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 third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-45.
On October 13, I introduced two pieces of important legislation in the House of Commons. First, Bill C-45 proposes a framework for legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The second complementary piece of legislation, Bill C-46, proposes new and stronger laws to more seriously tackle alcohol and drug-impaired driving, including cannabis. I am proud to note that Bill C-46 has been passed by the House and is being studied in the other place.
I am pleased to speak again today about Bill C-45 and discuss some of the amendments that were carried during the Standing Committee on Health's extensive study of the bill. I would like to thank all committee members for their considerable amount of work on this file. The committee reviewed 115 briefs and heard from nearly 100 different witnesses, who provided their invaluable perspectives on a wide array of issues, ranging from law enforcement to public health.
Groups represented at committee included the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the Criminal Lawyers' Association, the Métis National Council, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Public Health Association, and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Officials from Colorado and Washington state also provided testimony on their states' experience in the legalization of cannabis.
After hearing from the witnesses, several amendments were proposed at clause-by-clause consideration of the bill. I will speak to some of these worthwhile amendments in a moment, but first I would like to remind members what Bill C-45 is all about.
Bill C-45 would create a legal framework whereby adults would be able to access legal cannabis through an appropriate retail framework sourced from a well-regulated industry or grown in limited amounts at home. Under the proposed legislation, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments will all share in responsibility for overseeing the new system. The federal government will oversee the production and manufacturing components of the cannabis framework and set industry-wide rules and standards.
To that end, our fall economic statement of 2017 has earmarked $526 million of funding to license, inspect, and enforce all aspects of the proposed cannabis act. Provincial and territorial governments will in turn be responsible for the distribution and sale components of the framework.
Beyond the legislative framework outlining the rules for production, retail sale, distribution, and possession, cannabis will remain a strictly prohibited substance.
Division 1 of part 1 of the proposed act clearly sets out that many of the offences that currently apply to cannabis under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act will continue to exist under the proposed cannabis act. This is very much in keeping with the recommendations contained in the final report of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation.
In its report, the task force recommended that criminal offences should be maintained for illicit production, trafficking, possession for the purposes of trafficking, possession for the purposes of export, and import/export.
I will now speak to the amendments adopted by the committee. Let me begin by saying that our government supports all the amendments adopted by the Standing Committee on Health. At this time, I would like to speak about five specific amendments that were adopted during clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-45.
First, the height restriction for cannabis plants permitted to be grown at home was eliminated. The 100-centimetre height restriction was intended to balance the interest to allow personal cultivation while safeguarding against the known risks associated with large plants, including the risk of diversion outside of the licit regime. The height restriction, indeed the proposal to allow even limited personal cultivation, attracted significant commentary both before the health committee and in the general public.
We understand the complexities leading to the task force's recommendation of a 100-centimetre height limit and accept the health committee's conclusion after it listened to several witnesses about the problems that such a limit might realistically create.
Our government agrees that this issue is best addressed outside of the criminal law. Should they wish, provinces and territories. relying on their own legislative powers. could address plant heights and if legislative authority exists or is extended to municipalities, they could do so as well.
Second, the addition of the good Samaritan provision will exempt individuals from criminal charges for simple possession if they call medical services or law enforcement following a life threatening medical emergency involving a psychoactive substance. Evidence demonstrates that individuals experiencing or witnessing an overdose or an acute medical condition are often afraid to call emergency assistance due to the fear of prosecution. A good Samaritan clause in the proposed cannabis act will help to ensure that individuals contact and co-operate with emergency services in the context of a medical emergency, knowing that they will not face prosecution for minor possession offences.
Third, the amendments to the Non-smokers' Health Act, provides flexibility to prohibit the smoking or vaping of tobacco or cannabis in specific outdoor areas or spaces by regulation in federal workplaces to protect people from exposure to tobacco or cannabis smoke. This aligns with the recommendation by the Canadian Cancer Society.
Fourth, courts will have the discretion of imposing a fine of up to $200 for an accused convicted of a ticketable offence rather than imposing a fixed fine in the amount of $200. This will ensure that the courts can consider a range of factors in setting the fine, including the ability of the accused to pay the fine.
Finally, an amendment was adopted to require a review of the proposed cannabis act three years after its coming into force and to table a report in Parliament on the results of this review.
Given the transformative nature of the proposed legislation, it is important that our government clearly communicates to Parliament and to the Canadian public the impact the legislation will have on achieving our objectives of protecting youth and reducing the role of organized crime. This will enable us as parliamentarians to determine whether future changes to the legislation are necessary to help ensure the protection of public health and safety.
I will now speak to the significant discussion that has occurred in relation to the treatment of young persons under the proposed cannabis act.
On the one hand, the Standing Committee on Health heard from witnesses, including criminal defence lawyers and the Canadian Nurses Association, who argued that youth possession of cannabis should not be subject to criminal penalties, because making it a criminal offence for a youth to possess five grams of cannabis would not deter them from possessing. It would only serve to perpetuate the disproportionate enforcement of laws on young, marginalized, and racialized members of our society.
On the other hand, others, including opposition members, have called for a zero tolerance in relation to the possession of cannabis by youth. Our government is mindful of the concerns raised in relation to the exemption of young persons from criminal prosecution for possession or sharing of up to five grams of cannabis and the suggestion that this decision is sending the wrong message to youth.
As I discussed at my appearance before the committee, our government has drafted Bill C-45 to specifically ensure that there are no legal means for a young person to purchase or acquire cannabis. Young persons should not have access to any amount of cannabis.
At the same time, criminalizing youth for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis recognizes the negative impacts that exposure to the criminal justice system can have on our young people, particularly marginalized young persons.
Our focus aligns with what the majority of respondents conveyed to the task force; that criminal sanctions should be focused on adults who provide cannabis to youth, not on the youth themselves. This does not mean that our government sees youth possession or consumption of cannabis as acceptable. Our government has given much thought as to how we will keep cannabis out of the hands of youth and discourage them from using cannabis at all.
Our government has been encouraging the provinces and territories to create administrative offences that would prohibit youth from possessing any amounts of cannabis without exposing them to the criminal justice system. Police would be given authority to seize cannabis from youth with small amounts. Provinces and territories use this measured approach for alcohol and tobacco possession by young persons, and it has proven to be successful. We were pleased to hear that Ontario, Quebec, and Alberta have already announced their plans to create just such prohibitions, and we expect other jurisdictions to follow suit.
This approach is complemented by the other significant protections for youth in Bill C-45. The proposed act creates new offences for those adults who either sell or distribute cannabis to youth, or who use a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. It protects young people from promotional enticements to use cannabis, prohibits cannabis product packaging or labelling that are appealing to youth, and prohibits the sale of cannabis through self-service displays or vending machines.
In addition to these legislative mechanisms, I would also like to remind members that our government will be undertaking a broad public education campaign to inform Canadians of all ages about the proposed legislation, including penalties for providing cannabis to youth and the risks involved with consuming cannabis. This public education campaign will focus on helping young Canadians make the best choices about their future and to understand the risks and consequences of using cannabis. This public education and awareness campaign has already begun, and it will continue to be an ongoing priority. To that end, last month our government announced $36.4 million over five years in funding for public education and awareness. This is in addition to the $9.6 million over five years toward a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign, and surveillance activities that we announced in budget 2017.
I will now turn to the implementation and timing of Bill C-45. Much has been conveyed about the timing of the implementation of the proposed cannabis act, with the suggestion being made that provinces and territories will not be ready, or that law enforcement will not be ready. Several witnesses at committee, however, rightfully pointed out that we need to act now. The Canadian Public Health Association responded to claims that we are not ready for legalization by advising the committee of the following:
Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of time, as Canadians are already consuming cannabis at record levels. The individual and societal harms associated with cannabis use are already being felt every day. The proposed legislation and eventual regulation is our best attempt to minimize those harms and protect the well-being of all Canadians.
Witnesses at committee further pointed out that there is always a perception that more time is needed, but that any delays would contribute to confusion among the population.
Our government agrees that we need to act now, and we have been working closely with provinces and territories on many fronts, including through a federal-provincial-territorial senior officials working group. The working group has been kept apprised of developments on this file over the last year through meetings via teleconference every three weeks, as well as in-person meetings. Most recently, a meeting took place here in Ottawa on October 17 and 18.
Since the introduction of Bill C-45, several federal-provincial-territorial issue-specific working groups have also been established to collaborate more closely on a range of complex issues, including drug-impaired driving, ticketable offences, taxation, and public education.
Our government recognizes that providing support to provinces and territories for this work is critical. That is why we have committed, for instance, up to $81 million specifically to the provinces and territories to train front-line officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of impaired driving, build law enforcement capacity across the country, and provide access to drug screening devices.
Our government is encouraged by the tremendous amount of work that has already been carried out in the provinces and territories. Many jurisdictions committed to and have completed public consultations on how cannabis legalization should be implemented.
Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Alberta have released proposed legislation and frameworks describing how they will approach recreational cannabis, and Manitoba has enacted the Cannabis Harm Prevention Act. Clearly, many provinces are moving forward in anticipation of the July 2018 time frame.
Recognizing that some provinces and territories may not have systems in place by the summer of 2018, our government is proposing to facilitate interim access to a regulated quality controlled supply from a federally licensed producer via online ordering, with secure home delivery through mail or courier.
Our government's intention is to offset the broader costs associated with implementing this new system by collecting licensing and other fees, as well as through revenues generated through taxation, as is the case with the tobacco and alcohol industry. Discussions with provinces and territories around the proposed taxation plan have already begun and will continue. As part of our consultations on this matter, we welcome the feedback of all Canadians to ensure that we achieve the goal of keeping prices low enough to put criminals out of business while helping to offset the costs of education, administration, and enforcement.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that Canada's current approach to cannabis continues to contribute to the profits of organized crime, risks to public health and safety, and exposes thousands of Canadians to criminal records for minor cannabis offences each year. Most Canadians no longer believe that simple possession of small amounts of cannabis should be subjected to harsh criminal sanctions. I would like to conclude by encouraging all members of this House to support Bill C-45, as amended by the Standing Committee on Health.