moved that Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to speak today to Bill C-45. The bill proposes a framework to restrict and strictly regulate access to cannabis in order to protect the health and safety of Canadians, to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people, and to keep the profits out of the hands of criminals.
In the 2015 Speech from the Throne, our government committed to legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis. This commitment is motivated by a recognition that Canada's existing approach to cannabis, one of criminal prohibition, is not working. It has allowed criminals and organized crime to profit, while failing to keep cannabis out of the hands of young Canadians. In many cases, it is easier for kids to buy cannabis than cigarettes or a bottle of beer.
Statistics tell us that the current system of criminal prohibition is failing. Youth in Canada use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world. A 2013 UNICEF report found that teenagers in Canada used cannabis more than teenagers in any other developed country. The 2015 Canadian tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey found that 21% of Canadian youth aged 15 to 19 and 30% of young adults from age 20 to 24 reported using cannabis.
The current approach to cannabis has created an environment where organized crime reaps billions of dollars in profits from the sale of illicit cannabis, and thousands of Canadians end up with criminal records for non-violent minor cannabis offences each year.
A majority of Canadians no longer believe that simple possession of small amounts of cannabis should be subject to harsh criminal sanctions, which can have lifelong impacts for individuals and take up precious resources in our criminal justice system. Our government agrees that there is a better approach.
Bill C-45 would pave the way for Canada to become the first G20 country to enact legislation to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis at the national level. The overall goal would be to protect the health and safety of Canadians, with a particular focus on protecting young people. Our government understands the complexity of this initiative. That is why we have taken a cautious evidence-based approach.
To ensure that our legislation would be informed by evidence, my colleagues, the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the Minister of Health, and I announced the creation of a task force on cannabis legalization and regulation on June 30, 2016. Its mandate was to advise our government on the design of a regulatory system.
The task force conducted extensive consultations across the country, visited the states of Washington and Colorado, both of which have legal access to cannabis for non-medical purposes, and considered nearly 30,000 online submissions sent in by Canadians. It also sought the views of a diverse community of experts, professionals, advocates, front-line workers, youth, indigenous communities and organizations, government officials, law enforcement, citizens, and employers, as set out in its mandate.
All Canadians owe a debt of gratitude to the chair of the task force, the Hon. Anne McLellan, and the eight other distinguished members, all experts in their own right and all of whom volunteered significant amounts of their time throughout the second half of 2016.
The task force delivered its final report on December 13, 2016, entitled, “A Framework for the Legalization and Regulation of Cannabis in Canada.” The chair described this final report as the result of a truly national collaboration, featuring a diversity of opinions and expertise expressed by those who gave their time and reflections.
I would invite members who may wish to inform themselves of the complex and cross-cutting issues and challenges associated with cannabis legalization to have a look at this substantive piece of work. The report has been very well received, is comprehensive, and provides important background information on the issues this bill seeks to address.
The task force is comprised of over 80 recommendations for the development of the cannabis framework in Canada. It reflects a public health approach aimed at reducing harm and promoting the health and safety of Canadians.
The recommendations fall under five themes:
First, in taking a public health approach to the regulation of cannabis, the task force proposed measures that would maintain and improve the health of Canadians by minimizing the potential harms associated with cannabis use.
Second, the task force called for the creation of a safe and responsible supply chain and recommended the design of an appropriate distribution system. The task force noted that the government's principal interest should be to establish an efficient, accountable, and transparent system for regulatory oversight of the supply chain, emphasizing the protection of health and safety and reducing diversion to the illicit market. It recommended that wholesale distribution of cannabis be regulated by the provinces and territories.
Third, the task force highlighted the need for clear enforceable rules to ensure that all Canadians and law enforcement agencies understood what was permitted and what continued to be prohibited under the new legal regime. The task force also heard that penalties for contravening the new rules would need to be proportional to the contravention and that the criminal justice system should only be employed where truly necessary.
Fourth, the task force recommendations for a regulatory framework for non-medical cannabis were informed by the existing rules governing the medical system. These rules establish safeguards to ensure product quality and security, as well as safety provisions to prevent diversion.
Fifth, the task force report underscores that the regulation of cannabis is a complex public policy issue. As with other such issues, the depth and scale of the complexity increases as we turn to the practicalities of implementation. Our government recognizes that it will be necessary for all levels of government to coordinate efforts in order to implement an effective regime. We remain committed to working with our provincial and territorial counterparts, as well as with municipalities, to develop a framework that strictly regulates access to cannabis in a way that works for everyone involved.
Building on the recommendations of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation, our government has proposed legislation that pursues a new approach to the regulation of cannabis. The approach sets national standards and will be more effective at protecting public health and safety, keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth and reducing the role of the illegal market and organized crime.
Our government's commitment to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis marks a major change for Canada. However, I am convinced that what is proposed in Bill C-45 is the best approach for Canadians.
I would like to speak to a few components of Bill C-45.
I will begin by highlighting the overarching purpose of the bill. Simply put, its purpose is to protect the health and safety of Canadians. Specifically, it aims to protect the health of young people by restricting their access to cannabis; to protect young people and others from advertising and other promotional activities that are likely to encourage them to use cannabis; to provide for the lawful protection of cannabis to reduce illegal activities in relation to cannabis; to deter illegal activities in relation to cannabis through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures; to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system in relation to cannabis; to provide Canadians with access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis; and to enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.
I want to emphasize that while our government is legalizing cannabis, we are also strictly regulating and restricting access to it.
Bill C-45 would create a new legal framework that would allow adults to access legal cannabis through an appropriate retail framework, sourced from a well-regulated industry or grown in limited amounts at home. Adults 18 years or older would be permitted to legally possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis in public, or its equivalent in other forms. Adults could also legally share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent, with other adults. Selling, or possessing cannabis to sell it, would only be lawful if authorized under the act. Under no circumstances could cannabis be sold or given to a young person. Production of cannabis would also have to be authorized under the act.
Possession, production, distribution, importation, exportation, and sale outside the legal framework would be illegal and subject to criminal penalties. These penalties would be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, ranging from ticketing up to a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment. This reflects a measured approach to meet our legislative objectives.
Bill C-45 would exempt young persons who possess up to five grams of cannabis from criminal prosecution. Our government has proposed this approach because we do not want to expose young people to the criminal justice system for possessing what amounts to very small amounts of cannabis.
For possession or distribution of more than five grams, young people would be subject to the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which emphasizes community-based responses that promote rehabilitation and reintegration. For less serious offences, alternatives to charging would be encouraged, such as taking no further action, warning the young person, or referring the young person to a community program or agency to help address the circumstances underlying the offending behaviour.
Moreover, our government would be engaging with the provinces and territories to encourage them to create provincial offences that would apply to youth possession under five grams of cannabis. This would provide police with the authority to seize cannabis from a young person while not subjecting the person to the consequences of criminal liability for these small amounts. This would be similar to the approach that has been taken in the context of alcohol.
Such a measured approach for youth is consistent with the task force report, which stated that simple possession for youth should not be a criminal offence but that sanctions should focus on adults who provide cannabis to youth. It is also consistent with the substantive body of evidence concerning the heightened risks of cannabis use for young persons, including the effects on brain development. This approach would also address our objective of keeping cannabis out of the hands of youth while ensuring that they do not enter the criminal justice system for minor possession offences.
Bill C-45 would allow cannabis producers to promote their brands and provide information about their products, but only where young persons would not be exposed to it. These limits are reasonable. They would allow adult consumers to make informed decisions, but they respond to the greater risks cannabis poses for young people.
Under the proposed legislation, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments would all share responsibility for overseeing the new system. The federal government would oversee the production and manufacturing components of the cannabis framework and would set industry-wide rules and standards.
Provinces and territories would generally be responsible for the distribution and sale components of the framework. They would also be able to create further restrictions as they saw fit, including increasing the minimum age in their jurisdictions to, for example, align with the drinking age, and lowering possession limits for cannabis, which could be pursued to further protect youth. Further, the provinces and territories, along with the municipalities, could create additional rules for growing cannabis at home, including the possibility of lowering the number of plants allowed for residents and restricting the places in which cannabis could be consumed.
In addition to working with the provinces and territories to establish a secure supply chain, jurisdictions would be key partners in our government's efforts to raise public awareness about the potential risks associated with cannabis use.
Our government believes in evidence-based policy. We would monitor patterns of and perceptions around cannabis use among Canadians, especially youth, through an annual Canadian cannabis survey. The data gathered would inform and refine public education and awareness activities to mitigate the risks and harms of use. In this regard, as spelled out in budget 2017, existing funding of $9.6 million would be directed to public education and awareness and monitoring and surveillance activities.
Our government intends to offset the broader costs associated with implementing this new system by collecting licensing and other fees and through revenues generated through taxation. This is currently what we do with the tobacco and alcohol industries.
Subject to approval by Parliament, our government intends to bring the proposed legislation into force no later than July 2018. At that time, adults across Canada would be able to legally possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent, when in public. They could share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis, or its equivalent, with other adults. They would be able to purchase dried or fresh cannabis or cannabis oil from a provincially regulated retailer, or, in jurisdictions that have not put a regulated retail framework in place, online from a federally licensed producer. Adults could choose to grow up to four cannabis plants per residence, subject to a height restriction of one metre. They could also make legal cannabis-containing products, provided that dangerous solvents were not used.
Upon the legislation coming into force, adults would be able to legally purchase fresh and dried cannabis, cannabis oils, and seeds or plants for cultivation. Other products, such as edibles, would become available at a later date, once federal regulations for their production and sale were developed.
I would note as well that the current program for access to cannabis for medical purposes would continue under the new act. This is in keeping with the task force recommendation to initially maintain a separate medical access framework to support patients.
Our government has been clear that to meet its objectives of keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids and the profits out of the hands of criminals, there needs to be a legal means by which adult Canadians can purchase cannabis. Our government's objective is to provide room for the provinces and territories to establish distribution and retail systems that align with their unique circumstances.
Recognizing that some provinces and territories may not have systems set up and running upon royal assent, our government is proposing to facilitate access for Canadians to a regulated, quality-controlled supply of cannabis through a secure mail system via existing licensed producers.
I would like to conclude by encouraging all members to support Bill C-45. I know that the status quo is not working. All members of this House understand that we must do better, especially for our youth. The proposed legislation represents a balanced approach designed to protect the health and safety of Canadians. It would provide adults with regulated access to legal cannabis while restricting access by youth. It would put in place strict safeguards to protect youth from being encouraged to use cannabis and would create new offences for those adults who either provide cannabis to youth or use youth to commit cannabis-related offences.
By reducing demand in the illicit market, the proposed regime would also cut the profits of criminal organizations that are benefiting greatly from the current regime.
Bill C-45 would also help reduce the burden on police and the criminal justice system with respect to non-violent minor offences. In addition, the bill proposes to strengthen laws and enforcement measures to deter and punish more serious cannabis offences, particularly selling and distributing to youth and selling outside the regulatory framework.
Following the debate at second reading, I urge all members of the House to support BillC-45 at second reading and refer it to committee.