Thank you for the opportunity to address you on this important issue.
I am the senior policy analyst for Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which is a U.K.-based charity and think tank. We're involved in policy analysis and advocacy in the field of drug policy, specifically drug policy reform. Our speciality has been to focus on models of legal regulation and advocacy to bring them about.
We've been involved in this work for more than 20 years now. Our work has substantially focused on cannabis in recent years because of the nature of the debate. We've produced a detailed book, available online as a PDF download, that looks at the detail of cannabis regulation models, from production through how you would regulate the products in terms of such things as preparation, price, and packaging, as well as taxation issues, some of the things that Beau touched on, how you regulate vendors in terms of training and licensing requirements, how you regulate the outlets that cannabis would be available from in terms of things such as opening hours and storefronts, and how you regulate access, who has access to this market, and issues such as age controls or membership clubs.
In the question section afterwards, obviously I'll be happy to speak to any of those particular issues that the committee is interested in. We also have specific chapters on cannabis-impaired driving, cannabis-related tourism, and cannabis and the international treaties, which I'll come to in a moment.
Before I get into specifics, I have a few general comments that to a large extent are going to echo things that other speakers have said both tonight and during the week.
The importance of evidence-based policy is clear to everybody; therefore, it's vital that proper evaluation and monitoring mechanisms are hard-wired into the policy framework from the outset. It's obviously important to know what's working and what's not working and to have a system that is able to respond to that evidence in a flexible way. It might be that the system is too loose and needs tightening up. It might be that the system is too restrictive and needs to be relaxed in some ways. However, we need to be constantly monitoring the evidence, looking at what works and responding to that in a scientific and responsible way.
Secondly, clearly there is a tension between the interests of public health and the interests of commerce and commercial entities. Public health will tend to seek to moderate and reduce use, whereas commercial entities are essentially profit seeking and might seek, as a result, to increase sales or initiate new use. That's not to say that all commercial entities are going to behave irresponsibly or in an unprincipled way, but there is clearly a tension there. It's vital that we learn the lessons from alcohol and tobacco regulation around the world and look at what has worked and what hasn't worked. That's very much what has informed Transform's work in terms of developing our proposals, propositions, and analysis around cannabis regulation.
There is a particular focus on advertising and marketing, bearing the previous point in mind on the need to regulate retailing of cannabis and access to cannabis markets in particular. Whilst I very much support the freedom of people to consume cannabis and to be able to access it and buy it, I'm less enthused by the freedom of profit-making commercial entities to aggressively market potentially risky products as lifestyle accessories. Again, looking at the experience with the bad old days of alcohol and tobacco regulation, I think we need to learn those lessons and make sure we don't repeat those mistakes.
My final point, just a general introductory point, is on the need to start cautiously. I don't think there's any need to rush into a program of legalization. There are many things we don't know. It's absolutely fine to err on the side of caution initially, see how it's working, have an initial system bedding in, and then move cautiously forward on that basis, looking at what's working and what's not working. We don't have to make everything available overnight. We can move in stages.
Part of the work I've done on this issue was working with the Canadian task force. I thought their report was an outstanding piece of work and I was very happy to be an adviser. Beau was also an adviser with that group.
Along with Transform's other work we have also supported the work that's taken place in Uruguay. I was an adviser to the Uruguayan government, developing their regulation models, and we've worked with a number of other governments in various forms. We've been very actively involved in the debate in Mexico, in various European countries, in Jamaica, and elsewhere.
The task force, I thought, did an excellent job and the issues I've had with the bill as far as I have scrutinized it—which I have to be clear is not in forensic detail—are generally where they have diverged from the recommendations of the task force.
I'd certainly echo some of Kirk's comments about criminalizing young people. That really is not sensible. It's not going to deliver any of the outcomes we all seek.
I also think there are some absurdly harsh sentencing proposals within the bill. I noticed there was a potential maximum 14-year sentence for supplying drugs to minors. While that obviously does need to be an offence, I looked at the Canadian law and saw that it's one year for doing that for alcohol, and I believe 90 days for tobacco, so it's clearly disproportionate and it's inconsistent. I think that kind of thing undermines the rule of law and doesn't support the goals that are outlined at the beginning of the bill, and it's certainly not going to help protect young people. I would encourage amendments to modify those absurdly disproportionate sentences.
Coming briefly onto treaty issues, I have some disagreements on political strategy with what Professor Hoffman said, although much of what he said I was very much in agreement with. Clearly the treaties were drafted in the forties and fifties, nearly 60 or 70 years ago—the 1961 treaty—and a lot of it was based on treaties from even further back, the 1912 Hague International Opium Convention and others. These are hideously outdated treaties that were written in another time when the political, social, and cultural landscape was vastly different from the one we live in today and they simply do not fit the purpose.
I don't see the tensions that have emerged for Canada as Canada's fault. I see them as the fault of a broken, outdated international legal system in drug control that is badly in need of modernization.
As Professor Hoffman has outlined, there are a number of ways in which these tensions that have emerged could be resolved, but I'd absolutely agree with Professor Hoffman that if Canada does proceed, the legislation will put them in non-compliance with their obligations, or at least some of their obligations in the treaties with regard to cannabis.
The treaties can be amended but that requires a consensus and that is very unlikely to be achieved at the UN, given the lack of support among many countries for these sorts of reforms. The treaties can be modified. That doesn't require a consensus in rescheduling cannabis, so cannabis could be removed from the treaties altogether by a scheduling decision. That requires a majority vote at the UN, but again, that seems highly unlikely given the balance of opinion within UN member states.
Individual member states do have options, and Professor Hoffman has outlined some of these. Withdrawal is one of them. I would disagree about the desirability of withdrawal. It seems to me it could come with serious political consequences. There are international trade deals that are linked to participation in the treaties. The UN still has its system of judging countries in their application of the UN drug treaties. Also, parts of the treaties are very useful and important and for which a consensus does exist, the most obvious one being the control and regulation of the trade in medical drugs and control of medicines. We would not want to see that jeopardized by individual states withdrawing.
There is the possibility of withdrawal and reaccession with a reservation on cannabis, but that comes with its own issues and challenges. I can certainly talk about that during the questions and answers if people are interested.
There is another option that was touched by Professor Hoffman, which is certainly one I think is strategically perhaps the most favourable from my analysis, which is to continue with implementing domestic reforms in what we would call principled non-compliance. Clearly, open non-compliance with international legal obligations is not desirable. However, in some circumstances temporary periods of non-compliance may be necessary. Indeed, domestic laws and practice change in a wide range of fields and non-compliance is a fairly common feature of international regime evolution and modernization.
To be very clear, the problem at hand here is not Canada's opting for a regulatory approach to cannabis. Rather, it is the outdated legal treaty framework that gives rise to this need for a temporary and transitional period of principled non-compliance. As such, the recognition of the fact that Canada can no longer comply with the conventions' obligations regarding cannabis, need not be seen as disrespectful of international law, in my opinion. On the contrary, if accompanied by reasonable arguments and the expressed intention to resolve the situation over time, taking a stance of principled non-compliance can in fact confirm that treaty commitments do matter and that they require careful consideration.
There are ways in which Canada could proceed. For example, they could attempt in parallel to their domestic reforms to entertain treaty amendments and treaty modifications. Now, problems may arise with that and they may not succeed, but they are showing a commitment to resolving their problems and resolving their obligations. They can also—