Thank you, Mr. Chair. Thank you to the committee for the invitation to speak on this important topic. It's really an honour for me to be here.
I'm a scientist who has worked on the cannabis plant for more than 18 years. My research is mainly on the biochemistry and genetics of this very fascinating plant, and I'm very familiar with its cultivation, both in a scientific context and then in the new commercial industry we have in Canada. I'm also an adjunct professor in the botany department at the University of British Columbia and am the founder and CEO of a cannabis testing and biotechnology company in Vancouver called Anandia Labs.
There's a lot to speak about, but I've confined my comments specifically to the subject of cultivation of cannabis, hopefully to educate and eventually answer some of your questions.
I think it is fundamentally important that this legalization include the ability to grow cannabis for personal use. I was happy to see that Bill C-45 included some provision for this. The cultivation of plants is a foundational aspect of human culture. In fact, the advent of agriculture via the domestication of plants has been one of the key forces in the creation of human societies.
Cannabis has been grown by humans for thousands of years as a source of food, fibre, and drug. Given the long-standing relationship between humans and cannabis and the fact that we will soon be allowing adults to consume it legally, it is important that the cannabis act allows Canadians to grow the plant. The absence of personal cultivation from the act, as for example might occur if the provision were stripped from Bill C-45 in response to pressures from law enforcement, would surely lead to Canadians facing fines or charges for the simple act of planting seeds.
I also think we are dealing with a relatively small number of people who may choose to cultivate, since most consumers of cannabis would rather purchase from a store. This is the same situation as with the home-brewing of beer or making wine. I suspect we will not see apartment buildings overrun by cannabis gardens.
The fact that Bill C-45 includes allowances for personal cultivation doesn't mean everything is fine. There are a number of points that cause me concern. Bill C-45 restricts the number of plants that can be grown for personal use, with a limit of four plants per household. I see the purpose of this restriction in that the ability to grow larger numbers of plants might result in diversion into an illicit commercial market. Indeed, all the limits of plant cultivation, including plant height, plant number, and seed possession limits, appear to have reduction in diversion as their main goal. However, these limits expose the awkwardness of applying strict legal definitions to a living organism, a plant, and might criminalize Canadians who are simply gardening.
The proposed limit of four plants per dwelling doesn't take into account the practical challenges in growing plants or the biological characteristics of cannabis. As I think every gardener or farmer knows, plants are difficult to grow and might fail to thrive or might succumb to disease. In growing tomatoes, one might sow a dozen seeds on a windowsill and select the foremost robust plants to transplant to the garden.
Cannabis plants may be male or female, with the male plants unusable as a drug. Without cross-seeds, which are a proportion of the seeds that are available, 50% of the plants will be males and therefore discarded. In many cases, cannabis cultivators maintain so-called “mother plants” to be used as a permanent source of cuttings, producing so-called “clones”, which are vegetatively propagated cuttings to be used for growing, and then have one or two plants in flower at one time. In my opinion, the cultivation limit should be adjusted to account for these non-flowering and non-producing plants required for normal cultivation practices. In fact, Bill C-45 already distinguishes between non-flowering and flowering plants. Therefore, I would propose that the act be amended to allow adults to grow perhaps 10 plants in total, of which four may be in flower. This allows cultivators the flexibility to grow for personal use without running afoul of the law.
I also want to address the limit on plant height of 100 centimetres, or about three and a half feet. Cannabis is a highly variable species, and I have seen plants of 30 centimetres that are flowering, and others that are several metres tall. The limit of 100 centimetres is potentially problematic from the perspective that cultivators might break the law simply by providing fertile soil and water and then going away for a week's vacation. Their plants might grow from 95 centimetres to 105 centimetres during that time. I wonder what the goal of the 100 centimetre limit is, which was also contained in the legalization task force report. Is it to reduce the amount of cannabis that each Canadian is capable of growing so they don't go on to sell it, or is it to reduce the visibility of plants grown on private property?
If it is the latter, I think this is best dealt with by municipal bylaws. If it is the prevention of diversion to the so-called black market, I would suggest that achieving this through enforced pruning is quite silly, and that the 100-centimetre height limit should be removed.
I also wanted to comment on the awkward treatment of cannabis seeds in Bill C-45. Cannabis seeds are individually smaller than a peppercorn, weighing about 15 milligrams each and are devoid of cannabinoids such as THC. Yet schedule 3 of Bill C-45 indicates that one seed is equivalent to one gram of dried cannabis. One gram of dried cannabis may contain up to 250 milligrams of THC and is fully usable as a drug.
Bill C-45 proposes that this is equivalent to a single small seed that is not useable as a drug at all. The possession limit in public is therefore 30 seeds or about a thimbleful. Since there will be limits on the number of plants that can be grown, this equivalency factor seems very arbitrary. Cannabis seeds for the purposes of personal cultivation should not be restricted at all.
The cannabis act also makes a distinction between illicit and licit products, which also applies to seeds and plants. Under the ACMPR, our current medical regulations, patients and licensed producers may only purchase seeds and clones from licit sources, yet most of the patients choose to source their seeds and clones from the Internet, store displays, and trade with other growers. All of these are considered illicit.
Licensed producers are also under very tight restrictions on the access to cannabis genetics used for starting their commercial operations. As any plant breeder will tell you, genetic diversity is important. The genetic diversity of cannabis is important for its future breeding and improvement.
We need to make sure that the regulations—I respect the fact that this may not be in the act itself but in regulations arising from it—need to allow broader access to sources of cannabis genetics without criminalizing growers who use their own heirloom seeds as starting materials.
On the commercial side, licensed producers also need to access a rich supply of cannabis genetics, which now exists in Canada and around the world.
I have a brief comment on quality-control testing. My laboratory in Vancouver does a lot of this work. Cannabis can be safely grown at all scales, and the cannabis produced by home-growers is no more dangerous than the tomatoes, basil, and lettuce that others grow at home. There are always hazards inherent in gardening, and careful application of fertilizers, manure, and pest control products is always advisable. That said, allowing everyone access to accurate quality-control testing by certified testing labs will help to ensure the safety of the product. This is currently the case for patient growers under the ACMPR, and access should be continued and expanded under legalization.
The last point I'd like to make is from my perspective as a scientist who has done research on cannabis for many years. My request to the government as legalization and regulations are crafted is to allow our scientists to work on cannabis. Cannabis is a plant that in many ways has been left out of mainstream science because of prohibition and restrictions on research. As far as I know, there are currently no Canadian university labs licensed to grow drug-type cannabis or marijuana. So we have more than 200,000 authorized patients as well as 56 or 58 licensed producers, and yet our universities are lagging behind.
On Monday in this panel, Dr. Mark Ware made a strong statement about Canada's leadership in cannabis research from plant science to clinical trials and epidemiology. I echo his thoughts and add that if we allow cannabis to be grown in our homes and sold in our stores while keeping it out of our university, government, and private-sector labs, then we will not maximize the benefits and reduce the negatives arising from legalization.
Mr. Chair, I conclude by saying that I support this bold policy move. The time for legalization has come. Bill C-45 is not perfect, but I am sure your committee will recommend changes for improvement.
Thank you very much.