An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marihuana)

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 1st Session, which ended in September 2002.

Sponsor

Keith Martin  Canadian Alliance

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of May 4, 2001
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

March 4th, 2014 / 6:55 p.m.
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NDP

David Christopherson NDP Hamilton Centre, ON

There we go, a governance act and 52 days at committee.

Again, there are all kinds of examples. That's why I'm taking the time to do it, because it supports my motion as to why it's appropriate that we would travel, and why I continue to give examples of where committees have travelled and how that's benefited the committee and the people who had an opportunity to come forward. It's very fortunate that Mr. Martin just sat in beside me now, and actually was at that session and can speak and attest to the importance of giving Canadians their say.

We also had a special committee on the non-medical use of drugs. It was the study of Bill C-344. They held 20 meetings: December 3, 2001, to December 6, 2001; February 18, 2002, to February 21, 2002; April 15, 2002, to April 18, 2002; and May 21, 2002, to May 24, 2002. They went to seven cities. They went to Vancouver and Abbotsford, both in B.C.; Toronto, Ontario; Charlottetown, P.E.I.; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Edmonton, Alberta; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

One gets the impression they really wanted to hear from people.

Points of OrderPrivate Members' Business

April 17th, 2002 / 6:40 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, thank you very much for the ruling. I am not challenging the Chair's ruling but I think the Chair missed the point that we have a definite rule that the members shall be called to vote.

The bells rang and we came in and voted on the amendment to Bill C-344. As the Chair and everyone saw, a large number of members left the Chamber. Therefore the Chair had, in my opinion, an obligation to call in the members again and to allow the bells to ring for 30 minutes to summon them back. That did not happen, as the Chair knows.

The members who had left the Chamber did not have an opportunity to return because when they left the Chair had not risen to read the main motion. Therefore it can be said that they did not know a vote was to be held and the bells should have been rung for 30 minutes. Since they were not, the vote was out of order. The proceedings were not out of order but the vote was.

Points of OrderPrivate Members' Business

April 17th, 2002 / 6:35 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

John Williams Canadian Alliance St. Albert, AB

Mr. Speaker, I would like to draw to your attention, and I am sure you noticed, that a large number of members walked out after the first vote. When the bells rang, we came in and voted on the amendment on Bill C-344. After that, you saw, and everybody else saw, a large number of members walking out of this place.

You had an obligation, Mr. Speaker, to ring the bells for half an hour and call the members in before you started to read the motion and to vote on the main motion of Bill C-344. Therefore, I would ask that you rule the last vote null and void and out of order.

Contraventions ActPrivate Members' Business

April 17th, 2002 / 5:50 p.m.
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The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

It being 5.44 p.m., pursuant to order made on Wednesday, April 10, the House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the amendment to the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-344 under private members' business.

Call in the members.

(The House divided on the amendment, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

April 11th, 2002 / 6:20 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Keith Martin Canadian Alliance Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, BC

Madam Speaker, I thank the hon. members who spoke in their eloquent interventions on the bill.

I address my speech not to the House but to the Canadian public. There are two parts to it. Number one is private member's Bill C-344 that seeks to decriminalize simple possession of marijuana. However the much larger issue is the poison pill amendment that the fascist, draconian government has--

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

April 11th, 2002 / 6:15 p.m.
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Progressive Conservative

Gerald Keddy Progressive Conservative South Shore, NS

Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise and speak to the bill. I would like to take a moment to thank the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca for bringing the bill forth. The bill is extremely timely and important. It is an issue that has been ignored by parliamentarians and parliaments of Canada for far too long. It is time we dealt with in a serious and legitimate manner.

I understand there are other speakers trying to get some time on the floor tonight so it is not my intent to speak for a lengthy period of time. However before speaking to the bill, it is extremely important that we first speak to the amendment. The member of the NDP who spoke before me used the word hijacking of the bill. I would use the word treachery; treachery of another parliamentarian.

Private members' business is the single opportunity for individual members of parliament to bring issues of importance forth on their own. It is so important that we have changed the way we vote in the House when we do private members' business. We vote from the back to the front, so we cannot see how the leaders of the various parties vote first and therefore cower some of their own members into falling the lead of their colleagues who happen to sit in cabinet.

We get five hours a week to deal with private members' business. To put an amendment in that would verily remove this bill from the justice committee and put it over to another committee is absolute treachery on the part of any parliamentarian. I do not care in what party that individual sits. The issue of private members' business and the issue of free votes on private members' business should be sacrosanct at least in this place.

I said upon rising that the issue for the decriminalization of marijuana and an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, or specifically marijuana, Bill C-344, is a timely bill. It would put this issue to the justice committee and allow for further study. It is the job of every parliamentarian in the House to vote down the amendment and ensure that the process is followed and that the bill actually gets to the justice committee.

Whether or not members support the bill, it is absolutely incumbent upon individual members of parliament to ensure that the process is followed. If we allow this process to be hijacked for nefarious and treacherous means, then the whole point of being a member in the House is in question. The right to be here is already then given up.

We can talk about the dollars that are spent on law enforcement and trying to control marijuana. We can talk about the fact that we have already legalized the medical use of marijuana. It is still extremely hard to access even for medical use. The issue here is simple. The majority of Canadians at some point in their life have broken the law and smoked marijuana or cannabis.

Are we going to continue to have young Canadians and Canadians everywhere hold a criminal record because they were caught with a marijuana cigarette or because they made a mistake in judgment at some time in their life? I do not think so. I think it is up to the Parliament of Canada to deal with this issue in a comprehensive way, and decriminalization is a start.

There are other issues here and those issues should be fleshed out in committee. We should come back here with a package that we can all look at, that we can weigh the pros and cons and make a decision about this substance.

There are other health issues. We have talked about tobacco, and there is a serious health issue with smoking marijuana. There is the definite tar in the substance that will cause the same effect on our lungs as tobacco smoking causes. We know for a fact that it lowers the white blood cell count. Therefore, there are health issues around marijuana.

There is also the fact that with the prohibition on alcohol everyone was drinking. With prohibition Canadians finally came to their senses and said “We cannot control this, so let us legalize it and that will give us some form of control”.

Some kid who is 16 years old who has a criminal record because of being caught with too much marijuana in his or her pocket would not be arrested when crossing the border to the United States. However people might not be 16 when they are arrested. They might be 24. They might have graduated from university and have a job south of the border but find they cannot access the job because of a criminal record.

There are all kinds of issues around this. That is why it is important, whether one supports Bill C-344 or not, that it goes to the justice committee which has an opportunity to study it and bring back legitimate proposals to the House on which we can make clear decisions.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

April 11th, 2002 / 6:10 p.m.
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NDP

Judy Wasylycia-Leis NDP Winnipeg North Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak on Bill C-344 and I wish to underline my support for this bill and congratulate the hon. member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca. To me this is a very important piece of legislation. It is long overdue in terms of government action and much needed from all aspects. I wanted to indicate this although it is private members' hour.

My support for this bill is certainly in line with NDP policy and our longstanding position to decriminalize marijuana. There are obvious reasons for our support. They have been enunciated by many members in the House. One is obviously and clearly the whole question of a more appropriate way than is presently the case for dealing with a victimless crime and providing an avenue for dealing with marijuana in a more appropriate non-criminal way.

The second reason, as we have heard so clearly from the Association of Canadian Police Chiefs, is that we are talking about a lot of money and a lot of resources that are tied up in pursuing folks for possession of marijuana.

I understand from the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca that we are looking at about $400 million a year as a result of the police having to deal with charges for possession and prosecuting those offences. That is a lot of money that could be invested in so many other desperately needed areas of our criminal justice system and in pursuing crime prevention in all aspects of our society.

I also think it is important because right now as we speak we are facing a great deal of concern from Canadians about the government's decision to provide access to marijuana for medical purposes. We know that whole approach is replete with many difficulties. There are many problems in the system. The doctors are concerned. Patients in need of marijuana for medical purposes do not have access to it. It is not clear at this point when that will be sorted out. It probably would make sense at this point, in the context of that issue, to remind the government how useful it would be to move on this long overdue area of decriminalizing marijuana.

That is the essence of our position and why we support Bill C-344.

I want to take one minute though to speak on the process that we are all engaged in and add my voice to those concerned about the hijacking by a Liberal member of this parliament of this private members' hour and the parliamentary process.

It is clear, as others have said, that this has been a poison pill. It has been an attempt to remove our parliamentary rights to pursue business and to promote ideas through private members' hour. Taking away from members the right to put forward an idea and to have members of the House vote on that idea is clearly unconscionable in a democratic process.

We have seen too many times where legitimate private members' business has faced many hurdles along the way, notwithstanding this incredible arbitrary decision on the part of what would appear to be the Liberal government. We have seen so many private members' initiatives actually discussed, debated, voted on and then sent to committee where the government then has used the heavy-hand of the process to shut down a bill, shut down the idea, delay, stall and prevent action on a very important initiative. This is just like the icing on the cake. It is the worst possible scenario we can imagine in terms of private members' work in the House and the whole parliamentary process.

I hope the government will see its way clear to give some direction to its own private members to withdraw this amendment and allow this legitimate and constructive proposal by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca to go forward, to be voted on and then proceed to committee. It is much needed, and we appreciate the member for his contribution to the work of the House.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

April 11th, 2002 / 6 p.m.
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Liberal

Roy Cullen Liberal Etobicoke North, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to enter the debate on Bill C-344, a private members' bill put forward by the member for Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

The bill, if enacted, would change the type of proceedings and legal regime governing the offences of possession for the purposes of trafficking in one gram or less of cannabis resin and 30 grams or less of cannabis marijuana. In other words, it would decriminalize the possession of smaller amounts of marijuana.

In thinking through this very important policy issue, I would like to thank my colleagues and friends in Esquimalt and Saanich and the Gulf Islands in the Victoria area for their advice and input. Having said that, the comments which follow are my own.

I support the thrust of what is being proposed for reasons that I am about to elaborate on. The debate, however, should be focused on whether or not the amounts of cannabis proposed are the appropriate levels and also whether or not the bill goes far enough.

In order to create a policy on this, a fine balance must be struck with respect to a number of factors. These include the social and economic costs, the health effects, and the effectiveness and efficiency of various possible strategies.

First I will give some background. After caffeine, alcohol, tobacco and certain prescription medications, cannabis is the most popular psychoactive drug in Canada. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in the country.

In this debate we should not forget that the use of marijuana does have health effects. There is a link between chronic heavy marijuana use and damage to the respiratory system similar to that caused by tobacco. Cannabis impairs co-ordination and may affect memory.

There are other negative effects as well. We know that marijuana is a substance that merits serious attention.

One of the strongest arguments, in my view, to support the decriminalization of marijuana possession arises from the misdirection of significant resources that are focused on the control and enforcement of marijuana possession. These people and budgets could be redeployed to combat the use of more destructive drugs such as cocaine, crack and heroin. Costs of illicit drug enforcement to Canadian police, courts and correctional services according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse total more than $400 million per year.

Seventy per cent of all drug offences that occurred in Canada in 1995 were offences involving cannabis. About half of all drug offences were offences for the simple possession of cannabis. Approximately 2,000 Canadians are sent to jail every year for cannabis possession. However the evidence suggests that the control and enforcement measures do not deter the use of marijuana.

The Controlled Drugs and Substances Act provides a maximum sentence of a $1,000 fine and/or six months imprisonment for first time cannabis possession offenders and double the amounts for repeat offenders. Many of these charges lead to jail terms or fines and a stigma of a criminal record. This could mean the death of a job offer to someone otherwise completely qualified and ready to take on a new challenge or career. Despite this, cannabis use remains high and there is no demonstrated relationship between enforcement measures and cannabis use.

It is reported in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that 1.5 million Canadians smoke marijuana for recreational purposes. A large number of Canadians use cannabis for medical reasons. A study in Toronto found 92% of the drug users who were convicted offenders reported continuing use, typically at the same level as when they were convicted.

It is equally problematic to realize how much cannabis users flout the law. Few of us have not walked into a room or passed a spot where there was an overwhelming odour of marijuana.

British Columbia's marijuana industry in the underground economy employs an estimated 150,000 people and earns some $4 billion per year. This certainly does not justify its use or the rationale for its decriminalization but it does give food for thought.

Our government more recently legitimized the medicinal use of marijuana. I applaud this step, but more is needed.

A six month trial that was recently completed in the United Kingdom in Lambeth, South London forcefully makes the point that police efforts could be better directed to hard drugs rather than marijuana. Under the experiment people found in possession of small quantities of cannabis were given a formal warning rather than being arrested and cautioned. The six month initiative is estimated to have saved 2,000 police hours and saved potential court costs of £4 million. In addition, the approach used in the six month trial led to a 19% increase in arrests of cocaine, crack, heroin and other hard drug dealers.

In my riding of Etobicoke North hard drugs are a problem and need to be focused on.

At the same time, the number of arrests of cannabis dealers rose by 11%, suggesting that police officers may have targeted dealers found with larger amounts who were excluded from the warning scheme.

The very significant and positive results of this experiment are being closely reviewed by the city of London's metropolitan police with a view to extending the policy throughout the city.

The question before us today, if one supports some form of marijuana decriminalization, is whether or not Bill C-344 is the appropriate response and instrument to achieve this end. In my view it is not for the following reasons.

A system of fines, while preferred to incarceration, may end up consuming more police and more court resources than the current system. In two jurisdictions in Australia, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, where marijuana offences are not criminally prosecuted or penalized but where fines are imposed, approximately 45% failed to pay the fine and eventually ended up before the courts.

The Lambeth, South London experience in my view may be the more appropriate policy model to examine and pursue. In my view, trafficking and possession of cannabis for the purposes of trafficking, even for small amounts, should continue to be viewed as a serious offence. This bill does not appear to do that.

For these reasons I will not be supporting Bill C-344 in its present form. Perhaps a committee of the House, like the special committee on the non-medical use of drugs, could review the subject matter more comprehensively.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

April 11th, 2002 / 5:55 p.m.
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Bloc

Bernard Bigras Bloc Rosemont—Petite-Patrie, QC

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.

I already had the opportunity to indicate that I would be wholeheartedly supporting my colleague's private member's bill. Why? Let me try to explain myself as clearly as possible.

I believe that the debate our colleague has launched with this bill requires us to ask the following fundamental question: should a person found in possession of less than 30 grams of marihuana be considered a criminal? Should this person be subject to a possible six month prison sentence and, or a fine of $1,000 for being found in possession of the said substance?

It is important to remember that having a criminal record can have a major impact on one's life—problems finding a job, problems travelling outside of Canada's borders and problems reintegrating into the community—all because of being found guilty of simple possession or marihuana, as set out in the criminal code.

Our colleague is encouraging us to give this some thought by suggesting a certain from of decriminalization. The bill proposes a maximum fine of $1,000 or six months' imprisonment. What this boils down to is a form of decriminalization.

As I have already said, I therefore support the very essence of this bill without hesitation. We in the Bloc Quebecois are not the only ones who want to see this decriminalization. I have already said publicly a few months ago that I would like to see a pilot project similar to the one in Belgium introduced in Canada, in other words a form of decriminalization, as long as members of the public do not use it in a socially irresponsible manner.

For example, I feel that it is no more acceptable to drive one's car after using marihuana than it is to drive with a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08% after having consumed some form of alcohol. As long as an individual has less than 30 grams of marihuana in their possession and is not behaving in a socially irresponsible manner, we could consider a form of decriminalization. This concludes my remarks on the substance of the bill.

Today, however, I wish to speak to the motion and to the government's amendment, which would prevent us, as parliamentarians, not only from debating fundamental issues, which is what the public expects of us—and this is another such issue—but also from being able to vote on such an issue.

The government has brought forward an amendment that will mean that the Standing Committee on Justice will not be able to study this bill. Whether one is for or against the bill introduced by the Canadian Alliance member, that is neither here nor there. What the government has done by bringing forward this amendment is to make it impossible for parliamentarians to vote on this fundamental issue, which is what the people of Quebec and of Canada expect of them.

Through this motion, the government has indicated that the member's bill, if passed, cannot be studied in committee. It is as though the government already expected parliamentarians to vote in favour of the bill, and is seeking to avoid further legislative measures and studies in committee.

This is, to our minds, a totally undemocratic approach. It limits the opportunity of citizens, and MPs in particular, to debate an issue and then reach a conclusion on it. We are parliamentarians who represent the people for whom we have a duty to act as legislators. The public expects us to do so as well as possible.

The stalling tactic being used by this government, with the motion from the hon. member for Erie--Lincoln, is totally unacceptable. I am issuing a solemn appeal to all in this House, regardless of which side of the floor they are on, whether Bloc Quebecois, Alliance or Liberal. I invite them to take into consideration the fact that the government's motion and amendment are aimed at preventing parliamentarians from voting on this fundamental issue.

We as parliamentarians, regardless of which side of the floor we are on, have a mandate. The public expects us to enact legislation. The members on the other side there, who believe they hold the true power in this House, must vote down the government's motion.

I realize that others want to speak as well. I trust that the colleagues on the other side who may speak after me will back up our approach, which is that the members of this House must be able to decide on issues and must vote.

For the sake of freedom of expression, for the sake of the freedom of MPs to vote on important issues when a House committee has so decided, for the sake of democracy, my hope is not merely that the government's amendment will be defeated, but that at the end of the day there will be a vote in favour of this matter so that the committee may at last look into it.

Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana)Private Members' Business

April 11th, 2002 / 5:45 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Scott Reid Canadian Alliance Lanark—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, whenever the occasion permits I try in my remarks to the House to develop arguments that form part of a larger, more coherent whole than is permitted by the 10 minute speaking slots that are assigned to us under the Standing Orders.

A larger, more complete picture on an issue under debate in the House can be developed by means of public addresses, published papers, opeds or other media. In this way I try to ensure that my contributions to the debates that take place in the Chamber will become part of what I hope will develop over time into an ever more complete, thoughtful and well reasoned organic whole on whatever subject is under discussion.

Ideally, the longer term result of this approach would be that as time progresses these disparate commentaries could together be taken as part of a coherent and tolerably exhaustive review of the background to a subject as it percolates its way through the realm of public debate. By the time it is ready to be dealt with legislatively I will have completed a thorough review of the subject accompanied where possible by something that amounts to a kind of policy manifesto.

In my remarks today I will be expanding upon a thesis with regard to the subject of banned and illegal substances that I had partly addressed in an essay entitled “Should we end prohibition?” in the October 2001 edition of the journal Policy Options. Today's remarks are given some context by these earlier thoughts. If hon. members find what I say to be of interest I encourage them to seek further information along the same lines by looking at that essay.

Today's debate centres on Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana). Under the bill it would no longer be a criminal offence to possess marijuana for personal use. However, the possession of marijuana would remain a non-criminal offence and persons found to be in possession of the substance would face fines of $200 for a first offence, $500 for a second offence and $1,000 for any subsequent offences.

Currently, the penalties laid out under subsection 462.2(a) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act for a first conviction can include fines as high as $100,000 or six months in prison. The penalties for reoffending range as high as $300,000 and one year's imprisonment.

The present standard for determining whether marijuana is intended for personal use would remain in place under the proposed law. If any person were found to be in possession of amounts in excess of three kilograms this would be regarded as prima facie evidence of an intent to sell some since it is highly unlikely that one person could possibly consume such a large quantity on his or her own.

My inclination is to support the proposed law for reasons that I will explain in a moment. However, if the law makes it through the legislative process and is presented to the House for third reading I will attempt to hold a survey of my constituents as to how to vote and I will respect their wishes even if these wishes do not correspond with my own preferences.

With this caveat in place I would like to state my personal views. I favour the legislation for two reasons, the second of which I will spend more time on than the first.

First, it would greatly reduce the amount of Canada's limited police and law enforcement assets that are being consumed by the enforcement of the current Criminal Code provisions relating to marijuana possession. About $200 million is spent each year in this country on enforcing laws against the simple possession for personal use of all illegal drugs. Of this, $150 million goes to the enforcement of the criminal sanctions against the use of marijuana. This proposed law would therefore save our police departments $150 million each year which could be used instead to deal with the many other urgent issues that face our law enforcement officials.

Second, it would pave the way for marijuana to be used under careful monitoring for medical purposes. The most important of these purposes would be for use as a pain relieving agent. It is to this subject that I wish to focus the remaining portion of my remarks.

Marijuana, whether smoked or ingested in another manner, can provide relief from chronic pain and in some cases from debilitating pain when no other remedy is available. It is for this reason that several American states, including California and Arizona, have legalized the use of marijuana for pain relief.

Those of us who do not suffer chronic pain in our everyday lives have little idea just how devastating it can be. In many cases severe, untreated pain can be so overwhelming that individuals who are not able to find relief, find that the pain outweighs all of life's joys. In extreme cases life ceases to be worth living.

I will give one example among the many from which I could choose. A retired New York state police officer named David Covillion suffered chronic back pain as the result of a traffic accident. He was deprived pain medication in the form of a prescription drug that combines acetaminophen and the narcotic oxycodone after his long term use of the drug raised red flags with medical authorities. When this occurred Mr. Covillion tried to go from one doctor to another seeking narcotic prescriptions. Mr. Covillion described his pain in the following words:

As I ran out of medication, I was confined to my bed totally, because it hurt to move...At times I'd have liked to just take an axe and chop my arm right off, but I would have had to take half my neck with it.

When he had been completely cut off from prescription narcotics Mr. Covillion approached Jack Kevorkian, the famous suicide doctor, to ask how to end his life. Dr. Kevorkian refused to assist Mr. Covillion end his life. He then turned to a group called the National Chronic Pain Outreach Association which for a few months was able to re-establish his access to the pain relievers he needed. During this period his quality of life improved and Mr. Covillion's story came to public light. He conducted a number of interviews including the one from which I have just quoted. However he was cut off again from medical supplies, his pain became too intense to bear, and on September 11, 1996 he killed himself.

In a general sense Mr. Covillion's story draws our attention to the need for more generous rules for the distribution of prescription pain relief. In his case the medication in question was not marijuana. It was a story like this one that caused voters in some parts of the United States to reconsider their harsh rules with regard to all forms of pain relief, including marijuana.

In California, in 1996, the voters chose by means of a binding referendum to change their state's laws to allow the use of marijuana as a means of relieving chronic pain. This change to California's law and the United States federal government's subsequent decision to ignore state law and to continue to prosecute the users of medical marijuana allows us to engage in an interesting experiment in finding out what happens when marijuana is available for the relief of chronic pain and what happens when it is taken away.

I would like to illustrate this story by referring to a specific example. I am referring to a man named Peter McWilliams, the editor of Liberty magazine of which I am also an editor. In 1996 he fell ill with AIDS and with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Like many people who are afflicted with these illnesses his medication caused him to have severe nausea.

In 1996 it became legal to use marijuana for pain relief and Peter McWilliams began to use it. This allowed him to temporarily conquer his nausea and as a result he was able to keep his symptoms under control. However federal authorities cracked down and seized his marijuana from him. In order for him to be freed from jail where he would not have had access to his medication and to necessary lifesaving treatments he was required to put up as bond his brother's and mother's house. He also had to submit to regular urine testing to confirm that he was not using drugs. As a result his viral load began to soar. He said:

Unable to keep down the life-saving prescription medications, by November 1998, four months after my arrest, my viral load soared to more than 256,000. In 1996 when my viral load was only 12,500, I had already developed an AIDS-related cancer...Even so, the government would not yield. It continued to urine test me. If marijuana were found in my system, my mother and brother would lose their homes and I would be returned to prison.

He stopped using marijuana, and tried to carry on with his medication and the nausea he suffered without the aid of the pain relief drug. On June 14, 1999, his home care nurse arrived at his home to find him dead, having choked on his own vomit.

I suggest that the availability of marijuana for medical use and for pain relief could prevent this sort of tragedy. For this reason the legislation is an excellent measure which the House should consider.

Business of the HouseGovernment Orders

April 10th, 2002 / 3:55 p.m.
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Barrie—Simcoe—Bradford Ontario

Liberal

Aileen Carroll LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs

Madam Speaker, I rise on a point of order. There has been consultation among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent for the following motion. I move:

That, following conclusion of tomorrow's debate on Bill C-344, all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill be deemed put, a recorded division demanded and deferred until the end of government orders on Wednesday, April 17.

Request for Emergency DebateRoutine Proceedings

April 10th, 2002 / 3:25 p.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Carol Skelton Canadian Alliance Saskatoon—Rosetown—Biggar, SK

Mr. Speaker, being very new in my position I hope I have this correct. I would like to defer the vote on Bill C-344.

There have been consultations among the parties and I believe you would find unanimous consent that following the conclusion of tomorrow's debate on Bill C-344 all questions necessary to dispose of the second reading stage of the bill be deemed put, a recorded division demanded and deferred until the end of government orders on Wednesday, April 17, 2002.

Contraventions ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2002 / 11:55 a.m.
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Canadian Alliance

Peter Goldring Canadian Alliance Edmonton Centre-East, AB

Mr. Speaker, it is important to lessen the lifelong stigma of a criminal code conviction for minor possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, but I have difficulty with the method of achieving this goal and with the resulting penalties which appear to be too weak. The arguments for the insulation of our inquisitive youth from a potentially career wrecking criminal record are both laudable and reasonable, however, I remain concerned that there must be significant penal consequences for possession of larger quantities of a hazardous substance.

My first concern relates to the varying and increasing potencies of cannabis resins and marijuana plants generally. Potencies have been increased through cross-germination and plant genetics and are unrecognizable from those of the hippie sixties. The potencies may well be increased manyfold in the future. An illicit drug that is not easily quantifiable as to potency is a hazardous substance that requires control with a very firm hand.

Today, three kilograms of cannabis resin or three kilograms of marijuana have enough potency to impair the residents of a small town, let alone one person striving for a personal recreational high. A person with three kilograms, or seven pounds, of marijuana is not an individual with a personal supply but is instead a bulk grocery store of drugs to be sold to members of our community, including children.

It is important to acknowledge a general consensus that simple possession of a small quantity of marijuana, medicinally prescribed and for medicinal purposes, should be legalized. The current debate on criminalization concerns possession for purely recreational purposes. I am not unfamiliar with the subject matter, particularly as I was a young person in Toronto during the sixties. As I recall, the price at that time was generally $10 per ounce, or a dime bag. Today an ounce might cost $50. Three kilograms or seven pounds of marijuana at $50 per ounce would retail for $5,000. Three kilograms of marijuana is the equivalent of 100 $50 dime bags, enough to seriously intoxicate up to 500 people.

Under the recently debated legislation in the House of Commons, Bill C-344, which has not yet become law, possession of three kilograms of marijuana would warrant no more than a $200 fine to the dealer. Such a penalty would amount to little more than an incidental business cost, more comparable to a traffic ticket than a drug trafficking penalty. A fine for a second offence would be no more $500 and for a third offence no more than $1,000. Again, these are little more than nuisance highway traffic tickets.

Some even believe that no jail time should ever be imposed when sentencing marijuana users or dealers. Before agreeing to such weak sanctions, I believe we should approach matters with a consistent hand and speak to the experts on the front lines, our police officers, and solicit a national consensus. In my opinion, there must still be restrictions and serious punishments associated with all marijuana offences, particularly for those who traffic in this potent mind altering drug. Removing marijuana charges under the criminal code for possession or trafficking in large quantities of the drug is not conducive to law, justice and good civil order. While alcohol induced impairment is readily detected by roadside breath analysis, the more dangerous marijuana induced impairment is not.

Grant Obst, a Saskatoon police officer and president of the Canadian Police Association, recently acknowledged that police across Canada are focusing more on marijuana traffickers than on users. However, the Canadian Police Association opposes general decriminalization of marijuana regardless of enforcement issues that arise in allocating very limited police resources. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Tory leader, the member for Calgary Centre, both call for looser pot laws. I say we should listen to the police who work on the front lines at street level. They say no.

Variability of potencies of marijuana is a matter of grave concern to the Canadian medical profession, which is now permitted to prescribe the drug for medicinal purposes. The Canadian Medical Protective Association, the primary liability insurer for doctors, is now warning doctors against prescribing marijuana. In the view of the association it is an unacceptable burden to require the doctors to prescribe marijuana unquantifiable as to potencies for medicinal purposes. While pharmaceuticals are subject to rigorous testing, quality control and regulation prior to being available under a doctor's prescription, there are absolutely no standards in place to address consistency in marijuana quality or potency.

In my view, our concern should be more to ensure that those who need marijuana for medicinal purposes are able to obtain a drug that is consistent in quality and potency, like any other approved pharmaceutical. We should not be devoting resources to decriminalizing marijuana generally.

Recently an Edmonton organization stepped forward to help those who need marijuana for medicinal purposes, but it appears to be more concerned with obtaining tax deductible charity status rather than with seeking help from elected officials such as myself who are willing to try to assist.

Last June I introduced a motion in the House of Commons. I am seeking agreement from my colleagues that the government should not legalize marijuana except for medicinally prescribed purposes. This motion has not yet come forward for debate.

The basic point remains. We cannot, as a responsible society, decriminalize a drug with known short term and long term narcotic effects, particularly when potencies and quality vary and the extent of social harm is therefore unpredictable.

Contraventions ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2002 / 11:45 a.m.
See context

Liberal

John Maloney Liberal Erie—Lincoln, ON

Mr. Speaker, at first glance the goal of Bill C-344 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis would seem a straightforward one.

As hon. members have been told, under Bill C-344 simple possession of cannabis would be dealt with under the Contraventions Act rather than the criminal justice system. The Contraventions Act provides an alternative to the summary conviction process prescribed by the criminal code. It simplifies the process for prosecuting offences against federal statutes and regulations that would otherwise be prosecuted under the criminal code.

Supporters of Bill C-344 believe removing the criminal penalty would ease the burden on Canada's criminal justice system. They maintain that any savings that result could be directed to prosecuting dealers and traffickers of illegal drugs.

Easing the burden on Canada's criminal justice system is an admirable goal. However it is important to note that Bill C-344 would necessitate the creation of a new administrative regime. We need look no further than at one of our closest friends, Australia, to see that such administrative regimes can produce unexpected and often unwelcome results.

Canada can learn from the Australian experience for a number of reasons. The types of drugs and their usage rates are much the same in both countries. We have similar legal and parliamentary systems. If we look closely at the Australian example it becomes clear that decriminalizing cannabis in Canada would not be as simple or straightforward as some have indicated.

Two Australian states, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, have converted the simple possession of cannabis into a civil offence through what is called a cannabis expiation notice system. In both states the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use is a non-criminal process. Offenders may be fined up to $150. If they fail to pay within 60 days they are required to go to court.

While there has been no evidence of any dramatic increase in cannabis use in the two states since they introduced the expiation system in the early 1990s, officials have encountered unanticipated results regarding enforcement practices. For example, despite the fact that cannabis use remained at relatively stable levels after the expiation system was introduced, the number of offences rose disproportionately. The increase came about largely because it had become procedurally easier for authorities to fine rather than arrest.

The focus of enforcement also became an issue. Males, often of lower socio-economic status or aboriginal origin, were being charged more frequently than others. The expiation system had widened the net and increased representation of marginalized groups. The trend was disturbing for a number of reasons. Most noticeable was that the majority of the males lacked the financial means to pay their fines within the 60 day period. Almost half those who received expiation notices failed to pay their fines within the required 60 days. As a result they found themselves before the courts anyway, in danger of acquiring the very criminal record decriminalization was designed to eliminate.

Both states have been forced to take action to address the situation. In Western Australia payment options have been introduced. Clearer and more detailed information is now available so people receiving expiation notices are fully aware of the process and its consequences.

I believe hon. members will agree that it is clear Canada will face similar risks unless we insist on an informed and prepared approach to the issues. Both Australian territories had relatively sophisticated mechanisms to help them identify potential problems in the expiation system. We lack similar data in Canada. We would need to develop means to disseminate information on any new system we might introduce. We would need to find a reasonable alternative to the use of fines. This alone should encourage us to proceed cautiously and allow the parliamentary committees examining the issue to complete their valuable work.

There is another area in which Bill C-344 may be insufficient. It would maintain the link between consumers of cannabis and suppliers of cannabis, suppliers such as organized crime. Australian legislators addressed this important issue by decriminalizing the personal cultivation of small numbers of plants.

Hundreds of thousands of Canadians may be making an informed decision to smoke cannabis. If we decriminalized cannabis would we provide a decriminalized supply as they do in Australia or would we continue to drive cannabis consumers into the arms of organized crime? Put another way, would we allow organized crime to continue to profit from trafficking in marijuana or would we make a serious attempt to diminish its profits?

There is also a more practical difficulty with Bill C-344. That is the fact that some provinces have not yet agreed on a memorandum of understanding with the federal government concerning the Contraventions Act. Furthermore, we need to know about our options regarding decriminalization and legalization. A wide range of responses is possible, including maintaining the current situation of criminalizing possession only, without jail. In this regard the findings of the parliamentary committees now examining these issues promise to be very helpful. Finally, we need more information, relevant information, in a number of areas: for example, information about the number and demographics of cannabis users in Canada. This kind of baseline data is essential in evaluating any new system or designing any effective prevention efforts.

Surely all these factors make it clear that Canada needs to acquire more information and be more prepared before we can seriously consider the decriminalization of cannabis.

Even as we go about gathering that information we should not lose sight of the fact that decriminalization is merely a tool, not an end in itself. For example, the health and social problems related to cannabis use will not go away by simply reducing the penalty for possession. The truth is that issues such as driving while impaired and poly-substance abuse such as cannabis and alcohol will remain with us. This was a concern of the justice committee during our review of the impaired driving legislation. Surely it is clear to all members that we must consider the implications of decriminalization and be fully prepared to address these implications before we move ahead with the decriminalization process.

As a consequence and in light of my comments, I would propose the following motion. I move:

That the motion be amended by deleting all the words above the word that and by substituting therefor the following:

That Bill C-344, An Act to amend the Contraventions Act and Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marihuana), be not now read a second time, that the order for second reading be discharged, the bill withdrawn from the Order Paper and the subject matter be referred to the Special Committee on Non-medical Use of Drugs.

Contraventions ActPrivate Members' Business

February 18th, 2002 / 11:35 a.m.
See context

NDP

Svend Robinson NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the bill currently before the House which was proposed by my colleague from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

We are debating Bill C-344 as a private member's bill. Although I am the member of parliament for Burnaby--Douglas I speak in this debate as a private member as do all members. I do not purport to speak on behalf of my caucus colleagues. There are a range of views in my caucus on the issue. However it is fair to say that on the issue of decriminalization and the medical use of marijuana the New Democratic Party strongly supports the changes being proposed.

Bill C-344 is an important step but does not go far enough. We should recognize that the issue of drug use should be dealt with as a health issue and not a criminal issue.

Our present approach to the issue of marijuana is steeped in hypocrisy. I cannot tell the House how many times I have spoken with young people who say the most destructive drugs in our society are alcohol and tobacco. Yet those drugs are entirely legal. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that we should encourage the use of marijuana. It means we should recognize that the so-called war on drugs has been an abject failure in every sense of the word. Many have come to that conclusion.

A number of decades ago the Le Dain commission recommended decriminalization of marijuana yet there has been effectively no change whatsoever. Last year a committee of the European parliament adopted a report on drug use that came to the blunt conclusion that “legal sanctions against drug possession and use appear to have no effect whatsoever”. The report recommended European nations press ahead in the direction many have already taken: that treating drug use is a matter for health professionals and not police officers. This means making the use and possession of small amounts of drugs de facto legal while concentrating resources on health and social programs to reduce the harms of drug abuse.

If we legalized the possession of drugs for personal use one might ask whether it would not encourage their use. Would it not encourage more young people to use drugs and thus have a negative impact on their health? The answer is no.

At a conference last year in Stockholm the World Health Organization released a major international survey of drug use by teenagers. The results were revealing. The survey found that 41% of American teens had used marijuana or hashish compared with 16% of European teens. It found that 16% of American teens had used amphetamines and 10% had used LSD compared with 6% of European teens who had used illegal drugs aside from marijuana. This is the latest evidence which indicates that the United States, which has the highest spending and most punitive drug laws in the world, also has the highest rates of teenage drug use.

The war on drugs is not working. There are a half million people in American jails as a result of the unfair and destructive war on drugs. I hope we in Canada can join with a number of other jurisdictions in recognizing that this is a health issue.

Unfortunately there is tremendous pressure from the American government. The International Narcotics Control Board is a 13 member United Nations body set up to monitor compliance with international treaties banning drugs. It is effectively run and dominated by the United States. It recently attacked Canada by saying we were not cracking down hard enough on marijuana use.

What was the response of the Liberal Minister of Justice? She said it was clear we could do more and that we must do more. She said the government was seized with the issue and that we would put more resources toward it.

This approach is madness. It is not working. It is breeding contempt for an unfair, unjust and hypocritical law. While I support the bill of the hon. member as a step in the right direction, we should be going further. We should recognize that the answer is not just decriminalization but ending criminal sanctions and ensuring we put resources into education, awareness and prevention.

We must recognize that the war on drugs takes a terrible human toll. Drug users are in many cases forced to obtain their supplies from the black market. What does this mean? It means more crime. Prices become so high that addicts who finance their habit by committing crimes must commit more crimes to purchase them than if the drugs were legally available.

Drug users, particularly hard drug users, are pulled into a world of filthy needles, poisoned drugs, and pushers bent on selling them more addictive and dangerous fixes. They have no access to basic information such as the strength of the drug in question, the recommended maximum dosage for first time users, or the effect of mixing with other drugs such as alcohol.

I received correspondence from Alan Randel of Victoria, British Columbia who wrote to me about how his youngest son Peter died in February 1993 after ingesting heroin with friends. Only Peter died. Of course, too many have died.

My colleague from Vancouver East has been eloquent on the issue. She has spoken out about the terrible toll the futile and destructive war on drugs has taken in her constituency. One need only go to Main and Hastings to see the impact of it.

The young brother of a close friend of mine, Tim Pelzer, died of an overdose of drugs. Todd Pelzer should not have died. He got caught up in the vicious and destructive cycle of that element. It took his life. It is taking too many lives. It is taking the lives of street people in Vancouver East. It is taking the lives of people across Canada. It must stop. The destructive and futile war must stop. That is why I support Bill C-344 as a step in the right direction. However it does not go far enough.

Canadians asked themselves what on earth was going on when Ross Rebagliati, the world champion snowboarder, was initially barred from the United States. Why was he barred? He admitted to having smoked a few joints in the past. That is not acceptable.

We have an opportunity to change the laws. A committee of the House is examining the current drug legislation. I urge its members to be bold and recommend major changes to the laws. The Senate has a committee chaired by Senator Nolin which is making similar recommendations.

Much more can and should be done in this area. Yes, of course there are health concerns. However a number of studies have indicated marijuana may not be as serious as tobacco or alcohol. Smoking marijuana does not seem to cause lung cancer, emphysema or birth anomalies in fetuses, according to John P. Morgan of the City University of New York Medical School. Yes, there are symptoms of lung damage but not the life threatening conditions seen among tobacco smokers.

Mr. Morgan appeared as a witness before the Senate committee. He pointed out that while cannabis contains as many harmful compounds and irritants as tobacco, even heavy marijuana smokers do not smoke nearly as much as tobacco smokers. As he points out, the critical issue is the amount of smoke inhaled.

We must recognize that much more must be done in terms of ending the drug war. I just returned from Colombia where $500 worth of cocaine can bring as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city. Colombian politicians tell us that if they are to be able to deal with the epidemic of the drug trade and the corruption it brings, we must take action here.

While Bill C-344 is an important step it does not go as far as it should in recognizing human, medical, criminal and health realities. I hope the bill will be referred to committee. I hope the committee will have an opportunity to bring the laws of Canada into conformity with justice and humanity.