Madam Speaker, I am rising today to speak strongly in support of Bill C-45 through which our government is ending the failed approach of criminalizing cannabis. This is an opportunity to protect our youth, to take profits out of the hands of criminals, and to treat drug use as the public health issue that it actually is.
I have actively worked to advance this policy since hosting the Liberal caucus in discussions back in the fall of 2011 about the potential legalization of cannabis, so I am proud to stand in the House and see this policy come to fruition.
I would like to start my comments today by giving some thanks to organizations that have been advocating for this very practical and positive new policy.
I would first like to thank Dr. Evan Wood, an emergency room physician, who led a coalition called Stop the Violence BC, when he saw the kind of gang violence and gun violence on the streets of Metro Vancouver, including Vancouver Quadra in an award-winning restaurant, where two people were injured by a gang shootout around the drug trade.
I would like to thank Brett Harvey and Adam Scorgie, who created a documentary called The Union: The Business Behind Getting High, which documented the role of organized crime in controlling the cannabis trade. Years ago, I had the privilege of hosting them and their film in Ottawa, where I opened up an event to all members of Parliament and senators of all parties to learn about why we need to move beyond our failed policy, which we are actually moving beyond today.
I want to thank all of the sound drug policy advocates, like Donald MacPherson of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition, who brought forward evidence as to why this shift was needed, and the many other health care professionals, criminal justice professionals, and policing professionals, who have pushed for this change in our country.
Lastly, I would like to thank our Prime Minister for including this issue in our platform, and the health minister and the justice minister for delivering on this mandate, as well as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for his leadership, and all members of the Standing Committee on Health for doing good work toward this change that we have positioned our country to do for over two years.
This week we were reminded once again of the importance of this discussion by the RCMP’s seizure of 64 pounds of cannabis and 94 mature cannabis plants from the Hells Angels in Kelowna. This is the reality of our current system. Organized crime produces, distributes, and sells the cannabis, and uses it to fund its other criminal ventures. It is Hells Angels and other criminals who regulate and control the product and what is actually in it, and how to sell more of it to our youth. It is criminal gangs who recruit young people to be part of this terrible criminal enterprise, so far better the government regulate and control cannabis, and that is what Bill C-45 is all about.
Le projet de loi devant la Chambre des communes aujourd’hui a été renseigné par l’excellent travail du Groupe de travail sur la légalisation et la réglementation du cannabis, qui a entrepris un examen approfondi des implications variées de la législation et de la réglementation stricte du cannabis.
I want to note that the member opposite says they need more time but there has actually been a lengthy thoughtful process on this already and it is time to move. The member opposite who is yelling at me right now is just trying to stop this–
Madame la Présidente, les adultes qui se trouvent en possession de petites quantités de cannabis, jusqu’à un maximum de 30 grammes, ne seront plus traités comme des criminels. Le projet de loi C-45 offrira plutôt aux consommateurs adultes responsables une façon d’obtenir des substances légales qui ont été strictement réglementées afin de répondre aux normes nationales élevées pour la sécurité et la qualité du produit.
This new approach will help reduce the disproportionate burden it imposed on the 18,000 individuals who were charged with possession of cannabis in 2016. We know that sometimes will mean life-long impacts from a simple possession charge on their life prospects. Bill C-45 will reduce this travesty. It will also reduce the burden on the criminal justice system.
Our government believes that law enforcement and the courts should devote their resources to criminal activities that are truly detrimental to society, as well as to education and prevention in the case of public health issues like cannabis use.
The expert witnesses who appeared before the Standing Committee on Health agreed with our government’s proposed approach. For example, Karey Shuhendler, from the Canadian Nurses Association, stated that:
Bill C-45 promotes the removal of harms associated with the prohibition model, while recognizing the need to protect vulnerable populations, including youth.
Under our current regime, Canadian youth have one of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. In 2015, 21% of youth aged 15-19 reported using cannabis in the past year. Some Vancouver Quadra citizens have expressed concerns that legalization of cannabis will increase its use by young people. I think the evidence will show that use will decrease over time with the prevention and education programs put in place by the government.
Let us be clear that many youth are using cannabis now under a system controlled by criminal gangs. That is why the bill includes strict controls and penalties to protect young people, and measures to deter and punish adults who provide cannabis to under-aged Canadians. Deterring the illegal market is necessary to protect Canadian youth.
Experts such as Dr. Christina Grant, from the Canadian Paediatric Society, have cautioned that too high an age limit will preserve an illegal market which provides a supply of illegal, unregulated, and unsafe cannabis to Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24. These are the young people who currently have the highest rates of consumption among Canadians and their peers in other developed countries.
Il est également important de garder à l’esprit le fait que le projet de loi offrirait à chaque province et territoire la flexibilité d’établir les restrictions supplémentaires qui peuvent aller encore plus loin que celles proposées dans le cadre fédéral, selon les besoins et les circonstances qui leur sont uniques.
This includes raising the national minimum age if a province or territory so choses.
Beyond the proposed minimum age restriction and severe penalties for selling cannabis to youth, Bill C-45 proposes a number of additional controls to protect young Canadians. For example, the bill includes provisions that would prohibit the sale of cannabis and cannabis products that are considered appealing to youth. It would ban the advertising and promotion of cannabis, except in limited and very restricted circumstances. It would also set out requirements for packaging and labelling to ensure they are not appealing to youth.
Also, as various expert witnesses who testified before the Standing Committee on Health reminded us, these measures need to be supported by significant and effective public education to explain the risks and harms associated with cannabis consumption, especially for youth. Our government fully agrees with these experts and we have already started a national public awareness and education campaign, in collaboration with the provinces and territories. This campaign will be augmented by the additional $36.4 million announced recently.
Finally, in light of the tragedy of the current opioid crisis, I would like to note how an evidence-based public health approach to drug use can save lives. We know that cannabis use for medical purposes like pain relief is safer and less addictive than opioids.
In the United States, the legalization of medical cannabis in many states has resulted in a 25% drop in opioid-related deaths compared to states where medical cannabis remained illegal. In Canada the opioid crisis took at least 2,458 Canadian lives in 2016 and it is only growing worse. British Columbia and Vancouver have a disproportionate share. However, I am optimistic that those tragedies will be reduced by the legalization of cannabis.
To sum up, this is a thoughtful and comprehensive piece of legislation that has been designed to protect the health and safety of Canadians while saving lives.
For my full speech video, I invite you to check out my YouTube channel: