Yesterday I had the privilege of standing in the House of Commons and speaking in favour of C-45, the Cannabis Act. The prohibition on cannabis has failed and it is time that we took an evidence-based approach. This legislation lays the framework for regulating cannabis to make it harder for our youth to acquire marijuana, enable strict safety and quality requirements and stop organized criminals from profiting from its sale.
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Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise and speak in support of Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.
At its core, Bill C-45 would allow individuals above the minimum age of 18 to purchase cannabis from a licensed retailer and possess a maximum of 30 grams. This legislation would also allow for home cultivation with up to four plants per residence and would ensure that access to cannabis for medical purposes would be maintained.
The bill has three specific objectives. It would create a legal and regulated market for cannabis to take profits out of the hands of criminals and organized crime. It would protect public health through strict product requirements for safety and quality. It would impose strict serious criminal penalties for those who would provide cannabis to young people.
When marijuana was criminalized in 1923 under the act to prohibit the improper use of opium and other drugs, the reasons that possession, manufacturing, or purchase of cannabis should be illegal were hardly debated. As parliamentarians, it is our obligation to debate to the best of our ability the critical issues facing Canadians in this important institution and to create the laws that protect them and their inalienable rights. Today, we can have the debate that never occurred in 1923.
The prohibition on cannabis has failed. It victimizes ordinary Canadians and it emboldens criminal elements in our society. The current prohibition on cannabis disproportionately targets minority groups in Canada and has altered the lives of individuals who received a criminal conviction for carrying a small amount of marijuana, including lost employment opportunities, immigration issues, social stigma of being branded a criminal, and imprisonment. It is worse than the problem it was designed to protect us from.
Our government acknowledges that the current prohibition on cannabis does not work, and now is the time to take an evidence-based approach.
As an emergency room physician, I have seen many tragic things. This includes the effects of prohibition on Canadians. The effects that I have witnessed range from organized criminals targeting citizens to instill fear in a community to the murdering of competitors to protect their profits to the killing of innocent bystanders. This is the impact of prohibition that I know and I have seen.
Just as an aside, during my time in the emergency room, I have resuscitated patients who have overdosed on opioids, cocaine, and alcohol. However, never have I had to resuscitate anyone who was only under the influence of marijuana.
The only true beneficiaries of prohibition are the criminals who profit from it. Much like the prohibition on alcohol in America in the 1920s, organized criminals continue to see a lucrative opportunity in today’s prohibition. By legalizing and regulating cannabis, we can take revenue away from those who terrorize communities and take loved ones away from their families.
I understand that many people have concerns about this legislation and our youth. Everyone in the House, me included, is concerned about young Canadians using cannabis. However, right now it is easier for children to acquire marijuana than it is for them to acquire tobacco or alcohol, with our youth having some of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. Drug dealers do not ask to see identification or verify someone’s age. When we regulate a product like we do for cigarettes and alcohol, we can restrict its usage to persons above a certain age and ensure there are consequences for those who provide it to them.
The legislation would create two new criminal convictions: giving or selling cannabis to youth and using youth to commit a cannabis-related offence. This legislation would do three things to protect children. It would create a minimum age of 18 years for the purchase of cannabis although the provinces and territories have the right to increase this age. It would provide for public education and awareness campaigns of the dangers associated with cannabis. It would require childproof packaging and warning labels.
The bill would also prohibit product and packaging that would be appealing to youth, selling cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines, and promoting cannabis except in narrow circumstances where the promotion could not be seen by a young person.
At this moment, there is no product safety in the recreational cannabis market. Cannabis sold by organized criminals could be laced with harmful pesticides or herbicides or other dangerous drugs. I am keenly aware of this because I have treated patients who smoked cannabis but were not aware that it contained something else.
The legislation would protect consumers of cannabis by implementing industry-wide rules and standards on basic things, such as sanitary production requirements, a prohibition on the use of unauthorized pesticides, product testing for THC levels and the presence of contaminants, and restrictions on the use of ingredients and additives. These are minor standards that we hold so many companies and producers of innocuous items accountable for, and for too long there was a product used by many Canadians who were not aware if the product used pesticides, contaminants, or was laced with a dangerous substance. Essentially, consumers had to take organized criminals on their word that what they were consuming was not dangerous.
Our government will be investing additional resources to ensure there is appropriate capacity within Health Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the Canada Border Services Agency, and the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to license, inspect, and enforce all aspects of the proposed legislation.
One of the concerns that has been brought up to me by my constituents is persons who are under the influence of cannabis and operating motor vehicles, and their concerns are completely valid. Evidence shows that cannabis impairs an individual’s ability to drive.
Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada and rates of drug-impaired driving are increasing. In 2015, there were more than 72,000 impaired driving incidents reported by the police, including almost 3,000 drug-impaired driving incidents. That is why our government also introduced Bill C-46 at the same time it introduced Bill C-45.
Bill C-46 proposes a significant modernization of the impaired driving provisions in the Criminal Code and is designed to protect the health and safety of Canadians by creating new and stronger laws to deter and severely punish impaired driving. The legislation also provides law enforcement with the tools and resources it needs to improve detection and prosecution of impaired driving.
Bill C-46 proposes to strength law enforcement’s ability to detect drug-impaired drivers by authorizing the use of roadside oral fluid screening devices. Canadian police forces have tested devices designed to detect cannabis, as well as other drugs, in a driver’s saliva. Police have been asking for these resources, and we will deliver.
There have been concerns that this legislation will lead to widespread cannabis use. In fact, there is already widespread cannabis use in Canada and rates of usage among youth and adults are higher than other jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana. Our society is dealing with a myriad of problems due to cannabis, but most of them are in fact caused by its prohibition.
This legislation will take revenue away from organized criminals, implement, for the first time in Canada, safety standards, actually solve many of the problems, and make it harder for our youth to acquire marijuana. The legislation will make Canada a safer place for all.