Mr. Speaker, I have listened to some excellent presentations today on Bill C-7, an act respecting the control of certain drugs, their precursors, and other substances and to amend certain other acts and repeal the Narcotic Control Act in consequence thereof.
On balance, I find myself in support of all the concerns raised. Members have pointed out some of the highlights of this legislation and its attractiveness. As the previous speaker has just mentioned, it is one step toward a healthier and safer tomorrow. On that there is no question.
However, it does pose a more fundamental issue. Yes, this bill takes some steps to fight drug dealers in their pushing of illicit drugs and illicit substances of all kinds. Some time or other we have to have a debate that asks why so many people, particularly young people, are attracted by these illicit substances. What is it about their lives and the way they view the world that makes abusive substances such an attractive option? What are the causes of drug abuse? What are the causes that enable drug dealers and drug pushers to make such lucrative incomes in our country? That is the debate that is absent here.
If we believe that passing legislation and getting tougher on drug dealers is going to solve this problem, we have to admit that it will not. Yes, indeed it is a step closer. Yes, we have to get tougher. I particularly like the section of the bill that refers to those traffickers and so on who are trafficking illicit substances in or near a school, on or near school grounds, or in or near any other public place usually frequented by persons under the age of 18 years.
To say that those convicted who have been pushing their illicit drugs in and around schools will obviously receive a harsher sentence is an excellent start. However, I do have to say that until we as a Parliament start addressing the fundamental causes of drug abuse we are not going to solve the problem. I do not think we want to feel too good about ourselves, that passing this legislation is going to be a major step toward the elimination or reduction of the use of illicit drugs. As the previous speaker said, and I think very accurately, it is a small step in the right direction.
I have two concerns about this legislation. One is the fact that once again we missed the opportunity to deal more effectively with marijuana and the use of marijuana. We all appreciate that this legislation began under the previous Mulroney administration and was brought forward by this administration with very few amendments at that point.
At that point one of the hopes a lot of people had, particularly those involved with the court system and with the real world of illicit drugs and substances on our streets, was the possibility that marijuana would not be listed in the same penalty class as heroin and cocaine, that perhaps now was the time to follow the call from the police and so on in terms of the decriminalization of this substance. I am not saying the legalization; I am talking about the decriminalization.
Alas, Bill C-7 continues the tradition of treating marijuana possession as a criminal offence. All of us have known probably on a personal basis friends and constituents who now possess criminal records for having had in their possession a small amount of marijuana. They are lumped into the same category in many cases with cocaine dealers and that problem element in our society. This was a missed opportunity.
I want to make a few comments about the herbal remedies that were once a major part of this legislation. It is fair to say that increasingly Canadians are turning away from traditional medical systems and sources to more natural ways. The herbalists are coming into their element and coming into their time. People realize that many of the substances we use in the traditional pharmaceutical way are in fact derivatives of natural substances. Increasingly today physicians will say that many Canadians are taking advantage of natural herbs to solve some of their medical problems.
The lobbying that went on by those involved in herbal medicine was quite astounding. I suspect all of us received numerous petitions and letters and visits from people who were concerned that this legislation in its previous state would have eliminated a whole set of possibilities that herbalists were using. I particularly refer as an example to Natural Way Herbs, headed up by Mr. Jim Strauss and his son, who led a tremendous campaign from the western part of Canada to point out to parliamentarians that many of the substances that were being eliminated under this legislation were in fact being used very successfully today to resolve people's medical problems.
I can say that I am aware in a personal way of dozens and dozens of people who found the traditional, if you like, medical approach to their illnesses and physical problems were failing and yet found the solution in the use of natural herbs. I thank Mr. Jim Strauss and his son, seventh generation herbalists, for the contribution they make to their community and their patients. As a result of much of this positive lobbying, the herbal remedies continue to be regulated by the Food and Drugs Act. That was a good change in this legislation.
I will leave it at that. It is appropriate that we get on with this legislation. For those two reasons, I will oppose the legislation. That is not to say that there are not a whole set of very positive elements in the legislation. I want to acknowledge that. But the hassle the natural herbalists experience today is partly as a result of lobbying by the traditional health care system and the international pharmaceutical companies. We have to be aware that there is a holistic approach to solving medical problems and that the natural way, the use of natural herbs, is one way. We ought to be taking more steps to encourage that, as opposed to hindering it.