Mr. Chair, members of the committee, my name is Kirk Tousaw. I am a barrister based in British Columbia. I formerly practised in the United States, which is perhaps why I am on the international panel. I represent clients across Canada, exclusively in cannabis law and policy, and have done so for the past decade.
My firm currently acts for hundreds of people charged with cannabis offences in Canada, many younger, few with other criminal records, all of whom do not deserve to be treated like criminals for their cannabis-related activities.
I was part of the legal team that successfully challenged the prior medical cannabis regime on charter grounds in the Allard case and litigated R. v. Smith, the only medical cannabis case to reach the Supreme Court of Canada. It resulted in a unanimous per curiam decision, finding the CDSA unconstitutional because of its prohibition on access to medical cannabis derivative products.
I commend the Government of Canada on its decision to move toward a rational and empirically based model for production, distribution, and possession of cannabis by Canadians.
Before making substantive comments on Bill C-45, I would like to take a moment to speak about why Canada is taking this important step. The Government of Canada posits two main reasons for legalization: to protect young people and to eliminate the black market.
As a father of four, ages seven to 17, and you may hear them outside the room later today, I certainly agree that protecting young people is an important social goal. The best way to protect young people is to stop criminalizing them. By far the most harm done to young people related to cannabis is done by the criminal justice system, not the use of the substance itself.
As a lawyer who has represented hundreds, if not thousands of people unjustly charged with violating the cannabis laws of both the United States and Canada, I support eliminating the black market in the sense of allowing those who are now involved in the cannabis industry, or wish to be involved, to do so lawfully.
When we speak of the black market as it relates to domestic cannabis production and consumption, we are not speaking of what most Canadians understand to be organized crime. We are not speaking of gangs. Instead, the domestic black market is comprised almost exclusively of ordinary Canadians, otherwise law-abiding, who make their living, pay their bills, and support their families by working in the cannabis industry. They do so for a variety of reasons. Some are committed to the plant and the cause. Some are entrepreneurs, employers, and small business people who simply want to be part of a vibrant industry that produces a product that brings people joy, with very little in the way of negative effect. Almost none are violent or otherwise harmful to society in any way.
While I agree that eliminating the black market is a critical goal, I strongly urge this committee and the governments of Canada and the various provinces and territories to understand elimination to be synonymous with transition and not with incarceration. This includes provinces like Ontario that are moving toward a misguided and unworkable government monopoly on retail sales. Private dispensaries are preferred by consumers, both domestically and in other legal jurisdictions internationally, and already do a great job of providing dignified reasonable access to cannabis.
There are other more important reasons to end cannabis prohibition. Canada is a constitutional democracy committed to notions of individual freedom and individual responsibility. This requires allowing Canadians to make autonomous decisions about their own bodily integrity, without undue interference or criminalization of their choices by the state. Prohibition has caused incalculable harm, both to society and to individuals entangled in the criminal justice system. Twenty-six thousand Canadians were charged with simple possession of cannabis just last year. Many will have difficulty crossing the border into the United States.
Over the course of this failed policy, hundreds of thousands of Canadians will be criminalized to no good end. Each time a Canadian is arrested, handcuffed, and caged for cannabis-related activity, an injustice is done, harm is caused, and we all suffer. Moreover, cannabis prohibition detracts from respect for the rule of law. Millions of Canadians violate the law by possessing cannabis each year. Some of these citizens have achieved positions of great prominence in our society. That is because, either through accident of law, social or racial privilege, or powerful connections, they've been able to avoid entanglement in the criminal justice system. Hundreds of thousands of Canadians are not so privileged.
When millions of otherwise law-abiding and decent people feel it unnecessary, impractical, or harmful to obey the law, respect for the rule of said law suffers. When police officers are tasked with enforcing laws that are ignored by millions of Canadians, the relationship between the police and citizens suffers. It is far past time to right these wrongs. Amnesty for Canadians charged with cannabis offences is long overdue, and I urge this committee to recommend amendments to Bill C-45 that would eliminate the criminal records of, at a minimum, those convicted of simple possession of cannabis. This would go a long way to restoring their ability to travel, in particular to the United States.
Turning to the substance of Bill C-45, I say with regret that much work remains to be done. This bill takes us in the right direction, but does not and in its present form cannot achieve either the goals I've identified or the goals that Canada seeks to accomplish.
Bill C-45 continues to criminalize young people for possessing more than five grams of cannabis, an extraordinarily small amount. It is very likely that, post-legalization, thousands of young Canadians will continue to be entangled with the criminal justice system, doing irreparable harm to the future course of their lives. I agree with age limits related to sales of cannabis to Canadians by commercial entities. Parents, not shopkeepers, should be making these decisions. Age limits for sales, however, are an entirely different thing than imposing criminal penalties on young people for simple possession. I urge this committee to recommend amendments to Bill C-45 to remove any possibility of criminal penalties being applied to any young people in the country for activities related to cannabis.
Bill C-45 also contemplates criminal penalties being applied to adult Canadians who possess more than 30 grams of cannabis or grow more than four 100-centimetre plants per household. These are arbitrary numbers.
These criminal restrictions are decidedly unlike the way our country regulates alcohol, a vastly and inarguably more dangerous substance than cannabis. At this moment in Canada, a 19-year-old can walk into a liquor store and purchase enough alcohol to kill that person and all that person's friends and acquaintances. Indeed, there's enough alcohol in one bottle of vodka to kill the consumer. Similarly, there are virtually no restrictions on individual Canadians' rights to brew beer or make wine for their individual consumption or for non-commercial sharing with friends and acquaintances. Canadians can also currently grow 15 kilograms of tobacco per year, enough for some 15,000 cigarettes.
Given that reality, it's ludicrous or, to put it in legal terms, arbitrary, overbroad, and grossly disproportionate to allow Canadians to be arrested and caged for simply possessing any amount of cannabis, or for possessing cannabis deemed to be illicit, which is, in any event, a wholly unenforceable distinction. There is no empirically, morally, or legally sound reason why cannabis should be treated more strictly than alcohol.
There are also practical difficulties related to these arbitrary restrictions. Cannabis, particularly outdoors, can easily grow five or more metres high in its natural state. Do we really need or want a rule that would require Canadians who wish to grow a few plants in their gardens to continually tie down the branches or otherwise artificially manipulate a plant during its growth to keep it no more than 99 centimetres high? The 100-centimetre limits are the height of absurdity.
In addition, the limit of four plants per household arbitrarily penalizes those living in large households. These limits, backed by criminal sanctions, will certainly lead to legal challenges based on section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires that the liberty of Canadians not be infringed by arbitrary, overbroad, or grossly disproportionate laws.
The restrictions on possession amounts and plant numbers and sizes for personal non-commercial production of cannabis also detract from the goal of eliminating the black market. Allowing Canadians to be self-sufficient and to obtain their cannabis by growing for themselves supports the transition away from reliance on the black market.
I urge the committee to recommend amendments eliminating limits on what Canadians can possess or grow for non-commercial purposes and removing the artificial and unenforceable distinction between licit and illicit cannabis. At the very least, possessory limits should be increased substantially, and plant limits should increase and be calculated per person, not per household.
Also critical to ensuring a workable transition away from the current vibrant and enormous but unlawful market for cannabis in this country is to make the process of becoming a commercial producer and distributor of cannabis as easy as reasonably possible. Most details related to becoming a commercial producer of cannabis are not contained in the bill and are instead left to regulations to be determined. If those rules mirror the current situation involving production for medical purposes, they will be too onerous, there will not be enough people or companies able to participate, there will be an insufficient amount of lawfully produced cannabis to Canadians, and the black market will continue to thrive.
The black market will also continue to thrive throughout the entire supply chain, from production to processing to sale, if legalization does not include products that are becoming increasingly popular. Edibles, concentrates, and products such as vape pens must be legal. Trends in Canada and other international legal jurisdictions, particularly in the United States, demonstrate the increased popularity of these methods of consumption, which are also potentially less harmful to the consumer and less bothersome to non-consumers.
On a practical note, there are literally hundreds of companies operating in Canada making these products right now in a professional, safe, and sophisticated manner. These products are not going away, and all rely on someone growing the raw plant material to make them. If they are not legal, then, as always, consumer demand will be filled by persons operating outside the law. It is better by far to allow the existing industry to come out of the shadows and into the light.
I urge the committee to recommend amendments to Bill C-45 that legalize cannabis derivative products, eliminate barriers to entering the lawful industry for persons currently participating in the unlawful marketplace, and carve out from federal oversight the intraprovincial production and sale of small-batch craft cannabis.
Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee. I look forward to your questions.