Mr. Speaker, before getting into the bill, I want you to know that I am not holding the little mistake made earlier against you.
I am pleased to speak to Bill C-10 and the amendment before us. We will not be able to support the amendment because we think that the legislation should not legalize, as is often assumed incorrectly, but decriminalize marijuana.
In the next 20 minutes, I will try to clarify the confusion. I have met people who are part of civil society or groups, who think that, by adopting Bill C-10, parliamentarians are going to legalize marijuana. The Bloc Quebecois presented amendments at report stage, and we would like the bill to be passed. As I hope to prove, it is not very reasonable for young people who are arrested for simple possession of marijuana to suffer extremely serious legal consequences when they are looking for work or travelling.
Let us start from the beginning. Like the U.S., Canada has had a prohibitionist strategy over the past 80 years, in the sense that the possession and growing of marijuana are prohibited under drug legislation and punishable not only by a fine, but imprisonment under the Criminal Code.
Are we to understand that, while Canada has maintained a prohibitionist strategy for the past 80 years, it has in a way deterred large segments of the population from using marijuana? Obviously, the answer to this question is no. Despite this prohibitionist strategy prohibiting the use and possession of marijuana, there are extremely conclusive statistics.
The latest statistics have been presented to the justice committee and the special committee. As a member of the Bloc Quebecois, I represented my party at the committee which reviewed the whole issue of non-medical use of drugs. As hon. members may recall, a colleague put forward in this House a motion and, for one year, by order of the House, a special committee reviewed the whole issue of non-medical use of drugs.
The work done by the other House, with Senator Nolin, was perhaps a bit more elaborate then what we did in our committee, but both Houses reached the same conclusion. The prohibitionist strategy, which Canada followed for more than 80 years, did not give the expected results.
The statistics are clear. More than one in ten Canadians uses cannabis despite the fact that it is illegal. Over 30,000 Canadians are charged each year with simple possession of cannabis. In Quebec, the province I represent, 80% of those charged with simple possession of cannabis are adults.
So there is a clear gap between our legislative system and the statistical results on possession and use. When our committee considered the whole issue of drug use, it became quite clear that the legislative framework was completely out of date. There is a consequence to maintaining the prohibition, as set out in the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and the Criminal Code. Consequently, for decades—I am certain that my colleague from Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier will agree—Canada invested considerable resources in the war on cannabis possession.
In fact, when the parliamentary committee heard testimony from the RCMP and representatives of the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency, it realized that millions of dollars, as much as $500 million, had been invested in the war on drug possession. However the war on drugs in Canada has meant to a great extent a war on marijuana.
No one is saying that using marijuana is good. In terms of public health, we are well aware that the message we need to send young people in schools and everyone in our communities is that it is better never to use marijuana and, obviously, any other drugs.
However, it is not true that the use of marijuana justifies the repressive approach taken these past few years. That is the distinction we need to make.
And so, when we looked at the figures with the RCMP and the CCRA, we found that the repressive approach—which costs $500 million—does not justify the results it produces. Bill C-10 is not asking us to legalize marijuana. There will still be legal consequences for simple possession of marijuana and certainly for growing it. There will still be sanctions but they will be more in the nature of a ticket and fine system. People will be fined amounts ranging from $100 to $400, but they will not have criminal records. We all know what it means to have a criminal record.
Let us imagine a young man of 16 who has 5 grams of marijuana. This is a fictitious example, but it is real nonetheless. If we do not change the law, this young man who is going to smoke marijuana—and we know, medically speaking, that moderate use of marijuana is much less harmful than using drugs or tobacco—and who finds himself in possession of 5 grams of marijuana, would end up with a criminal record that would follow him for years, with all that can mean to a working person changing jobs.
We know that young people who are now 17, 18 or 19 are likely to have at least 5 careers while in the labour force. The days when a person worked for the same company for 25, 30 or 35 years are over. Today, both people and their jobs are mobile, meaning that every 5, 6 or 7 years, they change jobs. There are job-related consequences of having a criminal record, as there are consequences of having a criminal record with respect to travelling to the United States or elsewhere. We believe these consequences are out of proportion to an offence that has no victims.
Moreover, if we did a little test with our colleagues in Parliament and those in the galleries and asked how many of them were in possession of 2, 3 or 4 grams of marijuana, there would be at least a 1 in 10 chance of hitting the mark. I can see some knowing smiles and that does not make them bad citizens for all that. Perhaps if we asked the members how many of them have—experimentally—used marijuana, I am certain that hands would go up. We would not want these people to have a criminal record.
The bill addresses this issue. That is why the Bloc Quebecois will be voting in favour of this bill. Once again, I repeat, it is better never to use drugs. We do not need drugs in our systems. They are not natural. However, this does not mean that creating an offence for which a person would receive a criminal record—with criminal sanctions—would be desirable. That is the main reason we will support Bill C-10.
The parliamentary committee worked extremely hard. We looked at the whole issue for at least one year. We realized that, all in all, young people were not getting a lot of information.
The situation in Quebec is a bit different because various public health networks offer various community outreach programs, particularly within the CLSCs. Quebec adopted this model in the 1970s. Some of the CLSCs go into the schools and provide information on the consequences of drug use. Obviously, the distinctions between marijuana or cocaine and heroine are outlined. There are major distinctions to be made in terms of consequences. The point is, obviously, that people should get through life without using marijuana.
However, we are not here to judge. Just because a prohibitionist strategy has been in place since the 1980s does not mean that people are not using marijuana. We need to create a framework in which people can obtain information on which to base informed decisions about their lives, so they do start abusing marijuana.
Certainly, using a little marijuana to relax from time to time does not have much in the way of consequences. Moreover, and the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier will correct me if I am wrong, an editorial in The Lancet of November 1998 stated that moderate cannabis use had little effect on health and that the decision to ban or to legalize cannabis ought to be based on other considerations. This is, of course, a very serious and well-known British medical journal, an authority in its field, a learned scientific journal. The other considerations taken into account in this bill are, of course, the consequences of a criminal record on a person's life.
This is not a new debate. One of the reasons we will not be able to vote in favour of the amendment is that we appear, from what I have just heard, to require additional information.
I believe you were a student back in 1969, Mr. Speaker, if I recall correctly. I do not have much trouble imagining you with long hair and a luxuriant beard and a bit of a rakish air. That was the year the commission of inquiry known as the Le Dain commission was created. The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier was not even born. He came into the world in 1970.
So, the Le Dain commission looked at the entire marijuana issue in 1969. I had the opportunity to meet a criminologist who was to become a leading light in her community, professor Bertrand. As far back as 1969, some felt that the prohibitionist regime in place in Canada—following the U.S. example—was not based on any practical reality.
Throughout our deliberations, we kept hearing from witnesses begging us to put an end to this system of offences which does far more harm than good. Something we did right in the parliamentary committee was to go to the United States, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands.
This afforded us the opportunity to see that, statistically speaking, there are prohibitionist strategies in place in certain countries. Let us compare, for instance, the 18 to 30 age group in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Can you imagine this: despite the ban in the United States, with all of its system of very strong repression, there are more people in the United States in that age group using marijuana than in the Netherlands?
Just because there is a prohibitionist system does not mean that young people are automatically deterred from using marijuana. For instance, look at the U.S. and the myth around the war on drugs, a myth that is upheld at the highest levels.
Think about the statements made by Presidents Reagan and Bush. Nevertheless, in countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, where the governments are much more liberal with respect to drugs, fewer young people use marijuana than in the United States.
Of course, we agree that there needs to be information and public health policies. I hope my friend, the Minister of Veterans Affairs, will agree with me that, if we want there to be fewer young people smoking marijuana—even though they may not be his target clientele—it is important for this information to be available with respect to different aspects of public health. Naturally, this is not the role of the federal government.
The member for Charlesbourg—Jacques-Cartier also pointed out at every opportunity in committee that we could not talk about a national drug strategy. It is not the role of the federal government to implement a national drug strategy. It is the role of educational establishments, parks and communities; in other words, the municipalities and provincial governments. We do not think the federal government is the best interlocutor when it comes to drugs, except maybe for aboriginal people, toward whom we acknowledge the federal government has a fiduciary responsibility. For the rest, we do not think this is the federal government's responsibility.
That is so true. When we discussed this national strategy, we looked at the federal government's expertise and found that the government that knows the least about the issue of drug use is the federal government. I am asking the Minister of Veterans Affairs to bring before cabinet the idea of investing in transfer payments and making sure the money gets to the provinces so that they can make the best use of it.
Once again, there is no correlation with a prohibitionist strategy. There are at least 10% of Canadians, according to statistics and national public health surveys. Moreover, I wonder if all the ministers in this House have not, at least once, tried cannabis. Obviously, it is not my place to be an inquisitor and ask the question directly. I believe we would be well advised, as parliamentarians, to ensure that we have a new legislative system, which is what we are considering in Bill C-10.
In closing, I would like to say something about the question of international treaties. As we know, Canada is not a country where international law can produce immediate change. For international law to have an effect in Canada, we must vote on ratification. That stands in contrast to some countries where international treaties are automatically incorporated into national law—Canada is not that type of country. For international treaties to have an impact, those treaties must be ratified.
As the House is aware, Canada ratified two treaties during the 1970s concerning what were known at the time as psychotropic drugs. That was the term used in the treaties.
I will end with three points. The Bloc Quebecois worked very hard on the special parliamentary committee on the non-medical use of drugs and on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, so that Bill C-10—Bill C-38 as it was then—would be amended.
We support Bill C-10 because we believe that the legislative system must be changed and that it is not rational for people accused of simple possession of marijuana to find themselves with a criminal record. We hope that money will be made available to the provinces in order to assist in the distribution of as much information as possible about the consequences of drug use. We believe that people should not use drugs and that they do not contribute to personal growth.