The House resumed consideration of the motion.
Mr. Speaker, as I was saying, members must be aware, that in addition to law enforcement representation on the task force, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and the member for , who is a former chief of the Toronto Police Service, will work with the task force to engage Canadians on marijuana-related issues.
Further, as part of the consultative process, Public Safety Canada will be hosting a law enforcement round table on marijuana legalization later this month. This event will focus on key issues related to marijuana legalization and regulation, including priority issues such as organized crime, marijuana sales and distribution, and drug-impaired driving.
It is important for everyone to remember that the law is the law. Canadians should expect the police to continue to enforce the law. This includes laws related to storefronts that sell marijuana.
Under the current law, the Marihuana for Medical Purposes Regulations, only persons licensed by Health Canada can produce, provide, or sell marijuana directly to patients with a prescription from a health practitioner to access marijuana.
Over the past few months, we have heard stories from the provinces and police forces that are dealing with the issue of illegal marijuana dispensaries. I can assure the House that police forces across the country, including the RCMP, have taken and will continue to take measures to enforce the law against these illegal marijuana dispensaries.
In closing, we are making progress. We recognize the motivation behind this motion. However, we intend to keep a pace that follows a consistent time frame, which allows for consultation and the full review of the complex social, legal, and public safety consequences related to legislating, regulating, and limiting access to marijuana.
Moving to decriminalization immediately would not achieve any of these objectives and would betray our commitment to Canadians. They supported this commitment and they expect their government to see it through.
Canadians do not expect the government to act hastily on this very important issue. I invite all hon. members to join me in defeating this motion.
Mr. Speaker, as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, let me begin by emphasizing what our government has committed to do.
We have committed to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana. We will do this because it is what we promised Canadians. It is what Canadian elected us to do, and it is the responsible way forward. Our approach will ensure that we keep marijuana out of the hands of our children, and the profits of this illicit trade out of the hands of criminals.
Decriminalization, on the other hand, would provide a legal stream of income to criminal organizations. That approach would do nothing to protect our kids and to mitigate the risk of unrestricted and unregulated access to marijuana. To decriminalize immediately, as the member for suggests, ignores the fact that marijuana is not a benign substance.
It is important to do this right, and not recklessly rush changes through at the expense of public health and safety. Marijuana is associated with a number of serious harms. The scientific evidence indicates that marijuana use is linked to increased risks to physical and mental health. This is particularly true with use that starts in early adolescence which is regular and that continues over time.
Marijuana use impairs mental functioning in the areas of attention, memory, reaction time, and decision-making. Among vulnerable populations, it can accelerate the onset of psychosis or schizophrenia. Regular marijuana use, especially use that begins early in life, can lead to an increased risk of addiction.
I think we can all agree that this is a very complex policy issue, with important public health and safety considerations. A thoughtfully planned, strictly regulated, and carefully implemented regime is critical to mitigate the risks of harm to Canadians. We know this from the experience and lessons learned from other jurisdictions that have moved forward on legalization.
Our government is committed to evidence-based policy. One key message we have heard loud and clear from Canadians and from experts is that it is important to take the time to get it right.
In relation to that broad message, I would refer to a 2015 report from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, which examined marijuana regulation in Colorado and Washington State. This report articulates a number of important aspects for policy-makers to consider, based on the evidence in these two jurisdictions.
One key lesson that I have already alluded to relates to the need to take the time to develop and implement a comprehensive and effective regulatory system. Another key lesson is to prevent use by our young people, by restricting access and fostering a climate that promotes public awareness of the risks and harms of the use of marijuana.
Our government has repeatedly articulated our commitment to ensuring that Canada's approach is robust. It will include strictly controlled sales and distribution, where the appropriate taxes are applied and where access is restricted.
Another key lesson learned from the experience of other jurisdictions relates to the effects and risks associated with. various forms of marijuana products. The evidence and experts tell us that it is important to give serious thought to the control of product formats and dosing or concentration levels. For example, an article in The Globe and Mail this past Friday, June 10, reported that some retailers in Colorado indicated that as much as 60% of their revenue comes from marijuana-infused products. Edibles and extracts, which pose particular health and safety risks, were reported to account for up to 30% of the legal U.S. market.
Unregulated access to these types of products, which would happen if the government were to move forward with immediate decriminalization, would increase risks of harm to Canadians and to our children. As our neighbours to the south have found, cannabis ingested in edible form can take hours to take effect. This means that it carries real risks of over-consumption. Following legalization, Colorado experienced a rise in the number of accidental or unintentional, non-fatal overdoses as a result of unrestricted product formats.
In response to this public health issue, the state government decided to amend their regulatory framework to more strictly control potency and dosing to mitigate the negative health impacts of these cannabis products.
The adage that "the dose makes the poison" is really the basis upon which we develop public health standards for an array of products, and cannabis should be no different. Setting dose or concentration standards is important to consider not only for edible products, but also for the actual plants as well. Numerous studies across the world have found that the strength of marijuana has increased steadily and significantly over the past few decades.
As policy-makers, it is critical that we act responsibly and take a comprehensive approach, one that we feel will not happen with simply decriminalization. We should learn from the experience of other jurisdictions. We should engage stakeholders and experts, and we should develop and implement a strict regulatory framework for restricted access.
That is an approach that will mitigate public health and safety risks, including the risk of accidental overdose and increased trips to the emergency room. We should not and will not rush through decriminalization and support criminal profiteering, and we should not and will not blindly push forward to legalize marijuana.
Our government has developed a thoughtful and robust plan of action. Our plan is comprehensive and collaborative.
Reflecting the priority that our government has placed on this issue, the has outlined marijuana legalization and legislation as a key deliverable in the mandate letters of the , the , and the .
To inform the design of a new system, our government has also committed to creating a federal-provincial-territorial task force. This task force will consult with Canadians and experts in public health, substance abuse, law enforcement, criminal justice, industry, and those groups with expertise on production, sales, and distribution, to examine and to report to ministers on all of the issues related to legalization and regulation. The task force's report will help inform our government's approach. We remain committed to working with the provinces and territories throughout this process, with a view to introducing proposed legislation in Parliament in spring 2017, as recently announced by the .
Let me assure the House that our government will deliver on its commitment. We believe that marijuana legalization, with restricted access and robust regulatory controls, is the best approach to keeping marijuana out of the hands of children and keeping illicit profits away from criminals.
Our approach provides for thoughtful action on an important issue that requires a balance of important public safety, justice, and health considerations. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on both sides of this House on this important issue.
Mr. Speaker, I think the main thing is understanding why it is important to decriminalize marijuana possession now. Over 50,000 people are still charged with simple possession of marijuana every year and end up with criminal records even though the government clearly signalled its intent to legalize marijuana. That is what we have to put an end to.
It is utter nonsense. The himself admitted to using marijuana. At some point that evening, he must have been in simple possession of marijuana. He even admitted to using it while he was an MP. Still, the government keeps telling more than 50,000 Canadians a year that they will have a criminal record and never mind the fact that the Prime Minister himself admitted to doing the same thing they did.
We have to consider the fact that a number of public figures have admitted to doing this at some point in their lives. Luckily for them, they were not caught, but other people get caught every year and suffer the consequences. This is out of whack. Whether or not someone suffers legal consequences is entirely a matter of luck.
We must also remember that this is a frequent occurrence. Many people are exposing themselves to possible legal consequences. In Abitibi—Témiscamingue, according to 2008 statistics, one in eight people or 12% of the population aged 15 and over used cannabis that year. Among those users, one in three had used it less than once a month, and one in four, or barely 3% in the region, had used it between one and three times a month. A majority of users, about six out of 10, used it more than once a week during that 12-month period.
In concrete terms, to paint a clear picture, this means that any time I travel around my riding, considering the number of people I meet along the way, I definitely, although unknowingly, cross paths with someone who is in illegal possession of a controlled substance, because of the government's inaction and failure to change the law. That is a large number of people. It is important that we take action to prevent these people from facing the legal ramifications of having a criminal record.
I also think it is important to stop bogging down the justice system with cases that I think have a lot more to do with health than crime. Marijuana for personal use is much more of a health issue than a crime issue.
We have often heard the government say that decriminalizing possession would keep the money in the hands of criminals. We have heard that argument a lot. I think that argument more or less makes sense when we consider that, as with any business, legal or not, there is the matter of supply and demand and the issue of price. The reason criminal groups grow and sell marijuana is that there is money to be made. Unfortunately, that is the main motivation. As soon as there is less to gain, they will leave the market. The reason they do well is that, since they are assuming risks, they can sell the substance at prices that do not at all reflect the cost of production.
If we decriminalize marijuana, then presumably the people who possess it for personal use will be able to grow the few plants they need for their own consumption.
The spouse of a man who uses marijuana for medical purposes was interviewed in a 2014 news article on medical marijuana. Even though she knows it is illegal, she grows marijuana because her spouse is suffering. She estimates it costs her 5¢ a gram. According to the Sûreté du Québec, the black market price is about $10 a gram.
If marijuana is decriminalized and the price stays that high, most people will choose to grow their own marijuana. Eventually, the black market will lose its appeal because most people will choose to grow their own depending on the price.
Furthermore, anyone who chooses to grow their own marijuana can control what fertilizer they use, for example. Perhaps THC levels will decrease because people will not be trying to grow the strongest product possible. They will simply want to grow something that meets their needs. For example, because the product is for their own use, people might apply less chemical fertilizer, which unfortunately can be found in plants sold on the black market.
It does not make any sense to say that, by decriminalizing marijuana, we will continue to send money to the criminal world. I believe that most of the people who use marijuana regularly will choose to grow it themselves because they will no longer have to worry about getting a criminal record. Of course, they will have to make sure that their children and others cannot access it. They will no longer have any dealings with organized crime. If there is a significant drop in demand because people are choosing to grow their own marijuana, there will be no more use for the black market. Criminals will slowly move away from smuggling marijuana or at least selling it.
Growing a marijuana plant is nothing like distilling alcohol. In the case of alcohol, a lot of controls are needed because the health risks associated with a bad batch of liquor are very high. The plants that people grow at home will likely have a lower THC concentration. Those plants will therefore be less harmful to health than the marijuana that is currently being sold on the black market. I think that it is completely false to say that decriminalizing marijuana will ensure that money continues to be sent to criminals. Decriminalization would allow people to grown marijuana themselves. That argument does not hold up if people are growing it for their own use.
Another important thing is that, if marijuana is decriminalized, then people can get the health care they need. Right now, the problem is that people are afraid to say that they use marijuana because they know it is illegal. Adults and people who are a little older, who are over the age of 50, use marijuana for different reasons. Because of the impact it could have on people's work or personal lives if others knew that they used marijuana occasionally, they do not talk about their use of marijuana and do not seek out information on the effects it could have on their health.
If marijuana were decriminalized, young people could seek out information on how marijuana affects their health, without fear of potential consequences if anyone were to find out that they use the drug. Decriminalization would also allow for a more open discussion on the difference between recreational use and problematic use.
It is no secret that marijuana has significant effects on the health of users. It can have some serious consequences, especially on the psychological health and motivation of young people. However, if young people cannot talk about this openly, they cannot get this information, and it is difficult to intervene. People will still avoid disclosing their marijuana use, and we will not have an accurate picture of the situation.
People regularly lie in surveys on marijuana use because they are afraid of what might happen if this information were obtained by a third party. As a result, they do not seek medical assistance. Occasional marijuana use may be acceptable, but when someone uses marijuana every day, that goes beyond recreational use and becomes a health problem. It is important to be able to say that.
What matters to me now is changing the lens through which we see marijuana. This is not a criminal matter; it is a health matter. We should be able to have an intelligent conversation about this. Compare marijuana to alcohol. If people have one or two drinks a week, that is not a problem, but if people feel the need to drink every day or drink incredible amounts of alcohol, that is a problem, and those people need to get help.
We need to be able to talk about responsible use and determine what constitutes a health risk, and decriminalization is key to having that conversation. If not, some people will not talk because they will fear the consequences. As people get older, the consequences for their lives, their work, and their family become more far-reaching, so they are less likely to come forward or to seek out the information or the help they need, depending on their situation.
Decriminalization will enable us to get the answers we do not have right now, such as the long-term health consequences of marijuana use. It will also enable us to figure out how much is too much for driving. How long should a person wait after using marijuana before getting behind the wheel? How much would make it dangerous?
If people cannot even talk about their usage without fearing legal consequences, they will not be able to seek out that information. However, this information is essential if we want to pursue legalization. For one thing, we need to set limits for operating a vehicle so that people can be informed. If we do not have accurate information, we will keep going around in circles.
There is another argument to the effect that decriminalization will not do anything to prevent young people from accessing marijuana. That is not true at all. Right now, if someone is smoking marijuana in a park, for example, a police officer has no choice but to take all of the legal measures: arrest and charge the person, keep evidence, etc. These legal procedures take a long time. There are therefore no immediate consequences associated with using marijuana in an inappropriate place.
If marijuana were decriminalized, municipal bylaws could be put in place to prohibit its use in municipal parks, for example, and violators could be fined. Police sweeps could be used to change behaviour. Since an immediate sanction would be imposed, people would think twice about using marijuana again in an inappropriate place where there are young people.
By decriminalizing marijuana possession, the government can give the provinces and municipalities the latitude to regulate the context in which use is acceptable. It could also make the actions to prevent use more effective.
Right now, legal action must be taken each time. If we consider the fact that 12% of the population is using marijuana or has used it in recent years, it is clear that it is not realistic to take all of those people to court. Between 3.6 million and four million Canadians per year would be going through the court system. That does not make any sense. We cannot do that.
If marijuana were decriminalized, people could be fined for using marijuana in inappropriate locations. It would also allow community workers and parent committees, for example, to target areas where they think such use would be inappropriate, such as schoolyards, parks, or other places where young people go. It would allow the municipalities to ensure that marijuana is only being used in places where there are no young people. That could have a positive impact by reducing access to cannabis, since right now, it is impossible to put in place bylaws on something that is supposed to be illegal.
The problem is that if simple possession continues to be illegal, we cannot put certain regulations or policies in place, because the product is supposed to be illegal.
For instance, if someone is caught in possession of a substance at school, the police must be called and legal proceedings for a young offender must be initiated. However, if a young person is caught in possession of cannabis at school and it has been decriminalized, he or she could be asked, under the school's regulations, to destroy the substance and a lot more effort can be put into social intervention. We could try to understand why that young person is using drugs. There is also a public health approach. If there are underlying health concerns involved, such as mental health, we can intervene accordingly. By continuing to criminalize it, the Liberals are burying their heads in the sand and depriving the authorities of the tools needed to properly intervene.
It is very important to keep in mind that we absolutely must not trivialize marijuana use. I recognize that this substance has adverse health effects. Regular use creates motivation problems in young people, as well as mental health problems. It affects blood pressure and it changes electroencephalograms. It is important to decriminalize possession immediately in order to address the health risks and the ineffectiveness of prohibition.
This would allow people to talk more openly about their marijuana use and to seek health information. Decriminalizing possession immediately would help us to intervene and to stop criminals from trafficking in this drug. As soon as cannabis possession is decriminalized, people who use it more regularly will find that it is much easier to produce what they consume themselves. This will enable them to gain control over their product and pay less than what criminals are currently charging, since that cost is associated with a risk that would no longer exist with decriminalization.
This is the logical way to proceed. The fact that it would still be illegal to sell cannabis will keep things under control and will very much help the people who consume it regularly anyway. They will benefit because they will have more control over the product they consume and will also be much more open about looking for information on their health.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to advise you that I will be sharing my time with the eloquent and brilliant member for .
I am pleased to stand in the House today to address the topic put forward by the member for .
It is clear that there is no reason to hastily rush into decriminalization, as members opposite suggest. Over the last decade or so, courts have told us that people with a legitimate medical need have a constitutional right to access marijuana for medical purposes. As the result of various court decisions, there is a robust regulatory system in place that provides legal access to marijuana for medical purposes to Canadians who need it.
To be frank, those who want it for recreational purposes can wait until such time as we have a new system that legalizes, strictly regulates, and restricts access to marijuana.
At this time, we have a fully functional system that allows a little over 53,000 Canadians to access medical marijuana.
The current system has established strict controls over the production and sale of marijuana for medical purposes. These controls protect public health and safety and enable Canadians to access marijuana for medical purposes when authorized by their health care practitioner.
Let me make it very clear. Our government does not licence organizations, such as compassion clubs or dispensaries, to possess, produce, or distribute marijuana for medical purposes. These activities by these organizations are, and remain, illegal. Instead, through the marihuana for medical purposes regulations, Health Canada has put in place controls to enable the production and distribution of marijuana for medical purposes, while reducing the risk of marijuana being diverted to an illicit market or use.
Health Canada grants licenses to producers so that they can produce and distribute dried marijuana, fresh marijuana, and cannabis oil to people who have received authorization from a health care practitioner. Those Health Canada-approved licensed producers must meet the strictest standards in order to produce and distribute medical marijuana.
The system was created to help ensure a professional, secure, and ethical industry that would provide reasonable access for Canadians to marijuana for medical purposes. Licensed producers must demonstrate compliance, including quality control standards, record keeping of all activities and inventories of marijuana, and physical security measures to protect against potential diversion. In addition to those stringent requirements, the system also requires that certain key employees, along with directors and officers in the case of a corporation, have a security clearance.
The regulations provide for rigorous oversight to reduce public health, safety, and security risks by setting out an in-depth licence application review process and a strong compliance and enforcement regime. Licensed producers must meet good production practices, including the requirement for analytical testing for contaminants, sanitation requirements for production, and packaging and storage, among other requirements. Licensed producers also have to test marijuana for microbial and chemical contaminants, and must meet legislated quality control requirements.
This means that the marijuana sold is subject to strict quality control and robust oversight in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians.
For its part, Health Canada plays a compliance and enforcement role to ensure that licensed producers produce marijuana to the high standards set out in the regulations. To this end, the department conducts frequent inspections of all licensed producer facilities.
To date, Health Canada has issued 31 licences to producers located across Canada who conduct their operations according to the quality control measures and appropriate health and safety standards that I have already talked about today.
We know these producers are selling a wide variety of quality-controlled marijuana in a manner that reduces risk to public health and safety. Moreover, licensed producers are offering marijuana at a range of prices, with some producers offering compassionate pricing.
To be able to access marijuana for medical purposes, Canadians must have the support of a health care practitioner; that is a physician in all provinces and territories or a nurse practitioner in those provinces and territories where it is permitted.
These health care practitioners complete a medical document that includes the daily amount of marijuana required. With that medical document, individuals can register with one of the licensed producers identified on the Health Canada website. To date, nearly 53,000 Canadians have registered to purchase marijuana for medical purposes. From licensed producers, Canadians can obtain dried or fresh marijuana as well as cannabis oil.
What is more, people who are entitled to obtain marijuana for medical purposes and who purchase it from licensed producers can produce and possess marijuana products such as ointments for personal use.
As part of the regulatory requirements, licensed producers must ensure the safe distribution of marijuana. This means that licensed producers are only permitted to provide marijuana to registered clients and this marijuana must be securely shipped directly to the client or an individual responsible for the client or to the client's health care practitioner.
Let me also add that licensed producers may not operate a storefront.
Licensed producers must package marijuana in a child resistant manner that allows the client to determine whether it has been opened prior to receipt and helps to prevent children from opening it.
Licensed producers must apply a label on the container indicating the name of the client, that of the licensed producer, the contact information of the supplier, and information about the marijuana being shipped.
The licensed producer is also required to include similar information on a separate document with each shipment of marijuana. These documents are useful should a client be required to demonstrate proof of authorized possession to law enforcement.
All these requirements create a framework that allows people in Canada to access marijuana prescribed by a health practitioner.
The system is working. I mentioned that there are 53,000 registered clients who are already legally accessing marijuana for medical purposes from 31 licensed producers. These licensed producers have the capacity to absorb new clients. This means that Canadians who require marijuana for medical purposes do not need to go to a dispensary. They can already get it from a legal source if they require it for medical purposes.
The government is working hard to make changes to the current regulations based on the Federal Court's guidelines.
While I will not speculate about the specifics of the proposed regulations, they will be crafted to address the issues identified by the court and ensure that authorized individuals have reasonable access to marijuana for medical purposes.
In the meantime, I want to remind the House that licensed producers will continue to carry out their operations as usual and that Canadians needing marijuana for medical purposes can continue to access it through licensed producers.
It is simply unnecessary to decriminalize marijuana. There is a robust system in place for those who need it for medical purposes. For those who wish to access marijuana for recreational purposes, we would urge them to respect the current laws while we take the time to put in place a responsible regulated system for marijuana for non-medical purposes. That system will keep marijuana out of the hands of youth and keep criminals from profiting from marijuana's illegal trade. Therefore, I cannot support today's motion.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to the motion brought by the hon. member for . He would know that I hold him in high regard even though he is not here, though regrettably I am speaking against his motion.
I also want to thank the hon. member for for his gracious introduction. I will try to live up to his high expectations.
Let me start by reminding the House that our government has committed to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to marijuana.
The Government of Canada intends to keep marijuana away from children and prevent criminals from profiting from its illegal trade.
We will take these steps with our eyes wide open. We will take a responsible approach. We do not want to rush or introduce precipitous changes which are unnecessary and could needlessly complicate the transition to a properly designed and regulated system of restricted access to marijuana. As the said in her recent speech to the United Nations, our approach to drug policy, including the legalization of marijuana, must have a solid scientific foundation.
I would like to use my time today to talk about some of what the science says about marijuana and health. There are both health risks and potential therapeutic benefits from marijuana. While new evidence of risks and benefits continue to emerge, we currently have more evidence about the harms, particularly the harms to youth. There is evidence of very real and negative health effects of marijuana consumption, particularly for young people.
The health risks associated with regular use of marijuana during adolescence and early adulthood, when the brain is still developing, include long-term harmful effects.
Regular marijuana use over time can lead to an increased risk of addiction, and therefore potentially longer lasting harms to mental functioning, such as deficits in attention, memory, learning, and even IQ. This is particularly true for use that begins in early adolescence.
There is evidence that regular marijuana use in early adolescence can have a negative impact on academic success and increase the risk of dropping out of school.
Early and regular marijuana use has also been associated with an increased risk of psychosis and schizophrenia, especially in those who have a personal or family history of such mental illnesses. These effects can cause profound problems for the individuals and their families. All of this is of particular concern given the high rates of use of marijuana among young Canadians.
On average, young people try marijuana for the first time at age 14.
Almost one in five students in grades seven to 12 had reported use of marijuana during the years 2012-13. Moreover, Health Canada's most recent Canadian tobacco, alcohol, and drug survey found that 11% of Canadians aged 15 or older reported having used marijuana at least once in 2013. When examined more closely, the data reveals that 25% of young people aged 15 to 24 years reported use in the previous year.
Young Canadians have an alarmingly high rate of marijuana use compared to youth in other countries.
A 2013 study by UNICEF found that Canadian youth aged 11 to 15 are the highest users of marijuana compared to their peers in other developed countries, and 28% of 15-year-olds in Canada reported using marijuana at least once in the previous year.
Despite the increased risks for adolescents who use marijuana, the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, conducted in 2015, indicated that the perceived risk of harm associated with marijuana use is lower than it was in the past.
In a talk at a recent conference, the cited the risks of marijuana use to the developing brain when he said that, “we need to make sure that it's harder for underage Canadians to access marijuana. And that will happen under a controlled and regulated regime.”
One of the main reasons why we want to move toward legalization is that it would allow us to properly regulate the use of marijuana and restrict access to it.
Canadians expect us to be responsible as we follow through on our commitment. We need to take the time necessary to get the approach right.
We are concerned that half measures such as the decriminalization that the hon. member for proposes will only send the wrong message to our young people and amount to a disservice to the public. On balance, decriminalization would amount to a disservice to the public for a number of reasons: First, it does nothing to address the supply side of the issue, leaving serious questions regarding the quality of the substance which we aim to regulate. Second, it does nothing to reduce the law enforcement and judicial resources that would be necessary to still prosecute certain contraventions under a new decriminalization regime. Third, and perhaps equally importantly, it would do nothing to stop the flow of proceeds into the pockets and accounts of organized crime.
As members can see, this is a complex issue, and many perspectives need to be considered in order to create a safe, secure, and tightly regulated system for the legal production and distribution of marijuana. That is why our government will soon launch a task force that will give us expert advice on how the legalization process should take place. The task force will include perspectives from many different sectors, including health, justice, law enforcement, and public safety. We want to take the time to hear from experts across a variety of fields who have an interest in this important issue. We must learn from the experience of other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana, and we must consider the implications of legalization for the provinces and territories.
The science on marijuana risks and benefits is evolving. Some clinical studies suggest that some strains have potential therapeutic benefits for some medical conditions, such as certain types of severe chronic pain. There is emerging evidence that some strains may perhaps be useful in treating epilepsy in children and adults. What is clear is that as the scientific evidence continues to advance, Canadians will need a system which strictly regulates the sale and access to marijuana, and ensures that Canadians have the information they need to make informed and responsible choices about their health.
We believe that legalization, regulation, and restricted access to marijuana is the best approach to protecting our children from both accessing marijuana and from criminal records that may negatively affect their lives. To that end, we will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and illicit profits out of the hands of criminals. We are convinced that this is the best way to protect our children and young people while enhancing public safety.
I am thankful for the opportunity to inform the House on this important government commitment.
For those reasons, I am against the motion proposed by the hon. member for , and I would encourage members to make the same decision.
Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for .
Despite the 's clear campaign promises to move quickly to fix our marijuana laws and stop the senseless arrests for simple possession, the government has spent the last six or seven months doing nothing. The Liberals announced a timeline for future action, in New York, but that action is at least a year away.
I am hearing from a broad range of constituents in Nanaimo—Ladysmith who are confused by the government's messages on marijuana, so here is a nine-part list of who is affected by leaving marijuana regulations uncertain.
First, there are judges. Justice Selkirk, from the Ontario Court of Justice, said, in December:
|| I recall distinctly the Prime Minister in the House of Commons saying it's going to be legalized. I'm not going to be the last judge in this country to convict somebody of simple possession of marijuana.
|| You can't have the Prime Minister announcing it's going to be legalized and then stand up and prosecute it. It just can't happen. It's a ludicrous situation, ludicrous.
My second category is taxpayers, because the government spends $3 million to $4 million annually in prosecuting simple possession cases. New Democrats believe that it is irresponsible to allow police and court resources to be wasted this way, creating new criminal records for something the government imminently plans to legalize. Police have better things to do.
The third category is legal commercial producers. There are 60 licensed commercial businesses across Canada. One of them, Tilray, is in my riding. These businesses have done everything the government has asked them to do. They have jumped through incredible hoops. They have security, investment, and inspections. It is a very tightly regulated industry. They have invested in good faith, but they are not sure what will be the conditions for further investment. They are in an insecure business environment.
The fourth category is legal personal-production licence holders. Again, the Conservatives made a whole lot of changes, and there were a lot of prosecutions over the last 10 years. They are in an uncertain place. These people are growing medical marijuana legally, but they do not know how solid the ground is on which they stand. It is a problem.
There is another broad group affected in my community: those with illegal dispensaries in their region. These are not licensed under the current law, so the fifth category is local governments that are left scrambling to address the jurisdictional hole left by the lack of federal leadership on the illegal dispensary issue.
The sixth category is customers who are reliant on this dispensary supply. They may well have been prescribed this medically. They believe that it is a legitimate source they can rely on. They are discombobulated by ad hoc police raids and the interruption of what might be a prescribed supply for them. It creates anxiety.
The seventh category affected is that of neighbouring businesses affected by these illegal dispensaries. These people are alarmed by changes in their neighbourhoods, outdoor smoking, and a different clientele mix. The Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce representatives are complaining to me about this and about the lack of federal leadership. There is a lot of work to do on this file.
The eighth category for me is regions that are missing out on the benefits from legal commercial medical marijuana growers. Tilray, in my riding, is one success story. The company added 140 employees in 13 months. Operating impacts are estimated to grow from $13 million to $88 million in our region if the government can get ahead and plan what this industry is actually going to look like. We are waiting for leadership.
Finally, the ninth category, which is the focus of today's debate, is the thousands of mostly young adults who will have criminal records for the rest of their lives because the did not respect his promise to legalize marijuana as soon as he took office. Having a criminal record for marijuana possession has big consequences. It can impede one's travel and future work opportunities. This is again the focus of today's debate. It is unfair to impose criminal records on citizens when we are told that this will be a legal drug in less than two years. It is unfair and it costs everyone.
One of the costs is 18 months, under a Liberal government, of needless arrests and wasteful trials that are tying up our police and our courts. The justice department has confirmed that it will cost taxpayers as much as $4 million a year.
In 2014, there were almost 60,000 marijuana possession charges, and Statistics Canada says that is 3% of all arrests in our country. In 2013, possession of cannabis accounted for 54% of all police-reported drug crime. If police stopped prosecuting young adults, then resources could be focused on dealers and organized crime.
In my city, Nanaimo, there is a fentanyl crisis that is tying up firefighters, police, health responders, and hospitals. It is causing deaths. This is a serious problem, and we are not getting the action we need on it. There were 17 fentanyl-related deaths in 2014 in the Island Health region, 22 in 2015, and nine in just the first three months of this year. The medical health officer for my region, on Vancouver Island, Dr. Paul Hasselback, says that Nanaimo's fentanyl overdose rate is higher than the provincial average. It is something we really should be focusing on instead of criminalizing simple possession of marijuana.
This follows a trail of Liberal failures. In 1969, a royal commission said that the cost to young individuals was not justified and said to get rid of prohibition for personal use. The Liberals ignored the recommendation. New Democrats introduced a bill, and it was not supported by the House.
In 2002, a Senate report said that the true damage to society caused by marijuana was felt through the side effects of criminal penalties. Again, there was no action. In 2009, the Liberals voted to support Bill , a Conservative initiative to impose mandatory minimums for cannabis-related offences.
The Liberal and Conservative governments have consecutively failed to keep marijuana out of the hands of young people, and giving them criminal records has not helped.
New Democrats want the government to make a difference on the ground right now, to make a difference in people's lives. As the Liberal health minister said quite rightly, it is impossible to arrest our way out of the situation. Therefore, the government should support the NDP motion. It should immediately decriminalize simple possession while it drafts laws to legalize marijuana.
Yes, it can learn from Washington and Colorado. Yes, it can tackle edibles, labelling, and dosage control. It can do all of those things, but while it does that long, extended work, it should make a difference right now in the lives of Canadians. New Democrats believe that it is irresponsible to allow the valuable resources of police and courts to be wasted creating new criminal records for something the government imminently plans to legalize.
New Democrats will continue to push for the government to take common sense steps, such as decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana, while it develops a comprehensive plan and a timeline to legalize it.
Mr. Speaker, it seems to me that, since debate on this topic began today, the discussion has been all over the map, which is probably normal with such a delicate topic.
Despite the fact that we are talking about marijuana, which is commonly known as a soft drug, some people are worried about abuse. I would like to come back to the key aspect of the motion so that we know what we are talking about. I would particularly like to draw members' attention to point (a), which is the heart of the NDP's proposal. It reads:
|| That the House: (a) recognize the contradiction of continuing to give Canadian criminal records for simple possession of marijuana after the government has stated that it should not be a crime;
We are talking about simple possession of marijuana. That is the situation we have been put in since the most recent election campaign. During that campaign, I often told the people who asked my opinion on the dreams, promises, and commitments of the Liberal party to be careful because everyone knows that the Liberals tend to signal left during the election campaign and then turn right when they take office. As a result, we are now in a situation where Canadians' dreams have been shattered. There are many examples of that.
For example, we could talk about all those people who were thrilled at the prospect of a tax cut that would give them more money and help them make ends meet. Once the Liberals came to power, very few people actually benefited from a tax cut, and those who received the largest tax cuts were already among the wealthiest Canadians.
Seniors in my riding were especially attracted by the idea of investments in home care. There was nothing in the budget about that. On the environment, people were saying that they could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. The Liberal government made the same commitments as the previous government in Paris. We can clearly see that on all counts, there is a gap, actually it is an abyss, between the vision presented during the campaign and what the government is currently doing.
In the case of marijuana, I would say that there is an even greater gap, if that is possible. The Liberals told everyone that they would quickly legalize marijuana. However, that is not the case. What people continue to believe, especially adolescents, whom I really understand, is that they are invincible. In fact, I have spent most of my life in touch with adolescence, first as an adolescent myself and then as a teacher of adolescents for 25 years. When we think about our adolescence, which for most people in the House was not as long ago as mine, we can remember often having the feeling of being invincible. When we are adolescents, the things we do are not risky, and we believe everything will be fine. If we try smoking a joint, we are not going to be arrested, because that only happens to other people.
The reality is quite different, and thousands of Quebeckers and Canadians who want to try smoking a joint or consuming an edible, such as a muffin or what have you, run the risk of ending up with a criminal record. They could end up with a criminal record, even though the Liberals made a promise and said that no one in our society should end up with a criminal record for simple possession of marijuana. Therein lies the contradiction and the confusion surrounding this issue we are trying to resolve with the very simple approach of decriminalizing marijuana. The majority agrees on this measure, and we are not talking about 50% plus 1 of Canadians. We are talking about 68% of Canadians who agree with decriminalizing simple possession of marijuana. I would remind members that we are talking about simple possession.
I must admit that the issues are diametrically opposed, but I have a hard time understanding the Liberals' inconsistent approach.
In recent weeks, we have talked a lot about Bill on medical assistance in dying. We heard that even though the Supreme Court issued a clear unanimous ruling, society was not ready and we needed to move forward slowly. As a result, the Liberals proposed the criterion of reasonably foreseeable natural death, which has been challenged in both the House and the Senate.
Small steps are necessary in the case of medical assistance in dying, but in the case of simple possession of marijuana, small steps are apparently not needed. In that case, the government wants to go full bore. Legalization needs to happen immediately, which is completely impossible. We need to forget about that. All we have been promised is that a bill will be introduced in 2017. Some Liberal members are saying that it could be introduced later, and, rarely, someone says that it could be introduced earlier. We hear nothing about consistency.
We need a bill to deal with the drug issue once and for all, but the first step is to implement a simple, easy-to-understand measure for everyone. Say a teenager is influenced by a group of friends or just wants to try this once. We need to make sure our measure eliminates the possibility of ruining that teenager's life with a record that will make finding a job or travelling much more difficult. We know that teenagers are tempted to try new things. There is a disconnect there.
I would like to talk about my own transition from childhood to adolescence. In my day, things might have seemed simpler because becoming a man or daring to do the forbidden meant trying to smoke. Cigarettes could be had for a penny, back when we still had pennies.
Obviously, that has changed. Each generation is better educated than the last, and we now have very clear evidence about the dangers of cigarettes. Cigarette consumption has decreased markedly, but the battle is not yet won. Some young people still choose to smoke, and they need to be shown the negative health effects of that choice.
Right now, the legal system spends $4 million on cases that may result in records for teenagers. If we used that money to educate young people about this, we could make tremendous progress. Contrary to what my dearly departed mother believed, one toke does not a hard-drug addict make. It is a long way from the former to the latter, and we can easily interrupt that progression with health education.
Since time is running out, I will close by painting a picture of the situation using some statistics. We invest $4 million in our justice system every year, and 80% of the offences that have to be processed involve simple possession of cannabis. If members want to talk about organized crime and everything else, so be it. However, 80% of offences are related to simple possession of marijuana. That amounts to 66,000 arrests a year and 22,000 people who risk getting a criminal record.
As I said earlier, 68% of Canadians are calling on us to take this first step, go ahead with decriminalization, and work on education so that experimentation remains just that, experimentation.
What is even clearer is that all of the parties are slowly coming around to the NDP's approach, which we first proposed a number of years ago.
I see I am out of time. I will end there, as I will have an opportunity to continue through questions.
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague from .
The member is definitely the best dressed member in this chamber.
Given that this is the first time I have risen today, I want to express my condolences to the victims, their families, and their friends for the horrible murder, terrorist act, hate crime, which occurred in Orlando. We were all very touched by what happened and very disconcerted. It is hard for many of us today to concentrate on the motion when we think of the crimes that ISIS is perpetuating, and now we are talking about marijuana.
Let me be blunt. I was not one of the cool kids in high school. I never tried marijuana. To be honest, I am glad that I did not. It is not my style to smoke, drink, or to use drugs, but I also understand that it is not my right to impose my own views and my own values on all Canadians. I respect and accept the fact that our party has proposed making marijuana use legal. As part of that, we also said that we were going to regulate and restrict.
While I appreciate the motion put forward by my hon. friend and colleague from , and I highly value his intellect and love working with him, I disagree with the perspective that we are going to simply decriminalize without looking at the other two very important facts: regulation and restriction.
The motion makes no distinction between 14-year-olds and 40-year-olds. It does not say that decriminalization is going to occur only for adults. It is saying decriminalization is going to occur for everyone. One of the things that is incredibly important to me is keeping marijuana out of the hands of children. Marijuana use is not without its effects.
As we all know, it can make people slightly loopy for a certain period of time, but there are also ties to breathing disorders, mental health issues, and particularly for young people whose brains are still developing, marijuana is a dangerous substance. It is not something we want to be widely distributed to our children. However, if we are going to decriminalize without dealing with how marijuana is distributed, without dealing with how we are going to keep it out of the hands of kids, we are going to enter into problems that are not anticipated by the motion.
I do understand, with a competent adult who is looking at a government that says we are going to make this legal, that we would have a certain sympathy for the fact that they are going to be prosecuted and get a criminal record. However, at the same time in my view, the law is the law is the law. Whether we agree with the law or do not agree with the law, whether we believe that a law is going to be rescinded or not, it does not mean we do not have a duty to respect the law as it is. As such, my sympathy for the people we have been talking about today is slightly muted, because they should be, just like the rest of us, respecting the law. That is what we are supposed to do until such time as the law is changed.
The NDP has raised Bill and I also want to raise Bill C-14 because one of the things this government was criticized for was the quick process that led to Bill C-14. However, in the case of Bill C-14, there was a very good reason. There was a Supreme Court deadline of June 6. In the case of marijuana, there is no deadline.
The key studies and the commentaries that we have had from the states in the United States that have legalized marijuana use, in particular Colorado, among others, has been that we should take the correct time frame to put in place the right measures to go along with legalization. We should not be rushing this.
Not only do we need to have the regulatory rules in place, but we need to have the infrastructure in place. We need to have those people who are ready to legally distribute marijuana. We need to have the police forces and judiciary prepared for the way we are going to treat this. We need to have the educational resources available for how we are going to go into the schools and explain to our young people why they should not be using marijuana and try to disincentivize them from doing so.
One of the things that is also troubling to me around the idea of accepting the motion is the question of regulation of the product itself.
We have heard from many Canadians, including the hon. member for in 2012, who talked about the fact that there was marijuana in our country that was very hard marijuana and was dangerous to health. If we are going to legalize marijuana, or even decriminalize it, we need to have standards in place to talk about how it is grown and how to prevent contaminants from getting into it to ensure the marijuana used is safe to consume, to the extent possible.
We need to talk about packaging, distribution, and how we get this out of the hands of organized crime. My fear is that, if the motion is adopted as is, who will everyone buy from? The producers of medical marijuana are not authorized to sell it to those without a prescription. There is nothing in the motion to talk about how the distribution channels would work. As such, my concern is that those people who are currently illegally distributing marijuana across Canada, basically organized crime, are going to have freer licence to go into our schools and talk to our young people about how it is not criminal to possess small amounts and encourage them to buy from them. Once that happens, what other drugs are these people in organized crime selling? How will this stop someone who starts with marijuana from moving toward harder drugs that are also sold by the same distributor, if we are going to call the Mafia that?
This is of enormous concern for me because right now in Canada we have the highest rate of minors using marijuana of 29 countries. Therefore, whatever we do in terms of the legalization process, an important part has to be how we are going to keep it out of the hands of our young people.
I have heard the argument, and respect it, that police forces going after adult possessors of small amounts of marijuana takes police away from more important things they could be doing. I completely agree with this. I do not agree that decriminalization would have the same effect, because it still means these people should be ticketed. It still means prosecutions and the officers would be going to court. The answer is not decriminalization. It is legalization, but legalization with strict enforcement mechanisms, proper surveillance, and supervision.
I am very happy that we have an expert in our government in the area of marijuana use. The hon. is going to be leading us in this effort with his incredible former experience as the police chief of Toronto.
Some hon. members: Oh, oh!
Mr. Anthony Housefather: Mr. Speaker, let me underline that when I talked about his experience, I was not talking about him as a consumer but rather as a Canadian expert in the field who will help us on the path to legalization, but restriction and regulation along with it. He is going to be working with a team of experts in many different fields.
In conclusion, I respect and understand the hon. member for 's point. Hopefully, in a little while adults who have small amounts in their possession will find it to be legal and will not be prosecuted. However, I do not believe we should be rushing forward on a path until we know exactly what the rules are, how to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids, and how we are going to regulate the product.