Evidence of meeting #67 for Health in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was legal.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Lynda Balneaves  Registered Nurse and Medical and Non-Medical Cannabis Researcher, Canadian Nurses Association
Karey Shuhendler  Policy Advisor, Policy, Advocacy and Strategy, Canadian Nurses Association
Serge Melanson  Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society
Robert Strang  Chief Medical Officer of Health, Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness
Michael DeVillaer  Assistant Professor, Policy Analyst, McMaster University, As an Individual
Mark Kleiman  Professor of Public Policy, Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, As an Individual
Trina Fraser  Partner, Brazeau Seller LLP
Brenda Baxter  Director General, Workplace Directorate, Labour Program, Department of Employment and Social Development
Norm Keith  Partner, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP
Clara Morin Dal Col  Minister of Health, Métis National Council
Isadore Day  Ontario Regional Chief, Chiefs of Ontario
Wenda Watteyne  Senior Policy Advisor, Métis National Council
David Hammond  Professor, University of Waterloo, School of Public Health and Health Systems, As an Individual
Mike Hammoud  President, Atlantic Convenience Stores Association
Melodie Tilson  Director of Policy, Non-Smokers' Rights Association
Pippa Beck  Senior Policy Analyst, Non-Smokers' Rights Association
Steven Hoffman  Professor, Faculty of Health, Osgoode Hall Law School, York University, As an Individual
Beau Kilmer  Co-Director, RAND Drug Policy Research Center
Kirk Tousaw  Lawyer, Tousaw Law Corporation
Stephen Rolles  Senior Policy Analyst, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

10:15 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Dr. Melanson, I don't know if you can hear us or not, but we've lost you. Can you hear us?

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Well, Dr. Strang, maybe you could agree with me partially.

10:15 a.m.

Chief Medical Officer of Health, Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness

Dr. Robert Strang

I'm one of the senior officials from Nova Scotia on the FPT senior officials working group that has been working for over a year. From the outset we have been putting forward the need for a robust conversation with Canadians around cannabis and around the coming changes in the legal status of cannabis. There certainly is a lot more work to do on that, and it has been somewhat slow. I do need to make a comment, though, that we're spending a lot of time talking about education and social marketing campaigns.

Those are necessary, but frankly, and the example of tobacco was used earlier, we have not reached the levels of tobacco use in Canada from education and social marketing campaigns, from telling people about the risks of tobacco. We have reached those levels because of using other policy levers around price, significantly limiting advertising of tobacco, and moving forward on smoke-free places and other pieces. My point is that while we do need social marketing and education campaigns—those are necessary—but if we actually don't control access and price and advertising those things, then all those social marketing campaigns will be a waste of money.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

I take your point because you mentioned we do need a comprehensive strategy, because that is my point. We're 290-odd days out if the Prime Minister is going to keep this promise. It appears to me that with the federal government, with this bill and with the announcements they've made, none of the resources that are required have trickled down to the provinces and territories to help set up data collection, research, treatment, and education, which are part of the comprehensive approach.

I'd like to maybe ask—

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

I think we should go back to Dr. Melanson. I'll ask him to finish his answer.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

If he's there.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Dr. Melanson, you're back.

September 14th, 2017 / 10:15 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

Yes, I'm back. Sorry for the technical difficulties.

I will be very brief. I wanted to point out that our experience here in New Brunswick has been, as you pointed out in your question, that the medical societies have needed to take a leadership role in this over the past year or two, and I would hope that our local governments as well as the federal government will be quick to catch up to the work that we're attempting to do in educating our public. We've needed to do this from a leadership standpoint because there seems to have been a bit of a vacuum in regard to getting the word out sooner rather than later.

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

With this approach, this panel, as I said, is about treatment, prevention. We keep hearing that if a young person 12 to 17 possesses over five grams, they can be criminally charged. If an adult possesses 31 grams, they can be criminally charged. Maybe I could go across the panel. Do you think there should be a decriminalization amount? I would start with the nurses.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

We have to have a quick answer here. We're over time, so just give us a brief answer.

10:15 a.m.

Policy Advisor, Policy, Advocacy and Strategy, Canadian Nurses Association

Karey Shuhendler

The CNA does think that decriminalization is a strategy to help to reduce harms of related substance use.

10:15 a.m.

Assistant Professor, Policy Analyst, McMaster University, As an Individual

Michael DeVillaer

Yes, I think 30 grams is a reasonable amount, and that anything over that might be subject to something more than just confiscation, but not a criminal record.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Okay, we have to end it there, Dr. Carrie.

We'll move to Dr. Eyolfson.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Thank you, everyone, for coming.

Dr. Melanson, we share a common professional background. I'm a recovering emergency physician from Winnipeg. I practised for 17 years there.

One of the things you said about what we have to be prepared for, and correct me if I misunderstand, is you predicted that we would be seeing increased use of cannabis after legalization.

10:20 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

Thank you for the question, Dr. Eyolfson.

My understanding from other jurisdictions is that by decriminalizing and legalizing cannabis, those districts have seen increased reported use of cannabis, whether that actually translates in actual usage.... But I think the evidence would support that districts that have done so have increased the reporting of the use of cannabis.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

All right. The reason I ask is that we had some testimony from Washington and from Colorado that actually said the opposite. They said that there was a brief increase, but that was transient and that, particularly around young people, the use among young people several months afterwards plateaued back to pre-existing levels, which were very near the national average. One of our witnesses from Colorado suggested that the latest numbers show that it had actually gone down about 12% among young people since legalization.

10:20 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

That's interesting. In fact, that probably would give me pause to go back to my own references, which I'm afraid I don't have available, but perhaps I would defer your questions to the other members of the panel who have, perhaps, a bit more experience and may be able to reference their experience in other jurisdictions, as well.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Mr. Kleiman, working in the American system, what are the statistics that you're familiar with, particularly with Colorado and Washington?

10:20 a.m.

Professor of Public Policy, Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, As an Individual

Mark Kleiman

We need a number of clarifications here. I'm sorry. Both Colorado and Washington had wide open cannabis sales under the medical guise before they formally legalized for non-medical use. At the beginning of their legal full commercial availability, prices in the “recreational” stores were much higher than prices in the medical outlets. So the primary consumers in the early days of legalization, both in Washington and in Colorado, were out-of-staters and a few respectable people who didn't want to go to a physician and get a phony medical recommendation.

The price decrease that we've now seen is not reflected in the data that's being quoted. On a national basis in the U.S., adult use, heavy use of cannabis has soared over the last two decades so that we've now gone from about a million people who are heavy daily users to nearly eight million people who are heavy daily users, but all of that increase has been among adults. The adolescent numbers have been absolutely flat. What explains that stability in adolescent use is an interesting question. One hypothesis is that the decrease in tobacco use among adolescents, which is correlated with cannabis use, is pulling cannabis use down with it.

I think the answer, both in Washington and Colorado, is if you're looking for the impacts of legalization, it's way too soon to tell.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Thank you.

Mr. Kleiman, you were concerned about the falling legal prices. You suggested that we have a high tax and increase the price of legal cannabis to discourage its use. Did I misunderstand you, or was that what you said?

10:20 a.m.

Professor of Public Policy, Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, As an Individual

Mark Kleiman

That's correct; a high tax to the equivalent in state monopoly retail. An alternative, as has been suggested by others, would be getting commercialization out entirely and allowing co-ops to do it, and then you could regulate those prices.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Yes.

Just yesterday one of our witnesses from Colorado and a witness from Washington agreed that their price has actually fallen well below that of the black market. In fact, what is happening is that the share of the legal market versus the black market is decreasing steadily. The latest data they have, which is a little bit old, shows that in Colorado the legal market is 70% of the market. They're crunching some numbers now, but our witness yesterday suggested that it's likely that close to 90% of the market in Colorado is now legal.

10:20 a.m.

Professor of Public Policy, Marron Institute of Urban Management, New York University, As an Individual

Mark Kleiman

Yes, if you're thinking of the in-state market. I don't know the numbers from Colorado.

We estimated about two-thirds was legal in Washington state, a growing share for the legal market, which you would expect. As legal prices fall, the illicit market is going to disappear. It's simply not possible to produce illicitly at competitive prices with commercial licit production.

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Doug Eyolfson Liberal Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, MB

Do you still think it is a better thing to tax it and keep the price high? Would we not be better at driving out the illegal market by keeping the price low?