Mr. Speaker, I am glad we are having this debate today on the report from the Standing Committee on Health, which was produced in October 2014, because it is a very important subject in terms of public policy as it relates to marijuana. The first thing I want to say is that the report we are debating is unfortunately completely biased.
The name of the report is “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”. We can see from its title that in looking at the subject of marijuana, the majority of the members of the committee, the government members, were only interested in building a political case for themselves to show what they believe to be risks and harms. From day one, the study and the report were very suspect, because they were actually not based on evidence and a scientific approach in terms of how we should be conducting studies by standing committees of Parliament.
We heard from a number of witnesses. It is regrettable that the government members tried to prevent witnesses from coming forward who hold evidence-based views on marijuana based on a health approach. It was very difficult to get that point of view across in the committee. However, I am pleased to say that we were able to get some witnesses who gave us a very balanced picture of what is taking place in terms of public policy. I would say that the approach that was put forward, and certainly the approach the NDP favours, is an approach that focuses on health promotion and on public education and safety. We need to have an approach to marijuana that is more balanced. That is something that did not result from the study and this report.
We produced what is called a dissenting or minority report for this study. Our number one recommendation to the Government of Canada was that it is essential to pursue a public health approach to marijuana that is focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction. This is something we heard from witnesses. It is something that is sensible.
We understand that there is a broad consensus now in this country that the Conservatives' approach of a war on drugs and prohibition has been a catastrophic failure economically, socially, and through the justice system. Giving people criminal records, having a zero-tolerance policy, and denying the reality of what is going on in terms of marijuana in this country is something that is producing more harm than good. That is the Conservatives' approach.
We have a different approach in the NDP. It is based on focusing on public health and health promotion.
We heard from a number of witnesses, like Dr. Evan Wood, Dr. Tony George, the Canadian Public Health Association, Philippe Lucas, and Dr. Perry Kendall. These are all eminent doctors and scientists who have actually studied this issue, and they all told us that a public health approach to the non-medical use of drugs is necessary, and in fact critical, to minimize the risks and the harms.
I spoke a bit earlier and questioned the minister about the fact that very limited research has gone on. We heard at the committee that approximately 50% of people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain. This came from Dr. Perry Kendall, who was a very credible witness. We also heard from Veterans Affairs Canada that the department pays for medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD in veterans. The witnesses all said that we need to have more research on medical marijuana, but it has been very difficult to do so because of the approach of the government.
I find it contradictory that on the one hand, the Conservatives are willing to encourage research to look at risks and harms, yet there is not one recommendation in the majority government report that calls for research on medical marijuana and some of the benefits that have already been shown. So much for a parliamentary study. It is actually shameful that it is so biased and prejudicial.
We believe that we need have more research done. We believe that we need to take a broad public health approach. In fact, what we think should happen, and this is one of our recommendations in our report, is that we should:
Establish an independent commission with a broad mandate, including safety and public health, to consult Canadians on all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana and to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.
Why do we come to this conclusion? We come to this conclusion because it is very clear that the current unregulated market has been a complete failure. It produces violence, stigma, and, in fact, control by organized crime. It is very clear.
I think most Canadians understand that criminalization is not the answer. In fact, criminalization produces a huge amount of harm in and of itself. The reality is that whether the Conservatives can see it or not, they know that it is there. It is very clear that they politically choose to deny it. Our marijuana laws need to be modernized, and they need to be based on evidence and public health principles.
This is something that is taking place throughout the world. We only have to look south of the border to see that different states, whether it is Colorado or Washington, are taking a much more realistic public health approach to marijuana based on a balance of prevention, public health, well-being, harm reduction, community safety, and public education.
That is the kind of approach we need in Canada. It is something the government has politically decided it wants to reject. It simply wants to play a little political game. All it talks about is youth. I have not heard anyone in this House or any witness who came forward say that they think marijuana should be available to youth. In fact, that is precisely the reason we need a regulatory approach; it is so we can set clear rules as to where use can take place, and it should be adults who look at issues of commercialization. We need to look at issues of distribution, just as they have done in some of the states south of the border.
The government's sort of political mantra on this focuses on youth. There are issues around the use of any substance, whether it is alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance, but that is only part of the question we are looking at. I would argue strenuously that a regulatory approach, a public health approach, would enable us to have much better coordination and an overview of what we need to do in terms of ensuring that youth do not have access to substances, whether it is marijuana or anything else, that are harmful.
It is staring us in the face that this is the classic example of the response of the Conservative government to an issue. It is tougher laws and bringing in mandatory minimum sentences. That is what it did for drug crimes. However, everything we see before us is telling us that criminalization of drug use, whether it is marijuana or other substances, is actually producing more harm.
It is abundantly clear that what is needed is a public health approach, which has been adopted by the medical health officers across the county and has been supported by many major cities across the county. Certainly the city of Vancouver has led the way on this issue.
I find it astounding that, still today, as this report comes forward, the Conservatives are using this as a political hammer. I want to say that I do not think it is going to work. It is a failure.
Canadians actually understand what this debate is about. Canadians understand that criminalization is something that has failed in this country. The so-called war on drugs, just as we saw with Prohibition in the 1930s, actually produces more crime and violence. That is what we are facing in Canada today. We can look at what has been happening in Surrey or Vancouver. We can see the gang violence and the violence that comes about as a result of prohibition.
In this party, we would rather be on the side of evidence. We would rather be on the side of reality. We would rather be on the side of a proper regulatory approach that produces a coherent response, based on public policy and public health, to the issue of marijuana.
The Conservatives can rant all they want and try to create a black and white situation in which people are either with them or against them, as we have heard so often in the House, but Canadians are not fooled. Canadians know that we need to have these laws modernized. They know that we need to have proper oversight and a regulatory approach that will actually help young people be safer.
We need a regulatory approach that would ensure that we have proper rules, regulations, and guidelines about where marijuana use can take place. These are all very important questions.
I am very proud of the fact that the NDP produced a brief report in the overall Standing Committee of Health report in October. It lays out very clearly the principles and the direction that we believe are absolutely necessary in dealing with the issue of marijuana use in Canada.
To conclude, I will again reiterate that, one, we think it should be pursued as a public health approach; two, we believe that we need to fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana; and three, we call for an independent commission with a broad mandate to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.