Thank you, Mr. Chair, and my thanks to the members of the committee. It is indeed a pleasure to be here, and I recognize that you came back earlier to have discussions and hear from witnesses on this most important topic that my honourable colleagues, Ministers Goodale and Petitpas Taylor, are pleased to present on Bill C-45, the cannabis act.
While the committee was doing the important work of looking at this bill, Minister Goodale and I were meeting with our provincial and territorial counterparts in Vancouver. Cannabis and drug-impaired driving were significant parts of our agenda, and we feel that the engagement of the provinces and territories is an incredibly important feature in our work to date. There can be no doubt that the legalization and strict regulation of cannabis has sparked much discussion, before and particularly after the introduction of Bill C-45. In my remarks today, before I turn it over to my ministerial colleagues, I want to provide some background on the development of our legislative proposal, highlight the purpose of Bill C-45, and provide an overview of key justice aspects.
There is a broad consensus among Canadians that our current approach to cannabis is not working. Our system of criminal prohibition fosters an environment where organized crime reaps billions of dollars in profits from its sale, where thousands of Canadians each year end up with criminal records for non-violent cannabis offences, and where cannabis is not being kept out of the hands of young people.
Most Canadians no longer believe that simple possession for small amounts of cannabis should be subject to harsh criminal sanctions, which can have lifelong impacts for individuals, and which take up precious resources in our criminal justice system. Our government agrees that there is a better approach, one that is evidence-based and that will protect the health and safety of Canadians, with a focus on protecting our young people.
As a starting point, on June 30, 2016, we appointed a task force on cannabis legalization and regulation with a mandate to advise us on the design of a new regulatory system. I know that the chairperson, the Hon. Anne McLellan, and the task force's vice-chair, Dr. Mark Ware, appeared before you as witnesses last week.
As you heard, the task force conducted extensive consultations across the country, visited the states of Washington and Colorado, which have legalized cannabis for non-medical purposes, and considered nearly 30,000 online submissions sent in by Canadians. It also sought the views of a diverse community of experts, professionals, advocates, front-line workers, youth professionals, indigenous communities and organizations, territorial, provincial, and municipal officials, law enforcement, citizens, and employers.
On December 13, 2016, the task force delivered its final report containing over 80 recommendations for the development of a Canadian legal cannabis framework. It reflects a public health approach aimed at reducing harm and promoting the health and safety of Canadians. The report has been very well received, is comprehensive, and provides important background information on the issues this bill seeks to address. It also proved essential in developing Bill C-45.
The bill paves the way for Canada to become the first G20 country to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis at the national level. It was introduced last spring alongside another important piece of legislation, Bill C-46, which proposes new and stronger laws to more seriously tackle drug and alcohol-impaired driving.
As set out in clause 7 of Bill C-45, our government's intention is to protect public health and safety with a particular emphasis on protecting young people's health by restricting their access to cannabis; preventing advertising and other promotional activities that are likely to encourage cannabis use; providing for lawful production of cannabis to reduce illegal activities; deterring illegal cannabis-related activities through appropriate sanctions and enforcement measures; reducing the cannabis-related burden on the criminal justice system; providing Canadians with access to a quality-controlled supply of cannabis; and enhancing public awareness of health risks associated with cannabis use.
Bill C-45 creates a framework in which adults can access legal cannabis in an appropriate retail context that is sourced from a well-regulated industry, or grown in limited amounts at home. Adults 18 years or older will be permitted to legally possess or share with other adults up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis, or its equivalent in other forms. Selling, or possessing to do so, will only be lawful if authorized under the act.
Under no circumstances will cannabis be sold or given to a young person. Production of cannabis will also require specific authorization. Possession, production, distribution, import, export, and sale outside this framework will all remain illegal and be subject to criminal penalties. These penalties will be proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, ranging from ticketing up to a maximum penalty of 14 years imprisonment. This graduated approach reflects our legislative objectives.
Bill C-45 will also exempt young persons from criminal prosecution who possess or share up to five grams of cannabis, rather than exposing them to the criminal justice system for what amounts to very small amounts of cannabis. Above five grams, young people will be subject to the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which emphasizes community-based responses, rehabilitation, and reintegration. For less serious offences, alternatives to charging are encouraged, such as taking no further action, warning the young person, or referring them to a community program or agency to help address the circumstances underlying their behaviour.
Under Bill C-45, the federal, provincial, and territorial governments will all share in the responsibility for overseeing the new system. The federal government will oversee the production and manufacturing components of the cannabis framework and will set industry wide rules and standards. Provinces and territories will be responsible for the distribution and sale. They will also be able to create further restrictions as they see fit, including increasing the minimum age to align with their legal drinking age. Further, the provinces and territories, along with municipalities, could create additional rules for growing cannabis at home, such as lowering the number of plants allowed per residence, and restricting where cannabis can be consumed, such as in public places and vehicles.
In addition to our working with them to establish a secure supply chain, provinces and territories will be key partners in our government's efforts to raise public awareness about the risks associated with cannabis use. As set out in budget 2017, our government has provided $9.6 million for public education and awareness, as well as monitoring and surveillance activities. This includes monitoring patterns and perceptions around cannabis use among Canadians, especially youth, through the annual Canadian cannabis survey. This work will inform and refine further public education and awareness activities to mitigate the risks and the harms of use.
I would now like to address some of the concerns that have been raised either during second reading debate, or by witnesses appearing before you last week. I want to assure this committee that in developing the bill we were aware of concerns voiced about the minimum age, youth possession of small amounts of cannabis, personal cultivation, and the impact of our proposed legislation on youth.
Let me start by saying that overall Bill C-45 is informed by and closely aligns with the recommendations of the task force report. In terms of minimum age, our government has accepted the task force's advice that we need to strike a balance between the known risks of cannabis and the reality that Canadian youth and young adults currently use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world. In striking this balance Bill C-45 restricts the sale of cannabis to adults aged 18 and older. Provinces and territories will be able to set a higher minimum age just as they do with alcohol and tobacco.
In exempting from criminal prosecution young persons who possess or share up to five grams of cannabis, we are aware of the criticism that this sends the wrong message to youth. Our government's position is clear: young persons should not have access to any amounts of cannabis. Under Bill C-45 there will be no legal means for a young person to purchase or acquire cannabis. Criticizing our government's decision not to criminalize youth for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis ignores the evidence. Statistics clearly show high usage rates among youth despite the fact that cannabis is currently a prohibited substance. Our government recognizes that for very small amounts there is a better way to deal with young people than using the full force of the criminal law.
Our government has been engaging with provinces and territories to encourage them to create administrative offences to prohibit youth from possessing any amount of cannabis similar to what is currently done with alcohol and tobacco. This measured approach would provide police with the authority to seize small amounts of cannabis from youth. Ontario has recently announced its intention to do just that. I have been encouraging and urging other provinces and territories to follow suit, most recently just last week at the FPT meeting in Vancouver.
Another issue that was raised during second reading debate was the suggestion that home cultivation could mean greater access to cannabis for children. In response I would note that the task force concluded that small amounts of cannabis for personal use can be safely and responsibly cultivated by adults in a manner that protects young persons in the home. Adults will be required to take appropriate precautions as they must do now when storing prescription drugs, alcohol, and other potentially harmful substances. Additionally the significant penalties proposed in Bill C-45 for selling and distributing to young persons, or for using or involving any young person in the commission of a cannabis offence sends a strong message to any adult who would allow cannabis to get into the hands of children.
In response to the other concerns raised, such as those related to the timing of implementation, challenges surrounding drug impaired driving, and Canada's obligation under international drug treaties I would like to emphasize that these are all issues that we continue to diligently work to address. We are continuing to work collaboratively with the provinces and territories, and as mentioned, Minister Goodale and I met with our counterparts last week.
The Ministers of Health, Finance, and Agriculture have also met to discuss the issue. In addition, federal officials will have maintained ongoing engagement with their counterparts.
Mr. Chairman, I will respect my time frame and I very much look forward to questions. I will turn it over to my colleague Minister Petitpas Taylor.