we delivered.
Mr. Speaker, I rise in the House today to discuss this government's plan to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis in Canada.
Bill , the cannabis act, was put forward by this government to confront and address the realities of cannabis use in our country. It happens that Canadians are some of the most avid users of cannabis in the entire world.
In 2015, 21% of those aged 15 to 19 used cannabis regularly. The number was 30% for those aged 20 to 24. It is accessible to our children, it is available in schools, and it funds major organized crime to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Clearly the current approach is outdated, archaic, and just does not work.
Over the years, the Government of Canada's approach to cannabis use devolved into harsh mandatory minimums and unfair criminal justice practices. The reality we have found ourselves in does not match the policies that previous governments have enacted.
I am proud to rise to share with my hon. colleagues in the House and my constituents of Vaudreuil—Soulanges why the cannabis act is the plan we need now to build a safer and better Canada.
We need a new approach, one that takes care of our children and punishes organized criminals rather than everyday Canadians. The cannabis act would revamp the Government of Canada's policies in three key ways, to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis use in Canada.
First, we will prioritize working with the territories and provinces as equal partners to reforming the current cannabis regime in Canada. This work is well under way and it has been for quite some time now.
Second, we will address the simple fact that cannabis is accessible to Canadian teenagers, whether we like it or not.
Third, we will take billions of dollars out of the pockets of organized criminals and gangs.
Each of these pillars is critical for my community of Vaudreuil—Soulanges where thousands of new families settle each year, making it one of the fastest-growing ridings in the country. However, they also apply from coast to coast to coast, and work to address challenges we face with our provincial and territorial partners.
Our aim is to set a framework that the provinces and the territories can expand on in ways that best suit them. Our plan will succeed because the cannabis act works with our partners while safeguarding the underlying principles protecting our youth and keeping money out of the hands of criminals.
Working with our provincial partners and, in particular, my community of Vaudreuil—Soulanges, and the Government of Quebec is the cornerstone of this new approach. Last week, the Quebec government's cannabis legislation was tabled in the national assembly. Its legislation is complementary to the partnership we have established to ensure safety and security for our young people and for our communities.
In Quebec, the government will be creating the société québécoise du cannabis, a parallel body to the Société des alcools du Québec. This model has worked in Quebec to support alcohol regulation and I am confident our partners will get the needs of Quebecers right in cannabis legalization as well.
The strict regulation of cannabis under the cannabis act is designed, first and foremost, to protect Canada's young people. This is particularly important to me as parliamentary secretary to the for youth, and also as a father of two young children. It is also a priority for the young families that choose to call my community of Vaudreuil—Soulanges home. I am sure all members in the House will agree that we owe it to them to get this right, and the cannabis act does not compromise on keeping Canadians safe, particularly young Canadians.
We are setting a national benchmark for a legal age to purchase and consume cannabis at 18 years of age. The Government of Quebec set the same age with its legislation last week.
We will not be punishing our teenagers for possessing up to five grams of cannabis. Instead, we are setting harsher penalties of up to 14 years in jail for selling or giving cannabis to youth or using young people to commit cannabis-related crimes.
This government believes that the abuse of youth by illegal drug trafficking networks is a real crime. I think that my colleagues on both sides of the House and in the provinces and territories share this belief.
We must ensure that young Canadians understand the dangers and potential consequences of using cannabis. In October, we announced an investment of $46 million over five years to raise awareness among Canadian youth of the realities of cannabis use.
By supporting large-scale campaigns to inform and educate Canadians, we are creating widespread awareness of the risks of cannabis consumption. As part of our plan, 114,000 brochures entitled “Cannabis Talk” have already been distributed in partnership with Drug Free Kids Canada.
On November 10, Health Canada hosted a partnership symposium on cannabis public education and awareness. Stakeholders from all sectors gathered in Ottawa to better identify possible actions.
These concrete measures are proof of our commitment to prioritizing health and safety risks based on facts, not on fear or disinformation. This includes prohibiting the use of attractive packaging and labelling in advertising and any other attempt to encourage young Canadians to consume cannabis.
The bill currently before the House would impose fines of up to $5 million, imprisonment for up to three years, or both for distributors who do not comply with the regulations. By setting national standards to meet the challenges associated with the widespread use of cannabis in Canada, we are taking fair action to protect young Canadians without punishing the one-third of adults who use cannabis recreationally.
Our government wants to protect our youth by instead focusing our efforts on organized crime and people who give cannabis to children despite the health risks associated with cannabis use at a young age.
By setting very strict penalties for selling cannabis to young people, our government is sending a clear message about our unwavering commitment to protecting the health and safety of young people first and foremost, in my riding of Vaudreuil—Soulanges, across Quebec, and across the country. This is something that all Canadians can get behind.
Canadians also know that we need to do whatever it takes to keep money out of the hands of criminals and organized crime. The cannabis act will make our streets safer by creating a legal, regulated, and safe supply of cannabis that will be available to all Canadians who have reached the age of majority.
Bill establishes a framework for purchasing product online or in person and allows Canadians to have access to cannabis outside the black market. The bill also enables the government to set reasonable prices that would be directly competitive with current prices on the black market.
We are also ensuring that those who wish to continue selling cannabis outside of regulated markets will be subject to penalties. Depending on the seriousness of the offence, they will face fines and up to 14 years in prison. This approach will allow the government to remain flexible while also going after the worst offenders.
The cannabis act will keep our young people safe and keep money out of the hands of criminals, thanks to a strictly regulated sales system for this country.
Our government is establishing a framework for our provincial and territorial partners so that the work reflects the will and concerns of the people.
I am proud to contribute to a plan that is built on fact-based decisions and reflects the reality we are currently facing in Vaudreuil—Soulanges, in Quebec, and of course in Canada.
I am proud to be part of a government that is taking action to address a problem that has existed for far too long. It is a problem that has existed for decades, and yet previous governments just made the decision to continue with the status quo. We knew full well the rates were high. In some cases, depending on the age group, rates were going up, but previous governments did nothing. We knew that those who were smoking marijuana, almost one-third in some cases or even more than one-third in certain age groups, were getting a product from organized criminals and drug dealers.
People had no idea what the product had been laced with. It was a product that people knew could have been laced with something that was more detrimental to their health, and yet they had no other option because governments turned a blind eye to the realities of a failing system. We knew the system that existed for the last 10 years and even for decades was putting billions of dollars into the pockets of organized crime.
I can say with a good amount of authority, and I speak on behalf of my caucus members from Quebec, that this had a serious impact on violence and violent crime in my home province of Quebec. Those people who are from Quebec, and who have been following incidents of violent crime related to organized criminal activities in Quebec know there have been significant rises and falls in crime relating to biker gangs, and that the primary source of revenue for these gangs was the illicit sale of drugs. Yet, federal governments did absolutely nothing.
Governments still tried to convince Canadians they were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that was working when we knew full well it was not working. We could have done better, and we should have done better, but it required courage to do so. It requires looking back as to why we are all here as members of Parliament.
We are here to put in place systems that work, and to use taxpayers' money effectively. Yet, for decades, we have not been doing that. We have been trying to convince Canadians we had the best possible plan in place, and their hundreds of millions of dollars were being spent properly. We knew full well that was not the case.
Therefore, this is what we did. We first started off by being honest and open with Canadians that this is what we would do if we were elected. Once we were elected, we followed through on that promise and started with national consultations, including committees that met and brought in experts on all sides to talk about how we can best do this. We studied other jurisdictions in the United States and around the world who have seen better success rates in the systems that they had in place. I and other members of Parliament from all sides of this House went across the country, hosting town halls and asking for feedback from our fellow constituents. We worked hard over the last two years to reach out to Canadians and to experts in various fields to make sure we were getting the information to get this right.
Second, we looked at all the data that was in place. There have been many studies that have been put forward talking about health benefits and about other systems that worked better. Because of the data, and because other jurisdictions had the courage to try something new, we were able to look at those jurisdictions, and see that they have reduced rates of cannabis use among their youth. They had reduced violent crime related to organized criminals and street gangs, and they had ensured that money was longer going into the pockets of organized criminals. They managed to do those things because they were brave enough to try something new. Because they tried something new, we are able to look at those jurisdictions and say, “What could possibly work in a Canadian context?”
Third, we have been working with our provincial and territorial counterparts to make sure there is a robust dialogue with them. Now, more than ever, we are also having a dialogue and working with our municipal counterparts to make sure that this is, at all levels of government, something we will succeed in doing, because we are working at it together.
The hope is that we would reduce the rate of consumption and use of cannabis by our youth. For those who do use cannabis regularly, they would get a regulated product that is safer for them to consume, and we would be ensuring we take money out of the hands of organized crime.
Fourth, we would ensure we provide funding where it is necessary, with over $40 million for an educational campaign at the federal level to ensure we are educating young Canadians on the negative effects of cannabis use. This would not be a law that looks to encourage young people to start smoking cannabis. This proposed law, that we are putting forward, is in the hope of reducing use among youth.
Part of that is a $40 million-plus educational campaign to make sure we are doing everything we can to educate young Canadians about the fact that cannabis is not something they should be using, and that there are health effects which could be particularly negative for youth as their brains are still developing. Therefore, we are putting our money where our mouth is, because we know it is a necessary step in putting this proposed law forward.
We would also put forward over $80 million to provide support to law enforcement agencies across the country to give them the tools to better understand how to detect those driving under the influence of cannabis, which is incredibly important. Whether or not we want to admit it in this House, there are already people who are driving under the influence of cannabis, and yet very little has been done, particularly by the previous government, which did very little but turn a blind eye and leave it up to law enforcement to try and figure it out on its own.
The previous government knew full well that the problem already existed, and that those law enforcement agencies could have used additional funding to better train law enforcement officials, and to put in place better systems to find out who was driving under the influence and take appropriate action. Therefore, this money would also go toward providing the tools necessary to test individuals for driving under the influence.
I did not come to this House to do easy work, and I know I speak for many of us who were elected in the election of October 2015. I came here to solve problems, particularly ones that have been plaguing Canada and Canadians for far too long. I say with all sincerity, and I know I share this with young fathers and mothers in this House, and those who have older children, that we need to make decisions now that are going to positively affect our youth later on. We should not leave it up to the next government, regardless of how difficult those decisions are. Instead, we need to make those tough decisions now.
My hope is that when my three-year-old son, Anderson, and my one-year-old daughter, Ellie, are at the age when they are going to high school, that they have a harder time accessing cannabis, that they have an educational system and a campaign in place at all levels of government that does not turn a blind eye to the fact that it is easier to get marijuana on a high school campus than it is to get cigarettes, and that we are actually taking action.
This is the kind of legacy I want to leave for my kids, and that is the kind of legacy that I want to leave for future generations of young Canadians. With that, I encourage all members of this House, regardless of which aisle they sit on, to vote in favour of Bill . Let us take the next necessary steps in protecting our young people.