Mr. Speaker, I find it very interesting that we are speaking to the concurrence on a report that was tabled in April 2014. This is obviously no longer about a report and its concurrence, but about politics.
At no point when we were studying this in the health committee did people start talking about the Liberal leader. We were talking about marijuana. The fact that the summary is about a report that was not even mentioned is quite amusing and fairly transparent, which is probably the only time the government has been transparent about anything.
The Liberal Party of Canada rejects this report. We do not concur with it, and we presented a dissenting report. I want to be very clear that this report does not reflect the testimony and advice we heard from expert witnesses who presented to committee. In fact, much of the testimony, specifically around scientific evidence, is absent from the report. There is very little scientific evidence in this report, so we find the report inherently flawed.
The Liberals asked that the study include the benefits versus the risks, as all drug studies do in any kind of appropriate review of any drug. My colleagues in the New Democratic Party also asked for it. It was completely rejected. We have a study that is very flawed because it looks at only its harms and risks, and not its benefits. In fact, in the testimony we listened to during the whole course of the five committee hearings on this, we heard about the benefits, but they were completely discarded in the report. Many witnesses said that this should be looked at in a objective, scientific manner, in the same manner in which all drugs are assessed.
What we heard was very clear. We have the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommendations, based entirely on evidence and because of the high use of marijuana among youth aged 11 to 15 years old in Canada. UNICEF reports that Canada has the highest use among all other countries. The UNICEF report is a comparative report, based on looking at other countries in the world.
The minister continues to refer to one report that says that the rate is going down. It is one simple report, and it is a Canadian report. It is not a comparative report. It simply says that the rates are going down. The minister has yet to prove to anyone what she is in fact referring to when she says that new reports have shown this.
The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey showed very clearly that of the 41.5% of Canadians who had used marijuana in the past, at least once in their lifetime, 25% were chronic users. In that report, what we did not break down in the report was that 17% of people who used cannabis did so for medical purposes. Of that 17%, 50% use it for pain and the other 50% use it for depression, insomnia, and anxiety, which suggests there is a medical benefit to marijuana. Incidents among youth remained at 20.2%, as per UNICEF.
Here is what we did not see in the report. Every scientific group presented conflicting evidence.
Mr. Philippe Lucas of the University of Victoria said that regulated access to marijuana was associated everywhere that it was done with a decrease in the recreational use of other drugs, such as alcohol and prescription drugs. It is important to look at the regulated use of marijuana.
Dr. Evan Wood at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Urban Health Research Initiative pointed out that the illegal status of marijuana did not prevent youth access, since 80% of young people in a U.S. suggested that cannabis was very easy to obtain.
Dr. Le Foll of the University of Toronto and Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad of the University of Montreal recommended legalizing marijuana through a system of strict regulation of use and taxation, which would help reduce its health risks and harms. However, they also said that if we regulated it, there should be oversight of content, including the level of THC, which we know has gone up a great deal since the 1960s. They also said that we could look at less harmful ways of using medical marijuana and marijuana per se.
Clearly, we have all of these very well-known incredible researchers and physicians saying that we should legalize marijuana and that wherever that is done, it not only brings down the use by youth, but also brings down the use of other related drugs that are used in conjunction with marijuana, such as alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs.
We recommended that the Government of Canada explore a regulatory framework of legalization, working with experts in the field, that aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of youth. We wanted to explore what the legislation would look like based not only on best practices of other countries, but by bringing in the experts to show exactly what should be included in that kind of recommendation, one of the biggest things being age-related.
Data from 2002 told us that hospitalizations in Canada related to cannabis accounted for 0.3% of all hospitalizations in our country. Yet hospitalizations for the use of alcohol was 5.8%, and for tobacco was 10.3%. Tobacco and alcohol are legal drugs in our country. The direct cost to the health care system of cannabis in 2002 was $73 million, for alcohol it was $3.3 billion, and for tobacco it was $4.4 billion. Here we have huge health risks associated with two legal drugs.
When the minister spoke so movingly about how much she cared about youth and how much she cared about the harms of the drug, did she mean that she intended to make alcohol and tobacco illegal in the country? I do not know. If she really cares, that is what she might be talking about.
One of the things that we learned was that a public awareness campaign was very important. For instance, Dr. Tony P. George of the University of Toronto said that in the United States it was found that the perception of harm among youth would decrease if there was a public awareness campaign. However, what he did not say was that a public awareness campaign needed to focus on accurate information, because using scare tactics have been shown to be the least effective way. The government put out its ad that was a scare tactic and did not have any accurate information at all in it.
This is important. When the government asked the Canadian Medical Association and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to help it with the public awareness ad, both of these groups, which are very credible organizations, said no because the ad was all about scare tactics and did not have anything to do with accurate information.
Here we have this predisposed bias of which the government is taking care. Therefore, if the government cares so strongly, why would it not want to legalize it?
We found a lot of conflicting reports about the harms and risks of using cannabis versus the benefits of using cannabis. From some groups we heard that there were obviously risks of cognitive impairment, brain development, respiratory effects, mental health problems, motor vehicle accidents and cardiovascular disease. Then we heard from others that there was no direct causality between chronic marijuana use and long-term cognitive effects. We heard that there was a comprehensive meta-analysis done at the University of British Columbia that showed no substantive systemic effects of long-term cannabis use and neuro-cognitive function. Therefore, we are getting two sets of conflicting reports.
Then we heard again that there were long-term effects of marijuana toxicity on the lungs and yet others suggested that research in this area was unclear and that more studies were necessary, especially with the vehicle for inspiring marijuana, either with paper and all of the leaves, which has an effect, or vaped. We heard two sides of that argument, all from very credible scientists.
Some witnesses said that marijuana impaired cognitive function and psychomotor skills, and that it could lead to driver impairment. Others said that, in fact, traffic fatalities related to cannabis were always combined with multi-drug use or alcohol. Therefore, we cannot take these simplistic responses that we have been hearing from across the way that this bad and this is good, unless we understand the causality of certain things and the multi-factorial causality involved. Always in terms of motor vehicle accidents there was use of another drug, mostly alcohol.
All researchers pointed out that MRI and brain activity studies showed that the developing prefrontal cortex was where marijuana had its biggest effect. However, other researchers warned that other factors could contribute to intellectual attainment in certain youth who used marijuana, because we had to take into consideration the multi-factorial causality: economic static, social stress and personality characteristics. Therefore, we cannot say that one plus one equals five in the way the report suggests.
In summary, all of the contradictory evidence pointed to a need to look at benefits versus harms and risks. We heard that cannabis increased anxiety and psychosis and yet other physicians and scientists said that it was used as an antipsychotic. One is a benefit and one is a risk. We heard that evidence of panic attacks and increased depression came from the use of cannabis. Then we heard that cannabis was used to diminish anxiety and chronic pain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS and post traumatic stress disorder. I find it increasingly amusing, and I do not know if maybe the Minister of Health was not aware of it, that Veterans Affairs Canada pays for the cost of medical marijuana for PTSD patients.
Much of this contradictory testimony was not included in this report. In fact, the vast majority of witnesses pointed to inconclusive evidence so far of direct harms and risks and the need to research. The Liberals suggested that extensive research be done on the risks and benefits, and we got an absolute no from the Conservative members of the committee. The report, as we can see here, does not mention research.
It is unfortunate that much of the evidence from credible witnesses would be taken out of the report. It is unfortunate that something as serious as a drug is being used by Canadian youth starting at the age of 11. Remember when people used to smoke cigarettes, when they 10 and 12, behind the barn. We now see, with all of the regulation that came about in terms of tobacco use, 11 and 12-year-old kids are not hiding out behind the barn. In fact, there are enormous fines if a young person tries to buy cigarettes. Therefore, we can see how the legalization, regulation, age-related specifics and strong penalties for selling to young people has had an impact.
I remember when I graduated from medical school, and I am sure many in this room can remember this, that the whole idea was to get absolutely blind drunk at the graduation. Today, with the work of MADD and the regulation on age-related limits being imposed and enforced with regard to alcohol, we have dry grads. Any kind of public health approach to anything needs to be based on evidence. We need to look at the benefits of the drug. Every drug has a benefit and every drug has harms. Aspirin has benefits and also has huge harms.
Let us really talk about scientific evidence and data. We cannot look at any drug without doing both. This report, which we do not concur in, does not speak to both and does not weigh those two pieces of evidence so we can look at that drug in the way we look at all other drugs. Also, we have heard that the cost to the health care system of alcohol and tobacco is, by thousands, more costly and harmful than cannabis.
Here, we have some stuff we have to look at. If we are going to look at evidence-based systems, we have two drugs in use currently that are regulated and that are legal and that have a lot of evidence to show that regulating and legalizing and imposing penalties makes us decrease the use of those drugs.
The idea that this is being used as a political football is a disservice to our caring about the young people we do not want to see drink, smoke and use cannabis. Why would we take cannabis and treat it so differently? It is a drug, just like alcohol and just like nicotine.
Let us really talk about good scientific evidence, objective data. We in this party care about youth. We do not want to see our young people using cannabis in large amounts. We do not want to see them using it at all. We know how easy it is to get. Eighty per cent of youth have testified it is easy to get.
Let us start regulating this drug, very clearly, and let us start putting penalties to the drug, but let us also, at the same time, do research so that we do not deprive our population of any benefits that this drug could have.
I notice that the minister talked a lot about Vancouver and the municipality of Vancouver and how it is licensing dispensaries.
Way back, in about 2001, Health Canada decided to license dispensaries for the production of medical marijuana because there was evidence that for people with MS, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, depression, certain mood disorders and terminal illness, it did have impact. Doctors would write prescriptions. People would go to the licensed dispensaries, that Health Canada licensed, and they would be able to get their prescription filled.
The current government came in and decided that, in fact, it did not like the idea that Health Canada licensed it. The government decided to commercialize the industry, giving licences to commercial entities, and stalking people who needed to use this drug and who would grow two plants. We actually set up regulations in which people could grow two plants, for personal use only. Now, people are not allowed to do that. The current government cancelled that. What we have are thousands of commercial industries waiting to get licensed to produce medical marijuana and we have not got very many of them done. Those that have licences are in the single digits.
We have a government that entered the fray and changed what was working extremely well. Now we are in limbo. The Province of British Columbia and certain health authorities in British Columbia took the Government of Canada to court because it did not want people to grow two plants and people were now going to have to buy it at enormous prices from these commercial entities. The Supreme Court of British Columbia said, “Well, no, you can't do that. You cannot protect people who are taking something that is helping them, in effect. If some physicians are prescribing it for them, you cannot remove that at a cost that many people cannot afford.” Many of the people who use this for medical purposes are either terminally ill or disabled and are not working full time. They do not have money to buy an extraordinary amount of drugs. We know, in this country, that most people cannot afford to buy prescriptions for diseases like hypertension, diabetes, et cetera, because the cost of drugs is so high.
The government absolutely admitted that there was a medical benefit to it because it was going to license commercial industries for the production of medical marijuana.
The City of Vancouver, because of the chaos caused by the current government that does things and then never follows up on them, has been sitting in limbo now for about two years. We find that there are many dispensaries being set up that are not licensed and are not legal. The cities of Victoria and Vancouver had to take matters into their own hands to license and bring some control to the chaos of the current government.
Finally, I am saying we presented a dissenting report. I gave all the reasons we cannot concur with the report that we are discussing today.