Mr. Speaker, it is an honour to rise to speak in support of Bill C-45, the cannabis act, and the amendments that I and my fellow colleagues on the health committee introduced.
Back in August, I held a town hall in my riding regarding the legalization and regulation of cannabis. Not only am I in support of this legislation, but so are many of my constituents. Teachers, parents, and seniors, groups the loyal opposition regularly lists as being concerned about the legalization of cannabis, have all approached me either at my town hall or by contacting my office about their concerns.
They have concerns that a youth who makes a mistake by possessing a small amount of cannabis may be thrown in prison; concerns that this youth will have to carry a criminal record for the remainder of his or her life and that it will hinder the ability to find employment and lead a regular life; concerns that fellow citizens are unknowingly ingesting products that could be laced with dangerous substances; and concerns that the prohibition of cannabis is not helping to fight drugs but instead allows criminal elements to terrorize communities and profit, just like they did during the American prohibition of alcohol. These are the concerns of my constituents.
As a member of the health committee, I spent several weeks intensely reviewing this legislation. This included a week of back-to-back meetings where we heard testimony from over 100 witnesses. Most of these witnesses were in favour of legalizing and regulating cannabis.
This legislation strikes a balance between addressing the need to end prohibition while addressing the challenges other jurisdictions faced when regulating cannabis.
Bill C-45 would allow an adult to possess up to 30 grams in public, a measure that would ensure that no one would be criminalized for possessing a reasonable amount of cannabis, while ensuring that those who continue to illicitly sell cannabis on the street would be charged.
The legislation would allow home cultivation, with up to four plants per residence, an amount that is within reason for an individual while making it unfeasible for criminal elements to profit. This bill would also protect consumers by implementing industry-wide rules and standards for basic things such as sanitary production requirements, restrictions on the use of unauthorized pesticides, product testing, and restrictions on the use of ingredients and additives. We would create a framework so that Canadians could trust that the products they purchased would be safe and free of dangerous chemicals or substances, without having to take a criminal's word at face value.
As a physician who has spent over 20 years in the emergency room, I have treated patients who unknowingly ingested what they thought was just cannabis. This is indeed a concern worth resolving, and I applaud the government's commitment to the health and safety of Canadians.
This legislation would also protect youth by creating a framework for a minimum age of purchase of 18, through licensed retailers; requiring childproof packaging and warning labels; and providing for public education and awareness campaigns about the dangers associated with cannabis.
I will add that yesterday the government announced a new investment of $36.4 million over the next five years for an education and awareness campaign. This investment is in addition to the funding announced in budget 2017, bringing the total investment in education and awareness to $46 million.
The act would also prohibit products or packaging that were appealing to youth; selling cannabis through a self-service display or vending machine; and promoting cannabis, except in the narrowest of circumstances where the promotion could not be seen by a young person.
This act would also create two new criminal convictions to protect youth by making it illegal to give or sell cannabis to a youth and to use a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence. This bill also has a provision that would protect youth who made a mistake when in possession of five grams of cannabis or less to ensure that they would not carry a criminal record for the rest of their lives.
I want take a moment to address the notion raised by the opposition that we are normalizing cannabis use among youth. The truth is that cannabis use in Canada has already been normalized. With the second highest rate of youth usage in the world, it is obvious that the current system does not work. We need to stop focusing on a prohibitionist model for cannabis, hoping to get a different result in the future. We need to use an evidence-based approach that restricts access to youth while removing the financial incentives that embolden criminal elements.
I would like to touch on another item the opposition regularly states, which is that vehicle collisions and fatalities in jurisdictions that have legalized recreational cannabis have increased. This statement is incorrect. While statistics before and after legalization indicate an increase in impaired driving, public safety officials in the states of Washington and Colorado are in agreement that this apparent increase was the result of improved detection methods.
In a letter from the Governor and the Attorney General of the State of Washington addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they wrote:
...several of the statistics quoted in your letter on the increasing incidence of marijuana DUIs are distorted by the fact that the testing regime has changed with state legalization. Any amount of drugged driving and collisions is too high. Prior to marijuana legalization, blood testing for THC at suspected DUI traffic stops was substantially less common. Consequently, comparable statistics do not exist.
Additionally, in a letter from the Governor and Attorney General of Colorado, again to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, they stated that they have enacted new laws, giving state and local law enforcement additional tools to prosecute individuals driving under the influence of marijuana, and have significantly increased the number of law enforcement officers who are trained to detect drug-impaired driving, allowing the state to identify and detain more individuals who are driving impaired than previously. More importantly, they wrote that the number of impaired drivers went down. The letter states:
In the first six months of 2017, the number of drivers the Colorado State Patrol considered impaired by marijuana dropped 21 percent compared to the first six month of 2016.
If the House wishes, I can table these two letters from Washington and Colorado for review.
It is evident that any amount of impaired driving or collisions is too high, and that is why I am pleased that the government is progressing with Bill C-46 in an effort to address and curtail impaired driving. It has also committed up to $161 million to train front-line officers in how to recognize the signs and symptoms of drug-impaired driving, to provide access to drug-screening devices, and to raise public awareness about the dangers of drug-impaired driving.
In May of this year, I had the honour of rising and speaking in favour of this legislation at second reading. Since then, the legislation has been amended by my fellow colleagues and I on the health committee. Many were technical elements to strengthen the bill, but there were several amendments of consequence as a result of our witness testimony during our intensive review.
One of the more consequential amendments made was the removal of height restrictions on cannabis plants for home cultivation so that no one who let a plant accidentally overgrow would be deemed a criminal. Additionally, the legislation was amended to ensure that it was in line with the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which was introduced by my fellow health committee colleague, the member from Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam, and which I was proud to second, to ensure that an individual who committed a cannabis-related offence would not be charged if he or she called the police or medical services to report an overdose.
I should add that I was disheartened when the Conservative members on the committee unanimously voted against this amendment that would save lives.
Additionally, our committee amended the legislation to ensure that edibles and concentrates would be entered under schedule 4 of the legislation as a class of cannabis that an authorized person could sell. It would be entered by either an order in council or a clause that would allow it to come into force on the first anniversary of the day on which clause 33 came into force. Essentially, this would ensure that edibles and concentrates would be legalized and properly regulated within a one-year time frame of when this legislation was enacted.
Given the transformative nature of this legislation, our committee introduced an amendment to require the minister to conduct a review of the act after three years and to table a report before Parliament. This would enable us, as parliamentarians, to determine if changes to the legislation were necessary to ensure the protection of public health and safety.
Our committee also amended clause 139 to provide the Governor in Council with the authority to make regulations that would restrict the characteristics of certain items, set limits on the amount or concentration of chemical compounds, and ensure that regulated products under the legislation would be consistent with the provisions found in Bill S-5.
The opposition has been constantly counting down to remind us how many days until legalization and have today reminded us that it is 243 days. While I am glad that my colleagues across the aisle can count backwards on a calendar, I think we should look at it in a different way.
In 243 days, we can end a system that victimizes ordinary Canadians and emboldens criminal elements in our society. In 243 days, we can end a system that ruins lives through lost opportunities and social stigma. In 243 days, we can end a system that should never have been put in place.