I'll continue reading:
1. Witnesses are to represent the following stakeholder groups in four two-hour panel blocks per day: i. Existing Canadian licensed producers and dispensaries; ii. Producers of edible cannabis products and other non-smokable forms of cannabis; iii. Ordinary Canadians who made a written submission to the Committee regarding Bill C-45; iv. Young Canadians, 15 to 24 years old. 2. That witnesses for each panel block be allotted as follows: 2 Liberal, 1 Conservative, 1 NDP. 3. That witnesses be directed to prepare oral remarks for 10 minutes in length, and that the witnesses be invited to submit written statements prior to appearing; 4. That the meeting be held prior to September 30, 2017.
Mr. Chair, I'm going to speak to my motion and give the rationale behind it.
Bill C-45 is groundbreaking legislation in many respects. It changes a century of legal, social, economic, and cultural policy in this country. It's 131 pages long and contains 226 clauses, plus schedules. It deals with a number of complex issues about cannabis decriminalization. It involves cultivation, possession, age of access, health impacts, enforcement, production, packaging, labelling, international implications, edibles and concentrates, education, research, and other issues.
In June the Liberals proposed five days of hearings to be conducted the week before Parliament resumed. They solicited the opinion of Canadians over the summer when Canadians are probably least engaged in public policy. They have scheduled these hearings before Canadians could even be fully engaged. In many respects the hearings are over before most Canadians are really engaged in them.
Scheduling the entire week of hearings before the House of Commons resumes avoids scrutiny in the House of Commons and restricts the ability of MPs to raise evidence in the House of Commons questioning the ministers and government as responsible government should allow us to do. It restricts the committee's ability to properly follow up on issues that arise from the testimony. We've heard a lot of testimony this week that raises many issues which I think MPs on all sides of the table would like to be able to follow up on.
At that time in June, both the New Democrats and Conservative opposition objected to those five days. We said we would need more days. I want to pause to emphasize that this committee is the only phase of the legislative process where Parliament hears from the public, from stakeholders, from experts. It's the only opportunity for public input, and I believe it's very important to hear those views as we do our jobs and study this bill.
In June when the opposition objected to the limitation of five days of hearings, the Liberals agreed, saying they were open to holding more hearing days if needed. Now, today, after five days of hearings, it's obvious that there are glaring holes in this bill, that many issues have been raised, and that, most important, there has been an absence of critical voices.
First of all, we have not yet heard a word from from young people. We haven't had one witness, age 15 to 24. Yet we have heard from all sorts of people about how important it is we get this cannabis legislation right for young Canadians, to know precisely the health impacts on developing brains, and to talk to young people in a manner they will accept and understand. We're charged with protecting the health of young Canadians, and yet we don't bother to hear any of them tell this committee how they feel about this issue.
Second, we haven't heard a word from ordinary Canadians. There were many ordinary Canadians who wrote this committee with submissions and requested to appear, but we didn't schedule a single one of them.
Third, we haven't heard from licensed producers themselves, the very people who have been growing cannabis legally in this country for the past 10 years.
Fourth, we've heard a lot of evidence—and I think some exaggeration and maybe even some mythology—about the impacts of edibles, but we haven't heard from a single edible and concentrate manufacturer or industry.
Quite honestly, I think these are glaring errors, yet for some reason I believe the Liberals do not want to hear from a single one of those groups.
Mr. Chair, the New Democrats support legalization. We broadly support this bill. Frankly, we believe this bill can be brought into force by next July, and we're willing to work with the government to do so. We want to work with the government to fix the holes in this bill that we've already identified: the absence of edibles and concentrates, the fact that there's a lack of a national e-commerce platform, the fact this legislation does not deal with pardons, the fact that we have border issues and international considerations, the fact that it still criminalizes many Canadians, including maintain a maximum penalty of up to 14 years in prison for Canadians. There are all sorts of aspects to this bill that I think require further scrutiny.
It is not the New Democrats' intention to be deleterious or to delay in any way the government's stated objective of hitting July 1. That's why, in the context of my motion in the text, I said that we could hold those two days by September 30. We know that the ministers are scheduled to appear next week, on Tuesday. We know that after that process we're going to need at least a week or two to prepare the many amendments before we start the clause-by-clause examination of this bill, in which we'll go through the entire bill line by line and discuss and debate and move amendments. We'll be into October, no matter what. I think it's eminently reasonable to schedule two more days of hearings to hear from those groups that are so important to hear from prior to September 30, so that we can make sure we have the broadest, most comprehensive evidence and information that we can get before this committee while still allowing the government to meet its stated objective.
I'll conclude by saying it's my understanding the Liberals are going to vote against this motion. They're going to have to tell Canadians, explain to them, why the voice of youth is not important to inform this bill, why the voice of ordinary Canadians is not important. I want to stop and say on that point that this bill isn't for producers. It's not for dispensary owners. It's not for edible cannabis manufacturers. This bill is for the millions of Canadians who voted in the last election for the promise of the legalization of cannabis, and to proceed with this bill without hearing from them is unacceptable.
The government side may argue that they heard from the task force. That was to inform the process. Who I want to hear from on this legislation are those people. Now that legislation has been drafted and tabled before Parliament, they have a right to now offer their comments on the actual proposals that have come before us, particularly when the government has ignored several recommendations of the task force in this legislation.
I really hope the Liberal government will see fit to include these important voices. If not, I hope they have a good explanation as to why these important voices are not important to be heard at this committee.
I will conclude here. The difference is this: it's not enough to say that people can contact MPs on their own, or we can hold town halls, which many of us have done or are doing. To testify at this committee is to testify in front of the entire health committee, in public, recorded, televised, and in both languages. That provides a unique opportunity to hear that voice that is not fully accommodated in any other fashion.
For all those reasons, I would urge my colleagues to support this very reasonable motion, so that we can bring Canadians the best, safest, and healthiest cannabis legislation that we can possibly craft as Canadians.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.