Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to share some thoughts regarding Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other acts.
Essentially the bill proposes to regulate and legalize the production, possession, use, and distribution of marijuana across Canada. The government is on record saying it wants to implement this by July of next year. The government's decision to move hastily on such an important piece of legislation concerns me.
Let me be clear, this marijuana bill will have far-reaching impacts on every part of our society. It is imperative that before proceeding with the significant changes to the Criminal Code, a thorough debate takes place in the House for all members who wish to speak.
I would like to take a minute to outline some of the areas of concern that I have with the legislation. One of the major issues I have with the legislation is the fact that it will be putting children at risk of having much greater access to marijuana. I am sure this concern resonates with parents of young children and teenagers. While the government has consistently touted that one of its objectives is to prevent young people from accessing cannabis, in reality the bill does just the opposite.
Clauses 8 and 9 of the legislation are a perfect example. These provisions state that it is prohibited for an individual to possess or distribute more than four cannabis plants that are not budding or flowering. This means that it will be legal for people to grow at least four marijuana plants inside their homes. I do not know of any easier way, and I said that in my question, for children to access marijuana than in that way.
Unlike prescription pills, which people can put away, marijuana plants, by definition, have to be out in the open. I cannot imagine any easier way for children to get hold of marijuana than when their parents are starting to grow it in the kitchen.
My concerns for children and teenagers do not end there. Let us consider the dangers for young people who may come in contact with marijuana edibles. This is an issue that is not properly addressed in Bill C-45. I have seen photographs, as I am sure other members have, of these edibles. They are indistinguishable from candy treats or baked goods that are often found on the kitchen counter, in the kitchen cupboard, or even in a cookie jar, enticing prizes for young children. They are so convincing that an adult could mistake a pot edible for the real thing.
The possible health risks for children ingesting these kinds of edibles cannot be underestimated. According to health care professionals, such as Dr. Robert Glatter, the consumption of multiple servings of edibles at one time, for any age group, results in various potential psychological effects, not to mention the possibility of over-sedation, anxiety, or psychosis. Ingesting multiple servings in a short time span can also produce intense anxiety, paranoia, and even psychosis. These adverse side effects are more frequent among first-time users.
If these are the health risks that affect adults ingesting edibles, one can only imagine the danger they pose to children who are almost certainly going to be first-time users. In fact, experts from the Department of Justice have attested that edibles pose significant risks to the health of children. Clearly, the entirely plausible chance that children may accidentally ingest these edibles deserves a more careful examination by the members of the House.
Another illogical aspect of the legislation that the government must address is the ambiguous rules regarding the quantity of marijuana that children may legally possess. As we have heard, according to Bill C-45, paragraph 8(1)(c), children under the age of 18 are prohibited from possessing the equivalent of five grams of marijuana or more.
What happens when a 12-year-old uses or distributes cannabis to his peers on the playgrounds, every day, with no questions asked? This is a lax approach. How can the government ensure that children and teenagers will not be recruited by organized crime? I can see that is what is going to happen. On a simpler front, is it safer to be in possession of four grams of cannabis or five, or is the safest quantity the possession and distribution of zero grams? That is what our party would support.
The Liberals will tell Canadians that four grams is okay but the Conservatives, on the other hand, are firm in our conviction that zero grams is the only safe amount for our children.
The cannabis act is replete with arbitrary cut-offs that do nothing to protect our children from the dangers of marijuana. In fact, we believe they expose them to greater risk. Canadians deserve clarity when it comes to legislation that will significantly affect so many aspects of our justice, health, and public safety systems, and more important, their daily lives and families. It is not enough, I would like to point out, to say we are going to shove all these things over to the province and let them figure it out. There is a responsibility for the federal government to get it right.
If all these problems with accessibility alone were not sufficient to highlight the shortcomings of Bill C-45, please note that the Prime Minister and his government proposed that the legal age to purchase marijuana be 18 years of age. For a government that claims to espouse and produce evidence-based policy, this provision is clearly off the mark. All we have to do is ask any doctor, health organization, or health expert. For one, the scientific evidence overwhelmingly confirms that the human brain does not fully develop until individuals reach their mid-twenties.
The Canadian Medical Association, as I have pointed out, has already warned the government that the use of cannabis may have significant psychological impacts on brain development up to the age of 25, and recommends that 21 be the youngest acceptable age to legalize the purchase of marijuana. Indeed, the position of the Canadian Paediatric Society likewise urges the government to consider the dangers of so young an age to purchase marijuana. Again, the government keeps talking about protecting children but it completely ignores the evidence. Indeed, the co-author of that position paper, Dr. Christina Grant, has stated, at the very least, the levels of THC must be limited until after the age of 25 to be considered safe for brain health.
Once again, Bill C-45 lacks crucial information. Why are the Liberals ignoring this crucial scientific information, information that has a tangible impact on the health and best interests of Canadians? It is not enough to say we are ignoring all the evidence and let the provinces figure this out. That is not good enough.
Further, while drafting the legislation, the Liberal government had plenty of time to study the impact of marijuana legalization in several jurisdictions in the United States. Instead of learning from the mistakes and challenges that have befallen these states, the government decided to ram the legislation through. Again, this will be a complete detriment to Canadians.
I will give members a couple of examples of what we are talking about.
First is the fact that our American counterparts have found an increase in impaired driving following the legalization of marijuana in certain jurisdictions. In fact, the U.S. Department of Justice found that on Colorado roads, during the year following legalization of marijuana, there has been a 32% increase in deaths related to marijuana-impaired driving. That is completely unacceptable.
There is little doubt that Canadians will see a similar increase of drug-impaired driving if marijuana is legalized. In fact, statistics have already shown that this is a serious problem. According to the Canadian student tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey, nearly one in five Canadian high school students have been a passenger in a car whose driver had recently smoked marijuana.
Canadians of all ages are very confused about the many existing myths regarding smoking and driving. For example, in a 2014 poll, 32% of Canadian teens believed that driving high is less dangerous than driving drunk. The perpetuation of this kind of thinking will have serious consequences. A report prepared by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse states that Canadians 16 to 19 years of age are more likely to drive two hours after ingesting marijuana than they would be two hours after drinking.
The World Health Organization, on the other hand, has been clear in debunking this myth. It has stated:
Evidence suggests that recent cannabis smoking is associated with substantial driving impairment, particularly in occasional smokers, with implications for work in safety-sensitive positions or when operating a means of transportation, including aircraft.... Complex human/machine performance can be impaired as long as 24 hours after smoking a moderate dose of cannabis and the user may be unaware of the drug's influence....
In light of this information, Bill C-45 does not provide sufficient avenues to educate young people about the undeniable danger of driving high. Should the government insist on ramming this legislation through, it should seriously take into account the importance of public awareness campaigns in protecting young people.
Ultimately, actions speak louder than words, and legalizing marijuana sends the wrong message to young Canadians that pot is a benign drug, that it is not a cause for concern. In reality, the government cannot guarantee that more children and teenagers will not be injured in motor vehicle accidents, if not worse, as a result of increased access to marijuana. This, beyond doubt, is something the government should have considered seriously before trying to ram this bill through Parliament in an attempt to live up to a campaign promise.
Another important and threatening problem facing jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana is the increase in cannabis-related hospitalizations. We have already established the research that proves marijuana can have dangerous effects on children's brain development and overall health.
In Colorado, these studies have had far-reaching and tangible consequences. According to a recent report by the Colorado Department of Health, hospitalization involving patients with marijuana exposure and diagnosis tripled from around 803 per 100,000 between 2001 and 2009 to 2,413 per 100,000 after marijuana was legalized. That is about three times as many people who were hospitalized. This serves as a cautionary guideline for how children will be impacted by easy access and exposure to pot.
A report by the Rocky Mountain HIDTA states, “the number of Colorado children who’ve been reported to a poison control center or examined at a hospital for unintentional marijuana exposure annually has spiked since the state legalized recreational cannabis...”
These statistics are not inconsequential. Once again, why has the government ignored the lessons our peers have faced after legalizing marijuana? Answers to these challenges are certainly not found in Bill C-45.
The gaping holes in the legislation are indisputable. If homegrown marijuana plants are permitted, coupled with alarming and unanswered questions related to marijuana edibles, children will clearly have easier access to the substance. Given the bill's ambiguity on how much cannabis constitutes an offence, children and teenagers may possess and distribute up to four grams of marijuana with no clear recourse to protect them. Setting the age of majority for marijuana use at 18 promotes a lax approach to brain development and public safety.
Finally, the government's unwillingness to acknowledge the fact that comparable jurisdictions have faced critical health and safety challenges as a result of their similar legalization processes is not only reckless but unfair to Canadians who put their trust in their members of Parliament.
While the risks to children constitute my greatest concern with Bill C-45, there are numerous other problems that go unaddressed in the legislation. One of these is the fact that the bill provides little to no clarity on the degree of flexibility that the government will allocate to provincial governments and municipal law enforcement to implement this. Additionally, the bill does not sufficiently address the costs for retraining officers given the changes to the Criminal Code.
Moreover, the questions surrounding Canada-U.S. border crossings should legalization take place is particularly worrisome to me, as my constituents in Niagara Falls live right across from our American neighbours and often have the occasion to travel to the United States. Taking note of the fact that most American border states have not legalized recreational marijuana, the discrepancy in policy could greatly impact, among other things, the waiting time to cross the border.
The former U.S. ambassador to Canada, Bruce Heyman, has expressed his doubts regarding efficiency at the border and the legalization of marijuana. His primary concern is the fact that border patrol dogs are not trained to distinguish marijuana scents from other prohibited items.
The dogs are trained to have reactions to certain scents. Some of those scents start with marijuana. Others are something that are significantly more challenging for the border. But the dog doesn't tell you this is marijuana and this is an explosive...
The dog reacts, and these border guards are going to have to appropriately do an investigation. That could slow the border down.
My constituents, and all of the 400,000 Canadians who travel to the United States every day, are deeply concerned about the waiting times and they want them to be as expeditious as possible. How can the government ensure that these delays will not affect Canadian business people, families visiting loved ones or even Canada-U.S. relations writ large? Bill C-45 is silent on yet another consideration for Canadians.
It is evident that the government has been too hasty in its attempt to push through this legislation without consideration of all the risks to children, confusion surrounding implementation, and delays in border crossings. This complex issue could result in insurmountable health and safety burdens in the years to come.
As such, I urge my fellow members to take the significant problems with the legislation into consideration.
To conclude, I move that the motion be amended by deleting all of the words after the word “That” and substituting the following:
this House declines to give second reading to Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, since the bill makes homegrown marijuana more accessible to children.