Evidence of meeting #69 for Health in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was youth.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Jacqueline Bogden  Assistant Deputy Minister, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Branch, Department of Health

6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

We'll call the meeting to order. I want to welcome everybody to meeting number 69 of the Standing Committee on Health. We're here to discuss and examine an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code, and other acts.

I want to welcome all of our guests. We will hear from them in this order. The Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould will make a presentation as Minister of Justice. Then the Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor will make a presentation as Minister of Health. Finally, the Hon. Ralph Goodale will make a presentation as Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

From the Department of Health, we have back by popular demand Jacqueline Bogden, assistant deputy minister, cannabis legalization and regulation branch. From the Department of Justice, we have Carole Morency, director general and senior general counsel, criminal law policy section. From the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, we have Trevor Bhupsingh, director general, law enforcement and border strategies directorate.

Mr. Davies?

6 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies NDP Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Chair, may I just clarify whether the ministers will be here for the entire two hours of the meeting?

September 19th, 2017 / 6 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Yes, they will.

Now I would like to ask the Hon. Jody Wilson-Raybould to start.

6 p.m.

Vancouver Granville B.C.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould LiberalMinister of Justice

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.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

I know as the Minister of Justice you want to follow the rules.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Indeed, sir.

6:15 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

I want to welcome the Hon. Ralph Goodale to the table. Thanks for coming.

We're going to now go to the Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Minister of Health.

6:15 p.m.

Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe New Brunswick

Liberal

Ginette Petitpas Taylor LiberalMinister of Health

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.

6:25 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you very much. On behalf of all the members of the committee, I want to congratulate you on your appointment as Minister of Health. I'm sure we'll all be engaged with you as we go forward on a number of issues. Certainly, some of the most interesting issues on the Hill are dealt with here at this committee. Again, congratulations.

We'll go to the Honourable Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness.

6:25 p.m.

Regina—Wascana Saskatchewan

Liberal

Ralph Goodale LiberalMinister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness

Mr. Chair, members of the committee, thank you very much for the invitation. It's a pleasure to appear before you this evening. I'm glad to join my colleagues the Minister of Justice; the Minister of Health; Parliamentary Secretary Blair, who has been front and centre in dealing with this issue over the last many months; and officials from our department.

We're here, obviously, to discuss Bill C-45 and how this legislation will help keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian children, and profits out of the hands of criminals, certainly more effectively than the failed regime that has existed in this country for many decades.

In developing our approach to the regulation of cannabis, strengthening public safety has always been our primary goal.

I will now talk about our efforts to ensure that law enforcement agencies, including the police and border services, will have the resources and training needed to protect Canadian communities.

First, it is important to be clear that Canada's current approach to cannabis, the one that has existed for decades, has simply not worked. The World Health Organization has studied cannabis use among youth in Europe and North America. In 2009-10, the WHO found that a third of young Canadians had tried cannabis by the age of 15, a higher rate than for any other country in that study. Also, in a 2013-14 study by the WHO, Canada remained in the top five for 15-year-olds and was number one in cannabis use among children 13 years of age or younger.

As well, according to a 2016 statistical compilation by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the rate of cannabis use among Canadians 15 to 64 was almost 15%, and that was higher for that whole age span than in every country except two others in the world. In other words, Canadians are among the heaviest and the youngest users of cannabis globally.

There is clearly a need to do things differently, and that's why we've proposed this new regime based on the framework set out in Bill C-45 along with enhanced measures to combat impaired driving, which are contained in Bill C-46, and room for provinces and territories to tailor approaches that suit their particular circumstances.

Essential to this new regime is engagement with and support for police and border officers to ensure that they have the tools they need to enforce the law. To this end we recently announced an investment of $274 million that includes $113.5 million over five years for the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency as well as for programming within Public Safety Canada, primarily to keep organized crime out of this new legalized system and to combat smuggling. The investment also includes $161 million to train front-line officers to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired driving, to build law enforcement capacity across the country, to ensure that police have access to drug screening devices, to support research, and to enhance public awareness about the dangers of driving while impaired by drugs.

Over half of the $161 million will be accessible to provinces and territories over the next five years, and my department is already engaged with them to identify the needs and the priorities for the investments, particularly with respect to training and equipment. That collaboration across jurisdictions has been a key part of our preparations for the new legislative framework, and it will remain crucial to the implementation and ongoing evaluation of the system that Bill C-45 will put in place. In that regard, as the Minister of Justice mentioned, she and I spent two days last week with our provincial and territorial counterparts at a meeting in Vancouver, where the discussions around this particular topic were particularly important.

There are three topics that I would like to address. Of the many that will need to be discussed about Bill C-45, these are the three in particular that I'd like to address in a little more detail.

First, on the subject of cannabis at the border. It is, of course, currently illegal to bring cannabis into Canada or to take cannabis out of Canada. Going both ways across the border, it's illegal. Under Bill C-45, that would not change. Border officers already examine people and goods entering the country to prevent the smuggling of contraband, including cannabis. They make use of advanced technology, intelligence gathering, and ongoing training about how to detect and interdict substances that may not be brought across the border. Their efforts will continue, bolstered by some of the new funding that I mentioned earlier.

As for the admissibility into the United States of Canadians who have previously used cannabis, we have engaged our American counterparts to ensure that they understand how our new regime will function and what it will achieve, and we have made clear that we expect travellers heading in both directions to be treated in a fair, professional, and respectful manner.

At the same time, the United States is, of course, entitled to make its own admissibility decisions. I would certainly encourage Canadians to be forthright with border officials and to keep in mind that cannabis remains illegal at the federal level in the United States. In fact, some of the new funding for the CBSA will go toward communications and signage to ensure that travellers are well informed about the state of the law.

The situation in the United States is also complicated by the fact that there are a number of state jurisdictions that either have already legalized cannabis or are planning to do so in the immediate future, so the situation with respect to American law is evolving.

Second, on the subject of organized crime. At present, Canada's non-medical cannabis industry is entirely criminal. The illegal cannabis trade in this country puts $7 billion annually, perhaps more, into the pockets of organized crime. Over half of Canadian organized crime groups are suspected or known to be involved in the cannabis market. Canadian law enforcement spends upwards of $2 billion every year trying to enforce what is currently an ineffective legal regime. With legalization and regulation, we can enable law enforcement resources to be used more effectively, and we can dramatically reduce the involvement of and the flow of money to organized crime.

In Washington state, for example, legalization a short time ago has shrunk the criminal share of the cannabis market by nearly 75%. As with tobacco, we know that the black market is unlikely to be entirely eliminated, but we're talking about taking the criminal market share from non-medical cannabis down from 100%, where it exists today, to much lower levels, and that would be an improvement.

Third, on the subject of impaired driving. Parliament will have an opportunity, obviously, to go into this in much greater detail during the study of Bill C-46, the companion piece to Bill C-45. Bill C-46 is specifically aimed at better addressing the long-standing problem of driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. But I know it's an issue that touches many of us very directly, and I certainly feel a deep personal sense of urgency to tackle it head-on, both as Minister of Public Safety and as the member of Parliament for Regina—Wascana.

Of all the provinces, Saskatchewan has Canada's highest impaired driving rate. Among cities, Regina is third in the country, with Saskatoon not far behind. Too many families in Saskatchewan, and in all of our communities, mourn loved ones lost to impaired driving. This is therefore a problem that exists right now, and we would have to address it with or without the new cannabis regime. It's urgent that we do so.

As I have said, we are doing this with the legislation we introduced in the spring as well as with the additional cash investments that I mentioned a few moments ago. I welcome the strong public support and advocacy that we see coming for legislation such as Bill C-46 from such organizations as MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They have gone so far as to engage in a very public advertising campaign about the importance of this legislation.

To deal with cannabis-impaired driving specifically, our approach focuses on educating the public and facilitating detection and prosecution. In March, for example, Public Safety Canada launched a social media campaign targeting young drivers and their parents in order to raise awareness about the dangers of driving while under the influence of cannabis.

Last winter, seven police services across the country, from Halifax to Vancouver and to Yellowknife, participated in a groundbreaking pilot project to study two different oral fluid drug screening devices in diverse operational settings, including the dead of winter. As you can read in the report that was released in June, police generally found the devices easy to use in various weather, temperature, and lighting conditions. Part of the investment I mentioned earlier will help ensure that police officers in communities across the country have these devices and are properly trained to use them.

Finally on this point, I know this committee has heard concerns about the timeline for implementation, but cannabis-impaired driving is happening on our streets right now. The faster we get the right tools, the funding, the training, and the legislative and regulatory authorities in place, the safer Canadians will be. Legislative delay does not make the problem go away or get better. Delay only stalls more effective action.

Public health and safety have been the key drivers of our approach to cannabis and will remain our overarching preoccupation. For too long Canadians, and especially Canadian youth, have been using cannabis at world record rates to the great profit of criminals and organized crime. That needs to change, and that's why we have this bill before you now.

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Thank you.

We'll now go to questions, and I think we'll have some good questions. We had more than 100 witnesses in the last week, and they brought many different perspectives and opinions. I'm sure they'll generate lots of questions.

We'll start our seven-minute round of questions with Mr. Oliver.

6:35 p.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Great, and thank you very much, Ministers, for being here tonight to answer our questions and make your statements.

As the chair has mentioned, we had five marathon days last week. We heard from more than 100 witnesses. One night I think we even went to around eight o'clock to make sure that we fit everybody in. The benefit of that process was that we really got to hear themes. Because it was such condensed testimony, we could hear the themes.

My questions are going to be coming out of some of the themes. I won't be able to touch on all of them.

The first one, Minister Petitpas Taylor, was the very significant focus on the need for public education now, to get out ahead of legalization. We heard that many youth really don't think there is a concern, that cannabis doesn't pose a threat to them. There's a lot of misinformation.

I know you have the $9.6-million fund—congratulations on that—and are getting it launched, but could you say a bit more about how that health education piece will roll out? When would I experience it in my riding of Oakville?

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

Thank you so much for the question.

I guess, first and foremost, I have to start off by saying that our government is committed to protecting the health and safety of children. The $9.6 million that we've invested is an initial investment, as well. We have to make that very clear.

We have learned through the task force and through different groups we've consulted with that it's really important to make sure that prevention and awareness is done before the legislation is passed and we roll this out. As a result, the work on public awareness and prevention has already started.

I believe that last week you heard from several groups that we've even partnered with. One particular group, Drug Free Kids Canada, were here showing you the type of work they do and the tools they've developed. These are the types of things that have happened that we're really pleased to see. We've seen that the feedback has been very good. This document, this tool, has been well received by doctors, practitioners, and parents, and the list goes on.

The other thing we have to recognize, I think, is that we also have to make sure that the public awareness campaigns get out to the youth, the people whom we're really targeting. We recognize that perhaps in our generations, which watch perhaps a hockey game on a Saturday night, we would invest in commercials. Probably that's not the best way to invest our money right now in targeting our youth. We recognize that we are really going to have to focus on a social media campaign. That's really what we're doing: investing on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever the case may be to make sure that we can get the messages to the kids.

Finally, we want to continue to collaborate with the provinces and territories to make sure that the public education campaign also can be done collaboratively and that we have access to all of the same information.

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

A second theme we heard, Minister Wilson-Raybould, was about the severity of the criminal penalties for those who are acting outside of the legal permissions that are in the act. The example that really hit home for me was the height restrictions on home plants.

We heard from the task force that the one-metre height restriction was not about preventing youth from accessing drugs or about the black market; it was simply that the average fencing by-law height was four feet, and they were sympathetic to neighbours next to somebody growing their four plants.

In the act, over a metre to a metre and a half is a ticketable offence, and anything over a metre and a half is then subject to criminal charges, with penalties of up to 14 years. That's the example that hit home for me. Could you explain the 14 years and the severity of the penalties?

Is there any room for softening on some of those that aren't technically criminal charges but are more municipal by-law issues?

6:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Thank you for the question, and thank you for hearing from over 100 witnesses.

In terms of the penalties, from ticketing to 14 years, there is a broad spectrum of penalties, and the imposition of a ticketable offence up to 14 years will depend on the individual circumstances of the particular infraction or offence.

If we're specifically talking about the height of plants that can be produced or cultivated at home, I recognize what the task force has indicated in terms of the height of plants. From my understanding, plants can grow quite high. The higher the plant, the more product the plant can provide, which is an indication that there might be an intention to divert some of that product to the illegal market.

It entirely depends on the circumstances in which an officer finds the plants, and any of the other offences. Whether it would be appropriate for a ticketable offence or up to 14 years depends on the possession amounts or the circumstances of another offence. There's obviously discretion that a judge would have in posing a sentence. Likewise, there's discretion that a prosecutor would have, whether proceeding by way of a summary conviction or indictment.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

John Oliver Liberal Oakville, ON

Thank you.

Minister Goodale, we heard from an RCMP officer, I believe, who said that it would be naive to think that this act would make a difference for organized crime. Could you tell us a bit more about the regulated market and how you perceive it cutting into profits or deterring organized crime? Could you reflect on that for the committee?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

The objective, obviously, is to stop the flow of illegal cash to organized crime to the maximum extent possible. It's a $7-billion market, probably more right now. The market is 100% controlled by organized crime at the moment. We can obviously do better than that. Can we totally eliminate it by 100%? That's the goal. It might be naive to think we could get rid of all of it, but I think we can put a substantial dent in it.

The experience in other jurisdictions, as in the state of Washington, would indicate that when you blunt the profit motive, when you have a strictly regulated regime that is properly structured, and when you take the profit motive out of it or substantially reduce it by changing the legal structure, you can reduce that flow of profit. By the estimates in the state of Washington, they have accomplished a reduction of about 75% over the course of the last relatively short span of time. Our objective would be to do better than that. The numbers from other jurisdictions would suggest that we can certainly anticipate considerable progress that would be much better than the state of affairs that exists today.

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

The time is up.

Ms. Gladu.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you, Chair.

Thank you to all of the ministers for joining us tonight. I especially want to congratulate the new health minister on her role. I'm looking forward to working with you to get good outcomes for Canadians.

I'm going to start my questions with the justice minister. Everything that all of you have said sounds very nice, but the reality of what's happening is a bit different. We had the Liberal members of this committee shut down the request from both my NDP colleague and me, to hear from young people and maybe from Uruguay, the only other country that has legalized marijuana. We heard testimony from the police that it will be impossible for them to be ready for the July 1 implementation date. Many of the provinces have not come with a plan and certainly not with legislation. We heard from municipalities that they're not going to be ready for that implementation date. The indigenous people said they're not going to be ready.

If we consider that 88% of Canadians don't consume cannabis and we have 283 days remaining until this arbitrary date, why are you in such a hurry to risk public harm? We haven't got testing in place with the police and training for impaired drug driving. We had 100,000 parents trained for the public awareness campaign that has been mentioned, and that's it. That's the only testimony received. Are you willing to consider putting off the date until all these stakeholders are ready?

6:45 p.m.

Liberal

Jody Wilson-Raybould Liberal Vancouver Granville, BC

Perhaps I can summarize some of the comments that we made in our opening remarks. The current reality of the status quo in this country, as Minister Goodale has said, has been an abysmal failure. We have the highest rates of cannabis use among young people. We are committed to ensuring that we do something about that as quickly and as appropriately and as efficiently as we can.

We are committed to moving forward with legalization in July 2018. In doing so we have taken an extremely comprehensive approach over the last two years to ensure that we introduce and continue to have conversations with all our counterparts in the provinces and territories. Those conversations continued last week and will continue as we move forward toward July 2018.

We engaged a substantive group of experts in the task force report who, as I mentioned in my opening remarks, conducted extensive consultations across the country, and we have benefited from that.

6:45 p.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you.

I can see that you're going to stick to the date. People are smoking it now whether it's legal or not. We're assuming that legalization is the only solution to address the issue, which I'm not sure it is.

My second question is for the health minister. We heard testimony that there's an increase of 30% in schizophrenia and psychotic disorders, depression, anxiety, and addiction in people who consume cannabis under the age of 25.

We also heard a discussion about home-grow and the yields. The plants could contain up to 600 grams of cannabis in a dwelling with no requirements for potency quality control or for storage lock-up. There's nothing to prevent parents from smoking up in front of their children. We know from Washington's experience that home-grow is where organized crime gets a foothold. They don't allow it, and the Canadian police agreed.

Why do you think it's in the best interests of young people's health to allow home-grow?

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ginette Petitpas Taylor Liberal Moncton—Riverview—Dieppe, NB

First, again to echo what my colleagues have indicated, the evidence is clear that prohibition, the status quo, is just not working. We truly have to make sure that we follow our plan. The objective of Bill C-45 is to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to cannabis for youth. That's really our priority in all of this.

Again, as you've indicated, we know there's a high rate of usage when it comes to young Canadians. I have a few quick numbers here: 21% of youth between the ages of 15 and 19 consume cannabis, and 30% of young Canadians between the ages of 20 and 24 consume cannabis. We recognize that we have to have a regulated system in place because they're having access to unregulated products at this point. We want to ensure that the products they are going to consume, if they choose to consume, are going to be regulated.

Once again, we are not encouraging youth to consume cannabis, but we want to make sure that it's safe and that we get it out of the hands of children.

6:50 p.m.

Conservative

Marilyn Gladu Conservative Sarnia—Lambton, ON

Thank you.

Obviously, if it's in their house they're going to have a chance to get hold of it.

I have a question for the Minister of Public Safety. I'm going to follow up on a question that Mr. Mulcair asked in the House today. He was also talking about the border issue where when people try to cross the border and they're asked if they have smoked cannabis, that other than the Prime Minister everybody else would not be allowed entrance into the U.S. You've said that's the case and the U.S. has the ability to say what's going to be legal in their country.

Knowing that there's going to be a big problem, do you think there's a need to do some public awareness with youth who might want to work in the future in global roles and with 283 days left when is that going to happen?

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

Ralph Goodale Liberal Regina—Wascana, SK

There's a requirement, and a very valid and important public policy objective to be served, by making sure that all people understand what the legal or procedural consequences of their choices and their decisions are. As I mentioned in my remarks, one of the things the Canada Border Services Agency will be trying to do is to make sure that people are well aware of the border implications of their behaviour. We would not tolerate the Americans telling us what to do about our border, and similarly, we will leave the decision-making about American procedures to the Americans. That's their jurisdiction and their responsibility.

What we can do is make sure that Canadians are aware of the legal implications and the consequences. We will also carry on a continuing dialogue with the United States to ensure that the treatment of Canadians at the border is fair, respectful, and professional, as we have the right to expect as we approach their border. They have the right to expect that kind of treatment when they approach our border. I think it is important to note that the legal situation in the United States is complicated and evolving, because state jurisdictions are going, in many cases, in exactly the opposite direction of what the federal jurisdiction in the United States has chosen to adopt.

It will be a situation in the U.S. where I think you can expect an evolving legal environment and one where we need to make sure, as much as possible, that Canadians are aware of what that environment is.

6:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bill Casey

Mr. Davies.