Mr. Speaker, I am a little surprised that Bill C-10 has come forward. Under its previous number, Bill C-38, it went through a very interesting process, a parliamentary subcommittee of members of Parliament who, certainly on my side, spent a considerable amount of time on this issue.
I have a number of concerns about the bill. I should say from the outset that if the bill does not have sufficient amendments, it will not enjoy the support of the people of Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge, the riding I represent.
I want to quantify my concerns as to why I believe this bill is not sending the appropriate message at the right time. Clearly if one wants to include themselves in a national drug strategy, one ought to consider putting the strategy in place first and foremost. To have decriminalization come in at the same time almost defeats the purpose of trying to educate young people as to how this ought to work and to give them, if you will, a proverbial heads up as to the dangers of marijuana.
We have seen more recently the scourge of marijuana grow operations right across my region. We have seen it in the greater Toronto area. We have seen it in Barrie, Ontario, certainly in terms of the sophistication of some of the marijuana grow operations. It is no longer about a few people growing this recreationally, Cheech and Chong style. It is in fact a very serious matter.
It confirms the report that I tabled in the House earlier in the year about operation green tide, which of course is not about what is happening in Atlantic Canada, but is about the serious nature of the economic impact that marijuana growth is having across the country. It is so much so that as confirmed by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada, this product is becoming the product of choice for members of organized crime, who I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, are not, and I repeat not, marijuana enthusiasts. Instead they see opportunities of renting or buying a house and for $25,000 they can make a $600,000 return on investment.
I believe notwithstanding the provisions here and the penalties the government has put forward of doubling the sentence, that in fact the courts will treat it the same way. Currently seven years is yielding an average of about 35 days for every marijuana grow operation that is out there. Does that now mean it will be 70 days for people who effectively provide a product that will wind up with the students in many of our schools?
We all understand it is a product which many people will try from time to time. Frankly, I probably do not care a whole lot if Johnny or Josephine wants to have a joint in the basement of his or her house. Frankly the concern I have is much greater than that and it deals specifically with a number of very serious flaws in the bill.
Number one, there is no protocol to take roadside sampling for individuals who have imbibed the product. We now know through studies in Ontario, through various organizations, and I am not just talking about MADD Canada, that young people are choosing marijuana as a means of evading detection. They want to get high and rather than taking a bit of alcohol, they smoke a joint. The effect is that their responses are affected and they should not be operating a motor vehicle. Yet there is no means under which we can take a sample.
The bill calls for a series of fines for possession of 15 grams or less of cannabis and one gram of resin. However the fines for each offence are not uniformly applied. Adult fines are higher than those for youth. As well, the fact that the fines are not high is hardly a deterrent. A concern also exists for reducing the fines applicable to youth, especially if the federal government is actively trying to educate young people not to take up cigarette smoking. They are contradictory messages.
There is no provision for repeat offenders. In other words we are dealing with simply a ticketing offence, much in the same way one would get a parking ticket. The court system will be clogged. Let us be honest about this. We will effectively render a situation which will be impossible to enforce and which will undermine the very credibility of what the bill is trying to accomplish, and that is to get this thing away and unclutter our court system.
The aggravated provisions have a maximum of $1,000 or six months of imprisonment. However, there are only three aggravated provisions: possession while operating a vehicle; possession while committing an indictable offence; and possession in or near a school. More aggravated provisions in my view could have been added, for example, possession in or near a sports or community centre.
The $1,000 or six month penalty are maximum fine sentences. Mandatory minimum sentences would have been more productive, as courts rarely, as I have just explained, impose sentences, and they are really far from it.
Section 253 of the Criminal Code prohibits operation or control of a motor vehicle while impaired by either alcohol or a drug. However there is no mandatory blood, saliva or urine testing roadside protocol in the bill that could determine the level of impairment from marijuana use. It is serious when organizations have pointed this out and the bill is deficient in that. The question is why? Perhaps that is not a question that I can answer at this stage.
To try to rush a bill through because we are concerned about young people having a criminal record for the rest of their lives is a noble point but we have the Youth Criminal Justice Act. At 19 years of age their criminal records are removed any way. If we want to deal specifically with removing the opprobrium on individuals who are caught with possession, I suggest we begin to look more seriously at reducing the amount of time it takes, for instance, a pardon.
Much has been said about the United States, and I am glad we have used it as an example. While it is true that 12 states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, it is not true that the U.S. government has abandoned its discretion to impose penalties and to continue to enforce the national criminal code as it exists with respect to possession. That argument is a non-starter.
A sliding scale of increased penalties, summary, hybrid and indictable, are introduced based on the number of plants involved in the grow operations. The maximum penalties in terms of fines and incarceration appear sufficient at first view but that is not the case.
Mr. Speaker, I would ask you to put yourself in the position of a police officer or a peace officer who has to look at the prospect of determining the 15 grams and how many tokes or how many joints a person needs to have in order to make a determination between the criminal provisions or the decriminalized civil provision for giving the person a ticket.
It is conceivable that if people were able to get 15 or 20 young people to move these things around for them at any given time then they would be able to avoid the sting of trafficking. In the rush to push this legislation forward, this was obviously missed in the bill. I think that would do an injustice and would only increase the appetite of traffickers to get around the law.
The mandatory direction to the courts, in my view, should not have been limited to only those examples on the list. Grow ops are the product of organized crime and over 90% of the marijuana in this country derives from those operations. We know that they are exported in many respects to the United States.
After attending several conferences there is no doubt in my mind that there is concern about the damaging effect this could have on Canada's image around the world. There have been concerns that as a result of this and the massive amount of exportation to the United States and other jurisdictions, Canada is gaining the unfavourable moniker of being somehow a drug centre for other nations, particularly as it relates to marijuana.
I would not be so concerned about that except for the fact that the THC level in the product has increased dramatically so we are no longer dealing with a soft drug. No one on the committee and none of the proponents of the bill have bothered to look at the medical implications for individuals who may suffer long term psychosis and other effects that in many respects lead to the potential for this being a gateway drug. I am speaking of individuals who will never see an opportunity, through a national drug strategy, to know that there are real implications.
Why would other countries be concerned about what we are selling to the United States? According to the national institutes of health in the United States, over the past few years a greater number of people are being admitted to emergency wards because they have not been able to accept the high potency of the Canadian marijuana product. This certainly is not helpful in terms of our image. I can assure the House that there is more concern for all of us here to ensure that we get this legislation right and that we get it right from the beginning.
I think it is clear to all of us that, if we are to take this issue seriously, in order to correct the problem of possession, the perception that we are giving young people a criminal record for the rest of their lives, we are in effect opening the door to a greater perception that it is acceptable to do these things, whether we like it or not.
Parliamentarians know full well that they cannot control what happens beyond here. It would be simply irresponsible for us to pass the legislation at a time when Statistics Canada has pointed out that there is an increased use in drugs across the country. The last thing we need to do is to give a green light. It is time to step back, understand this product and, for the goodness of our society, stop the legislation, vote against it and have a second look before we leap.