Mr. Speaker, last night, I noted the government had said its marijuana legislation was designed to keep marijuana out of the hands of children, and the profits out of the hands of organized crime. It is positively Orwellian. This legislation would very clearly do the exact opposite.
Last night, I spoke about the impact on children. To briefly review, the legislation would remove any criminal penalties for children aged 12 to 17 who possess up to five grams of marijuana. That is the equivalent of about 15 joints. It would also allow for people to grow marijuana in their own homes where, very likely, children would have access to it. Yes, we could put it in a locked room which has sunlight, but marijuana is a plant, so we cannot exactly store it in the same way we would store prescription drugs or alcohol.
Making marijuana legal would obviously make it easier for children to access it. In general, though, it would make it more prevalent, more readily available, and removing penalties for accessing it, naturally, would remove the risk associated with it. We have seen this across countries. In every case, where there is legalization, there is increase in use; most notably in the Netherlands. After marijuana use was legalized, consumption nearly tripled among 18 to 20-year-olds, and many municipalities in the Netherlands subsequently moved to ban so-called coffee houses completely.
This is clearly the result of legalization, and it is beyond fanciful that a government would claim that if we legalize something, if we make it easier to access and use something, if we make it legal for people to grow something in their own homes, we are to see less use. Yes, marijuana use is too high, and we can talk about the reasons for that right now, but it is fanciful to the extreme to suggest that making it easier to grow and get something will make people less likely to access it.
Let me speak, now, to this issue of organized crime. The government seems to believe that if we make something legal but still have rules around it, people will necessarily follow rules, and that it will necessarily starve out organized crime. The argument goes that if we eliminate a particular business in which organized crime is involved, organized crime will just close up shop. This is intuitively appealing, perhaps, but demonstrably false.
In addition to selling all kinds of drugs, organized crime is, or has been, actively involved in selling contraband versions of otherwise legalized substances, things like tobacco, and there is a major problem with contraband tobacco. Organized crime is associated with illegal practices in many perfectly legal industries. It has a history of being involved in areas like construction, garbage collection, gambling, and politics.
In fact, if we look at the history of organized crime, we see the roots of it are often cultural or sociological, as opposed to purely economic. The Mafia system, for example, originated in a Sicilian response to external occupation. Sicilians, over a long history, developed a system of self-government which, essentially, could exist in spite of, or in defiance of, occupying armies or ordinary rulers. It was a way for ordinary people to mediate their economic, social, and criminal justice relations in a way that did not involve going to occupying authorities. That, very clearly, was the history.
Organized crime will participate in illegal businesses where there is a profit to be made, that is certain. However, its existence does not depend on illegal business. It will apply its modes of collusion, corruption, and intimidation to legal, as well as illegal, businesses, and make a lot of money in the process.
Developing that Mafia example a bit further, of course, we can look at the history of the Mafia in North America. The Mafia benefited from alcohol prohibition. However, its history stretched for hundreds of years before that. It was a response to emergent cultural phenomena that led to that. Its ultimate decline was not the result of legalization of anything; rather, it was a change in the criminal law, with the introduction of laws that allowed law enforcement to target organized crime directly.
It is very clear with the set-up of this law that it would be very easy for organized crime to continue to be actively involved in the marijuana business, selling it to minors, facilitating the kinds of transactions that are illegal, but it would be legal and, therefore, much easier for people to carry around large amounts of marijuana, up to 30 grams for adults, up to five grams for minors.
It just does not make any sense to say this is going to be the end of organized crime, or even this is going to be a hit for organized crime. We are going to see, very likely, the evidence suggests, increased use, and new opportunities for organized crime to get around many of the fairly anemic, though they be, rules the government has put in place.
The point here is that the government is trying to use justifications for the law that it knows do not accord with the reality. It talks about children. It talks about organized crime. In reality, we are going to see increased use of this by children. Also, this will create new opportunities for organized crime to circumvent the laws that involve selling to children because adults and children will have a much easier time carrying marijuana around without detection.
We have a clear alternative. We do not have to accept the status quo as an acceptable reality either. Our party supports a ticketing option that allows a reasonable and effective criminal justice response, not one that applies disproportionate penalties to this but one that I think can emphasize treatment and public health while also still allowing a legal intervention to address that risk. I think the approach we have emphasized is a sensible alternative. It allows that kind of necessary intervention. This is the position that was endorsed by the association of police chiefs, not decriminalization but a ticketing option.
There is a lot of development that could be done around that proposal. Perhaps we might require people who are facing the possibility of conviction to seek an alternative that would involve education and becoming aware of the impacts of marijuana use. We could use the criminal justice system as a way of directing people toward treatment without being overly punitive. Our friends in the NDP caucus have pointed out the possibility of lifelong criminal convictions. We can address those issues through reforms to the pardon system.
However, the real problem we have right now is that marijuana is in this grey zone. It is illegal but there is not a ticketing option, and it clearly is not an enforcement priority. That is why so many people use it. On the one hand, there is no ticketing option, there is no alternative outside the laying of a charge, and on the other hand, clearly people should not be going to jail for mere possession offences. I think we can all agree on that. I think we can propose sensible reforms and alternatives that actually communicate the real dangers and risks.
We have a government that is trying to justify an election promise based on the fact that the Prime Minister has said that he has smoked marijuana while being a member of Parliament, and then talks about a public health approach. That clearly sets such a terrible example when parents, teachers, and others are trying to communicate with young people that there are real, dramatic, substantial dangers associated with marijuana.
A more sensible public health approach would be to calibrate our approach so that we can look at pardon reforms and things like emphasizing treatment and education, but we can also have the means of a ticketing option and a criminal charge so that the police can intervene. However, what the government's law says is that children between 12 and 17 years old can possess up to five grams of marijuana, and they can distribute it among themselves. They cannot sell it, but they can distribute it. It makes it a severe penalty for someone who is 18 to give marijuana to someone who is 17, yet someone who is 17 can give marijuana to someone who is 12 with absolutely no penalties. Therefore, there is a real demonstrable incoherence to the government's approach.
There is also not a coherent message among government members when it comes to the actual risks associated with marijuana use. We have multiple members who speak publicly and openly about the fact that they have used or use marijuana, and talk about it as if it is not a problem, when we know that marijuana use is associated with higher levels of mental health problems later in life, especially when it is used by young people, even at relatively moderate levels. Therefore, there is a problem here in terms of the government talking, on the one hand, about a public health approach, and on the other hand, not facing up, in a realistic way, to the public health problems that are associated with marijuana.
I have cited the studies. The information is clearly there. We are going to see an increase in use if marijuana is legalized. If the government proceeds with the legislation, I hope that, at the very least, it will be prepared to re-evaluate it, because it seems to not understand this point. Hopefully a year or so after the legislation is passed, it will be willing to re-evaluate the problems that it has put in place.
To summarize, there is a dramatic dissidence between what the government is claiming about this and the realities that are in place. The Liberals talk about keeping it out of the hands of children, but they will make it easier for children to access it. They will remove criminal penalties for very young children who carry marijuana with them. There will be no means for that kind of legal intervention. They will allow adults to carry very large amounts and distribute it among themselves, and children to give it to each other. They will allow parents with children in the house to grow marijuana in a place and in a context where very likely that marijuana may be accessible to children. The government is prepared to allow all of these things, yet it makes the outlandish claim in that context that somehow this will reduce the access children have to marijuana. It just does not make any sense.
Then the Liberals talk about the issue of organized crime, but the reality is that organized crime is a system that exists regardless of what is and is not illegal. Organized crime capitalizes on opportunities to work outside of the law, but it is not required that a thing be illegal for organized crime to be involved in that business. That is just a reality the government needs to understand.
Frankly, members of the government who have dealt with organized crime in the context of police work should know this, and I am sure they do, contrary to whatever the talking points say. Organized crime often grows out of distrust of authority, out of issues of social exclusion, and out of long-standing systems of authority that exist in place. It is not the result of just something being illegal. We know this from history.
With regard to the public health issue, the evidence is very clear with respect to marijuana that it is a dangerous substance. Not everybody who smokes a joint will experience those negative effects, but it is clearly associated with higher levels of mental health challenges. Another member has spoken at length about the carcinogenic effects associated with smoking marijuana, and a lot of this is new and emerging research with respect to the risks of marijuana.
We need to send a clear message as a legislature. I would just say to members as well that we need to set a clear example when it comes to the risk, because the Liberals say on the one hand that they will take a public health approach, that they will try to educate about the risks of this, but on the other hand, they are saying that there is not even clarity or agreement in terms of what those risks actually are.
It is very confusing in terms of the messages the Liberals are sending, which do not seem to acknowledge those risks and with different members saying different kinds of things. I would hope that through this debate at the very least, members would be willing to clearly say from all parties, whatever their position on the ultimate criminal question, that marijuana is dangerous and that the best medical science indicates clearly that the risks are in place. I hope members will join me in opposing the bill.