Mr. Chair and distinguished members of the committee, thank you for the invitation to present to you this evening on Bill C-46. I'm a family physician and interim editor-in-chief of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, of CMAJ Open and the CMAJ Group.
Just to be clear at the outset, I do not represent the views of the Canadian Medical Association or Joule, the subsidiary that owns CMAJ. CMAJ and the other journals within the CMAJ Group are editorially independent from their ownership.
I'd also like to be clear that I am not an expert in cannabis or on its effects on driving. I know that tonight you've had access to expertise and some of my fellow witnesses obviously have that kind of expertise. But I will bring you the perspective of a journal editor and a physician, as someone who assesses evidence for a living.
The mission of CMAJ, Canada's leading medical journal, is to champion knowledge that matters for the health of Canadians and for the rest of the world. Our vision is best evidence, best practice, best health.
That is why I am concerned about the two pieces of legislation, Bill C-45 and Bill C-46, related to the legalization of cannabis, and why I wrote the CMAJ editorial, “Cannabis legislation fails to protect Canada’s youth,” that was published in May of this year. I've supplied you with copies. Ironically, I was in Amsterdam at the time it was published.
That so many Canadian young people and adults believe that cannabis is a benign substance is a failure. It is our failure, our failure of public education in this country. You see, we know that it's not a benign substance.
That many Canadian young people and adults believe that it is safe to drive under the influence of cannabis, some even believing that it improves their driving, is a failure. It's our failure, our failure of public education in this country. You see, we know that driving under the influence of cannabis is impaired driving.
That so many Canadian young people and adults use cannabis regularly is a failure, our failure, our failure of public education in this country. Yet we are about to embark on what I consider to be a national experiment, an experiment on our youth to see what happens when we legalize the use of marijuana.
That's why a bill, a bill like C-46, the focus of this committee, is needed as a corollary to the cannabis act to counteract the possible increased rates of driving under the influence of cannabis as seen in other jurisdictions at least initially after legalization.
You see, as a journal editor, I worry about the research papers that will likely be submitted to CMAJ over the next years, papers that include graphs showing a dotted line vertically indicating when the cannabis act came into effect and showing an increase in cannabis use, an increase in citations for impaired driving, increased mental health issues among our youth, and perhaps even an increase in deaths related to motor vehicle accidents. That keeps me up at night. That's why I am here.
You see, any increase in the use of cannabis and any increase in impaired driving, even the most modest, after its legalization means that the legislation will have failed. This will indicate that the use of cannabis and its inherent risks are not really a concern, and that users believe that they have nothing to worry about. It will make clear our already evident inability to have communicated the dangers of cannabis effectively to the people, to the youth of Canada.
We are simply not ready.
By legalizing cannabis we are sending a message to the youth of Canada that its use is fine, that it is safe, but that's not the message the Canadian public needs to hear. While the cannabis act includes some provision for public education, Bill C-46 has no such specific provision.
On September 20, Health Canada issued a tender for a public health campaign specifically targeting Canadian young people. According to the tender this campaign will be designed to ensure that Canadians, especially youth, are well informed about the health and safety risks of cannabis use and about current laws. That campaign is not scheduled to be launched until December. Yet the Government of Canada intends to legalize access to cannabis no later than July 2018. This doesn't compute.
So it's half a year to completely change the thinking on cannabis for many Canadians nationwide, to change the thinking of the tow-truck driver I saw smoking cannabis in his truck on Merivale a few weeks ago, to change the thinking of the kids I saw standing on Bank Street in front of the cannabis clinic as I walked here this evening.
How long did it take before rates of smoking tobacco in Canada decreased? Decades. What did it take? It took a multi-year, multi-faceted, targeted approach involving all levels of government, simply to begin to make inroads.
For these bills to be successful, rates of cannabis use and rates of impaired driving should decrease after legalization. But that's not likely to happen. More likely, it will be the opposite. We are simply not ready.
Therefore, I urge you to work with your colleagues across the parties to slow all this down. There is no meaningful reason to legalize the use of cannabis this quickly.
Before this government considers moving forward with the legalization of cannabis, we need a robust, evidence-based public education campaign focusing on the health risks of cannabis, and a requirement in Bill C-46 for a campaign focused on educating the public, specifically on its effects on driving. We need to see these campaigns work before cannabis is legalized.
Rates of cannabis use and rates of impaired driving should demonstrably be seen to be decreasing in Canada before legalization. How would we know they have decreased? These campaigns must be accompanied by robust research programs that will assess the results before the cannabis act goes through.
Let me reiterate. Before this government considers moving forward with legalizing cannabis, we need to see a meaningful decrease that is both statistically significant and clinically significant in rates of use of cannabis and impaired driving as a result of these campaigns, not click-through rates, not page views, not likes or other measures of engagement with the campaigns. Those are intermediate outcomes only, and may not translate into behavioural change.
Rather, we need to see meaningful decreases in the actual rates of use of cannabis and impaired driving before legalization. Then and only then will we have a modest hope that what I consider to be a national experiment in legalizing cannabis will not irredeemably harm the people of Canada, particularly our youth.
Thank you. I look forward to your questions.