Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak yet again to a bill that would reform our laws governing marijuana.
I will begin by echoing the comments made by my friend from the Bloc. The bill has been before us twice. This is the third time around. It was only because the former finance minister, now the Prime Minister, was afraid to take this on before an election that we are now back in a position of redebating a bill that already went to a committee, already had some amendments made to it and is now back in the House. I think that needed to be said.
This issue has been kicking around for more than 30 years. We can go all the way back to the LeDain commission and the recommendations that were made around decriminalization and legalization. It seems to me that there is a reality out in the broader community around this issue but it is the elected representatives who have failed to catch up and be realistic about what we need to do when it comes to drug policy and law reform.
I am proud to say that the federal NDP has long advocated for the decriminalization of marijuana. I believe we are the only party in the House that actually at our party convention had a resolution and a policy for decriminalization.
In advocating that position, we understand that we need a drug policy that does not primarily rely only on the police and the criminal justice system. I think there is a growing consensus across the country that our current marijuana laws are not working and that the drug laws themselves now cause enormous harm. Decriminalization, we believe, is a first step, but it is not the only step. It is a first step to what needs to be an open and honest debate and dialogue about the failure of the current practices.
The policy toward marijuana has too often been approached from the point of view, and I think an incorrect perspective, of focusing on the misguided belief that the illegal status of the drug is the primary factor in preventing use. This is a very important point. I listened to the Conservative member reading out some of the concerns people have about drug use and people who were in treatment.
What the Conservatives cannot deal with and the reality that they continue to deny is that by relying on criminal enforcement as the primary tool for preventing use we have actually made the situation worse. By denying reality and proper education and treatment to people, particularly young people, they are actually making the situation worse by driving the problem underground.
We understand what that contradiction is about. We believe that Canada must build a workable policy on marijuana that recognizes the failure of criminalizing people for their drug use. These policies must be part of a broader drug strategy that focuses on a health based approach, as recommended by the Special Committee on the Non-medical Use of Drugs on which I was a member.
In fact, the introduction of the former bill on marijuana in June 2003 was accompanied by an announcement of a renewal of Canada's drug strategy providing $245 million over five years. I want to point out that that commitment fell far short of what was recommended by the special committee and is barely half of what was promised by the Liberals in the 2000 election.
I would also point out that in the Auditor General's report of 2001, the report on illicit drugs sharply questioned the reliance on enforcement and pointed out that 95% of federal funds spent on the illicit drug use in Canada were used toward enforcement and interdiction.
We have barely put anything toward treatment and with the money that we do put into enforcement, what have we solved? Does anyone believe that we have actually solved this issue?
We believe that Canada should take steps to move marijuana out of the criminal legal framework and eliminate punitive measures for responsible adult marijuana use. We believe that we must move forward to a discussion on the best system of rules based on public health education.
For instance, there should be rules about age, rules about impaired driving and rules to tackle commercial grow ops. The federal NDP believe that the federal government must move beyond decriminalization and examine and introduce a non-punitive rules based approach to adult marijuana use, with an emphasis on prevention, education and health promotion.
Marijuana policy needs to eliminate the criminalization of users and focus on reducing the harms and preventing crime. What the federal government should be doing is putting resources behind public education rather than on criminal prosecution. We only have to look at the examples of tobacco and alcohol to know that consistent and strong messaging on the health risks associated with tobacco and alcohol have actually helped to reduce consumption, particularly with tobacco. It was not by making that substance illegal. It was by providing people with real honest options and a health based approach and rules around use.
It is not necessary to use criminal law to discourage harmful forms of drug use. In fact in many cases, as we have seen over the last few decades, it actually can be counterproductive.
We also believe that policy objectives need to pay special attention to keeping cannabis and other drugs out of the hands of minors. Again, this is where we need to focus on rules and enforcement that is targeted, based on rules to prevent use by minors. Recent studies have shown that consumption among youth has actually risen. The reality is that kids are choosing to opt for marijuana over tobacco.
The issue of driving under the influence of marijuana also needs to be addressed. There is another bill on that and we will be speaking to it as well.
Public policy must also recognize that the prohibitionist laws continue to fuel organized crime and other violent organizations in our society. Prohibiting drugs creates a huge black market that greatly inflates the value of drugs and the profits to be made by selling them. Even the extensive law enforcement resources used by countries such as the United States to enforce prohibition clearly show that they cannot make any appreciable dent in the drug trade as long as prohibition continues. The economic incentive created by prohibition to sell drugs is so powerful that law enforcement really has no chance of stopping the trade.
We need to look beyond our closest neighbour and come up with a comprehensive and safe marijuana policy. The U.S. driven war on drugs is not a Canadian made solution. I do not believe we should be intimidated by some of the rhetoric we have heard from the United States that somehow we have no right to develop our own policies that are rational and intelligent. Canada should look instead to the United States as an example of a country with a disastrously failed drug policy, a failed policy because of its perennial reliance on prohibition.
When this bill last came forward, the NDP members on the committee sought various improvements and we did get some changes in the bill. We will continue to seek improvements to the bill this time around.
We want to ensure that there is an amnesty provision for those who have had a conviction for the simple possession of marijuana. About 600,000 Canadians have a record for that reason. We want to ensure that the records of fines for possession are sealed and not shared with Interpol or other foreign jurisdictions.
We want to put in measures for non-commercial transfers of marijuana to prevent passing a joint from a friend being considered as trafficking. This is what happened to Mr. Emery. He is now in jail as a result of that particular aspect of the law in terms of passing a joint.
We also want to ensure that reasonable grounds are required for searches. For example, for a warrant to be issued, police should have reasonable grounds to suspect that more than 30 grams are in a home.
We also want to see changes to the fine regime. We want to see non-punitive measures for personal cultivation of up to five plants.
Basically, we need to ensure that there is a distinction between private and public use of marijuana.
We look forward to the bill going to committee. We will have very serious amendments for consideration to improve the bill.