Mr. Speaker, I thank you for this opportunity to speak to Bill C-38, which has just been introduced by the Minister of Justice. I will say right off the bat that we are in favour of supporting this bill. We are confident and we truly believe the minister when he says that in committee he will listen to members and make the necessary changes to better define the bill and make it more effective.
Our reality reflects the distinct character of Quebec and we want to share it with the minister and the members of the committee. We are sure that, as was the case with the Young Offenders Act to a degree, after hearing about those differences and the success we have had in Quebec, together we will be able to improve the bill before us.
I will talk about our reservations, but on the face of it, the very idea of decriminalizing simple possession is, in our view, the best solution for the short term because it deals with the most important issue by ensuring that people found in possession of cannabis will no longer have a criminal record.
In our opinion, this option is also one that best balances the need to reduce the harm due to consumption and the need to reduce the costs and problems associated with enforcement. Because Bill C-38 is aimed at decriminalizing the simple possession of cannabis, the Bloc Quebecois, as I said, will vote in favour of the bill.
This option presents many advantages. First, such a reform will inevitably result in huge savings in legal costs and other criminal justice system expenses. According to various studies, it is estimated that the fact that the simple possession of marijuana is still a criminal offence costs about $500 million a year in legal proceedings. It costs $500 million a year to process arrest cases and follow-ups to cases of simple possession of marijuana. Decriminalization could result in a substantial reduction in this cost of $500 million.
If the House will permit, I shall try to explain what decriminalization is. Some people, like the Canadian Alliance just now, are very much aware of this issue and so are we. Too often, the general public thinks that this bill means that young people, everyone, will be walking around with a joint, and there will be no more problems; life will be wonderful. But that is not it.
The difference between decriminalization and legalization is simple to demonstrate. Let us take an example that is easily understood by everyone listening: the highway safety code. If you are going 130, 140 or 150 km per hour on highway 417, sometimes there are police around; if they have you pull over, you are not a criminal, but you have done something illegal and you get a ticket; you pay the fine and that is the end of the matter.
If, each time a person did something illegal like not stopping for a red light or speeding, he or she were charged with a criminal offence, and had to appear in court—each time—our courtrooms would be even more clogged than they are.
What the minister is saying with this bill is that simple possession of a certain amount of marijuana is not permitted, it is still illegal. I will discuss quantities and sorts at greater length later. A person who speeds receives a fine, but not a criminal record.
I am certain that many parents who are listening to us today have children who have had bad experiences. In Quebec, I think that close to 50% of youth under 18 have had an experience with marijuana or soft drugs. Are they future criminals? Yet they get arrested and they get a record.
What happens when they get a record for making a mistake in their youth and getting caught with a joint? What if, one day, they wanted to go to the United States? They would have to get a pardon, which is a big hassle. If one day they became truck drivers and had to cross the border, they would have serious difficulties. If they wanted to become lawyers or police officers, with a police record they would be considered criminals.
Members of all parties have seen it all too often in their offices. This is not a political issue. Young adults come and tell us, “I got arrested 12 years ago, but never thought there would still be a record of that today. It is causing me all sorts of problems in my professional life. Am I a criminal?” No, these are not criminals, just young people who made a foolish mistake.
Our population has to deal not only with soft drugs but also with alcohol. Every year, alcohol kills 3.5 million individuals around the world, while tobacco kills approximately 750,000.
Even if there are no known cases of cannabis related deaths, this substance remains prohibited. How much is spent on alcohol awareness campaigns? I think it will not come as a surprise to anyone if I say that young persons under the age of 18 use it occasionally. The same is true of tobacco. Both these drugs are legal in our societies, and the social costs associated with them are much higher than those associated with cannabis.
That is why we think that this Parliament and this society must keep up with the times and ask themselves questions. Do we want to continue penalizing our adolescents and young adults by burdening them with a criminal record they do not really deserve? Will we keep overloading our courts with crimes which are not really crimes? Should possession continue to be prohibited? Yes, but under the Contraventions Act, by giving a ticket. Simple possession remains illegal, but is no longer criminal.
That is important to us. It is also important that the savings of $500 million a year from the tracking of criminal cases be reallocated to a good awareness campaign. The minister announced, earlier, plans for a $245 million campaign on Canada's drug strategy.
We believe, and this belief is based on blatant and tangible examples, that this $245 million should go to those who are knowledgeable, at the provincial and territorial level, where they deal directly with the people affected by drug use.
The $245 million is fine, but should be redistributed to the provinces to fund more effective awareness campaigns. Why give $245 million to the provinces? The firearms program was originally supposed to cost $2 million. We are now at $1 billion plus and the government still has no control over costs.
With regard to national awareness campaigns against smoking, we still do not know exactly how the federal government is spending the money. We only have to look at the results. We think that, given these disastrous results, the money must to given to the provinces.
Consequently, it is worth reminding members that, with this bill, the possession and production of cannabis are still illegal under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. The approach to enforcing the law will be changed. It will now be governed by the Contraventions Act. A minor contravention will therefore be given to the offenders.
In what circumstances will these people get a contravention? The possession of 15 grams or less of marijuana would be liable to a $150 fine for an adult and $100 for a youth. For a youth, a $100 fine is already high enough that he or she would think twice before doing the same thing again.
I will provide some facts, since I am almost at the end of my presentation. One in 10 Canadians uses cannabis. Over 30,000 Canadians are accused each year of possession of cannabis. In Quebec, 80% of the accused are adults, not youth.
There is one very interesting bit of information. Currently, 84% of the population would be in favour of the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic and medical uses, for example. In May 2001, the Canadian Medical Association said in its review that arresting people for the possession of marijuana has more serious social consequences than the moderate use of the drug itself. Thus, arrest is more serious than use.
Consequently, we will support this bill. We hope that some corrections will be made, and we think that this is a step in the right direction.