Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to take part in this debate about Bill C-38, a bill that would change how the judicial system deals with possession and production of marijuana.
My colleagues across the way have told us about the good intent of this bill: that it will decriminalize the actions of millions of Canadians; that it will provide opportunities for young people who might otherwise be burdened by a criminal record; and that it will relieve some of the congestion in our courts.
But I have to ask, at what cost will this be achieved?
I have several concerns about this bill and the government's attempt to fast-track it through the system, concerns ranging from the amount of marijuana that is decriminalized to the penalties and sentences for various offences. There are also numerous logistical issues involving the practical side of enforcing the proposed new law, which I feel must be addressed before legislation is passed.
Finally and most importantly, I am gravely concerned about the message that Bill C-38 will send to Canadians in general, but to our youngest and most vulnerable citizens in particular. I intend to explore each of these concerns in greater detail during the next few minutes in the hope that these issues will be noted and perhaps highlighted in the committee setting.
The bill establishes a new system of guidelines for the decriminalized possession of marijuana. From what I understand, the government has based these numbers on what it considers appropriate or reasonable amounts of marijuana for personal or recreational use.
Let us look at these numbers. Possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana gets one a $150 fine if one is an adult. Possession of between 15 and 30 grams of marijuana could get someone a fine or perhaps a summons for a summary offence. Possession of one gram or less of cannabis resin is good for a fine.
The implication here is that having between 15 and 30 grams of marijuana is considered reasonable for personal use, that the drug would not be meant for trafficking. Grams seem like a tiny unit of measure, and 15 to 30 grams does not sound like a lot to most of us. But depending on how much marijuana is used, that same 15 to 30 grams translates into 30 to 50 joints.
I know there are many parents and grandparents in this chamber. How many of them would think it acceptable or reasonable if they were suddenly to find 50 joints concealed in their son's or daughter's book bag or clothing? Unless that son or daughter were smoking up day and night, I think I would find myself wondering if some of those joints might be for sale or for purposes other than personal use.
Decriminalizing up to 30 grams of marijuana is the government's idea of responsibility. In contrast, my opposition colleagues feel that this number must be reduced to a maximum of 5 grams of marijuana if this bill is to become even remotely tolerable. This would equal between 5 and 12 joints, an amount far less likely to be for the purpose of trafficking. I personally believe that even 5 grams is too much and that Canadians are better served by a government that does not take lightly illegal drug use of any kind.
As I mentioned a few minutes ago, the penalties for possession and production of marijuana as outlined in Bill C-38 merit considerable questioning and review.
The proposed fines for possession are negligible and, as such, I suspect they will not act as an effective deterrent. An adult possessing less than 15 grams of marijuana will face a fine of $150, or $300 for possession of between 15 and 30 grams. That is about the same as one could expect to pay for a traffic infraction such as speeding. One look at the Queensway or any other major thoroughfare will give us a pretty good idea of how unintimidated drivers are by the prospect of such a small fine. Marijuana users will likely be similarly undeterred, making the fines ineffective.
Young people between the ages of 14 and 18 will get an even better deal from the government if they are caught with marijuana. Youth fines, as proposed, are one-third less than the adult version. I question the reasoning behind this decision which takes already nominal fines and reduces them so they are more affordable for drug possessing youth.
The government should take a cue from the world of marketing, where it is known that young people often have access to more disposable income than adults and are less cautious in their spending. They wear expensive designer clothing, shoes and accessories, and they tote the latest in high tech communications devices and gadgetry.
The notion that a discount fine will deter youth from possessing marijuana is an absolutely ridiculous idea.
Still on the subject of sentencing, I have heard rumours that the minister may consider tougher minimum sentences for marijuana growers and for repeat offenders. I sincerely hope that this is more than a rumour because these issues have not been adequately addressed in the bill.
From a logistical standpoint, the government is trying to fast-track the bill through Parliament without ensuring that the provinces, municipalities and authorities have the proper tools in place to implement it. From what I have read, the bill does not provide extra money for policing, fine collection or any of the other inevitable administration costs.
As I mentioned earlier, my greatest concern about the bill is the message it sends to Canadians, particularly our youth. I hope this issue will be studied in great detail by the committee.
Before the bill was introduced there was a lot of talk about decriminalization and legalization: Which would the government choose?
When I talked to people in my riding, both adults and youth, I was disturbed to note that the terms were used interchangeably. I worry that should the bill pass, our young people will not differentiate between two definitions and as a result they will come away with the idea that buying, possessing and smoking marijuana is okay. That is a behaviour actually endorsed by the government.
I suggest to the House that it is irresponsible to even contemplate passing a bill such as Bill C-38 without first establishing a clear and comprehensive education campaign to inform our young people about what the bill is intended to do.
In Saskatoon, the city council is in the process of discussing a ban on public smoking. Similar bans have been adopted here in Ottawa and in other cities and towns across the country. It is a health and safety issue and, as such, the cities are trying to do what they can to discourage smoking. By virtue of making it okay to possess a smokable drug, decriminalizing marijuana is a backward step in this fight for improved health.
The government is sending mixed messages. It is telling Canadians not to smoke because it is bad for them and cigarette companies not to advertise because it can influence our young people, but marijuana, that is not criminal.
Yesterday the minister described Bill C-38 as the launch of a real reform. I suggest that the bill needs some real reform.