Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand on behalf of the people of Yellowhead and speak to this issue, which is important especially in the Yellowhead area which has been dealing with the problem over the last number of years, as long as I have served them as their member of Parliament. I think it will go on for a considerable amount of time.
What we first have to ask is: Who is driving this agenda? Why are we having a debate today on this legislation? Why is the legislation saying what it is saying and who thinks our society should go soft on narcotics?
My colleague from the Bloc, who just spoke, suggested that it would be great to have an abstinence with regard to the use of marijuana and there are others who are saying that would be a great thing. However the legislation sends the message that it is wrong to criminalize everyone for simple possession. To some degree that may be true but the message in the legislation goes beyond that. It sends the message that we should go soft on drugs, that we should go soft on marijuana, particularly for youth. One section in the legislation actually states that the fine should be reduced if one is a youth or a student. That message is loud and clear to the youth in my riding, which is unfortunate.
I want to go back to the question of who is driving the agenda. Why is the legislation coming forward the way it is? Is it the parents who are calling for the decriminalization of marijuana? I do not think so. Is it the police? No. We have heard from the police forces and they are saying no. They are the frontline officers who deal with this on a daily basis and they are saying no. It is also not coming from our communities.
Canada has three orders of government, municipal, provincial and federal, all with specific roles. One would think that on something as important as this, which would have an impact on every man, woman and child and for a considerable amount of time, that those orders of government would be dialoguing with regard to this legislation, that those who are closest to the problem, the municipalities, would be bringing forward their recommendations, then it would come to the provinces and then up to the federal level. That is not really the case.
This legislation is driven on the federal side. This is federal legislation. The municipalities are not being heard. In fact, the message coming from the municipalities in my riding is that this is a bad legislation and that the problem is intensifying. The legislation is sending them the wrong message. The Liberal government is saying that we should go soft on drugs.
It is very difficult when one is sending that message to a municipality or a school system. I was chair of a school board in a regional school division so I know firsthand the complexities of the problems those individuals face within the school system.
Last fall when I talked to some of those principals, who I know very well, they told me that the problem was that drug use had increased significantly because the message getting through to students was that marijuana was almost a legalized substance. They do not follow the legislation as closely as we do here and therefore do not know how it would impact them.
When the Senate came out over a year ago recommending that we legalize marijuana and this legislation says that we should decriminalize it, the message getting through to the individuals walking the street was that Canada should go soft on drugs and that it was not a big problem.
It is a big problem. It is a huge problem in Yellowhead. Last week CBC had a documentary showing just how intense the problem was along the Yellowhead Highway. It is not something we are proud of in Yellowhead but it is not something that we are prepared to run and hide from and neglect dealing with.
Yesterday at the airport I was talking with one of the mayors from one of the communities in my riding. He was saying how the mayors felt somewhat ashamed of the black eye the drug abuse and drug use in their communities was giving them. They were questioning whether they should have gone forward with the documentary on the CBC. I encouraged them by saying that we either had to stand up against the abuse and misuse of drugs in our society or fold our cards and walk away from it and to think of what our society would look like 10 years from now when would we see the actual intensity of the problem that is happening.
It is not so much the marijuana problem in my riding, although that is a serious problem, as it is the drug busts on a routine basis of grow ops within the riding. The amount of damage that is causing is unbelievable. In fact, the very first year that I was a member of Parliament the drug use and abuse became so intense that there were vigilante threats coming from our society to those individuals who were known in the community to be causing a problem. I come from a rural area where most neighbours know each other. They know who the drug users are and they know where the problems are coming from.
This group was so intent on theft and on breaking in to supply the money to be able to deal with the habit that they were addicted to it became very intense. Vigilantism came to the forefront. We had to call in K division to be able to push back against the drugs. That was done. It is settled in one area but it just spilled out along the highway a little further to our neighbouring communities. This problem is absolutely severe.
It is not so much the marijuana problem as it is the methamphetamine problem. Methamphetamine has only been around for about a decade. It is important that we understand just what this drug will do to our society if left alone and we just turn a blind eye to it.
In our school system they are lacing the marijuana with methamphetamine. The drug experts have told me that 46% of those who smoke methamphetamine for the first time will be addicted for life. For those who smoke it twice, over 90% will be addicted for life. This is an unbelievably toxic product that is very addictive and is permeating our society in Yellowhead.
In Alberta where I come from four out of the five worst communities for drug use are in my riding. Therefore I am not speaking off the top of my head. I experience it when I go into the communities. I talk to the mayors and reeves and the school people.
I was at a meeting just before Christmas where they were talking about this problem. They were throwing their hands in the air saying “We have to do something about it. We are not prepared to just sit back and let the RCMP deal with this problem”. They brought the school division in, the health authorities, the RCMP and social services. All of the different services within the community came together in a meeting to decide how they were going to deal with it. They decided that they had to link arms as a unit to be able to push back against the abuse and misuse they were seeing of marijuana and methamphetamines.
We heard in a debate here today that marijuana use is not a gateway drug. I suggest that it is a gateway drug. It is said that those who smoke cigarettes, those who get involved in alcoholism and those who smoke marijuana all lead to methamphetamine abuse which is also being laced in cocaine and other drugs within our communities.
We have to deal with these serious problems. Therefore we have a decision to make as leaders in the House. We can just stand back, put forward legislation and not deal with it, or we can put forward legislation that will deal with the problem, which is what I encourage us to do. However this legislation sends the wrong message, a message saying that anyone under 18 years of age will only receive a fine of $100. That is the maximum fine, by the way. I did not realize that until I spoke to some of my colleagues who were sitting on the committee who said that it was the maximum fine for simple possession up to 30 grams, which is about 60 cigarettes. The maximum fine is $100 but the minimum fine could be $10 or $25. The problem is that our courts are not dealing with this.
It is fair game and I think it is a good healthy debate to say that if the courts are not dealing with it perhaps we should give it to the frontline workers, the RCMP, and give them the resources to push it back.
The message should not be that we go soft on it. It should be that we are sick and tired of the courts not dealing with it. It is time that we took it out of the courts and gave it to the frontline people so they can push back aggressively against the misuse of this narcotic that will be there as long as we are here in Canada.
We need to start protecting and standing up for our youth. We need to begin looking after our society before this problem gets so intense that we are not able to deal with it. I am saying that the methamphetamine problem that I have described has only been here for a decade. What happens if we leave it alone for another decade? Imagine the intensity of the problem. If this legislation spins us into that, we would be making a terrible mistake to pass it in the House at the present time.
My colleague said that we should give it six months and then look at it again. He wants us to wait a little longer before we drive this country down a road on which we should not be driving. Let us send a message to the organized crime dealers and the grow ops in our ridings that we are not prepared to take it any longer.
I am concerned about the issue from another perspective. The people of Yellowhead have this problem and, as their member of Parliament, I am in the process of having a private member's bill drafted which would give the RCMP the tools that they need to deal with the methamphetamine problem. Products that go into the cooking of methamphetamine can be purchased from any drug store. Anyone who has the Internet can find out how to do it in a flash. This is happening at an unbelievable rate, not only in my riding but in ridings across the country. The RCMP should have legislation that would allow it to charge anyone found in possession of those ingredients. We need to start there.
In the last couple of months there have been a couple of drug busts in my riding. One involved a $50,000 grow op operation and another involved a $3 million operation in a community in Drayton Valley. We cannot afford to sit back and do nothing. We have to send the message that we are sick and tired of allowing our youth to be victimized by this product. As far as the methamphetamine problem is concerned, it not only involves youth, it involves people of all ages and in all professions. We need to have a national drug strategy. We need to bring forward legislation that will support our RCMP in its endeavours.
I was talking to another member of Parliament who represents the neighbouring community of Morinville. As a point of interest, he went down to the courthouse and asked how many stayed sentences for simple possession of marijuana were in the court system. Morinville is a rural community of 7,000 people. The number of stayed sentences was 782. If that was extrapolated across the country, we would realize the intensity of the problem and the fact that we need to do something about it.
Colleagues from all sides of the House want to go soft on this because everybody is doing it and they claim it is not a big deal. It is a big deal and we had better do something about it. If we do not do something about it now it will continue to victimize our society in ways we have never thought of.
I was my party's senior critic for health during the discussions on the medical use of marijuana. What is interesting is that the government brings forward legislation that would go soft on marijuana, but on marijuana for medical use it brought forward the idea of licences for those who use it for medical purposes. Individuals licensed to use this product for medical purposes could have grow ops in their backyards or basements.
However there are a few problems with that. There would be no way to determine exactly how much those licensed people would be growing. Professional counsellors in my riding have told me that this could be a problem. They said that licensed individuals growing this product for medical purposes could now traffic in it. They could supply five different individuals with marijuana at a cost of $300 a week, and it would not be used for medical purposes. How would we control that?
Not only do we have a problem there, but marijuana is much different today than it was 20 or 30 years ago when the THC level was 3%. It is now up to 33%. The toxicity of the product is much different now. That was the problem with the Flin Flon experiment where the seeds were taken off the street. The government realized, once the product was grown and some tests were done, that there were 165 different varieties growing from its experimental plot.
If that is what it had with the product that it was experimenting with, saying that it was going to be used for medical purposes, my question is, who knows what the toxicity level is for the crop that is being grown and licensed to be grown for this government?
I can say that nobody knows, not the Minister of Health, not Health Canada, no one. That is a very serious medical marijuana problem because it has not been licensed. That is why the Canadian Medical Association says it has not jumped through the litmus test and has not had the proper testing to prove that it is the product of choice.
We can get it in the form of a pill in any pharmacy across the country. But when we talk to those who want it for licensing to be able to have a grow op in their own house or backyard, they will say they do not want to take it in a pill form, they want to smoke it. There is another problem with that because it has twice the toxicity as far as tar level and problems for health down the road.
I am not saying that medical marijuana is all bad. I am saying that it has not jumped through the hoops. We should be doing the proper testing before we allow it to be grown. If we grow it, we should know the toxicity level of the stuff we are growing. If we do not do those things first, we are making a terrible mistake.
Medical marijuana is a serious problem. When we think about it, we are having a real problem with Health Canada letting in natural food products. These are just natural food products--vitamins and minerals--from the United States. It is a product called Empower Plus used for bipolar disorder. It is being stopped at the border not allowed in for individuals who are using it for their own consumption.
The problem I have with that is that we are told it is not licensed to be used as a natural food product in Canada. Compare that with what the government is doing with marijuana and it is saying that there is some consistency. This is absolutely ridiculous. We are licensing marijuana with no proof whatsoever of what it can do as far as being a benefit to the user and yet we are stopping natural food products from coming into the country with which there is absolutely no problem and from which there is a tremendous amount of benefit.
In fact, I have had reports from individuals who have had this held up by Health Canada and because of that they have gone into depression and committed suicide in at least two cases already. This is absolutely crazy. This government is so far out of touch from its electorate and the people it is trying to serve.
We see what is happening with the World Health Organization. There is a treaty that was signed to reduce the amount of tobacco use but not ratified. We must ask ourselves, why would the government sign this treaty against tobacco use and yet not ratify it? We have this mixed message all over the place, especially when the World Health Organization also said that we should be involved in pushing back against drugs. Yet, we have a piece of legislation that is going the other way on this whole idea.
All of us in the House must soberly ask ourselves, what are we doing with this piece of legislation. Why are we doing this? Do we understand the impact that it will have on our youth and society?
The amendments that we tried to bring forward are very clear. Decriminalization may be fine up to five grams, which is three to six cigarettes, but the fines should not be $100 for youth and $150 for adults. They should be significantly higher than. We want to give the power to the RCMP to deal with the problem as aggressively as possible because the courts have failed to do it.
I am sick and tired of being a member of Parliament and giving up power to the courts. We are not taking the responsibility that we have been entrusted with by the individuals who put us into office in this place.
It is time that we stand up in this place and give ourselves a little more credit for who we are trying to represent and give ourselves a little more authority to deal with the problem. We should not skirt around our responsibility by giving it to the courts. I am sick and tired of a Prime Minister who stands up and says that the time does not fit the crime, that we have to go soft and a criminal record is a problem.
I would be much more proud of a Prime Minister who would stand up and say that we have a problem in this country and we are going to fix it, and that we are sick and tired of the courts not dealing with it, and if the courts will not deal with it we will.
That is the kind of Prime Minister we need. It is about high time that we started having that kind of leadership in this country. We have had a leadership vacuum for a decade and we have to fix it.
I hope there is an election come April and the people of Canada have an opportunity to vote. I would be excited about going to the people of Yellowhead on this issue alone. I would love to see a Liberal candidate come into my riding and explain this piece of legislation to the people who are victimized by the narcotic use in my riding.
I am sick and tired of it. I believe everyone in the House is as well. The drug problem is not unique to Yellowhead. If members do not have it in their backyards, they are going to, and members in this House need to understand that very quickly.