Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I'd also like to echo my colleague Minister Wilson-Raybould's comments about thanking the committee members. I know that you guys were called in a week early last week and you did a lot of work, so thank you so much for coming here and doing the good work that needs to be done regarding this legislation.
I'm honoured to be here today with my colleagues Minister Goodale and Minister Wilson-Raybould to discuss Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other acts. I'd like to start off by acknowledging the remarkable progress on this file under the previous Minister of Health. It is because of her hard work and the tireless work of her staff, and the staff of Health Canada, that I am able to speak before you today.
Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a priority for our government and the focus of this bill. Canadians use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world and decades of criminal prohibition have not reduced these rates. In fact, cannabis has become the most commonly used illegal substance in Canada. Today 21% of our youth and 30% of our young adults use cannabis. Our youth have the highest prevalence of cannabis use when compared with peers in other developed countries. This clearly shows that the current approach to cannabis is not working.
This is why our government is proposing a public health approach to legalizing, strictly regulating, and restricting access to cannabis. Our aim is to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use, especially for youth. Scientific evidence shows that the risk for cannabis use is higher for youth than adults, that these risks increase the younger a person starts using it, and increase further the more often they use it. The legislation before us today, better known as Bill C-45, is the foundation of our government's new approach.
Through this legislation, as well as early and sustained public education and awareness, we aim to delay the age at which youth are trying cannabis and inform all Canadians of the risk of using cannabis. Today I would like to focus on three components of this approach. Number one is protecting youth. Number two is educating and public awareness, and finally, there is product safety and quality control.
Let's start off talking about protecting youth. I would like to be very clear that in no way are we endorsing the use of cannabis, or looking to make it easier for youth to access cannabis. It's quite the opposite actually. Protecting youth is at the centre of our government's approach to regulating and restricting the use of cannabis. Youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on brain development and function. Scientific evidence shows us that the younger someone is when they start using cannabis and the more often they use it, the greater the risk to their health. As I've already mentioned, far too many young Canadians are already accessing cannabis. In many cases it is easier for kids to buy cannabis than cigarettes or alcohol. The data support this.
In the 2015 Canadian tobacco, alcohol and drugs survey, 21% of youth reported having used cannabis during the past year. Comparatively, 10% of youth reported using cigarettes. The striking difference in these statistics illustrates the power and effectiveness of a range of measures such as regulation, advertising, and promotion controls in public education, which over time have contributed to lower usage rates.
Canada has been regulating tobacco and educating the public on the risks for the past 30 years. The percentage of youth who use tobacco has dropped from 27% in 1985 to 10% in 2015. This is why we seek to build on what we've learned by regulating tobacco. We will restrict youth access to cannabis by penalizing those who sell or give it to youth and restricting its advertising and promotion. Bill C-45 would prohibit anyone from selling or providing cannabis to any person under the age of 18, though provinces and territories could increase the minimum legal age of sale, purchase, and consumption.
The proposed minimum age of 18 reflects the advice we received from the expert task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. It also balances the need to protect our children and youth from the adverse health effects of cannabis, while at the same time recognizing that setting the minimum age too high would risk preserving the illegal market given the high rates of use among young adults between the ages of 20 and 24.
Bill C-45 would create new criminal penalties for giving or selling cannabis to youth and using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence. The bill would also prohibit certain products and marketing practices, especially those that would appeal to youth.
Businesses would not be allowed to produce or sell cannabis products that might appeal to youth. Those marketing cannabis would also be prohibited from using any packaging or labelling that could be attractive to youth, including depictions of persons, celebrities, characters, or even animals. False, misleading, or deceptive advertising would be prohibited, as would sponsorships, testimonials, and endorsements, or any other form of promotion or branding that could entice young people to use cannabis.
Promotion of cannabis would be permitted only if it presents factual information and is communicated in a way that could not be seen by youth. Also, cannabis could not be sold through self-service displays or vending machines. We believe these safeguards will help keep cannabis out the hands of our children and youth.
The safeguards we are putting in place will help reduce youth access to cannabis, but we also know that youth today are less likely than adults to see cannabis use as a significant health risk. As someone who has spent my entire career as a front-line worker in the areas of mental health and addictions, this doesn't surprise me, and I believe strongly that it is an issue we must address.
As with other drugs, while cannabis can be used therapeutically by some people, its use can also pose health risks. We need to provide Canadians with information about cannabis so they can talk to their children about the risks. We must also educate and support adults in making informed and responsible choices that minimize risks, including the dangers related to drug-impaired driving.
To this end, budget 2017 directed an initial investment of $9.6 million to a public education and awareness campaign to inform Canadians, particularly young people, about the risks of cannabis use. This campaign has begun and will continue over the next few years. The funds will also support an initiative to monitor trends and perceptions of cannabis use among Canadians, especially youth. This information will help inform our public education activities.
The final aspect of our government's approach to cannabis that I would like to highlight is the product safety and quality requirements.
The act is designed to establish a legal and quality-controlled supply of cannabis available for sale in Canada. Under the proposed legislation and its regulations, our government would establish industry-wide rules on the types of products that would be allowed for sale. We would also have rules prohibiting the use of certain ingredients such as nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol in cannabis products and would require manufacturers to adhere to good production practices.
The dedication and hard work that have been put into designing Canada's medical cannabis system mean that we already have experience with product safety and quality requirements for cannabis. Our current system, which provides access to cannabis for medical purposes, is recognized as one of best in the world. It includes a number of safety and security features, such as frequent inspections of production facilities and clear regulations around product testing, labelling, and pesticide use. We will be using this system of licensed production as a blueprint as we establish broader cannabis production under the bill.
In conclusion, it's clear that the current system is not working. The legislation before you today is designed to address the issue that we are already facing. Our kids currently have access to cannabis, and organized crime continues to profit from its unregulated sale in our country. We are proposing a new way for Canada to address this problem by using a public health approach.
We all know that this is a far-reaching issue that stretches well beyond this particular piece of legislation. This issue demands that we co-operate across jurisdictions and sectors.
Following the advice of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation, under this legislation all levels of government would be able to establish certain requirements with respect to cannabis, consistent with their own jurisdictional authorities and experience. The involvement of the provinces and territorial governments is critical to ensuring that young people do not have access to cannabis.
Under this bill, the federal government would be responsible for establishing and maintaining a comprehensive and consistent national framework to regulate production, set standards for health and safety, and establish criminal prohibitions. The provinces and territories could license and oversee the distribution of the sale of cannabis.
Together with municipalities, they could also tailor certain rules in their own jurisdictions, and enforce them through a range of tools such as tickets. We have worked closely with our provincial and territorial counterparts to ensure that their valuable input was taken into account from the beginning of this important effort, and our government is committed to continuing our ongoing collaboration with the provinces and territories on this very complex issue.
With its focus on protecting youth, educating the public, and ensuring product safety and quality requirements, the bill uses a public health approach to strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis. Our government is confident that the proposed cannabis act will protect the health and safety of Canadians.
Thank you so much.