Evidence of meeting #64 for Health in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was medical.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jacqueline Bogden  Assistant Deputy Minister, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health
Carole Morency  Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice
Kathy Thompson  Assistant Deputy Minister, Community Safety and Countering Crime Branch, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Commissioner Joanne Crampton  Federal Policing Criminal Operations, Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Diane Labelle  General Counsel, Health Canada Legal Services, Department of Justice
Eric Costen  Director General, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health
Anne McLellan  Senior Advisor, Bennett Jones LLP, As an Individual
Mark Ware  Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, McGill University, As an Individual
Michael Spratt  Criminal Lawyer, Abergel Goldstein and Partners, As an Individual
David Johnston  President and Chief Executive Officer, Canadian Association for Pharmacy Distribution Management
Shelita Dattani  Director, Practice Development and Knowledge Translation, Canadian Pharmacists Association
Philippe Lucas  Executive Director, Canadian Medical Cannabis Council
Keith Jones  Chair, Government Relations, Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance
Dale Tesarowski  Executive Director, Corporate Initiatives, Performance and Planning, Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice
Sébastien St. Louis  Member of Board of Directors, Cannabis Canada Association
Colette Rivet  Executive Director, Cannabis Canada Association
Robert Rae  Director, Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance
Laurent Marcoux  President, Canadian Medical Association
Trevor Bhupsingh  Director General, Law Enforcement and Border Strategies Directorate, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness
Martin Bruce  Organized Crime Section, Vancouver Police Department
Jeff Blackmer  Vice-President, Medical Professionalism, Canadian Medical Association
Jennifer Lutfallah  Director General, Enforcement and Intelligence Programs, Canada Border Services Agency
Sergeant Bill Speam  Organized Crime Section, Vancouver Police Department

8:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

It being 8:30, we are going to call together meeting number 64. I want to welcome everybody back and welcome new members to the committee. I welcome all of our invitees who are testifying today.

We're starting on an interesting mission: a study on Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis. I expect that it's going to be interesting, and it looks like we have some interest in the issue. We have several witnesses today.

I want to point out that with today being September 11, we're going to have a moment of silence at 8:46 in recognition of the disasters that happened in Virginia, Washington, and New York, when almost 3,000 people died in that awful tragedy, including between 24 and 29 Canadians. I will be interrupting at 8:46 and will call for a moment of silence, but in the meantime, I'll introduce our guests.

We have mostly federal, provincial, and territorial responsibilities on our agenda today. Our witnesses are, from the Department of Health, cannabis legalization and regulation branch, Jacqueline Bogden, assistant deputy minister, and Eric Costen, director general. From the Department of Justice, we have Carole Morency, director general and senior general counsel, criminal law policy section, and Diane Labelle, general counsel, Health Canada legal services. From the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have Kathy Thompson, assistant deputy minister, community safety and countering crime branch. From the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have Joanne Crampton, assistant commissioner, federal policing criminal operations.

I want to welcome all of you and thank you for coming. I'm sure your lives are getting very interesting right about now, so you can share some of that with us.

My understanding is that Ms. Bogden is going to open up on behalf of everybody.

You'll have 10 minutes, Ms. Bogden, and then we'll open the floor to questions.

8:30 a.m.

Jacqueline Bogden Assistant Deputy Minister, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Good morning, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee. As the chair has already introduced me and my colleagues, I'll dispense with introductions.

As public servants, we're responsible for providing advice and support to ministers in developing this proposed legislation. I should also note that Bill C-46 was introduced to strengthen the laws for drug-impaired driving. It's being studied by the justice committee.

Mr. Chair, your committee is embarking on the study of an important, complex, and transformative piece of legislation. On behalf of my colleagues, I'd like to provide the committee with a brief overview of the proposed legislation. I'll focus on three main aspects. The first is the context that has informed the development of the new control framework for cannabis in this bill and the government's objectives. Second, I will highlight some of the key provisions of the bill, in particular the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government. In doing so, I will also describe how we're working with our provincial and territorial colleagues collaboratively. Third, I will describe the equally important work that is under way to support this legislative change, including increased public education and awareness focused on the health and safety risks of cannabis use.

Let me begin by describing the current context. Canada has some of the highest rates of cannabis use in the world. Of particular concern are current patterns of use that we're seeing among teens and young adults. More than one in five Canadians between the ages of 15 and 19 say they have used cannabis in the last year. The rate is higher still for young adults. Nearly one in three Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 report using cannabis in the past 12 months. These rates of use are of concern given that the risks of cannabis use are higher for youth than for adults and that the risks increase the younger they start using it and the more often they use it.

Alongside these high rates of use among youth and young adults is an illegal market that's valued at $7 billion annually for organized crime and those who choose to break the law. This illegal market also places a considerable strain on the resources of Canada's criminal justice system. We see the results in the prosecution of simple possession offences. In 2016 Statistics Canada reported that over three-quarters of cannabis-related charges were for possession of cannabis.

Mr. Chair, against this backdrop it becomes clear that the status quo has not been effective at deterring use or preventing easy access to cannabis for young people. With Bill C-45 the government is setting out a new proposed control framework for cannabis. The government's objectives are clearly laid out at clause 7 of the proposed bill. These objectives are to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis, and to protect them from inducements to use cannabis. It also seeks to deter illegal activities through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures. It provides for the legal production of cannabis to reduce these illegal activities. It seeks to reduce the burden on the criminal justice system. It would allow adults to possess and access regulated, quality-controlled cannabis. Very importantly, it would enhance public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use.

The proposed act is closely aligned with the findings of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. The task force consulted widely and extensively. It sought expert opinion from public health, justice, and law enforcement, among others. It sought the view of provincial, territorial, and municipal governments; U.S. state government officials; and, of course, Canadians.

The proposed act would create strict national rules that will control the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada. It would allow adults to have legal, strictly regulated access to cannabis that they could obtain through either a government-licensed seller or growing it in limited amounts at home.

In particular, the bill proposes a number of measures designed specifically to better protect young people from cannabis. For example, it would be illegal for adults to sell or to distribute cannabis to anyone under the age of 18, and provinces and territories could increase this minimum age.

The act would create two new criminal offences with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail for distributing or selling cannabis to a young person or using a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. The act would also prohibit promotion and advertising of cannabis that could be appealing to young people, similar to the restrictions we have in place right now for tobacco. It would also prohibit products, packaging, and labelling that are appealing to youth.

Adults would be permitted to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis in public or an equivalent amount in other forms. There would be penalties for those who break these new rules, and these penalties would be proportional to the seriousness of the offence. There would be ticketing options for minor offences. More serious violations, such as illegal commercial production or taking cannabis across Canada's borders, would be subject to fines or imprisonment.

I'd like to turn now to the roles and responsibilities of the federal, provincial, and territorial governments. In keeping with the advice of the task force, the proposed act sets out a shared framework for the control and regulation of cannabis, which would require ongoing federal, provincial, and territorial co-operation. Under the proposed act, the federal government would be responsible for licensing and regulating the production of cannabis, including setting and enforcing high standards for health and safety. Consistent with their jurisdictional authorities and experience, the provincial and territorial governments would be able to regulate the distribution and sale of cannabis in their respective jurisdictions.

Provinces and territories together with municipalities would also have broad flexibility to adapt certain rules into their own jurisdictions and to enforce them through a range of tools including tickets. These could include setting a higher minimum age or stricter limits on personal possession or personal cultivation. Local governments would also have responsibility for establishing rules around whether cannabis can be consumed in public, enacting zoning bylaws governing where stores may be located, policing, and enforcing bylaws.

Mr. Chair, coordination among various levels of government is and will continue to be absolutely essential. For that reason, in spring 2016 federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of health, public safety, and justice established a working group of officials to facilitate consultation, information sharing, and collaboration throughout the design and implementation of this proposed legislation. Since that time, senior officials have been meeting every three weeks to discuss key issues, consult each other, share information, and coordinate our respective efforts, and this collaboration will continue.

Provinces and territories are preparing. Many jurisdictions have announced plans or launched public consultations or their intention to do so. We are completely committed to working together collaboratively in the months ahead as our respective jurisdictions prepare for potential implementation of this legislation if it is approved by Parliament.

Mr. Chair, as I near the conclusion of my remarks today, I'd like to describe briefly a couple of other dimensions of work that will support this legislation. First is a system of comprehensive monitoring and surveillance. It will help us to evaluate the implementation of the legislation and to make appropriate adjustments as necessary just as other jurisdictions, such as Colorado and Washington, have done. Second, as I mentioned as the outset of my remarks, is a comprehensive public education and awareness campaign in concert with provinces and territories, municipal health authorities, and other key partners. This campaign will provide Canadians, especially young Canadians, with the information they need to be informed about the health and safety risks of cannabis use.

In closing, Mr. Chair, I wish to emphasize that Bill C-45 seeks to provide a new, more effective control framework for cannabis, one that can ensure greater protection for young people and that will, in time, displace the illegal market. With that, we would be most happy to answer the committee's questions.

Thank you.

8:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you very much.

I want to make sure that Justice and Public Safety have an opportunity to make opening statements.

They have no requirement to make opening statements?

All right, we'll go right to questions with Mr. Oliver for seven minutes.

8:40 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you very much for the presentation, and thank you to the rest of you for being here.

It's quite clear that our current approach to cannabis is not working. Jacqueline, I think your opening comments were that 21% of youth have reported using cannabis in the last year, and 30% of young adults have reported using it. We needed to make a change and I think this legislation has done a great job of bringing those changes forward.

I believe the goals from the government were to better protect youth, to take business away from criminals, and to put public health front and centre, so that the people who are consuming cannabis understand who has made it and how safe it is to use. Those were the three overarching goals.

I want to begin with a question about youth. That's the number one goal: how do we better protect our youth, who right now have fairly easy access to marijuana?

My first question is to Justice Canada. Carole and Diane, how does the proposed legislation specifically protect Canadian youth?

8:45 a.m.

Carole Morency Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

Bill C-45 proposes criminal offences that would prohibit anyone from selling or distributing cannabis to a young person. The intention with the bill is to keep it out of the hands of young persons. However, the bill does recognize the reality that young persons, even under a completely prohibited regime as we have today, do have access to cannabis and in quite high numbers relative to other countries. Bill C-45 would not propose to criminalize possession of a very small amount—five grams or less—but rather, would leave it to provincial jurisdictions to determine if, and how, they wish to address that through their area of legislative jurisdiction.

To the extent that a young person does commit an offence under Bill C-45, the bill does take the usual criminal law approach. A young person who commits a cannabis offence would be dealt with under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which takes a more rehabilitative, restorative approach and directs police to consider alternatives to the formal justice system, including cautions or warnings before laying charges, or referrals to community programs.

Those are the criminal law protections that Bill C-45 proposes for youth.

Of course, as my colleague has already mentioned, the bill also proposes numerous requirements that would protect youth against being able to access...in terms of labelling requirements, promotion and advertising, and the like.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

I'm going to break in here for a moment.

As I said earlier as we opened up, we won't take away from your time, but today is the anniversary of 9/11. At 8:46, at this time exactly, planes crashed into the World Trade Center, taking the lives of 3,000 people, including dozens of Canadians. We'd like to take a moment of silence and remember that. There were men, women, children, grandchildren, grandparents, and people from all walks of life who lost their lives on that day. We'll just take a moment of silence on the health committee's side and think about it.

[A moment of silence observed]

Mr. Oliver.

8:45 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you for that.

I think everybody on the panel would agree that there has been lots of clinical evidence that shows the overuse of marijuana, especially for young Canadians, can create both short- and potentially long-term damages.

Could you maybe explain, then, why the five-gram exemption is in place? Why wouldn't you want a zero tolerance?

8:45 a.m.

Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

Carole Morency

It is correct, as you've noted, the medical evidence documents the impact that cannabis can have on all Canadians, including on youth and the developing brain. Bill C-45 proposes to protect youth, as I've described, but it also recognizes not just the harm to the health of the young person, but the harm that can come from having a criminal record that can follow a young person throughout their life. It could have an impact on education, employment, or crossing the border, etc. Bill C-45 recognizes that and proposes a very small window. It's not condoning or promoting the use of cannabis, but recognizing the reality that young persons may still access and use cannabis.

The committee may be aware that on Friday, September 8, Ontario announced its intention to move forward with its proposals to address cannabis. It included an announcement to the effect that it would not allow young persons under the age of 19 to possess any amount of cannabis.

It's this combined approach that reflects a balancing of the harms to young persons.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Is there anything you would like to see in the legislation that would go further to protect youth? Is there anything, since you've been involved in the drafting of it, that as a committee we could take on to further protect Canadian youth? Or are you fairly satisfied with that balance of issues that you've struck?

8:50 a.m.

Director General and Senior General Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice

Carole Morency

I would suggest that Bill C-45 strikes a welcome balance; however, the committee may hear from other witnesses as to other ways to address it. I think what's important to bear in mind, as I've mentioned, is that the Youth Criminal Justice Act would apply to young offenders who are dealing with cannabis-related offences and that, in and of itself, also brings a very different lens to dealing with young persons within the criminal justice system.

8:50 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you for that.

I've had some comment from members of my own community that they don't believe the legislation will actually deal with organized crime, in that organized crime is ubiquitous and is everywhere in the distribution of drugs. My other question is around that.

Kathy Thompson, I'll direct this to you. One of the stated goals of the legislation is to take profit away from organized crime. Can you elaborate on that for us? How do you see the legislation doing that? Do you think it will be effective?

8:50 a.m.

Kathy Thompson Assistant Deputy Minister, Community Safety and Countering Crime Branch, Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

We know that it's going to take some time to fully displace a sector that, over a century, has made a good gain in this area. It's going to take some time, and it's going to take a robust regime.

You've heard Ms. Bogden describe some of the key elements that we are trying to address to ensure that we do displace organized crime, including a safe supply and, as well, communicating to Canadians that there is a safe supply available to them; making sure there is access for Canadians; and also ensuring that we meet marketplace demands, which goes to the variety. Eventually, over time, we will move into those areas. Also, of course, pricing is going to be very important in order to be able to displace organized crime. We do have a FPT working group that is looking at the issue of pricing. At Public Safety, we conducted a large study over the past year in looking at pricing in the illicit market.

We are working to tackle those four pillars in order to work to displace organized crime. We know in looking at other jurisdictions, such as Colorado, for example, that they are slowly displacing organized crime year over year in terms of the amount of supply that actually comes from the legal market. I believe you are going to be hearing from officials from Colorado, Mr. Chair.

As well, the government announced last Friday a significant investment of $274 million. Part of those funds will go to the RCMP and CBSA to ensure they have an intelligence-led approach to tackling and targeting organized crime and the transnational movement of cannabis.

Organized crime is a key priority for federal policing as well. I'll turn to my colleague for the RCMP.

8:50 a.m.

Assistant Commissioner Joanne Crampton Federal Policing Criminal Operations, Royal Canadian Mounted Police

As Kathy mentioned, organized crime is a high priority for federal policing, in particular, for the RCMP. We target the highest echelon within the organized crime world. We're very cognizant...and realize that the chances of organized crime being eliminated in the cannabis market would be.... It's probably naive to think that could happen. Obviously, there will be a lot of unknowns as time goes on, and we'll have to assess, if the legislation is in place, how it moves forward and continue to reassess at that time.

As Kathy mentioned, there are areas that would give us concern. Those would include the undercutting of legal prices, the price market. The legal market could come in below the price point of what cannabis is sold at. They could continue to do exportation. It is a priority for us as well, ensuring that we have strong intelligence and that we understand that exporting market. Also, there is trafficking to youth—and the act is well legislated—and looking at infiltrating the legal regime. We're also engaged on the medical side, doing criminal record checks, and we would continue being engaged in that part.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Ms. Labelle, I think you wanted to make a comment.

8:55 a.m.

Diane Labelle General Counsel, Health Canada Legal Services, Department of Justice

I would like to mention to the committee that the purpose of protecting youth is carried throughout the proposed approach before you today. For example, if a province enacts legislation addressing the distribution and retail sale of cannabis, it's required to have a prohibition against selling to youth. That's one item I wanted to mention.

We also need to look at the broader regulatory measures that are proposed in Bill C-45, such as placing restrictions on promotion, particularly promotion that is appealing to youth. We've learned, through lessons from tobacco, that youth are particularly vulnerable to the manipulations of advertising. The Supreme Court of Canada has recognized, in several cases, the significance of protecting youth from these types of measures.

As well as having these two new offences on selling to youth or using youth to commit some sort of a crime with cannabis, we've asked provinces to take this issue into consideration as they develop their own legislation. These measures will carry through restrictions on promotion and advertising aimed at youth, also with packaging and labelling measures.

8:55 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thanks very much.

I want to acknowledge that the question went quite well over the time period—or the answers did. I think we all want to hear the answers. I'll continue to allow the testimony to continue. Once the time is up, I'll stop the questions but I won't stop the answers, unless somebody disagrees with that. I think the answers are important. We want to hear them all.

Now we go to Ms. Gladu. Welcome.

September 11th, 2017 / 8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thanks very much.

Certainly I also would like to hear answers. I'm all about fairness.

I'd like to thank the witnesses for their testimony today.

It will likely come as no surprise to you that I'm opposed to the legalization of marijuana but am in favour of adult personal possession being ticketed. My questions will mostly be directed at how to protect the children and public safety, issues like these.

We'll start off with the Department of Health. The Canadian Medical Association has clearly given scientific evidence that people under the age of 25 who are smoking marijuana have a much increased chance of psychotic disorders and schizophrenia. In light of that, what do you think about this legislation allowing all provinces to set their own age, anything under...?

8:55 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Jacqueline Bogden

Establishing a minimum age for access to cannabis is a key control in the legislation. It's an area where the government actively sought expert opinion, the advice of experts like the Canadian Medical Association and the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. After extensive consultation with public health officials, law enforcement and justice officials, and youth and youth advocates, the task force recommended that the government set the minimum age at 18 and that provinces have the flexibility to set a higher minimum age if they wished to do so.

This strikes a balance between not only the known health risks of cannabis use for youth and young people, but also the reality as I mentioned in my opening remarks that 30% of young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 report accessing cannabis. It's trying to strike a balance between those two things.

What I could also offer is that setting a minimum age that is too high runs a number of risks, including encouraging those young adults to continue to seek out cannabis on the illegal market, which poses risks to their personal safety because they're accessing products that are unregulated and potentially unsafe. I think another important point is that it would also continue to subject them to the possibility of criminal prosecution, conviction, and a criminal record which, as my colleagues outlined earlier, can have lasting consequences.

8:55 a.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

My next question has to do with the purpose of the legislation, which is to protect the health of young persons by restricting their access to cannabis and also to provide access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis. I wonder if you could comment on how allowing every person to grow four plants of up to three metres high in their house prevents or reduces the access of young persons to cannabis and controls the quality of the cannabis.

9 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Jacqueline Bogden

Under the proposed cannabis act, it would no longer be a criminal offence for adults to grow a maximum of four plants at home, and provinces and territories would have the flexibility to set additional rules in their jurisdiction. The proposed approach in this bill reflects the advice of the task force after extensive consultations with law enforcement and public health officials and others in careful consideration of the issue of personal cultivation.

The task force ultimately recommended that adults be permitted to grow up to four plants, but that there be certain restrictions around that, including that the plants could not be more than one metre in height; that they would need to come from a legal source, which would be important; and that if someone is growing them at home, they would be prohibited from selling the cannabis to another person or providing it to young people. Of course, as I mentioned, provinces and territories could put in place additional controls.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

To the witness from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, if you think about people who are growing this material in their house, who of course are not doing any of the testing or quality control that any of the legal businesses would be required to do, you can't really tell whether they're giving it away. How do you police and enforce that?

9 a.m.

A/Commr Joanne Crampton

We would recommend that the local police of jurisdiction be engaged in that, or a regulatory body that the government might set out. Certainly there's concern about growing it in a home like you've suggested, but there's provision for that within the legislation.

9 a.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

My next question has to do with some of the information I've received from provinces. There are fewer than 290 days left until the government intends to legalize cannabis. It has downloaded to the provinces the ability to make up their own rules within some guidelines and then to implement it them—although the money that the government is giving is going towards training and not really to enforcement or to helping implement tests or any of that kind of thing.

I'll start with the Department of Justice. Do you have any concern about the provinces being able to put into place their accompanying guidelines in the fewer than 290 days left?

9 a.m.

General Counsel, Health Canada Legal Services, Department of Justice

Diane Labelle

I believe that ADM Bogden and my colleague Mr. Costen would be quite able to describe the number of measures that are being taken at the moment to set out the framework and to proceed with the implementation. I believe they're in a better position to respond to these questions.

9 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Jacqueline Bogden

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, government officials have been working very closely with provinces and territories since the bill was introduced in the House of Commons. We spent the weeks and months following that with our provincial and territorial colleagues, making sure they understood the government's objectives and the content of the legislation, and answering technical questions, to do exactly as the honourable member suggests, to ensure they have the capacity and support from the federal government to prepare legislative frameworks.

As I also mentioned, we are seeing provinces moving forward with announcing plans for what their legislative frameworks might contain and other measures they are putting in place. Most, if not all jurisdictions, have begun public consultations or announced their intentions to do so. We will continue to make sure we are there to help them do the work they need to do in their jurisdictions.