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

9:25 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Sure.

9:25 a.m.

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

Carole Morency

I would just say that Bill C-45 is not promoting or condoning the use of cannabis, but it recognizes that a young person who does come into possession and uses a very small amount—five grams or less—would also be exposed to a greater harm that comes with a criminal record, which can affect their ability in terms of employment and other issues. There are harms in getting involved with the criminal justice system itself, and not just with the record. The whole experience of being involved in the system also can have a greater negative impact than what comes from the use of a small amount of cannabis.

All of that is to say as well that the government, as has been noted, is having a public education campaign to promote awareness not only among youth but among all Canadians about the harms of cannabis use, etc., and that would be part of the targeting for youth not to have access to it.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you very much.

Mr. McKinnon, welcome to the committee. I look forward to your contribution.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

Thank you, Chair.

I have questions all over the map here, so we'll just dive in. My understanding is that Canadian youth have the highest rate of cannabis consumption, at least in the OECD countries.

Mr. Costen, could you comment on that?

9:30 a.m.

Director General, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Eric Costen

There are a number of different surveys that look to measure global use of drugs. There was a survey released by, I believe, UNICEF a number of years ago that put Canada as the top ranked country in terms of youth use. There are other international instruments that look to measure youth use. While the particular methods and the results vary, the results across the board show that Canadian youth do use cannabis at rates that typically exceed their peers in like countries.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

How do we measure youth use? Do we do it by voluntary surveys?

9:30 a.m.

Director General, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Eric Costen

Yes. The different surveys use different methods, but typically it's self-reported use. The surveys would ask if they had used in the last year and the last six months, and then the respondents would volunteer their answer. That's typically how they're done.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Ron McKinnon Liberal Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, BC

I'd like to move on to the five-gram limit.

Ms. Bogden, I believe you mentioned that one of the goals here is to protect youth, and one of the harms from which we are protecting them is having a criminal record. It seems somewhat counterintuitive then that we put youth into the criminal justice regime at a much lower threshold than for adults. Adults don't get into the area of a criminal charge until they have 30 grams of cannabis in their possession, whereas for a youth, it happens at five grams. That seems counterintuitive to me. Could you comment on that?

If there is a need for a lower limit for youth, or rather that within the same 30-gram limit we just confiscate, fine, whatever, but no criminal record risk.

9:30 a.m.

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

Jacqueline Bogden

The legislation is very clear that young Canadians shouldn't have access to any amount of cannabis. That is absolutely clear. I'll ask my colleague, Carole Morency, to explain again the reasons for that specific provision, under five grams, and to try to answer the honourable member's question.

9:30 a.m.

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

Carole Morency

Bill C-45 proposes to prohibit providing, distributing, and selling any amount of cannabis to a young person, and proposes to prohibit using a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. The expectation with this framework for C-45 is that youth should not have any amount of cannabis for use or possession. That's based on health as well, as has already been described by my colleague in terms of the objectives of protecting young persons against the harms associated with use of cannabis.

As has also been noted, the reality is that under a completely prohibited regime, youth in Canada still have a high use and possession of cannabis. Recognizing that, Bill C-45 proposes to carve out a very small amount. If a young person is found to be in possession of five grams or less, Bill C-45 reflects the choice: should persons be criminalized even under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which has a lesser, more restorative, rehabilitative approach, or should they be given a different way to be dealt with under the law?

It carves out that five grams from the criminal law perspective, because it recognizes the greater harms of exposing young persons to a criminal justice system, not just the record but the whole system, for that small amount. The federal government has been encouraging the provinces and territories to take that five grams and decide how they will deal with it, if they choose to do so, within their areas of legislative competence.

Ontario has already announced that it would not allow any possession of any amount by young persons. It would not allow five grams under its legislative approach, and it would raise the minimum age from 18 to 19. That's a different approach for youth altogether than adults because adults have a different level of maturity. Bill C-45 proposes to legalize, but strictly regulate for adults, and endeavours to keep it out of the hands of youth altogether.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

We move on now to Mr. Webber.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

I just want to talk about production and the regulations around it. I had an opportunity to tour a licensed facility in Airdrie, Alberta, called Sundial a few weeks ago. I was quite surprised to see the amount of security around the facility. Coming into the facility, there was razor-sharp barbed wire. It looked like a federal prison, and they had security buzzing us into rooms. Touring the facility also showed me the quality of what they were producing; it was incredible. There's no doubt that this will be a safe product, not contaminated in any way, which is a nice thing to know.

The overhead costs to put this facility into place were immense, of course. With that, obviously the product will have to be sold at a high price as well. Canadians, I guess, are willing to pay a high price for a safe product, but I don't see the average Canadian being able to afford that kind of product. They will obviously have to go to some other supplier, meaning organized crime. I don't see the illegal market being displaced at all, with the requirements that are already in place.

You talked about that illegal market being displaced in time, but with these regulations that are in place right now, I just don't see that happening. I wonder, Ms. Bogden, if you have any comments on that. Does the government plan on continuing with these strict regulations on all production of marijuana throughout the country?

9:35 a.m.

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

Jacqueline Bogden

The requirements that are in place right now governing the production of cannabis for medical purposes are under the current legislative framework, where all cannabis, unless it's authorized by legislation, is prohibited, and thus there are stringent requirements around security to protect against diversion to the illegal market, and a number of other measures.

I would also say that there has been considerable analysis indicating that some of the product currently produced under the access to cannabis for medical purposes regime is actually competitive with some of the product available in the illegal market.

That said, one of the government's most important objectives is to displace this illegal market. We need to be very conscious of that in creating regulations that will govern production under the new industry.

I will ask my colleague, Mr. Costen, to speak a little bit about the need to put in place regulations and the considerations that we're thinking about.

9:35 a.m.

Director General, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

Eric Costen

If I may, I may even go back to the price question briefly. The parliamentary budget officer, in the report that was published a number of months ago, included quite an elaborate commentary on price, including providing a mid-range average of the current illegal market price, which put it, if my memory serves me correctly, at just under nine dollars. While I think the observation you've made is a very good one, as Ms. Bogden just described, when we look at the reality of pricing amongst the licensed producers, the average midpoint price price is only slightly higher, at just over nine dollars. This is obviously going to be a very dynamic marketplace and price is going to be absolutely critical to achieving that second principal government objective.

In terms of your question about regulations and the future of those regulations, as you've no doubt observed, in Bill C-45 there are regulation-making authorities across a whole manner of aspects of the new system, one of which is around security, whether it's physical security or security of the personnel. I would echo Ms. Bogden's comments that the regulations in place right now really were born in time, given the legal status of cannabis. Given all of the observations that have been made about the interest of organized criminal organizations in this marketplace, the regulations were designed in such a way as to create a system with a lot of integrity, whether from a consumer perspective or a government perspective, to ensure that the system wasn't being infiltrated by organized criminal organizations. That, in some part, explains the stringency you observed.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you.

Mr. Ayoub.

September 11th, 2017 / 9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to all the witnesses for joining us.

This is an extremely important subject for generations to come, and even for generations gone by.

It raises a lot of questions, but I am going to focus on the various applications of the Canadian legislation in the provinces.

The government has a leadership role to play, and that is what we are doing at the moment by discussing this important bill. How are we going to make sure that the legislation will apply all across Canada, and that it will not result in criminality, despite the major differences between provinces in this area? Some provinces, like Ontario, are going to choose to not allow the possession of cannabis at all. When people travel to another province, what will happen then? There are no borders between provinces. For example, you just have to cross a bridge between Ottawa and Gatineau. How is that going to be handled? Can you enlighten me, and enlighten Canadians, about it?

I will perhaps have other questions for Ms. Morency and Ms. Labelle.

9:40 a.m.

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

Jacqueline Bogden

Maybe, Mr. Chair, I could take that question.

Thank you very much for the question.

I am going to answer in English so that I give you a completely accurate answer.

I think the legislation that is before this committee recognizes and sort of flows from consultations and discussions with the provinces and territories, which identified, in their conversations with the task force and their conversations with the federal government, the desire to have a degree of flexibility in how they design how this system will operate in their jurisdictions. A fundamental aspect of the way this country is governed is that there is flexibility that the provinces can exercise. They're closest, as municipalities are, which we also recognize, to their jurisdictions.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

I understand that nuance very well, but my question is really about the way the law is applied and about criminality, if any. How are we going to handle it, given that the regulation differs from one province to another? When you cross the border to enter the United States, it’s very clear; on the American side, cannabis is illegal; on the Canadian side, we are working to make it legal.

Inside Canada itself, how can the legislation be applied everywhere? I’d really like to look at the legal side of things.

9:40 a.m.

General Counsel, Health Canada Legal Services, Department of Justice

Diane Labelle

I will answer that question, if I may, Mr. Chair.

In terms of criminal law, the major prohibitions in Bill C-45 are the same everywhere in Canada. If it is a little difficult to answer your question, it is because it is going to depend on provincial legislation. To provide an answer, we would really have to see the details of the legislation in each province in order to find out at what point someone could be subject to a penalty under provincial legislation and a penalty under Bill C-45.

This is a real issue, which is being studied as the legislation is being drafted. The discussions between the federal government and the provinces and territories are very important here. As Ms. Bogden indicated, we also wanted to have an approach based on a co-operative federal system. It was important to recognize that the provinces wanted to have their input. We had to provide the space they needed to be able to adapt the rules to their own situations. Knowing how the legislation is going to apply is somewhat of a theoretical issue at the moment, but we are going to study it.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

I have one final remark, if I may.

The object was to partly legalize and decriminalize the use and, to a degree, the production of marijuana. That is all it is at the Canadian level. It’s a plan in which there must be federal leadership. Of course, we are working together with the provinces, but we also must ensure that everything can blend together properly and that everyone understands the goal we had in mind. That is what I wanted to hear.

9:45 a.m.

General Counsel, Health Canada Legal Services, Department of Justice

Diane Labelle

We agree on that. That is what we are working towards in our discussions with the provinces and territories.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Ramez Ayoub Liberal Thérèse-De Blainville, QC

Thank you.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Time is up. That completes our five-minute rounds.

Now we go to the three-minute round starting with Mr. Davies.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Thank you.

Just to be clear, this legislation sets a federal possession limit of 30 grams, but you've confirmed that the provinces may change that. You could have one province that has a 28-gram limit, one that has a 25-gram limit, or one that has a 20-gram limit. I understand you would look at that to see if it offends the fundamental premise of the bill, but we could end up with a patchwork of different cannabis possession amounts across this country. Is that not possible?

9:45 a.m.

General Counsel, Health Canada Legal Services, Department of Justice

Diane Labelle

Yes, the approach in Bill C-45 is such that it allows for provinces to make a determination based on their local population and local needs as to the range of possession limits. They could not, I think—