Mr. Speaker, I am here today to talk about Bill C-93, an act to provide no-cost, expedited record suspensions for simple possession of cannabis.
The first thing I want to tell the government is that we think this is pretty reasonable, but there are “buts”. We think most Canadians are okay with erasing records for simple possession of cannabis. We agree on that, especially when it comes to young people. A lot of young people get caught when they are just trying marijuana. They might be in a park, the police happen to be there, and they end up with a record for something that is really just a youthful indiscretion.
Of course, there are also adults who have tried marijuana or used it while it was illegal. After he was elected, our own Prime Minister admitted to smoking cannabis while it was still illegal. As we see it, that is not very good, considering what one represents once one is elected and becomes a federal MP and then the Prime Minister. Still, he admitted to smoking while it was illegal. That is not a good example to set for Canadians.
However, we understand that for younger people, minors or youth, this can fall under the category of youthful mistakes. What we are accepting with Bill C-93 is the clearing of the criminal records of people who were convicted of simple possession once in their lives. We are not talking about people who were caught many times, like 200 or 300 times, or people who have a criminal history or other offences on their criminal records. In the case of a one-time conviction for simple possession, we can accept that it was a mistake and grant a pardon.
Although we are prepared to support the idea of Bill C-93 at second reading, we would need to study the bill in detail in committee, because much of it is unclear. There is no preamble and no clear explanation of the goals of the bill or who could benefit from it and why. That is why the committee study will be important. It will be vital to dig into the details and get down to the nitty-gritty to figure out what is not being said. It is often the unspoken elements that require clarification.
Let us talk about the costs involved, for example. It is estimated that about 500,000 Canadians have criminal records for simple possession. The cost of applying for a pardon is a little over $600. If you multiply those numbers, it comes to $315 million, so that is how much would normally be paid by those taxpayers who have a criminal record. The government wants to make it free. This means that Government of Canada resources will be used to process the files of these individuals, who would normally have to pay for it themselves. If they were paying, that would cover the cost of processing these records, which amounts to roughly $315 million. That is not insignificant. We in the Conservative Party are wondering why other taxpayers should have to pay indirectly for these individuals to apply for a pardon.
It is typical of the Liberal government to believe that money is no object. The Liberals never consider taxpayers, who pay a lot of money in taxes. They never say “no”, and they throw money around left, right and centre. We have been watching them do this for the past three and a half years. This comes as no surprise. To us Conservatives, however, these are important considerations.
I want to come back to Bill C-45, which is one of the things that led to Bill C-93 currently before the House. Bill C-45 is the notorious marijuana legalization bill, which was introduced in a hurry to fulfill an election promise. However, it raised a great many questions that have never been answered. The government says it consulted experts and received information. We know that is completely false—or perhaps its did not really listen to the feedback given in those consultations. Police forces had all kinds of concerns, as did the medical community. Issues were raised but were never taken into consideration. Landlords also had questions about cultivation and use inside apartment buildings. Those issues were never resolved, and this creates uncertainty.
Given the way Bill C-45 was passed and expedited in order to fulfill the famous election promise and pander to young voters who voted Liberal because of it, we think that there will always be questions, especially since the government did not want to listen to law enforcement and doctors, among others. Even if I started out by saying that we are prepared to support Bill C-93, we must still thoroughly examine this bill, because we do not want the Liberals to pull a fast one, as the expression goes.
First of all, the legalization of marijuana was supposed to reduce the proceeds of organized crime. The parliamentary secretary spoke about it in his speech. Sales of marijuana alone by organized crime are estimated at $7 billion. The Liberals said they were legalizing marijuana to take this money out of the pockets of organized crime and put it in the government's coffers. However, this was a false argument and a public relations exercise. We know that organized crime continues to sell marijuana. It even copied the labelling of products sold in legal stores in developing its packaging. This law did not stop organized crime from continuing to do business.
Furthermore, since it is now legal, no one is afraid of getting arrested, which is kind of odd. People are still using illegal drugs and organized crime continues to profit. The concerns we raised while we were debating Bill C-45 have now proven to be valid.
Again, we do support the spirit of the bill, but we want to study the bill in committee to be sure that the final version is very clear. This is my first term as a member of Parliament, but I have been learning quickly. I learned rather quickly that the Prime Minister is not to be trusted. Recent events are proof of that. The Prime Minister raised a lot of hopes, but the promises turned out to be snake oil. He made promises to everyone, but at the end of the day, we now know they meant nothing. He claimed to be a feminist. He said that the status of women was important and that he would make it a focus of debate as much as possible. Everyone knows what he did with the three female MPs who now sit as independents.
The Prime Minister also mocked Stephen Harper, saying he did not take the needs of indigenous people into consideration. He said that he cared about indigenous people and he was going to fix the situation. Last week, however, we saw young indigenous women turn their backs on our Prime Minister here in the House. Indigenous communities in Canada heard all the lofty promises that were made, but the Prime Minister kept breaking those promises.
Getting back to the legalization of marijuana, I would remind the House that the Prime Minister was in such a hurry to fulfill his election promise that he did not listen to the municipalities, law enforcement, employers and scientists. The Conservatives are often accused of not believing in science, but the first to ignore scientists were this Liberal Prime Minister and his team. They keep shaking their heads, but they ignored scientists from across Canada regarding the problems associated with marijuana.
The government also promised to create a legal framework for derivative products and set standards for the sale of edibles and concentrates such as hashish within 12 months of legalizing marijuana. That was six months ago, and we still have not seen a plan to make that happen. This is yet another unfulfilled promise, and seeing as this session is about to end, it will probably be another broken promise.
It is easy to see why the majority of Canadians feel betrayed by this Liberal government. Much like Obama, the Prime Minister made a lot of noise but over-promised and under-delivered. All too often, we have heard the Liberals downplay the dangers of marijuana, and now that they have legalized it, future generations will think cannabis consumption is no big deal. Even my own children are now saying that it is legal and smoking it just to try it out is fine. That is not how it works though. It may be legal, but it is still very dangerous. Young people need to understand that it is hazardous to their health, not a harmless consumer product.
Experts say it is especially dangerous for young people, and everyone agrees.
In a Globe and Mail article published in April 2017, the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Psychiatric Association, the Canadian Paediatric Society and other organizations representing front-line health care providers express their concerns about the ill effects of cannabis, especially for chronic smokers under the age of 25.
In this article, the experts say to please keep the public health focus front of mind as this legislation is unrolled. That is a direct quote from Dr. Gail Beck, the clinical director of youth psychiatry at the Royal Ottawa Hospital. She also says that lots of people think this is harmless.
I would like to read out this article to show the House that cannabis consumption really does have consequences. These are the words of experts, not politicians. The experts quoted in this article say that the medical profession in this country has long had misgivings about medicinal marijuana, namely that there is not enough solid evidence of pot's efficacy in treating chronic pain and other ailments to warrant a doctor's endorsement. However, with the advent of legal recreational marijuana, doctors have a different set of worries.
A major concern is the potential for marijuana addiction, in particular among teens and young adults. Christina Grant, a professor of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, says that one in seven adolescents who start using cannabis will develop a cannabis use disorder, which is significant.
Dr. Grant, a principal author at the Canadian Pediatric Society, released a statement last fall, saying that cannabis use crosses over into disorder territory when it begins to cause dysfunction in users' day-to-day lives, derailing their commitment to school or work and sowing conflict in their families.
Cannabis has also been associated with certain mental illnesses. We still do not know how the medication, depression and anxiety all connect. Science has not yet established a cause and effect relationship between the two. In other words, we cannot be certain whether people smoke cannabis because they are depressed and anxious or if they are depressed and anxious because they smoke cannabis.
Dr. Beck says there is stronger evidence that heavy use of cannabis can lead to psychosis, especially among people who have a family history of mental illness. However, the vast majority of the research involved people who use cannabis daily. The scientific literature is virtually silent on the mental health effects of occasional use.
Dr. Grant noted that we do not know the lower limit that is safe and there is no evidence to suggest that nothing will happen if a person uses cannabis once or twice.
There is good evidence that teens who smoke pot frequently suffer long-lasting damage to their still immature brains, including problems with memory, attention and executive functioning. Dr. Grant added that, for teenagers who use cannabis regularly, there are actually structural changes that are visible on MRI. She adds that certain areas of the brain are visibly smaller, there is thinning of a part of the brain called the cortex, which is very important in terms of thinking and planning and organizing.
The adult brain appears capable of recovering from chronic pot use in a few weeks. According to Dr. Beck, that is not what happens in young people. Citing concerns about the adolescent brain, the Canadian Medical Association, which represents the country's physicians, last year urged the federal government to ban the sale of marijuana to people under the age of 21 and to restrict the amount and potency of the drug available to those younger than 25.
Most of the health concerns associated with cannabis apply to heavy users. However, occasional tokers can wreak havoc if they get behind the wheel while high. For an occasional user to consume some pot and then get behind the wheel is a recipe for disaster.
According to Amy Porath, director of research and policy for the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, cannabis impairs our ability to safely drive a vehicle. It impairs our reaction time, our ability to multitask and to pay attention. Police across the country are currently piloting a roadside saliva test to see if it adequately detects cannabis-impaired drivers.
Whether it is tobacco or cannabis, Dr. Porath said, there are concerns with smoking anything. Smoking can cause coughing, wheezing, sore throat and tightness in the chest. It can also aggravate asthma.
That article was published before marijuana was legalized. Major concerns were raised in this 2017 Globe and Mail article, which looks at the problems with marijuana.
I am bringing it up again and members may be wondering why I am talking about this. It all comes back to the basic concept, which is the way marijuana was legalized. The government completely ignored experts, scientists and police officers. It completely ignored the proposals that the opposition made in committee. It also completely ignored the work of the Senate. Senators proposed a lot of amendments but the Liberals rejected all of them, just like they rejected the proposals of the official opposition.
That is why we are prepared to say that Bill C-93 might make sense. Given the way the government works, we would never go so far as to say that the bill is extraordinary and that we will vote in favour of it without any debate. That would be impossible because there are always grey areas, things that are unclear.
The Liberals know what they want. They have a course of action and a way of doing things. As for us, our duty is to examine the issues, ask the right questions and propose any necessary amendments.
We are therefore prepared to support Bill C-93 at second reading. However, it needs to be reworked in committee, and I hope that the government will listen to and understand the amendments that will be proposed. I am sure that the NDP will also propose amendments.
Unfortunately, we do not have enough information to immediately pass the bill in its current form. We need to go a little further, to dig a little deeper. After the committee does its work and the Liberal government makes some decisions, we will decide how to move forward. At this point, we have some doubts. We will see what happens, and then we will respond accordingly.