Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10 on behalf of my constituents of Calgary Southeast.
This has been an unusually difficult issue for me to analyze and on which to arrive at a position. I find the argument offered by libertarians in favour of the decriminalization of minor possession of marijuana or the decriminalization of marijuana all together reasonable and compelling.
Their argument is predicated on the notion that marijuana is not a harmful substance. Therefore, it does not damage the users of marijuana, is not addictive in a destructive sense, and does not endanger the broader common good or society. I find that a reasonable and compelling argument, although I am not sure that I agree with the predicate that marijuana is in all instances a harmless drug.
I balance that reasonable libertarian appeal on this issue against the personal experiences that I have heard from many constituents and other Canadians, particularly parents. Those who like myself do not have children do not have to worry about the difficulties that young people have growing up in today's society and perhaps are not as concerned about the deleterious effect of marijuana on young people.
However, I know many parents who believe very passionately, from their firsthand experience, that they lost their children, that their children became ensnared in an entire lifestyle that was unhealthy and unproductive, and that it was in fact destructive of themselves, their families and their relationships because of their principal use of marijuana.
It is my sense that a majority of my constituents believe that there should continue to be significant sanctions for the production, sale and possession of marijuana. On the other hand, most Canadians and most of my constituents do not believe that individuals who are arrested and in possession of one joint should face a lifetime criminal blemish because of perhaps an isolated mistake in their youth.
I do believe that this is a complex issue. I am quite frankly someone who sees things in black and white. This is one issue where I see reasonable arguments on both sides.
However, as I do more research on this issue and talk to more constituents, and look more closely at the bill, I have come to the conclusion that the bill is an inappropriate response to the desire to prevent an undue lifetime penalty of the burden of a criminal offence on someone. That is understandable and the bill simply goes too far.
Basically, Canadian society is seeking a balance on this issue and that is a reasonable thing to expect. I do not think this is a balanced bill.
Effectively, the bill seeks to decriminalize possession for amounts of under 30 grams, for all intents and purposes. The expert testimony is that 30 grams of marijuana can produce as much as 60 marijuana joints, which is certainly more than what most Canadians and certainly most parents would regard as minor possession.
Indeed, the position that the previous Canadian Alliance arrived at, which has now been adopted by the new Conservative Party, is a reasonable one. It is to decriminalize possession of cannabis for amounts of less than five grams, which is essentially one or two marijuana joints. That would be a reasonable balance. It would take into account the circumstances where young individuals made one small mistake in their lives. It is a desire to give them a second chance without burdening them for the rest of their lives with a criminal record.
On the other hand, if we were to adopt the five gram limit proposed by my party, we would still maintain a significant criminal law disincentive for the production and distribution of marijuana.
This is really a critical issue which the bill fails to adequately address; that is, the enormous proliferation of marijuana production in Canada and the involvement of organized crime in that field.
We have all read and seen the stories about the thousands of so-called grow operations that exist in disproportionate numbers in the Province of British Columbia. I think the bill fails to take that into consideration.
My colleague from Provencher points out that apparently some of these very prosperous grow operations were helpful in financing the recent leadership campaign of the right hon. the Prime Minister in acquiring memberships in British Columbia. There is now a very serious criminal investigation in that province.
If we were to decriminalize for amounts of 30 grams and under, essentially, we would be giving a green light to trafficking and a green light to a grow op production on the scale that we have before us today. In fact, these grow ops, which are fuelled by organized crime, are growing like top seed right now under the current law, which criminalizes any kind of possession or trafficking of marijuana.
It seems to me that if we were to send a signal that Parliament is less interested in prosecuting possession and trafficking of marijuana, we would only get more grow ops, which would mean more resources for organized crime. That seems to me a rather perverse, perhaps unintended, consequence of this bill.
Another aspect of the bill which I find troublesome is that it would create a two tier law. The Liberals always demagogue about the notion of two tier health care, but they seem to be rather attached to the idea of two tier criminal law. They have passed amendments in this place which make certain offences even greater offences if they are committed for particular reasons. Rather than simply making all acts of violence equally abhorrent under criminal law, they have identified acts that are motivated by certain subjective impulses as carrying greater penalties.
Similarly, in another field of course, we know that the government has legislated less strenuous penalties for people who violate the law based on race, which I find quite an outrageous offence against Canadian liberal democratic values. Similarly, in Bill C-10, the government would propose separate fines for the minor possession of marijuana for adults versus youth.
Surely we can all agree in this place that Canadians are equal under the law and that if a young person commits an adult crime, then he or she should face the consequences. To suggest that young people are somehow less responsible for their actions is demeaning. It creates all sorts of perverse messages and unintended consequences.
If a 17 year old is able to transport 60 joints, under this law, and face potentially a third less fine than somebody who is 18 years old, that means that 17 and 16 year olds would become pigeons for drug traffickers. That would be one of the perverse outcomes of this bill. In a sense, it would encourage drug traffickers to use younger people as stooges in their businesses. I do not understand why the government does not see this.
Furthermore, the government has actually decreased penalties for the production of marijuana in this bill through its schedule of fines related to the number of plants. Again, this is completely naive.
Grow operators can limit themselves to a potential fine of $25,000 for growing up to 25 plants, but if they have 26 plants they could face 10 years in jail. Guess what they are going to do? Instead of having one grow op with 100 plants, they are going to have four grow ops with 25 plants.
This is such an absolutely and transparently absurd understanding of human nature that we find in this bill. It is an incentive for marijuana producers to be even more stealthy in the amounts of marijuana that they grow to avoid the penalties under the law. The police, instead of identifying one significant grow op, are going to have to chase dozens and dozens of smaller ones that are established precisely to avoid the 26 plant limit in the law.
Similarly, the bill does nothing to assist police in cracking down on organized crime that is currently profiting from lax enforcement. The legislation will increase demand for marijuana and therefore make the illegal production and distribution of it even more lucrative for organized crime.
The fines set out in this bill do not increase for subsequent offences either. This is a major flaw. It seems that if we want the law to have an instructive capacity, to teach people, particularly young people, about what constitutes acceptable conduct, then we should increase the penalties with the number of repeat offences.
If a college student is caught with one marijuana joint, I personally do not believe that the person should face a lifetime criminal record, but if a young person is arrested and found to be a serial user and possessor of marijuana, chances are that there is more to it than just the possession. Chances are that the person is involved in trafficking or has a serious habit, and the law needs to assist in breaking that habit. I would propose that the bill see increased penalties and consequences for repeat offenders.
I have mentioned some of the deficiencies in the bill. My colleague from Crowfoot spoke about the need for a broader national drug strategy. I believe that there is compelling evidence, certainly anecdotal and I believe empirical evidence, that marijuana is--not in every instance, but can be in many instances--a gateway drug to more serious narcotics, narcotics that destroy and kill people.
If there is anybody in this place who thinks that the drug trade in narcotics is just a lifestyle choice and that we ought not to make any moral judgment about the use of such drugs, then I invite them to come down to the lower east side of Vancouver and literally see hundreds of mainly younger people whose lives have been completely, for all intents and purposes, sucked out of them by the addiction to narcotics.
I would venture to guess that virtually every one of the junkies on the lower east side of Vancouver whose lives have been destroyed will tell us that the first contact they had with drugs was with marijuana.
We have to be very alive to the connection between marijuana and the larger drug culture in terms of more serious narcotics. There is no national drug strategy attached to this bill. No provisions have been made to amend the proceeds of crime legislation. No provisions have been made to deal with damages to real estate through residential grow ops, a very serious problem. No legislation has been developed to curtail financial institutions from funding mortgages related to grow ops that would require them to exercise due diligence to stop the money laundering that occurs through these operations. No coordination has been proposed by the government to work with provincial welfare departments and federal authorities to stop welfare fraud, which is used to fuel the drug trade.
No commitment has been obtained from the judiciary to increase penalties within the limits set out in this bill in terms of maximum penalties, or to follow the established possession guidelines. No provisions have been made to deal with the increasing toxicity of THC content.
My colleague from Crowfoot discussed the fact that toxicity of cannabis today is several times greater than it was when the former minister of justice, the former minister of health and much of the frontbench of the government were recreational users of marijuana, according to their own admissions, in the 1960s. They look back at that as some kind of romantic period.
The former minister of health, Alan Rock, no longer a member of this place and now our ambassador to the United Nations, glories in his hippie days, hanging out with John Lennon and he snickers about illegal drug use. We can let him have his psychedelic romantic memories from his youth in the 1960s, but that has no relevance to the lives of young people today who are dealing with a product in cannabis that is 10 to 20 times more potent than when the current ambassador to the United Nations was a recreational user in the 1960s.
I would ask the members of the Liberal government to put aside their romantic attachment to this as the drug of the summer of love. I ask them to look at real families and young people whose lives are being negatively affected by addiction to what can in many instances be a very damaging drug. I would ask the government to reconsider the bill.
In closing, I would support amendments to the act that decriminalized possession of very minor amounts. I do not seek to penalize in perpetuity young people who make an occasional mistake, but we do need to use the law to stop the enormous and unchecked growth in the organized criminal drug trade in this country. Therefore, I will oppose this bill unless the government agrees to substantially amend it along the lines proposed by my colleagues.