moved that Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drug Substances Act (marijuana), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from Kootenay—Okanagan Boundary for seconding Bill C-344. Today I am going to give a discourse on how we can decrease and prevent drug use here in Canada, in North America and around the world.
The bill deals with the decriminalization of simple marijuana possession in contrast to legalization which I am opposed to. It is part of a three pronged approach. The first is decriminalization.
The second is a four point motion that deals with the international drug trade. I would like to thank the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa for allowing me to accompany him on a very informative trip to Colombia to meet President Pastrana. Out of that came a motion which I will discuss later.
The last part is how we prevent drug use. This involves the head start program. The House chose to pass my private member's motion on that issue in 1998. The program strengthens the parent-child bond and has been profoundly effective in decreasing drug use in children, not to mention a 60% reduction in youth crime. I will get back to that later.
Bill C-344 calls for the decriminalization of simple possession of marijuana. A person found to be in possession of marijuana would receive a fine of $200, $500 or $1,000 depending on whether it was their first, second or third offence. They would not go into the court system. They would not receive a criminal conviction and therefore they would not have a criminal record. This is different from the situation today when an individual found in simple possession of marijuana would have to go through the court system and then receive a fine or could go to jail. They could receive up to six months in jail for their first offence.
Drug laws in the country have been motivated mostly for political expediency rather than to deal with the truth. Today we seek to deal with the truth and deal with the facts. The idea in the bill has been employed in many European countries, in Italy, the Netherlands, Great Britain as well as in Australia. Decriminalization of marijuana did not result in an increase in use, it resulted in a decrease or a static amount. That is very interesting. Decriminalization in contrast to legalization of marijuana results in a static amount or a decrease in the amount of drug use.
The bill enables us to save about $150 million every year. Since September 11 there has been an increased demand on our security forces and our police forces. We have to find the money to go after the real criminals: the terrorists, the international drug lords, the people who push drugs and grow elicit drugs. They are the people our police officers need to go after, not someone who is in possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Does the bill provide a disincentive? It provides a financial disincentive, a fine of $200, $500 or $1,000. It saves the taxpayer money, in the order of $150 million. It enables our police forces to focus on the true criminals: the organized crime gangs and the drug pushers.
We also need to look at the bill in the forum of how we look at drug abuse, not from the punitive judicial model that we have used historically, but a medical model. I am a physician and I have spent 13 years working in detox units in British Columbia. I have seen all manners of drug use. I saw many dead people when I worked in the emergency department. I have seen people's lives completely ruined by drugs. I am totally opposed to drug use, including marijuana use. The bill will actually enable us to decrease drug use here in Canada. It will also free up resources to enable us to go into the prevention aspect.
The head start program that was passed in my motion in 1998 strengthens the parent-child bond. It ensures that children have their basic needs met. It helps provide good parenting skills to those parents who perhaps have not acquired them.
When that was employed from Moncton, and the Minister of Labour worked there has been outstanding, to Ypsilanti, Michigan and Hawaii, it resulted in a 99% reduction in child abuse rates, a 60% reduction in youth crime, a 40% reduction in teen pregnancies and a $7 saving for every dollar that was used.
The Government of Canada is looking at ways in which it can build a children's agenda. The head start program would put meat, muscle and flesh on that idea. The House passed it. The government should adopt it. Find the best models from around the world, work with the provinces and employ a national head start program that ensures our children have their basic needs met. This bill would provide some resources to do that.
The other side of the bill, and the secretary of state was kind enough to allow me to attend his meetings in South America in this regard, is that we have a serious problem in the international drug trade. The so-called war on drugs, where we have tried to decrease the drug trade at source by going to Colombia and waging a war on drugs, has been an abysmal failure and will always be.
Rather than trying to decrease production, we need to do is decrease consumption. If we decreased consumption then we would be able to address the devastating problems that we have witnessed in various parts of the world.
In Colombia 70 people are murdered every single day as a direct result of the bloody war that has gone on for more than 20 years fuelled by the drug trade, primarily cocaine. As well, Colombia is branching out into a very pure form of heroin that is coming into Canada as we speak. That will have a devastating effect on people who are addicts. How do we deal with this problem? Let us stop consumption. If there was no consumption there would not be production.
When I was in Colombia it was very exciting. Senator McCain from the United States was also there at the same time. He made some very progressive statements. He said that people in North America could not point their fingers at Colombians and tell them to stop production. He said that we must decrease consumption in North America. The question is how to do that. Again this bill will address that problem.
There are four things we also need to do. First, apart from implementing a decrease in consumption at home, we need to get tough with organized crime. We need to adopt U.S. RICO like amendments. These are racketeering influenced and corruption organization amendments that would enable our police forces to go after the money. Cutting the money from organized crime is the most effective way of hobbling a criminal's ability to function. It is what criminals fear the most. RICO amendments would enable us to convict them and take away their money supports.
Second, what we need is a freer trade agreement in the Americas. A free trade zone in the Americas is crucial. If someone is growing cocaine in Colombia, that person would need to export something else. Right now the greatest barriers to farmers in developing countries are the barriers to trade that we in the west employ. Let us remove those barriers to trade and enable the people, who are grinding out an existence in abject poverty, to export and earn money so they can get away from this crop.
The last point is a very interesting one. Earlier this year Canada and the west had their knuckles wrapped for allowing legal chemicals to go to countries where they were used in the production of cocaine and heroin. The United Nations asked us why we were allowing this to happen and why had we turned our backs on it. This is wrong. We can and must have a series of import-export permits on the precursor chemicals that are necessary to the production of cocaine and heroin. If we did that, we would be able to track where the chemicals went and hit the people who produced the drugs in the first place. It is eminently doable.
When the secretary of state and I were in San José, Colombia, I had a chance to speak to the United Nations and OAS drug representatives. I pitched this idea to them and they thought it was a fantastic. They said the only thing that was holding this up was bureaucracy.
Canada should take a leadership role in implementing a series of import-export permits that would enable us to track as well as eliminate those people who produce drugs, by tracking the precursor chemicals and choking off supply. It is something that is doable, it is cheap and can be very effective.
If we look at and compare those countries that have had a very punitive model for dealing with drug abuse, such as the United States, and those European models where they have had a decriminalization approach, we would see this.
In the Netherlands, Italy, Germany and now in Great Britain decriminalization of simple marijuana possession has enabled them to decrease the use of cannabis. The reason is very interesting. They reckon that because the forbidden fruit syndrome was not attached to a decriminalized substance like cannabis, they found that use, particularly among youth, declined quite substantially, which is very interesting. When one looks at harder drugs, there is not a shred of evidence to show that cannabis is a gateway drug. In fact, where drug use had been decriminalized, they found that hard drug use actually was static or had declined. This is also a very interesting fact.
When drug use in European countries like the Netherlands was compared to the United States, it was found that the use of harder drugs like cocaine was about 2% in the Netherlands and about 11% to 12% in the United States. Therefore the harder, more punitive actions do not work when the objective is to decrease the use of hard drugs.
Europeans, Australians and now the Brits have done the same thing. A pilot project to decriminalize the use of marijuana was done in Brixton to see what would happen. They found that drug use declined. There was a massive saving to their judicial forces. The same thing happened in south Australia where decriminalization was so effective that it is now looking at applying it to the entire country. Where it has worked it has been extremely effective.
I want to go back for one moment and talk a bit about the cost factor.
Today in Canada there are about 71,000 convictions for possession every year. More than half of that is due to marijuana. Does it make sense that we use our law enforcement forces for this particular process? Does it make any sense for a 20 year old to be picked up, convicted and receive a criminal record for the simple possession of marijuana? In getting that criminal record, this impedes a person's ability to gain access to a wide variety of professional faculties thereby severely compromising and truncating the individual's ability to be a contributing member of society in the future. It does not work. If we look at society and see who is supporting it, it is very interesting.
The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, the RCMP, the Council of Churches, elements in the Canadian Medical Association and other groups have said that is time to decriminalize, not legalize, marijuana possession. They have said that it is time drug use was looked at in a more comprehensive fashion. Those groups look at it not in isolation, quite wisely, but look at the larger picture.
How do we prevent drug use? The head start program will prevent drug use by working with parents. This has had a profound effect on children. We have to work with our youth. If we start early with our youth, we will have an opportunity to substantially reduce drug abuse here in Canada. This does not work however with adults.
I worked as a doctor in jails and I was also a jail guard. The extent to which drug abuse is found in jails is quite profound. A study was done of 4,230 inmates and it found that 40% of those inmates used drugs in jail within the last year. That is shocking. It does not work. We have to use other models.
It is very interesting to look at hard drug use. Some people have said that punitive action needs to be taken and these people need to be put in jail. That does not work. I have done some exploration in Europe with regard to hard drug use. People were put in methadone programs, needle exchange programs and were even allowed small medicinal use of the drug they were using.
That program was held in conjunction with housing, education, work, being an essential part of the program, and, of course, therapy. After one year, the combination of that in a defined time period had a 50% to 60% success rate for hard core drug addicts.
I listened to what people said about the program. Some said that they had been on the streets. The program had given them job training and put them to work. It provided them the structure in their lives which they had never had before. Although they had been given the medicinal heroine for a period of time, it was a limited period of time.
The quid pro quo to receiving the drug is the patients must engage in the treatment programs. If they do not engage in therapy, treatment, counselling, work and job skills, then they cannot participate in the program. They have to have a willing partner.
In my experience Canada has a revolving door syndrome. People are thrown in detox and come out dry. Within 24 hours, I have seen these people in the emergency ward. They are drunk or on drugs again after having spent seven to ten days in detox. That model does not work.
We have to obligate the drug addicts or the substance abusers to engage in these other elements of treatment, work, job skills and counselling to get them off the street. Where that has been done in Europe, 50% to 60% of people have been taken off the street. This is quite extraordinary.
The cost savings are substantial. True, there is some front end loading of money, but we have to look at this in the long run. It saves money in the long run.
Perhaps the greatest scourges and the greatest damage associated with drug use are not the problems of taking the drugs themselves, but the indirect costs; the crime associated with drug abuse. Many people who take heroin and cocaine have to engage in stealing and prostitution to raise the money they need for $300 and $400 a day habits in cocaine, crack cocaine, Ts and Rs and heroin. They do not get that by going to work.
That of course has a profound impact on our society. The costs associated with drug use in Canada is more than $20 billion. That is what It costs us directly and indirectly as result of drug use. Perhaps the most frightening element of all this is the scourge of HIV and other communicable diseases.
If we compare the United States with some of the European models and Australia, take Great Britain for example, the incidence of HIV is about is about 1% among IV drug abusers, which is much higher than IV drug abusers in North America. If we look at people who use heroin, roughly 40% of individuals who have taken heroin intravenously have shared needles. It is shocking.
It is incumbent upon us to look at a broad range of issues, look at this factually, logically, deal with the facts and employ programs that have worked around the world.
I certainly would be remiss in not thanking Steven Barrett, Kerrie Woods, our British connection, and Jennifer Ratz for their very hard work in putting this together and working with me along this level. I want to thank the Secretary of State for Latin America and Africa for being so kind and generous in allowing me to participate in a couple of very important trips we have taken this year.
The elements of the bill I have put forth have widespread support from the public. Roughly 75% of the public in polling wants decriminalization of marijuana. Roughly two-third plus of the member of the House want decriminalization. I hope the government takes the bill, adopts it and send it to committee. I hope it does not let it languish but adopts it as a much larger program of how we deal with substance abuse issues in Canada today.
Let us look at it from a humane fashion. Let us look at it from a compassionate fashion. Let us look at it from a medical model, not a punitive model. Let us do the right thing, the socially appropriate thing, the harm reduction platform. Let us save lives, save money and help Canadians in the future. If we do that, truly Canada will be on the cutting edge and we will be saving many lives.