(for the Minister of Justice)
That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint their Honours that, in relation to Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, the House:
agrees with amendments 1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 11(b) and (c), 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17(b), 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35, 36 and 37 made by the Senate;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 3 because the government has been clear that provinces and territories are able to make additional restrictions on personal cultivation but that it is critically important to permit personal cultivation in order to support the government’s objective of displacing the illegal market;
respectfully disagrees with amendments 4, 11(a) and 38 because they would be contrary to the stated purpose of the Cannabis Act to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 7 because the criminal penalties and the immigration consequences aim to prevent young people from accessing cannabis and to deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties for prohibited activities, including importing and exporting cannabis and using a young person to commit cannabis-related offences;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 8 because the Cannabis Act already includes comprehensive restrictions on promotion;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 9 because the government has already committed to establishing THC limits in regulations, which will provide flexibility to make future adjustments based on new evidence and product innovation;
respectfully disagrees with amendments 17(a) and 25 because other Senate amendments that the House is accepting would provide the Minister with expanded powers to require security clearances, and because amendments 17(a) and 25 would present significant operational challenges and privacy concerns;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 23 because law enforcement has an obligation to maintain evidence unless there is a risk to health and safety, and provisions currently exist in the Cannabis Act to provide compensation should evidence be disposed of and ordered to be returned;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 26 because mechanisms already exist to provide for public scrutiny of federal regulations;
proposes that amendment 31 be amended by replacing the text of section 151.1 with the following text:
“151.1 (1) Three years after this section comes into force, the Minister must cause a review of this Act and its administration and operation to be conducted, including a review of the impact of this Act on public health and, in particular, on the health and consumption habits of young persons in respect of cannabis use, the impact of cannabis on Indigenous persons and communities, and the impact of the cultivation of cannabis plants in a dwelling-house.
(2) No later than 18 months after the day on which the review begins, the Minister must cause a report on the review, including any findings or recommendations resulting from it, to be laid before each House of Parliament.”;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 32 because the Bill already provides for a comprehensive review of the core objectives of the Cannabis Act, including a requirement to table a report in Parliament and because the suggested amendment to amendment 31 provides for a review of the public health impacts of the Cannabis Act;
respectfully disagrees with amendment 33 because Parliament already has broad discretion to initiate studies of specific matters by parliamentary committees, and because the Bill already provides for a comprehensive review of the Cannabis Act, including a requirement to table a report in Parliament.
She said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today and to rise to speak to Bill . I would first congratulate the other chamber for its excellent work and careful study of this bill. Once again, I want to point out the great work done by all senators over the past seven months and by committees that did remarkable work over many meetings.
We are about to witness an historic moment in Canada. When this bill comes into effect, it will change the way our country controls access to cannabis.
It will be an important change for every one of us, including governments, indigenous peoples, law enforcement agencies, health professionals, and Canadians.
As I have said many times, our objective for legalization is to replace a system that is not working. We need to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and profits out of the hands of organized crime.
Bill C-45 gives us the tools we need to accomplish that.
As we know, the bill before us today is the result of more than two years of study and consultation.
It builds on the extensive work of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. The task force consulted with a wide range of stakeholders, from the provinces and territories, to law enforcement, to health and safety experts. It also reached out to young Canadians, indigenous people, and many others. Their feedback and recommendations certainly helped shape this bill.
The proposed legislation is informed by lessons learned from jurisdictions in the United States and elsewhere that have legalized and regulated cannabis. It included effective practices from other regulatory regimes such as tobacco, for which we have implemented a public health approach with demonstrated success.
As a result, the proposed legalization strikes the right balance between making cannabis legally available to adults and protecting all Canadians.
Over the past few months, this bill has been studied and debated by the other place. Five of its committees carried out comprehensive studies and heard from over 200 witnesses. This work led them to propose a number of amendments to the bill. Several of those amendments made Bill stronger.
For example, senators had proposed an amendment that would strengthen our ability to keep organized crime out of the legal industry by giving the minister the power to require specific persons associated with a licensed organization to hold a valid security clearance. There is no doubt that this change improves Bill and the government will fully support it.
We are, however, concerned that other proposed changes could undermine the bill. After careful thought and consideration, we have decided not to support some of the proposed amendments. My colleague, the , will speak in more detail about this decision.
In the meantime, I would like to focus on two specific issues that have captured the interest of the other place. Let us talk about the indigenous perspective.
The first concerns the indigenous perspective on Bill . In a recent letter, the and I acknowledged the interests and concerns raised by the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples. We have committed to continue to take action in specific areas including supporting mental health and addiction services, public education and participation in cannabis production, and addressing jurisdictional and revenue-sharing issues.
We have committed to report to both chambers on progress in these areas within 12 months of receiving royal assent. I would like to assure members that our government has noted these areas of interest and concern. We will address each area through continued engagement with indigenous communities, indigenous organizations, and with the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples.
Home growing was the other issue that received careful consideration from the other place. As we know, the bill allows adults to grow four plants per household. There are three reasons why limited home growing should be allowed.
First, allowing people to grow a small number of plants for personal use will prevent the needless criminalization of otherwise law-abiding citizens. Second, limited home growing will help displace the black market, an unsafe, unregulated market that supports criminals and organized crime.
The bill sets out strict rules for growing cannabis at home. Setting a very low limit on the number of plants is a reasonable way to allow adults to cultivate cannabis for their personal use while prohibiting larger-scale grow ops.
Under the proposed legislation, provinces and territories have the flexibility to impose additional restrictions on personal cultivation should they wish to do so. This flexibility will allow provinces and territories to tailor their legislation to local circumstances and priorities in keeping with the public health and safety objectives set out in the proposed cannabis act.
This new legislation is an essential component of our overall public health strategy for cannabis. The purpose of this approach is to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use and decrease the probability of substance abuse. Our public health approach includes significant investments in budget 2017 and budget 2018 for promoting awareness and providing information. It also provides for close monitoring of the impact.
In accordance with this strategy, we will provide the facts on cannabis to Canadians. The government will then be able to measure and understand the impact of these policy changes over time.
We know that there are health risks associated with cannabis use. These risks are higher in certain age groups and among people with specific health conditions. Our objective is both to give people the information they need to make informed decisions about cannabis and to minimize the risks.
Through all of this, our top priority is to protect our youth. Youth face the greatest health risks from using cannabis and are especially vulnerable to its effects. For this reason, the bill contains many measures that have been designed to restrict access to cannabis and to protect young people. This is essential, given that Canadian youth use cannabis at a rate that is among the highest in the world. This is why Bill proposes serious criminal penalties for those who provide cannabis to anyone under the age of 18.
The bill also includes prohibitions on promotion and advertising and on products, packaging, and labelling that would be appealing to youth.
The bill introduced today was carefully crafted to address the long-standing problem of immediate access to and prolonged use of cannabis in Canada. There is a pervasive illegal market that is deeply entrenched. This market does not comply with any rules or regulations to protect the public, and especially our youth.
We promised a solution to Canadians, and we have kept our promise. Over the past two years, our government carried out a huge amount of research, analysis, and planning for Bill . We consulted various stakeholders and we spoke with our partners.
We made strategic investments to inform Canadians about the health impacts of cannabis and the risks associated with driving under the influence of drugs.
We also examined and accepted a number of sensible amendments, and we will do so again today.
I am convinced that Bill gives us the legal framework we need to protect Canadians, especially our young people.
Canada is well positioned to make this change. We already have a world-class system for the production and regulation of cannabis for medical use. The bill proposes to build on this strong regulatory regime.
We will continue working closely with our partners at the provincial and territorial level and indigenous communities to ensure a successful implementation of this legislation once it is passed.
The provinces and territories are ready. Canadians are ready as well.
As parliamentarians, we have done our job and produced an historic package of legislative measures in the interest of Canadians.
Madam Speaker, I would like to say that this will probably be my last opportunity to speak to Bill , so I want to make sure I give it full coverage.
The government says that the reason it is bringing in this legislation is that what is in place now is not working. What is proposed under Bill is not going to work either, even with the many amendments that have been brought forward.
What was this bill supposed to do in the first place? If we refer to the purpose of the bill, it is supposed to “protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis”. We can see right away a couple of things in the bill that are going to put cannabis into the hands of young children. First is clause 8, which would allow young people aged 12 to 17 to have up to five grams of cannabis. That is the wrong message in any universe.
We have talked about home grow and how when people have in excess of 600 grams of cannabis growing in a house, young people are likely to get hold of it, in the same way they get hold of liquor in the liquor cabinet. This is certainly not going to keep cannabis out of the hands of young children.
Furthermore, I would say that if the government has a belief that the systems being put in place in some provinces are going to help out, let me assure the House that Kathleen Wynne put in a process in Ontario of LCBO-type stores and delivery. For people in Sarnia—Lambton, the closest store is in London. If they called their drug dealers today, in about 30 minutes they could have whatever quantity they wanted delivered to their houses for about $7 a gram. The government has proposed a price of $10 a gram, with $1 in tax on top of that. If it thinks that is going to work to displace the organized crime that is in place, it is sadly mistaken.
The other item I want to talk about with respect to youth is the public education that was supposed to happen. The Canadian Medical Association has been clear that among young people under the age of 25 who use cannabis, 30% will have severe mental illness issues, such as psychotic disorders, bipolar, anxiety, and depression, and 10% will become addicted. Where is the public education on that? Where is the message to tell young people today that this is harmful? That message is not out there. Young people are saying, “It's no more harmful than alcohol.” They are not getting the message.
The only public campaign that has been done was done by the , who did a brief TV commercial to let kids know that they should not drive while they are drug-impaired, which, while true, is totally inadequate to have the kind of public education that was recommended by Colorado and the State of Washington. Colorado did $10 million worth of public education for a population that is lot smaller than what Canada has. The State of Washington did the same.
We are certainly not going to achieve the first objective of keeping it out of the hands of children. What about some of the others? Will we provide for only the legal production of cannabis “to reduce illicit activities in relation to cannabis”? If we look at all the places that have legalized marijuana, we see that in Colorado, which allowed home grow, it still has significant issues with organized crime. The police have a lot of nuisance complaints, and there are entire residential neighbourhoods that smell. There are lots of problems there.
We can look at the State of Washington, which decided that it would not allow home grow, except in the case of medicinal marijuana. It was able, in three years, to reduce organized crime to less than 20%. Because it had set the age at 21, it was able to make it difficult for young people to actually get hold of marijuana. It is unlikely that 21-year-olds would be sharing with 17-year-olds, unlike with the legislation we have before us.
Another problem that has not been addressed by the government with respect to home grow concerns property-owner rights. In Ontario and Quebec, once this legislation is passed, property owners would be unable to prevent people from growing marijuana in their houses. For those who are maybe less experienced, when growing marijuana, there can often be a mould problem in the house. I have been approached by the real estate associations, which have asked questions. Currently, when there is a home grow in a house, and the house is sold, they have to do a total remediation for the mould and a recertification of the house. They want to know if they are going to have to do that for all the home grows. That question has not been answered by the government.
The other question that has not been answered by the government has to do with the impact at the border. I live in a border community. Conversations have been had with Homeland Security and with border officials. They have said, “Canada is changing its law. We are not changing our law federally. It still is illegal federally, and we are not adding resources because of Canada's law.” Dogs will sniff. If people have second-hand smoke residue on their clothes, if a kid borrowed the car and happened to be out with other kids who were smoking marijuana, if people smoke themselves and do not happen to have any with them but have the residue, the dogs will sniff it out, and people will be pulled over into secondary, and they will go through the standard procedure there. The problem is that there is not enough secondary for the number of people who will be pulled over. When asked what they will do then, they said they would put a cone in the lane the person is in and perform the secondary inspection there, which will back everything up. They have informed us to expect an increase of up to 300% in wait times at the border.
The government has known about this for two and a half years. It has done nothing to establish any kind of agreement with the government of the U.S., other than to say to make sure that people tell the truth. That, of course, is great advice, but it will not prevent the wait times and the problems that are going to be seen at the border.
Furthermore, the government has not educated young people to understand that if they are caught with marijuana in the U.S., it is a lifetime ban from that country. The U.S. is not the only country that will ban people for the possession of marijuana. There are a lot of countries in the world. Young people who intend to have a global career are not being informed about this, and there could be very adverse consequences from the public education that has not happened.
This bill was also supposed to “reduce the burden on the criminal justice system”. Unfortunately, we know that the is behind the eight ball in terms of putting judges in place. She is about 60 short. Because of that, we see murderers and rapists going free due to Jordan's principle. If there were an intent on the part of the Liberals to try to clear the backlog and make sure that those who have committed more serious crimes receive punishment, one of the things they could have done, as was suggested many times, even since last September, was let those who have marijuana charges drop off the list and get out of the queue so that the more serious offences could be prosecuted. Of course, the Liberals have done nothing with respect to that, and so again, they are not going to actually offload them from the system. In fact, there would be more criminal charges under this legislation than previously existed, because now, if people had five plants instead of four, that would be an offence. Now, if they had 31 grams instead of 30, that would be an offence. Now there would be offences for transferring it to younger people. There would be a lot of offences that did not exist previously, so definitely, we will not achieve that goal.
There was the goal to ”provide access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis”. Now that they would allow home grow, and everyone is going to be doing their own thing, there would actually be no management of the quality control of this product. That is also not acceptable.
Some of the other unanswered questions we see have to do with workplace safety. This was raised when the marijuana issue was studied by the original council. There was testimony brought to committee. There were questions raised all over the place. How are we going to protect the employers, who have the liability, and the other employees, who are worried? They are worried about people who may come to work drug impaired. We do not want to be flying with Air Canada and have the pilot impaired. We do not want to have people operating nuclear plants who may be drug impaired.
Bill was supposed to be the companion legislation to Bill . Bill C-46 was going to allow mandatory and random testing on the roadside, because, as people know, it is dangerous to smoke drugs and then drive a car. That was going to open the door, then, for people to say that if it is dangerous to smoke drugs and drive a car, perhaps it is also dangerous to then drive a plane or drive a train or operate a nuclear plant, or any of these other things. The question of workplace safety and how we are going to protect and what legislation is going into place is a total blank space.
We have not looked to our neighbours to the south that have legalized and have both mandatory and random testing in place. I worked on many projects, and I actually had an office in the States at one point in time, so I know that American employers are able to screen people before they hire them. They are able to mandatory test them, and they are able to random test them. The government has totally lacked leadership in addressing the issue of workplace safety, etc.
With respect to the actual amendments that have come, some were good and some were not good. One amendment that was brought would allow 18-year-olds to share their marijuana or allow parents in a home to share their marijuana. I am glad the government decided not to accept that one.
I am still concerned about the fact that there is even marijuana in the house. However, if that amendment was accepted it definitely would not have not been keeping marijuana out of the hands of young children.
One of the amendments that they did not accept had to do with the banning of promotional things like T-shirts, caps, and flags that would have a cannabis symbol on them. The government did not accept this amendment from the Senate. I am very concerned about that.
There are a lot of Canadians out there who are worried that when marijuana is legalized in Canada they are going to use Canada Day flags that have cannabis on them. Everybody will have a T-shirt with cannabis on it. That will be disgusting. It will absolutely denigrate our country and the people who have served our country and made Canada a proud country. It will deface that. The government has allowed people to continue to have that kind of paraphernalia by refusing the language here. It is total hypocrisy because under Bill , which talks about prohibiting unhealthy advertising to children, we would not want to see pop or something like that on a T-shirt or a flag. However, with cannabis, it is okay. I am totally opposed to that.
Another thing that the government should have taken into account was the amendment that was brought on capping the potency of THC. We have heard reports from all over Canada, as people are increasingly trying marijuana for the first time or experiencing B.C. bud, which purportedly has one of the highest THC contents and a lot of potency, that people are presenting at the emergency wards with uncontrollable vomiting due to THC poisoning. Knowing that a part of the intent of this bill is to protect the health of Canadians and of youth, I cannot understand why the government would not recognize that there needs to be some control on the potency of things that are out in the marketplace.
Some of the amendments were compassionate and talked about giving people more time to pay their fines. I thought that was good that the government accepted those. I also thought it was good that they would, for young people, ages 12 to 17, who were experiencing an offence, look at ticketed offences, which is something that we would have supported, and restorative justice options.
If we look to countries that are doing the best job of intervening and helping people to get off drugs, look to Portugal. If anyone is found in possession of drugs there, they are given an intervention with a medical person, a psychiatrist, and a legal person. They then try to figure out what the root cause is of why these people are self-medicating or why are they becoming addicted, and what can be done to help get them off of it, in terms of mental health therapies or drug addiction therapies, etc. We need to look at this whole thing.
The other part that I think is unfortunate is that the indigenous people have not been adequately consulted. I was very disappointed to find that in September of last year, when we first heard at committee from Chief Day and from the Métis nation, they said they had not been adequately consulted. It is disheartening to hear that again when this went before the Senate, the same message came out that they had not been adequately consulted, and that they wanted to have the ability within their own communities to define whether or not cannabis would be allowed. Apparently under federal law, it was clarified to them that if it is a federal right of Canadians to possess cannabis, then it is not something that they would be able to go against. There was some resistance about that based on the sovereignty of the indigenous peoples. I think that was not resolved to their satisfaction.
It is worrisome that the government continues to rush ahead. It says that this is the most important relationship, the nation-to-nation relationship, yet it is willing to go and throw gasoline on a fire in terms of moving ahead when it has been asked not to do so.
Some of the other questions that arose at committee that really have not been adequately answered have to do with a lot of the detailed specifics about who is going to pay. Municipalities are saying there will be a cost to them to implement it, but they have not been included in the cost breakdown or the agreements that have happened. That is of concern. There have also been concerns raised by people who currently are consuming medical marijuana, and their understanding is that they are going to be paying tax on that.
Typically, in Canada, prescription medicines are not taxed. Therefore, as long as people have a prescription from a doctor for their medicinal marijuana, my expectation would be that it would not be taxed. However, that is not what the government is saying. Also, there is language in the budget bill that is a little suspicious, which states it would exempt people from paying tax on medicinal marijuana that has a drug identification number. The problem with that is that there are no medications that have a drug identification number because there are so many different components in marijuana that the companies have not been able to spend the research dollars required to characterize them or to effectively control the quality of them so that they could acquire a number like that. Therefore, that is a meaningless promise, for sure.
There were some amendments that were brought to bring this legislation in line with the tobacco legislation. I am in favour of having those things aligned. However, it seems unusual that the government would be spending $80 million to get people to stop smoking and then $800 million to get people to start smoking marijuana, especially when the just stood up and talked about how the government knows there are harmful effects.
One of the things I find very interesting, from a timing point of view, is that today Health Canada took the harmful impacts of cannabis off of its website. That was something that had been on the website. I had someone that brought it to my notice, and sent me a screenshot of what used to be there and a screenshot of what is not there now. It is very interesting that on the day that the Liberals want to see this legislation pass into law, it would suddenly take off of the website the information that shows there are harmful effects from cannabis not only to young people but also others.
Therefore, I would request that the government not hide things. Rather, it should try to be open and transparent, as it says it is always trying to be, and put that information back on the website. Every place that has legalized marijuana has said that one of the most important things to do is to invest in public education, and target that education not just to young people so that they understand the harmful effects this would have on their brains, but also to adults and parents who can influence young people, and the general public so that they can understand as well.
I am very concerned about some of the unintended consequences that will happen as a result of this legislation. I know there are people already smoking marijuana in Canada today. However, when it becomes legal, there will be many more who will decide to try it. They may not be informed about what the impact will be when they cross the border or what the impacts might be on their mental health or that of their children. They may not understand what the health impacts will be for them. They may not understand the ramifications with respect to their place of work and how they are going to impact both their employer and those who work around them.
That said, I am very opposed to the legalization of marijuana, which I have said on many occasions, not just because it is bad for people but because this bill has so many holes in it and so many unanswered questions, and there will be so many bad, unintended consequences for Canadians, that it will be left to the Conservative Party, when we come to victory in 2019, to clean up the mess made by the current government's moving forward in this rushed and irresponsible fashion to implement this bill.
This bill will absolutely not keep marijuana out of the hands of young children. It will not get organized crime out of this business. It will not unload our criminal justice system. It certainly will not provide access to a quality-controlled supply.
What we can expect is that on Canada Day there will be a lot of people out with their T-shirts on, totally insulting those Canadians who are proud of our country and who are not in agreement, and there are a lot of Canadians who are not in agreement with this legislation.
Madam Speaker, as I tuned in to listen to the Senate debate on the cannabis bill, Bill , I was given a stark reminder of why so many Canadians have so little confidence in that unelected, unaccountable body. Certainly it is legitimately questionable whether an institution capable of producing such baseless fearmongering and ignorance has any legitimacy blocking legislation passed by an overwhelming majority in this democratically elected House of Commons.
Disturbingly, in the hours leading up to the final vote on Bill , the Liberal government was forced to quietly swear in two new senators to ensure its passage, even though they were not present for one minute of testimony, one minute of debate, or one minute of review of the bill. However, they cast their vote in lockstep with the government. Some democracy. Some sober second thought.
After studying this legislation for over six months, it is not even clear that all 93 senators actually understood the most basic facts about cannabis, such as the most basic facts about cannabis quantity. While reviewing the act, Senator Nicole Eaton, a Conservative from Ontario, said this:
[F]ive grams is about four tokes. So, in other words, if I’m a high school student—I’m 16—I have four tokes in my pocket, which is under five grams. So you just don’t take it away from me, but I’m allowed to possess it, right?... I’m allowed to have less than five grams, or I’m allowed to have zero grams? This is what I don’t understand.
There is quite a bit the senator does not understand. For the record, five grams of cannabis is enough for some 10 joints. That is far more than four tokes.
Given this statement, l was rather surprised to learn that both Senator Eaton and Senator Frum were forced to abstain from votes on the cannabis bill because they stand to profit from legalization. Senator Eaton declared a conflict of interest over the bill “due to an impending investment in the cannabis industry.” However, until she recused herself, Senator Eaton was an active participant in debates and committee work on legalization, including voting against Bill at second reading.
For her part, Senator Frum has a property “that will be leased for the purposes of selling recreational cannabis”. After initially indicating her opposition to Bill , she recused herself from debate, deliberation, and voting on the matter.
While it may seem like a contradiction to publicly oppose Bill while privately investing in cannabis, such behaviour has become disturbingly common in the lead-up to legalization. An emerging group of so-called cannabis capitalists, notably composed of the same police officers and government officials who have spent years prosecuting the war on drugs, has already begun staking its claim to the new recreational market.
Some prominent names include the following.
Kim Derry, who served as deputy chief when the current Liberal member for , the Liberals' point man on cannabis, was Toronto police chief, is now the security adviser for THC Meds Ontario.
Former Ontario Liberal deputy premier, George Smitherman, who once served as the province's health minister, is tied to THC Meds Ontario as well.
Former Liberal prime minister John Turner is a board member for Muileboom Organics, Inc.
Chuck Rifici founded Tweed Marijuana Inc., the country's first licensed provider to go public, while he was chief financial officer of the Liberal Party of Canada.
Former police chief and Conservative cabinet minister Julian Fantino, who once compared cannabis to murder and voted in favour of harsh mandatory minimum sentences for cannabis as a member of the Harper cabinet, has now gone into the cannabis business himself with former RCMP deputy commissioner Raf Souccar.
It is a travesty of justice and a hypocrisy of the highest order that those who fought hardest for legalization may benefit the least from it, while those who spent a lifetime enforcing prohibition are now lining up to fill the boardrooms of the cannabis industry.
Those who put their liberty on the line as activists for legalization, and who, in the pursuit of their defence of cannabis, often took legal liability and got criminal records, not for any violent activity but in their drive to get sensible cannabis policy in this country, now carry the burden of a criminal record for their efforts. Not only have they been shut out, but the federal government has not even offered them a path to participate in the cannabis industry, or to obtain pardons. Are they now supposed to sit back in admiration of the moral flexibility and business acumen of their former detractors?
The inescapable truth is that Bill is principally about legalizing the cannabis industry, not the plant or its usage. This bill is not about legalization, but about making cannabis less illegal. If this legislation were truly about legalizing the cannabis plant, it would herald the end of criminalization, the end of stigmatization, and the end of the prohibitionist approach to cannabis policy that has been such a failure for almost 100 years. Instead, this legislation would create an incredibly complex criminal framework that legal experts and police chiefs predict will result in more, not fewer, cannabis offences post-legalization.
There have been many opportunities to change course as Bill worked its way through Parliament. I want to be clear. I do give the government credit for rejecting the most harmful amendments proposed by the Senate, and for accepting the NDP's proposals in a number of ways, including to legalize the sale of edibles and concentrates, albeit not for one year post-legalization. This is unjustified, but it is the best the Liberals would do. The government has also agreed to remove the misguided 100-centimetre plant height limit. Unfortunately, the Liberals have also rejected a number of key improvements to Bill .
I would like to take a moment to focus on some of the Senate's key proposed amendments and the government's response to them.
First is home growing. Based on the advice of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation, the federal government has proposed to allow the personal cultivation of cannabis for non-medical purposes, with a limit of four plants per household. However, after considering a proposal to ban home growing outright, the Senate chose to amend Bill to allow provincial governments to ban home growing themselves. Now, this is not a rational or evidence-based approach to cannabis policy. As the College of Family Physicians of Canada put it, “Banning home growing for personal use defeats the purpose of legalization, which is to reduce the harms of criminalization.”
New Democrats believe that, under legalization, the personal production of cannabis should be permitted, similar to the home production of alcohol, such as beer and wine. Personal production would play an essential role in eliminating the illicit cannabis market since it would ensure that individuals who want to consume cannabis can afford it and have access to it in regions without nearby retail storefronts. For many Canadians, particularly those in rural areas who would not be served well by the retail marketing of cannabis, this may be the only way to get access to cannabis.
I would point out that under the Supreme Court of Canada's ruling, medical cannabis users are allowed to grow their own cannabis. In some cases, they are growing eight plants, and they can obtain a licence from another person and grow for that person. Would it not be the height of folly if across Canada one house on a block could grow cannabis, because it is grown for medical reasons, but the house beside it could not, because it is for recreational purposes? That is the height of inequity and it would make a mockery of the law.
I would point out that the health and safety issues generally associated with home cultivation are overwhelmingly the result of large-scale, industrial, illicit growing operations that operate covertly in residential buildings due to prohibition. This can result in damage due to improper ventilation, and the illegal electrical hook-ups pose a fire risk. However, the personal cultivation of four plants would obviously not pose similar risks any more than growing four plants of any other species in the home. I daresay that most Canadians in an average household have more than four plants in their house. By contributing to the dismantling of the illicit market, home cultivation would actually serve to help eliminate those covert industrial growing operations.
Furthermore, I would point out that raw cannabis plants are non-psychoactive. According to University of British Columbia botany professor Jonathan Page, who testified at committee, if anybody, including a child, were to eat the raw bud of cannabis, that person would get the acidic form, which is non-psychoactive. The fresh material is not capable of getting one high. One needs to bake it, heat it, or smoke it in order to obtain that result.
The government chose to reject this amendment because it said, “t is critically important to permit personal cultivation in order to support the government’s objective of displacing the illegal market.” Canada's New Democrats agree.
On potency limits, the Senate also proposed an undefined potency limit for cannabis products. I think the Conservatives are supporting this. On this point, it is important to note that the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation rejected potency limits for a number of reasons. It believed that if prohibited these products would continue to be available on the illicit market. The task force also concluded that there was insufficient evidence even to identify what a safe potency limit would be. The task force emphasized the significant risks associated with the illicit production of high potency concentrate, and instead called on the government to regulate them within a legal market.
I would point out that illicit producers often use flammable solvents, such as butane, to extract cannabinoids from plants, an inherently dangerous process that can also leave carcinogenic residues on the end product. Product safety was also a concern as the extraction process may also concentrate contaminants, such as heavy metals and other impurities in addition to THC.
The government rejected this amendment because “the government has already committed to establishing THC limits in regulations, which will provide flexibility to make future adjustments based on new evidence and product innovation.” While we support the decision to reject this amendment, Canada's New Democrats believe that the government should heed the advice of the task force in this area.
On branding, the Senate proposed deleting a provision of Bill that currently would allow a person to promote cannabis, a cannabis accessories or a service related to cannabis by displaying a brand element on the thing, provided that it would not be associated with young persons, appealing to young persons, or associated with a way of life that would include glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk, or daring.
The government rejected the Senate's amendment because “the Cannabis Act already includes comprehensive restrictions on promotion.” Again, Canada's New Democrats agree.
Branding restrictions on cannabis in Bill are there now. Indeed, they are already more stringent than those applied to alcohol. I do not need to remind any of the members of the House of the tragedy that occurred just a few months ago. A young Quebec girl died after consuming a high alcohol volume drink and ended up drowning in a river. If we look at that product, it is definitely marketed to young people, even to children, and there are no similar restrictions on alcohol. The House should look at closing that in the future.
With respect to parental sharing in the home, just as is currently the case with alcohol, the Senate proposed to allow parents to share cannabis with a younger family member of at least 17 years of age in the home. Canada's New Democrats believe this was a sensible proposal and the government was ill-advised to reject this amendment.
We currently allow this approach for alcohol because we understand that parents can be trusted to model responsible behaviour to their children and to make positive choices for their family's well-being. In fact, the New Democrats believe parental education will be a key component of low-risk use of cannabis and should not be criminalized. After the bill becomes law, parents will be able to legally consume cannabis in the house, and if they want to pass a joint to their 17-year-old and discuss responsible use of cannabis, the bill would make that a crime. We do not think that is sensible.
The government has also rejected the Senate's parallel proposal to ensure that sharing among individuals close in age within two years would not be criminalized, and that a cannabis offence carrying a sentence of less than six months would not be used in deportation proceedings for someone without citizenship status.
The government justified its rejection by saying, “the criminal penalties and the immigration consequences aim to prevent young people from accessing cannabis and to deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties for prohibited activities...”.
If criminalization and the threat of imprisonment or deportation prevented people from using cannabis, then Canadians would not be consuming an estimated 655 metric tonnes of it per year and we would not have the second highest rate of cannabis use among youth between 16 and 24 in the world, and that is when we have full criminalization and life sentences for trafficking.
Contrasting that, a single bottle of liquor is enough to kill a child, and yet I know of no 14-year prison sentence arising from the distribution of beer or liquor. However, a parent who shares a joint with his or her son or daughter who is 17 would be a criminal under this legislation. An adult who possesses 31 grams of cannabis in public would be a criminal. A youth who possesses more than 5 grams of cannabis would be a criminal. An 18-year-old who passes a joint to a 17-year-old friend would be a criminal. An adult who grows five cannabis plants would be a criminal.
This kind of continued criminalization is inconsistent with a rational and evidence-based criminal justice policy and will only serve to reduce the positive impacts of the bill. The prohibitionist approach has been repeatedly discredited by its failure throughout history.
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 possessing and consuming cannabis. In fact, we are today. According to Statistics Canada, in 2016, the most recent year of available data, there were about 55,000 offences related to cannabis reported to police and police charged 17,733 people with pot possession.
A recent Vice News investigation found that black and indigenous men and women have been overrepresented in cannabis possession arrests across Canada just in the year since the Liberals formed government, and yet Bill would preserve the criminalized approach to cannabis, along with the damaging paternalism of the war on drugs.
I want to be clear that from the very beginning Canada's New Democrats have worked hard to reach across the aisle with constructive proposals to improve the bill. These changes included the following: 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 C-45. However, given the 's previous statements, it is shocking that the Liberal government would structure a so-called cannabis legalization bill in such a way that pardons could not be included through amendment.
We proposed empowering provincial governments to create parallel production licensing regimes in order to give provinces the flexibility to implement legalization in the manner best suited to their jurisdiction. For example, this would have allowed provinces to let craft growers, small scale producers, and outdoor growers compete against the federally licensed corporate giants.
As said earlier, we proposed the legalization of edibles and concentrates, which are among the safest ways to consume cannabis and are the growing part of the market. This would allow Canadians and entrepreneur of businesses across the country to provide safe, regulated products to customers instead of allowing this to be provided underground.
We proposed decriminalizing the penalties section in line with the Tobacco Act. We proposed that the legalization should 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 should be consistent with that stated intent.
I am disappointed that the government chose to reject these vital proposals, but I am heartened that the bill at least contains a mandatory review of Bill 's operation in the next Parliament. I view this as a tacit admission by the government that it knows the bill contains problematic sections that will need to be fixed.
To be clear, Canada's New Democrats will support this motion and this legislation because we have fought for an end to prohibition ever since the 1971 LeDain Commission. The bill before us today is an important step forward but it is far from perfect.
After the last election, Canadians rightfully expected that the Liberals would produce a timely and fair cannabis law. As it now stands, the federal government has left the heavy-lifting of legalization to the provincial, territorial, municipal, and indigenous governments. The bill will lead to the emergence of a patchwork approach to legalization that will shut out the most long-standing cannabis activists, the folks who have spent decades honing their craft and providing world-leading medicinal cannabis to patients across Canada.
Some provinces have chosen to impose a government retail monopoly, some have chosen to shut out existing compassion clubs, and some provinces are pushing to ban home growing outright. This is disappointing. It is a lost opportunity. It is a betrayal of the clear promise that the Liberals made to Canadians in 2015.
Done properly, an appropriate legal approach to cannabis can achieve impressive benefits economically, technologically, and medicinally. The New Democrats will continue to work to provide the best cannabis legislation in the world for Canadians.