That the sixth report of the Standing Committee on Health, presented on Tuesday, October 21, 2014, be concurred in.
Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise today to speak about the serious and lasting health risks of smoking marijuana, especially for our youth.
I will be splitting my time with the hon. Minister of Health.
The report before us today, authored by the health committee, of which I am pleased to be a member, provides context on this important public health concern and a contrast to the disturbing proposal put forward by the Liberal leader to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, making it even easier for children and teens to get their hands on and smoke.
Marijuana is illegal for a reason, and that reason is well documented in this report on marijuana's health risks and harms. Indeed, the former president of the Canadian Medical Association put it best when he said, “...especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”.
That is why our Conservative government wants to stop children and teens from smoking marijuana. Unlike the Liberal leader, we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier.
Through the national anti-drug strategy, our government is allocating approximately $100 million over five years to raise awareness and combat the production and distribution of unhealthy illegal drugs. The Liberal leader, by contrast, would legalize marijuana, making it easier for children and teens to buy and smoke. This Liberal plan is irresponsible and can have only one indisputable effect. That is increasing access to and use of marijuana.
Whereas the Liberal leader, who advised one journalist he had smoked marijuana five or six times even as a member of Parliament, wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for Canadians, our Conservative government is contributing to safer and healthier communities through coordinated efforts to prevent illicit drug use, treat dependency, and reduce the production and distribution of illicit drugs.
The national anti-drug strategy and the RCMP are actively working together to raise awareness of this serious public health issue, of which, incredibly, the Liberal leader makes light. The national anti-drug strategy encompasses three action plans: prevention, treatment, and enforcement.
The prevention component aims to prevent youth from using illicit drugs, through raising awareness of the harmful health effects of drug use, and to develop community-based interventions to prevent such drug use.
The treatment action plan supports effective treatment and rehabilitation systems and services by implementing innovative and collaborative approaches.
The enforcement element contributes to the disruption of drug operations in a safe manner, primarily targeting criminal organizations.
The RCMP has organized thousands of community outreach events to raise awareness among youth of the harms and risks of illicit drugs, including Kids and Drugs, which is a national prevention program for parents to help them learn strategies to prevent their school age children from abusing alcohol and other drugs. Drug abuse resistance education, commonly known as DARE, is a program designed to equip school children with the skills they need to recognize and resist social pressures to experiment with tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. Aboriginal shield is a program created to better enable aboriginal youth to make informed healthy lifestyle choices regarding alcohol, drugs, and positive alternatives.
Educating youth on the harmful effects of smoking marijuana is a responsibility that the RCMP has taken seriously, and our Conservative government commends it for its service to our communities. Indeed, the current head of the Canadian Medical Association was quite clear on the subject when he said, "Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome".
This report from the health committee lays out in plain language that which all members of the House should know: smoking marijuana damages teens' developing brains and everyone's lungs and causes other serious harms. This is the essence of what is so wrong with the Liberal leader's irresponsible plan to make smoking marijuana appear to be an acceptable, everyday activity.
Our Conservative government recognizes the responsibility we have to Canadian families to prevent our youth from smoking marijuana. That is why we made tough new rules ending grow ops in residential neighbourhoods.
In terms of enforcement, the RCMP established the marijuana grow enforcement initiative back in September 2011 to better tackle marijuana grow operations. This initiative has resulted in strengthened collaboration among government agencies, community groups, businesses, and community members. It has also resulted in many successful enforcement activities.
As part of the Safe Streets and Communities Act, our government has also introduced mandatory minimum penalties for serious drug offences carried out by organized crime or those targeting youth, and it has increased the maximum penalty for the manufacture of controlled drugs, including marijuana, from 7 to 14 years.
Shockingly, the Liberal leader cannot even agree that ending dangerous home grow ops is a good policy. He quickly condemned the work to end these dangerous neighbourhood grow ops stating:
Our worries are that the current hyper-controlled approach around...marijuana that actually removes from individuals the capacity to grow their own, is not going in the right direction.
...we don't need to be all nanny state about it....
These are homes with rerouted wiring for high-powered lights that are a fire hazard. They have high humidity that causes unhealthy moulds, and they are sometimes booby-trapped to ward off the theft of these drugs. Sometimes children live in these grow ops. Grow ops are extremely dangerous for children. However, the Liberal leader is focused on aging hippies who want to grow their own. I wish there were some way to sugar-coat these statements by the Liberal leader. However, the truth is that is what he actually believes. Protecting children or teens is being a nanny state, to the Liberal leader.
The Liberal leader wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for our youth, wants to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, and wants to have home grow ops in neighbourhoods across Canada. It is that kind of irresponsible approach that is proving to Canadian parents each and every day that he is just in over his head.
Another important element within this report from the health committee is the concern about marijuana-impaired driving. It seems everybody knows that alcohol-impaired driving is bad and that no one should drink and drive. The message has been out there for a long time. However, the issue with drug-impaired driving is not as well understood. Drug-impaired driving is dangerous, illegal, and a risk to our communities and Canadians.
A 2011 report by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse indicates that drugs are found in approximately one-third of all fatally injured drivers, almost as often as alcohol. Moreover, the age group most at risk is young men age 16 to 24, and the drug of choice for them is marijuana. On top of that, a study by the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators found that 26% of respondents did not believe that a driver can be charged while impaired by marijuana. That is, marijuana was found in the system of dead drivers age 16 to 24, and many of those drivers did not know it was dangerous or illegal to drive after smoking marijuana.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse described that 15.8% of youth have reported being in a vehicle where the driver has smoked marijuana in the previous two hours. That is why the RCMP is working to prevent impaired driving and educate our youth. Through RCMPTalks, the RCMP has provided a series of live, interactive video conferences with students in classrooms across Canada on many important issues, including impaired and distracted driving.
The Liberal leader has said that this current approach is not going in the right direction, and yet we are seeing results. Youth surveyed by the RCMP have reported a decrease in the numbers of licensed students who drive after using marijuana or who get in a vehicle as a passenger with a driver who has been using marijuana. These and other initiatives are making a difference in communities from coast to coast.
According to the Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and 45% since 2004. The Liberals' plan to legalize marijuana and their leader's insistence on normalizing the practice is reckless and will minimize all of these efforts by making it far easier for children and teens to buy and smoke marijuana. It would also make it socially acceptable, perhaps even a status symbol for youth. This Conservative government wants to stop children and teens from smoking marijuana, and we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier.
This discussion in the House today is timely. Our position is grounded in facts, and it is the right public health message that needs to be delivered to Canadian teens and their parents.