Madam Speaker, I am thankful for the opportunity to speak this afternoon on Bill C-45, an Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts. Bill C-45 was first introduced in this place on April 13, 2017, just over a year ago. It is remarkable that the Liberal government, in just a little over a year, is desperately trying to force this proposal through. Although there has been a great deal of work done around the bill, it is abundantly clear that this has happened far too quickly. The Liberals are rushing through this legislation to meet their political deadline, not a well-thought-through plan, but a deadline that is self-imposed. This is despite very serious concerns that were raised by scientists, doctors, and law enforcement officials.
I want to note from the outset that I do not support the legalization of marijuana. The Conservative Party has adopted a much more measured and responsible approach to keeping minor marijuana possession illegal, but to make it a ticketable offence. This is the position that has long been adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. Unfortunately, Liberal backbenchers appear willing to support the Prime Minister's dangerous proposal. I believe we have a moral responsibility to soberly consider the consequences of legalizing marijuana in so many areas of Canadian life.
The fact that the Liberals are continuing down this reckless road without having a fully fleshed-out legal framework in place for the significant supplementary conditions is irresponsible. The only appropriate way to move forward with a bill of this scope, if that is truly what the Liberals wish to do, is to move cautiously and carefully. Anything less represents a profound failure to ensuring that these changes do not increase risks to Canadian children and families.
It is the primary duty of any government to keep its citizens safe. The specific goals of Bill C-45 are outlined in clause 7, and they include protecting youth, regulating the industry, and eliminating the black market. The problem is that Bill C-45 will accomplish none of these goals. I will focus for the most part on my concerns around protecting our youth.
Mr. Marco Vasquez, a former police chief in the town of Erie, Colorado, had this to say to the Standing Committee on Health:
When you increase availability, decrease perception of risk, and increase the public acceptance of any commodity, you will see increased use. Once we see that increased use, it's very difficult to keep marijuana out of the hands of our youth. We know from validated studies that marijuana use for youth under 30 years old, especially chronic use, can have an adverse effect on brain development. We also know that one in six youth become addicted to marijuana.
We've certainly seen an increased use of marijuana in Colorado, and I believe that the increased use will ultimately increase disorder and risk factors for our youth. We're already seeing signs of increased disorder within our communities.
Dr. Laurent Marcoux, president of the Canadian Medical Association also noted:
Children and youth are especially at risk of harm, given their brain's development. And they are among the highest users of cannabis in Canada.
To better protect this part of the population, we are recommending that the age of legalization be set at 21 years. The quantities and the potency of cannabis should also be more restricted to those under age 25.
Despite these increased risks, however, evidence shows that youth today do not believe cannabis has serious health effects. A comprehensive public health strategy for cannabis must therefore include education, similar to what has been done with tobacco.
Educational strategies should be implemented before, and no later than the enactment of any legislation in order to increase awareness of the harms and to conduct further research on its impact.
These are just a couple of the comments on the matter of youth consumption of cannabis. Currently, Bill C-45 recommends the age of 18 as a federal minimum, but medical professionals have testified that the brain continues to develop until the age of 25. Increased use before the age of 25 increases one's risk of developing mental disorders like schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety by up to 30%, compared to those who have not used marijuana under the age of 25. This is why the CMA and the other medical professionals recommended raising the age at which a person can consume marijuana to at least age 21.
Another challenge with the bill is that children ages 12 to 17 are able to possess up to five grams of marijuana. As the points I have just raised will underscore, this is ridiculous in light of the medical evidence of the harm it can cause to youth. Bill C-45 offers no provision to prevent them from selling or distributing cannabis to other 12- to 17-year-olds.
I turn now to the home grow provisions included in this bill. Bill C-45 would allow four plants per dwelling, with no height restriction on the plants. If grown in optimal conditions, this could yield as much as 600 grams of marijuana. What we heard from plenty of testimony at the health committee is that there is a great deal of apprehension around home grow. These concerns were raised by most medical groups and police forces who appeared.
For one thing, this proposal absolutely would not keep marijuana out of the hands of youth. If it is in the home, youth will have access to it. Furthermore, there is no requirement to lock up the marijuana if the home has people under the age of 18 living in it, or even just frequenting it. What we have seen in other jurisdictions is that by legalizing homegrown marijuana, that area has been hugely penetrated by organized crime. This is why the State of Washington, for example, does not allow home grow, except for medically fragile persons who cannot get to a dispensary. It has been able to reduce organized crime to less than 20% of the market.
Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, told the health committee:
We are deluding ourselves if we think that major drug trafficking organizations will not exploit every chance they get to have a way to be legitimized through the legal market. We're seeing this in other states. We're also deluding ourselves to think that they will go away and not try to undercut the government price of cannabis. The economies rule the day here in terms of price. The lower the drug price, the more likely someone is to use, and the illegal market can easily undercut the legal market.
I want to speak for a moment about my province of Manitoba as well. The Government of Manitoba made a responsible decision to prohibit home grow in the province. This decision will cut out more of the black market and better protect children. Unfortunately, the Liberals appear poised to reject an amendment that would confirm the ability of provinces to make these sorts of localized decisions within their own territories. Quebec and Nunavut have also expressed a desire to take similar steps in their respective legislatures.
The Liberal government has thrown a lot at the provinces and territories with Bill C-45, and to reject an amendment that would help provinces better manage this transition to legal marijuana would indicate a significant lack of judgment. I hope that the Liberals will make the right choice and help provinces make the best decisions possible for their residents.
My wife is a very good cook and baker, and when she bakes a batch of cookies or cakes or brownies, not cannabis brownies, but real brownies made with cocoa, she does not put them on the counter thinking that they are not available to children. With the legislation before us, we are going to see home grow marijuana readily available to youth in kitchens, living rooms, family rooms, and dens. The ill-conceived and poorly thought-out plan of legalizing home grow operations makes one of the Liberals' priorities, which is protecting youth, completely unattainable, because it is going to be easily accessible.
When I get a prescription for pain medication after surgery, I do not take that prescription and leave it lying on the counter where it is easily accessible to children, for example, in the sunlight where it can grow. I put that prescription in the cabinet where it is inaccessible to children.
We tell children not to play with matches. We do not keep matches within the reach of children, yet we are going to have homegrown marijuana within the reach of our youth and children. We are absolutely going to be inviting them to play with this dangerous chemical.
It is irresponsible for the government to think it is reaching this objective of protecting our youth by allowing home grow operations to be legitimate and forcing the provinces to agree. It talks about provinces having the ability to set their own regulations, and indeed some of them have. I compliment my Manitoba government for establishing stricter regulations as far as the age by which possession and use will be accepted. However, not allowing the provinces to establish restrictions on home grow is irresponsible.