Mr. Speaker, I will be splitting my time, but since it will be another day, I will provide the name at that time.
I can say with some confidence that the bill has tremendous interest among my constituents in Kootenay—Columbia. I held a telephone town hall on this issue on March 14, and more than 3,300 constituents stayed on the call for the entire hour. That is how much interest there is. Much of what members will hear in this speech reflects their views, and I thank them for that.
It is estimated that growing cannabis and selling it makes up a significant portion of the economy in parts of my riding, and certainly the product is well used, legal or not, by many people, young and old. Those who grow marijuana in the Kootenays are not part of organized crime. They do not see themselves as criminals. Rather, they believe that they are just small-scale farmers producing a herb that has received a bad rap. While I do not think that is completely accurate either, I believe that it is important for post-prohibition licensing to include small producers and co-ops, and not just the large corporations that are currently offering medical marijuana.
That leads me to one of the biggest problems with the bill, the lack of detail. Canadians were promised a piece of historic legislation that would break new ground. What we got was a frame with much of the picture missing. Manufacturing licences will be provided to producers who meet undetermined standards. They will be set by regulations we have not seen yet. It will be legal to sell marijuana, but it is entirely up to the provinces to determine how. Again, no details are provided in the bill.
The age is set at 18, but provinces can change that too. In other words, we might be able to grow cannabis, but we do not know how we would get a licence. We might be able to buy it, but we do not know where, and we might be able to smoke it, but we do not know when. That is a lot of unanswered questions.
Let us look at the issue of minimum age for a moment. Health officials and researchers have been very clear that using marijuana before the age of 25 can be dangerous to brain development. I would like to read briefly from an article by the American Psychological Association. Jodi Gilman, Ph.D., at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Centre for Addiction Medicine, used an MRI to look for brain changes in 18- to 25-year-olds who smoked marijuana at least once per week but were not dependent on the drug. Compared with non-users, the smokers had changes in the shape, volume, and grey matter density of two brain regions associated with addiction. Participants who smoked more often had even more significant differences.
The Canadian Psychological Association recommended to the government panel that the minimum age be 21. The government has chosen to ignore this scientific and medical advice and has lowered the age even further to 18.
Of course, the impact of marijuana used by a pregnant woman could be even more severe. According to information provided to me by the senior policy adviser to the Minister of Justice, heavy cannabis use during pregnancy can lead to lower birth weights. It has also been associated with longer-term development effects in children and adolescents, such as a decrease in memory function, the ability to pay attention, reasoning, and problem-solving skills, and an increase in hyperactive behaviour.
Will marijuana carry labels warning expectant mothers to avoid use of the product, such as we see on tobacco and alcohol? Bill C-45 is silent on this issue.
Yesterday the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a powerful editorial about Bill C-45. The editorial, written by editor-in-chief Dr. Diane Kelsall, calls the minimum age of 18 too young, given the scientific evidence. Dr. Kelsall warns that growing marijuana at home will give young people too easy access. She is also concerned about the lack of national standards for retail sales as well as the limits on the potency of various strains. Dr. Kelso wrote:
The government appears to be hastening to deliver on a campaign promise without being careful enough about the health impacts of policy. It is not good enough to say that provinces and territories can set more stringent rules if they wish. If Parliament truly cares about the public health and safety of Canadians, especially our youth, this bill will not pass.
As I said earlier, last March I held a town hall in my riding to hear from constituents about their thoughts on marijuana legalization. Their opinions were widespread, naturally, and many came with questions. I heard from many people who thought legalization was a good idea. I heard from others who oppose it. I heard from producers who said they did not want to be shut out of the action, and retailers said the same.
Deb Kozak, mayor of Nelson, B.C., was one of my guest panellists. She said she wanted to see a framework that would help her municipality develop appropriate zoning and bylaws for marijuana retailers. Sadly, so far the bill is lacking on that front too, downloading that responsibility to the provinces.
The money that comes from the legal sale of marijuana is another area not covered in the proposed legislation. Many constituents want that taxation aspect to be dedicated specifically to deterring the use of marijuana and other drugs and to reducing and treating the health impacts of using marijuana. They do not want the revenue from legalizing it going to general revenue.
One question I was asked was about crossing into the United States. Will legalizing marijuana in Canada make border crossings more difficult? I did not know, so I wrote the Minister of Justice and asked. Here is what the minister's office responded:
Travellers should remain aware that while some states have legalized recreational cannabis, cannabis remains a controlled substance at the federal level in the United States. Travellers seeking entry into the U.S. may be inadmissible if they admit to having consumed cannabis in Canada or disclose to U.S. authorities plans to purchase or consume cannabis while in the U.S.
Let us say that again: travellers seeking to enter the U.S. may be inadmissible if they admit to having consumed cannabis in Canada.
Canadians doing something that will be legal in Canada may be barred, as a result, from entering into the United States. That is an issue that the government needs to deal with.
Perhaps we should retaliate. It is illegal to consume alcohol under the age of 21 in the United States, so perhaps we should ban anyone from entering Canada if they admit to having had a beer at age 20.
It is imperative that the government work with U.S. authorities to acknowledge our sovereignty and the ability to make laws that are different from theirs and to work out what is going to happen along the border.
Finally, I would like to repeat what many of my NDP colleagues have said. The biggest missing piece of Bill C-45 is the need to provide full pardons to any Canadians convicted of possession of small amounts of marijuana in the past.
Last December, the Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, pardoned 192 individuals who were convicted of possession. He said, “My hope was to help as many individuals as I could overcome that stigma and the very real struggles that too often go along with [being convicted of marijuana].”
I appreciate the government's interest in ending the failed war on drugs and that the prohibition on cannabis, which has harmed more people than it has helped, is finally coming to an end. I hope that the government will get it right.
There is work to be done. This law is not finished yet. There are a lot of holes in it, so while the NDP will support Bill C-45 on second reading, I encourage the government to listen to members of this House and take the opportunity to correct the many deficiencies of the bill when it goes to committee.