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 a.m.

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

Mark Kleiman

Yes. They've had a big problem with people who want cannabis to be sold out of state using a chain of people purportedly home growing as a cover for illicit cultivation, essentially.

I was a big fan of home growing to start with, based on the theory that you shouldn't push people into a market for something that they could do for themselves. I think it turns out that the regulatory problems around home growing were harder than I thought they would be. Therefore, the Washington approach now looks more sound than the Colorado approach.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Do you see Colorado going down that road because of the problems eliminating home cultivation?

September 14th, 2017 / 10 a.m.

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

Mark Kleiman

I know they're moving toward restricting the number of plants. A cannabis plant can produce a wide variety of amounts, but if you allow people to grow six plants, they can produce a fair amount for export.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Thank you.

I'd like to get the thoughts of others as well with regard to home cultivation.

I'll start with Robert Strang. What are your thoughts on home cultivation?

10 a.m.

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

Dr. Robert Strang

I have two thoughts. It certainly creates a number of problems around continuing to normalize cannabis as totally socially acceptable. In Nova Scotia, we have had meetings with owners of rental properties and there are a number of substantive and real concerns, from their perspective as property owners, about tenants who are growing and the impacts on multi-unit dwellings. However, I also think we have to be realistic. People are going to grow cannabis whether we say it's legal or not, so that becomes a bit of a conundrum around enforcement. Overall, I think it would be better to have cannabis produced, bought, and sold through a well-regulated legal market and minimize other sources.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

Ms. Balneaves.

10:05 a.m.

Registered Nurse and Medical and Non-Medical Cannabis Researcher, Canadian Nurses Association

Lynda Balneaves

Related to homegrown, I just want to share some research. We've done the national survey of people that are using cannabis for medical purposes and there's been an overwhelming sense that people that have been exposed to self-production prefer that as a route for their medical use because they have control over the product, for one. Many of them are quite good amateur botanists, in terms of developing a product that is able to address the symptoms or health conditions that they're using it for. It also allows them to have ready access to their medication versus waiting for it through the mail system that currently exists. Again, it goes back to my point about the importance of regulating home grows, so that we ensure the safety, not only for the people within the home, but for their neighbours and for the larger community.

I also want to make a quick comment on your comment around hyperemesis syndrome. I just want to point out that the legal status of cannabis has made it very difficult, as a researcher, to actually conduct research on cannabis. In order to actually do a clinical trial of cannabis, it can take up to two to three years in order to gain approval through Health Canada to gain access to the actual substance. Many of us in the research community are quite excited by legalization because hopefully, it will open the door to the much-needed research that needs to take place.

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

Len Webber Conservative Calgary Confederation, AB

That's interesting.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Your time is up.

Now we'll go to Mr. Oliver.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you for your testimony this morning.

Mr. DeVillaer and Dr. Melanson, I want to go back to age limit and the advice you gave. I totally understand the health lens you've applied to this and the recommendation that the age limit be set at 21.

I want to do a really quick backdrop for you, because you are speaking to a federal act and not a provincial act right now. Federally, the definition of youth is 12 to 17 years of age. You would be charged and convicted, if you were under 17, under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, and your name would be kept private and the record would be sealed or destroyed after set time frames. Federally, at the age of 18 you would be charged as an adult, and if you were convicted, you would have a criminal record that's a public record.

If we took your advice federally and moved the age limit to 21, then 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds would be subject to criminal charges and would have public criminal records. I think the intent of the federal legislation is to protect adults from that, so people 18 and over would be legally allowed to possess cannabis up to a certain amount. It's a minimum age, so provincially or territorially, they could go to a higher age. They could say 21, and in that case, 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds who were caught in possession of marijuana would be charged under the provincial charges acts. It's a fine, a ticket, or a seizure. There would be no criminal record. Think ticketing or liquor licence charges. It seems to me that this is a better solution.

Is your advice of 21 really aimed at provincial-territorial age limits, or is it really your belief that the health consequences for 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds are so extreme that they should be subject to criminal charges at the federal level? Given that view, do you think the advice at the federal level is still correct, that it should be 21 before we legalize it?

10:05 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

I'll say a few things. Mr. Oliver.

On your point that the New Brunswick Medical Society and I take a view of this through the lens of health care, that is essentially the lens through which we view most things. Your points on the legal ramifications, however, are very well taken.

I'd like to point out a few things you've brought up, the first of which is that I think the scenario you've laid out would seem entirely reasonable, as long as our provincial jurisdictions are under the same understanding and exert that same degree of responsibility when applying their legislation.

Second, in regard to the balance of criminality versus the health care risks, we've heard from a number of panellists here today on potential compromises or options that could be struck.

I would like to point out, however, that the demographic you laid out, 12 to 17 and then 18 to 21, unfortunately also tends to be the demographic in which we very much see the first episodes of significant mental health problems.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Just to be clear on the demographic, the federal definition of youth is 12 to 17. Eighteen-year-olds and older are adults.

10:10 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

Agreed. I'm trying to point out that this demographic also represents, from a health perspective, the demographic in which we see major mental health problems first begin. I think the medical literature is quite clear.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

I understand the health consequences. I'm coming back to your advice to this committee to move the age limit for legalization to 21 versus giving that advice to your Province of New Brunswick or the Province of Ontario. Understanding the health risk, I think the committee has heard lots about that. I'm trying to get right to your advice. Do you want the committee to change the age limit to 21? Is that still your advice, given those criminal charges consequences?

10:10 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

As you've pointed out, yes. We stand very strongly on the age of 21 and would not be prepared to lower that for fear of the health implications. As you also pointed out, it would seem as though there are legal abilities to get around the criminality, as long as the local and provincial jurisdictions were able to co-operate in doing so.

10:10 a.m.

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

Michael DeVillaer

My view is that this is part of the reason I supported decriminalization as the first—

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

I have one other question. Decriminalization doesn't deal with the black market. It doesn't deal with the right to licence and regulate the production of marijuana. It leaves the country in a much more difficult state. We're really dealing with legalization in this bill, not decriminalization.

10:10 a.m.

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

Michael DeVillaer

Yes, I understand.

Let me clarify what my suggestion is. I'm not suggesting decriminalization replace legalization. I'm proposing that as a first step, which will then offer a lot of benefits to making legalization simple. I say let's decriminalize; let's make this a little simpler, and then proceed with legalization as we're doing it. I think there's a popular expression in emergency medicine, “First stop the bleeding.” The bleeding in cannabis law reform are all these young people having their futures compromised with criminal records. Let's fix that, and then take our time working on legalization. There are no recreational cannabis emergencies. We should take as much time as we need to get this right.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you for that.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Your time is up.

Dr. Carrie.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate my colleague, Mr. Oliver's, questioning. It bodes the question, and maybe I'll ask Dr. Melanson this one. Why wouldn't we simply decriminalize up to 21, then make it legal over 21? Do you think that might be a solution? Make it a ticketable offence, because nobody wants to see a youth have a criminal offence that follows them through their life. With what we've heard through testimony, maybe that's not even practical right now, but why wouldn't we decriminalize up to age 21 and just make it legal over 21?

What are your thoughts on that?

10:10 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

From a legal standpoint, I think that sounds perfectly reasonable. We would have to make sure that the messaging to our young people, young adults, which is also being lost in this discussion, is that by setting the age we are also taking into consideration the legal ramifications but are not condoning the use under that age. Your point is well taken, and I think it's worth the merit you've suggested.

10:10 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

I want to thank the witnesses today. I am a little frustrated, because the Liberals are rushing this through. I think you are quality witnesses and I like to hear from you, because this is transformational. We all realize there's no other country that's really gone this route. It's a big experiment. It's complex. What we've heard from most witnesses, even though people are anxious to get it through, what's more important is getting it right. We take your point well where you say government's responsibility is to protect its citizens, particularly the youth.

Because this is a panel on prevention, treatment, and low-risk use, I want to get back to that topic, so I think I'll ask this question again, and it's for Dr. Melanson, and maybe Dr. Strang.

The government's had two years to invest in public ad campaigns that raise awareness about cannabis. They've had two years to set up a data system for collection of data, also ongoing data collection. They've had two years to set up research. They've had two years to figure out how to bring people who are having problems with addiction into treatment modes. They've had two years for education. What we want to do is make sure we get this approach right to protect particularly our youth. Do you think the government has missed two years of raising awareness on this issue, and do think that waiting until after it's legal is the wrong and unsafe approach?

Dr. Melanson, I'll start with you and get your comments on that.

10:15 a.m.

Doctor, New Brunswick Medical Society

Dr. Serge Melanson

Thank you again, Mr. Carrie. I agree with certain [Technical difficulty—Editor]

10:15 a.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Conservative Oshawa, ON

Wow. We finally had a witness who agreed with me.