Thank you very much. I'll take my full 10 minutes.
Thanks for having me at this committee. I've been a cannabis activist for all of my adult life. I run a cannabis dispensary, and I've probably sold more cannabis than all the other witnesses combined.
It's good to be here today, but I have my doubts that this committee will actually act upon the evidence being brought before them in the testimony they're hearing. I say that because I have been at this a long time. When I first got started as a cannabis activist in the 1990s, the government was introducing the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act to replace the Narcotic Control Act. At that time, there was a great deal of testimony and hearings, and about two dozen groups came forward who said that prohibition was a failure, the war on drugs was a failure, we should legalize, end prohibition, and approach things differently. The only groups that supported that legislation were the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian pharmaceutical association. Everyone else was against it.
The government said it would pass this law and have a drug policy review afterwards. That review never happened. Canada's Senate took it upon itself, and it issued a comprehensive and detailed report on cannabis in 2002, a five-volume report that probably remains one of the best analyses of cannabis and cannabis policy today. That report was also completely ignored. I encourage committee members to take a look at that Senate report from 2002 because it is an incredible document. It recommended legalization of cannabis for all Canadians over the age of 16. These were Conservative senators, not a bunch of pot smokers, and they recommended legalization for everyone over the age of 16. That was ignored.
The year I was born, 1971, the Le Dain commission recommended decriminalizing cannabis possession and cultivation and working toward legalization. That was also ignored. For all my life, I've seen our government listen to testimony, do research, have studies, talk to people, and then ignore the results. I hope that doesn't happen here today.
The cannabis act is a bad piece of legislation. It is flawed in a great many ways. It doesn't even decriminalize the joint that I have in my pocket now, which I'm going to smoke after this committee hearing. The idea that we're going to have licit and illicit cannabis and that we're going to have the police trying to decide which cannabis is good and which is not good is simply not going to work.
In cities like Vancouver, where it's already effectively decriminalized, we're not going to see much of a change in policy. In northern areas, first nations communities, or the poor people who are demonized and affected most by cannabis prohibition, you can bet police will be going after them and asking where they got their cannabis from, telling them that it's illicit cannabis and that they're going to charge them with possession. It is absurd at a time when we're talking about decriminalizing all drugs that we're still not even decriminalizing cannabis possession under this legislation.
I was asked to speak today about edibles, but to me that's a category that's too restrictive. We should be also discussing hashish, tinctures, capsules, extracts, creams, drops, suppositories, all the many ways you can use cannabis. At my dispensary, we sell buds and all these other products, and the buds we sell are less than half of everything we sell. When I hear that in Ontario they're saying that they're going to set up these legal shops right next to the dispensaries to put them out of business, I think that's great; it's not going to affect my clients at all. Ninety-five percent of my customers will continue to shop with me even if there's a legal shop next door. It's simply not going to have the range of products that are really available and necessary.
As an activist who wants to see better drug laws in Canada, I don't like this at all, but as a business owner, it's great. This is going to keep me and other dispensaries in business for many years to come. This will do nothing at all to shut down dispensaries or affect the black market.
We had a pretty major court case, the Owen Smith case, and Kirk Tousaw, who spoke yesterday, was the lead lawyer on that case. The courts ruled that medical patients have a right to access not only smokable buds but cannabis in all these other forms as extracts. Health Canada's response was to allow licensed producers to make cannabis extracts with no more than 3% THC, which is a complete disregard of both the letter and the spirit of that court decision. It's not surprising, because that has been the attitude of the government and Health Canada for years. Every time we get a court ruling against...to expand the cannabis access, the government and Health Canada take the most restrictive possible interpretation of that decision.
The result of this is that the government has lost control over cannabis, and it has lost control for many years now. We've been systematically dismantling Canada's cannabis laws for the last 20 years, beginning with the laws against bongs, vaporizers, and pipes, which are still on the books under section 462.2. That law has never been removed, and yet it would be hard to find a city that doesn't have multiple bong shops in it today. We did that in the 1990s by simply defying the law and opening up bong shops. There were raids and conflict, kind of like now with dispensaries. After time, police and communities realized that the war on bongs was a failure, that nobody wanted to see it happen, and they gave up. As a result, we have effectively legalized bongs and pipes, seed banks, vapour lounges, and we're on the way to doing it with dispensaries as well. In many cities, we already have.
We're not, then, going to follow these laws. With large aspects of this legislation you're creating laws that are simply unenforceable and you are giving the police a task impossible to do.
I'm currently facing charges for giving away cannabis seeds. I've given away more than seven million viable cannabis seeds over the last two years. I've travelled to 22 cities across Canada in the last two years giving away seeds.
I was charged in Calgary in 2016 for giving away cannabis seeds. They've set aside a three-day trial for me at the end of October—three days in court in our justice system. It is letting alleged murderers and rapists go because they don't have space in our courts, but they're going to make three days for me for a trial for giving away low-THC cannabis seeds to those who want them. I believe those charges will be dropped before they go to trial, because what a waste of time this would be, but the fact is, our courts cannot handle the massive civil disobedience campaign that Canadians have been launching. It's simply not going to succeed.
I would like to remind the committee that the origins of Canada's cannabis prohibition in our drug war is not some well-intentioned effort to protect public health or protect children or any of that. Our war on drugs, the war on opium and the war on cannabis, began as a racist and ignorant effort to eliminate Chinese people and other racial communities from Canada. That's how it started; there's no question about that. There's no time since 1908, when the Opium Act was passed, or since cannabis prohibition came in the twenties and today, when these laws changed from being racist and ignorant and bigoted to being somehow well-intentioned and good for our communities. These laws are bad in their origins and continue to be terrible today.
The fact is that the war on drugs is really a war on plants, and cannabis may just be the world's greatest plant. There's no other plant that has the nutritional, industrial, social, and medicinal value that cannabis has.
The other aspect of this war on drugs and the war on plants is the fact that coca leaf, opium poppy, psilocybin mushroom, and peyote cactus are all also good plants with thousands of years of social and cultural use. The war on drugs is really a war against these plants and against nature, and it's time that it comes to an end.
Do you want to know who is to blame for the fentanyl crisis that we're experiencing across Canada? It's you. It's our Parliament, which has passed these laws that prohibit reasonable access to opiates. The fentanyl crisis is entirely the fault of Canadian policy.
We don't have a drug problem in Canada; we have a prohibition problem in Canada. When we end prohibition we will see the vast majority of the problems we associate with drug use go away.
Cannabis, in fact, is not a problem. Cannabis is part of the solution. In Vancouver we now have two sites that are offering free or discounted cannabis medicines to opiate users as a substitution project. There's evidence out of the U.S. showing that American states that have access to dispensaries have less opiate use and fewer opiate overdose deaths than those that do not.
I believe, from my personal experience and from the research, that cannabis dispensaries are saving lives every day in Canada. At my dispensary, people tell me that I helped them get off opiates, helped them improve their health, helped save their life. This happens all the time.
It's similar with alcohol. Many cannabis people find, when they're using alcohol, that they can get off alcohol by using cannabis. Cannabis is a substitute for more dangerous drugs in so many ways.
It's easy to regulate edibles and extracts. Give them childproof packaging. Make sure that the products are properly labelled and that the dosages are correct. It's easy to do; it's not complicated at all. Further, CBD should really be de-scheduled entirely and removed from the CDSA. CBD is highly beneficial. There is no psychoactivity at all; it's an incredibly safe medicine. There's no question that CBD should be removed from the CDSA and allowed entirely.
The fact is, we can buy enough alcohol, tobacco, or even aspirin.... Aspirin you can buy without any age limit at a corner store, and one bottle of aspirin can kill you. The idea that we're treating cannabis so severely and so restrictedly when other more dangerous substances are allowed makes no sense at all. It really shows the failure of this legislation.
I would urge this committee to go beyond cannabis; to accept that cannabis is a good plant and that prohibition is wrong; to stop handing over this industry to the black market, as you've been doing for so many decades; and to recognize that it's not just cannabis. The whole war on drugs is an absolute failure, and it's time to legalize and regulate and put policies in place that are based on science. We've had this research for 40 years or more now. We know that the war on drugs is a failure. We know that cannabis is essentially harmless, and certainly less harmful than the alcohol or tobacco that is used every day.
That's what I have to say. Thanks for having me here. I hope that this committee will listen to the evidence presented and make some serious changes to this legislation. Thank you.