Mr. Speaker, over the course of the summer, I took on the task of holding five town halls on the government's legislation to not only legalize recreational marijuana, but also on Bill C-46, which we are debating in the House today. I threw open the doors and invited constituents who cared to attend, so everybody would have a full understanding of what was being proposed in both pieces of legislation. It was from those five meetings that I got a better understanding of the concerns of not only everyday residents, but also from community leaders such as mayors, reeves, and councillors.
Listening to one's constituents should not only happen during town halls, it is a practice that every elected official should subscribe. If truth be told, not many members of the government hosted a no-holds barred public meetings on either Bill C-45 or Bill C-46.
I would argue that legalizing recreational marijuana is one of the largest changes to the Controlled Substances Act in my lifetime. However, not many government MPs took the opportunity to meet with their constituents in an open door forum. If they did, they would have quickly become aware that not only was the Liberal government's political deadline of July 1, 2018, to implement legal recreational marijuana usage untenable, it would unnecessarily raise the risk of bodily harm and injury on our roads and highways.
At a recent Council of the Federation meeting, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister requested an extension of the Liberal government's deadline of July 1, 2018. for marijuana legalization. In response to Premier Pallister's request, the premiers established an official working group on marijuana, co-chaired by Manitoba justice minister Heather Stefanson. Since then, it has been closely following the debate in the House and in committee meetings that were held on this legislation.
As was stated by many expert witnesses at committee or quoted in the news, it is simply unfathomable to expect that police departments and the RCMP will be prepared for the July 1 deadline as currently set out.
I would like to quote Director Mario Harel, the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who stated at committee on Wednesday, September 20:
The question many in policing have is what level of readiness the government, and more importantly, our communities, expect law enforcement to deliver. We can be ready at some level July 2018, but are we delivering on the public safety objectives Canadians would expect of us?
That question gets to the very heart of the concerns that many members of Parliament, including backbench Liberal MPs, have publicly voiced.
We know the science surrounding the impairment of one's ability to drive after consuming cannabis varies widely from one individual to another. We know that one's level of impairment can be impacted by how long an individual has either legally or illegally consumed cannabis. For instance, if one has been consuming cannabis on a daily basis for 20 years, that person's mind and body will be impacted differently than someone who consumes it on a monthly basis. Let me give the House a specific example.
During one of my town halls, a constituent stated that she had taken medical marijuana for years. She consumes cannabis in an edible form for her chronic pain. She said, not only in our public meeting but also publicly in the local newspaper, that it would be more dangerous for her to drive while not under the influence of medical marijuana. While I am not a medical expert, nor proclaim to understand the precise impacts of one's cognitive functions, driving under the impairment of marijuana is just as dangerous as driving under the impairment of alcohol or other prescription drugs.
While this is my belief, it was quite a shock to hear that some individuals who had consumed marijuana for years, if not in some cases for decades, pushed back on this premise. They pushed back because they felt that under no circumstances was public safety at risk because of their consumption of cannabis while driving a vehicle. This is a huge concern and I am quite certain that if a Conservative member of Parliament is being told this, it begs the question, What other long-term beliefs are held by Canadians who have long consumed marijuana?
In respect to the legislation, beyond a shadow of doubt, as it is currently written, it will be challenged almost immediately when brought into force. The reason I am so confident in saying this is that unfortunately Canadians will be caught and charged for driving under impairment of cannabis. It is safe to suggest that criminal defence attorneys will be looking at every available avenue to lessen the client's charge. There is empirical evidence to suggest this is exactly what will happen.
We know that the current drinking and driving laws are some of the most heavily litigated areas of criminal law. In respect to determining the exact nanograms of THC per ml of blood, it was good to hear even Liberal MPs, such as the member for Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, ask about the objectively determined standards for marijuana that the police could measure against.
What was disconcerting was that the Minister of Justice did not respond directly to her colleague's question. She noted that the government had set up a drug impaired driving committee, but neglected to answer his question of setting the benchmarks to determine impairment.
Now, I am not the only one who is asking these questions. The Canadian Bar Association recommends that the federal government base any measurement of blood drug concentration on proven scientific evidence that links the concentration of THC to impairment. According to the briefing to the Minister of Justice, it outlined the difficulties of introducing specific blood drug concentrations of setting an objective standard for penalizing a person and then linking the findings to impairment. It even goes as far as saying that legislating specific blood drug concentration levels is problematic.
While the Canadian Bar Association is probably well aware of the legal quagmire that will soon engulf our nation's courtrooms, it is wise to take a moment and reflect on whether the government is rushing ahead without the scientific data to back up its legislation.
We all want our roads and highways to be safe from those who make the callous decision to get behind the wheel after one too many beers, and soon to be one too many tokes. With that in mind, it is troubling to hear from legal experts and marijuana users that the Liberal government's legislation may not hold up under heavy scrutiny of a well-funded legal defence team.
The other aspect of concern is that the costs associated will be borne by the provinces and municipalities regarding Bill C-46. This was one of the most concerning matters raised by other levels of government.
Earlier this summer, I wrote the parliamentary budget officer requesting a costing analysis for implementing the Liberal government's legislation to legalize marijuana. I received a response from the PBO last month, describing both a lack of transparency by the Liberal government and an intention to offload costs onto provinces.
According to the PBO's letter, Justice Canada responded to its requests for information by stating that the estimated costs of marijuana legalization were a cabinet confidence. Similar responses were provided to the PBO by Public Safety Canada and Health Canada. In response to my letter, the PBO wrote:
This clearly indicates that the federal government does have access to some cost estimates of Bills C-45 and C-46, but without that information it would be difficult for the Office of the PBO to provide a reasonable cost analysis.
I requested an in-depth costing analysis for several areas of concern for my constituents, including the cost of education campaigns and workplace health and safety regulations. We know the Prime Minister has thrown out the idea of sharing any federal excise tax equally with the provinces, but even that was not enough to calm the nerves of the premiers and their respective finance ministers.
May there be no illusion of any member in the House that with the passage of Bill C-45 and Bill C-46, the policing, legal costs, and court delays will go down. The fallacy purported by some well-meaning but ill-advised commentators about how police resources will now miraculously be shifted from cracking down on simple pot possessions to much more serious matters is but a dream.
First, as with anything the government regulates, legislates, and oversees, there will be no cost savings when equipment, training, bureaucracy, and simple paperwork are all accounted for. Second, as the provinces have announced, the government will make the purchase of legal recreational marijuana so restrictive that the neighbourhood pot dealer just gave a loud round of applause as his business will prevail in the near future.
The issue of legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, while also updating the Criminal Code so police officers have the necessary tools and legal framework to keep our streets and highways safe, are not necessarily bound by one another.
Under no circumstances should the legalization of recreational marijuana be pushed forward without at least some time after Bill C-46 is brought into force. Not only should Bill C-46 be allowed to be tested, prodded, and probed, but the federal government has the responsibility to fund the vast majority of upfront costs of doing so. The provinces and municipalities should not be taken for granted and their cause of concern on the timelines proposed in the Liberal legislation should be heeded.
As I have stated on many occasions, the Liberal government should wade carefully into the full legislation of recreational marijuana. It needs to move beyond its politically motivated deadline, disclose the true cost of marijuana legalization, and provide municipalities and provinces with the resources they need to ensure safety for all Canadians.
Until that time, the legislation should not move forward. I encourage the Liberals to listen to the myriad of voices that echo similar apprehensions.