Thank you, Mr. Chair.
This is a substantive amendment to this section. Essentially, as we move to a legalized market, this is the section that will guide the minister in determining whether to issue or renew or amend a licence or permit to someone who wants to enter the cannabis industry.
What it does, as it currently reads, is that it allows the minister to refuse it on a number of different grounds, and I want to focus my colleagues' attention on paragraphs (c) and (d). This says, “The Minister may refuse to issue, renew or amend a licence or permit if”
(c) the applicant has contravened in the past 10 years a provision of this Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or the Food and Drugs Act or of any regulation made under this Act or any of those Acts; (d) there are reasonable grounds to believe that the applicant has contravened in the past 10 years (i) an order made under this Act, the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act or the Food and Drugs Act, or (ii) a condition of another licence or permit issued to the applicant under this Act or any of those Acts;
Now, philosophically I think what we are doing with this legislation—and it's been expressed very well by some of the witnesses—is that we're trying to move the illegal market into the light. We're trying to take encourage current illicit production to move into the licit market.
We heard from Colorado and Washington very clearly that they're measuring their success by what percentage of the former black market they are able to move into the regulated controlled market. That is I think what all Canadians who support this legislation want to see happen.
If we're serious about eliminating the black market, then involvement in the current illicit trade should not be sufficient to provide a bar to entering the legal cannabis market. In our view, the minister should be required to consider aggravating factors, such as committing an offence in relation to youth or being involved in violence or dishonesty as factors, in addition to simply participating or having been convicted under the former regime, in order to bar them from becoming involved in this industry.
I'm conscious of the fact that the opening words of this section say that the minister “may” refuse, so it is discretionary. I note that. In order for greater certainty, we want to make sure, on the New Democrat side, that people who have been involved in the illicit industry are not precluded from participating in the newly regulated legal market simply because they may have been convicted under the old regime.
Some of the testimony points this out. Here's what Rick Garza said. He's the director from Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.
I wanted to add that we do have a point system in Washington with respect to someone's criminal background. We're looking for an egregious pattern of illegal activity or criminal activity. ... I don't want to suggest in my remarks that we don't allow any criminal activity or any record. We have a point system.
Abigail Sampson of NORML Canada stated this:
...in an attempt to provide reparations to Oakland residents who were jailed for offences related to cannabis possession in the last 10 years, city council has approved a program to help convicted drug felons get into the legal cannabis industry. Called the equity permit program, this “first in the nation” idea will allow recently incarcerated individuals the opportunity to receive medical cannabis industry permits. ... ...it recognizes the harms done by the war on drugs by allowing those who have been affected by it through incarceration an opportunity to participate.
Trina Fraser, from Brazeau Seller said this to the committee:
It is estimated that over 13,000 individuals in British Columbia alone participate and work in the illicit cannabis industry. This represents an estimated wage amount of over $600 million.
Kirk Tousaw said this:
When we speak of the black market as it relates to domestic cannabis production and consumption, we are not speaking of what most Canadians understand to be organized crime. We are not speaking of gangs. Instead, the domestic black market is comprised almost exclusively of ordinary Canadians, otherwise law-abiding, who make their living, pay their bills, and support their families by working in the cannabis industry. ... Almost none are violent or otherwise harmful to society in any way.
Finally, if that's not enough, a 2011 Department of Justice study found that 95% of cannabis-trafficking offenders have no link to organized crime or street gangs.
Essentially, Mr. Chair, what this amendment does is say that the only people who can be prevented from participating in the legal industry are people who have contravened the act or acts by a minimum term of imprisonment of at least two years.
That will separate those who may be carrying cannabis convictions for minor offences and remove that as a bar to their being able to participate in a legal market. What we really want to do with this legislation is to entice those who've been working in the illicit market. By the way, everybody who's been involved in the cannabis industry up to now has been involved in the illicit market.
As we move toward this profound move from an illegal activity to a legal, regulated one, I think we want to cast the net as wide as possible to encourage those people to come into the regular market to achieve the purpose of the bill, which is to provide for the licit production of cannabis and to reduce illicit activities in relation to cannabis. That is an overt purpose of this bill. If we don't do that, we will continue to leave people operating in the illicit market, and that's not what anybody wants, I think, on either side of the table.