Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to rise and speak in support of Bill C-45, an act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code, and other acts.
The principal objectives of the bill are to prevent young persons from accessing cannabis, to protect public health and public safety by establishing strict product safety and product quality requirements, and to deter criminal activity by imposing serious criminal penalties on those operating outside the legal framework. My constituents of Oakville have expressed that these concerns need to be addressed and Bill C-45 does exactly that.
As a member of the Standing Committee on Health, I would like to report the committee undertook a comprehensive review of this legislation. We took a focused week, meeting for five full days to hear testimony from a wide array of individuals and groups. We heard from over 100 witnesses on this legislation. Witnesses ranged from lawyers, law enforcement, department officials, tenant associations, community groups, activists, medical professionals, researchers, producers, retailers, and provinces. This built on the work of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, which travelled for six months and received over 20,000 submissions. The committee heard from most witnesses that they supported the direction the government was taking with Bill C-45.
Based on this background I would like to focus on why a new approach to cannabis is needed, why we need to act now, and how well suited we are to moving forward.
The evidence is clear. The current approach is simply not working. All that we have managed to achieve is to criminalize Canadians for possessing small amounts of cannabis, encourage Canadians to engage with criminals, and require Canadians to consume products of unknown origin, potency, and quality. It has also allowed criminals and organized crime to profit.
The committee heard quite clearly that the current model has not protected our youth. Despite the prohibition that has been in place for decades, Canadian youth use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world.¸
We cannot allow this to continue. A new approach is required as soon as possible to better protect youth and to make sure that adults have access to products that are quality controlled, have a known origin, and no longer run the risk of having a criminal record for possessing small amounts.
During the committee hearings, Mr. Ian Culbert, the executive director of the Canadian Public Health Association, said:
Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury of time, as Canadians are already consuming cannabis at record levels. The individual and societal harms associated with cannabis use are already being felt every day. The proposed legislation and eventual regulation is our best attempt to minimize those harms and protect the well-being of all Canadians.
That is why our government is committed to bringing the proposed legislation into force no later than July 2018.
Upon the coming into force of Bill C-45, Canadians who are 18 years of age or older would be able to possess, grow, and purchase limited amounts of cannabis for personal use. This would mean that the possession of up to 30 grams of cannabis in a public place would no longer be a criminal offence.
The bill would, for the first time, also make it a specific criminal offence to sell cannabis to a minor and create significant penalties for those who engage young Canadians in cannabis-related offences.
Canada is more than ready for a new approach that would better protect the health and safety of Canadians. Our existing model that provides access to cannabis for medical purposes is recognized as one of the best in the world.
Let me tell members more about some of the features of that system that we can build on.
Under the existing regulations that have been in place since 2014, Health Canada is responsible for licensing and overseeing cannabis producers. These producers are required to operate within the regulations to provide quality-controlled cannabis to registered patients. This rigorous licensing process ensures, for example, that entrants to this market have gone through a thorough security check and that producers have appropriate physical security infrastructure around their facilities.
Canada also has a world-class compliance and enforcement regime intended to ensure that licensed producers fully comply with the rules in place. Over the course of last year, a licensed producer in Canada was inspected an average of seven to eight times for a total of approximately 274 inspections.
In May 2017, Health Canada announced that it would require all licensed producers to conduct mandatory testing for the presence of unauthorized pesticides in all cannabis products destined for sale. This adds to the system of controls in place that oversee the quality of federally regulated cannabis products.
The commercial industry now has more than four years of experience and serves over 200,000 active patient registrations. This licensed production under the existing medical regulations provides a solid basis to support recreational cannabis production under this legislation.
Industry representatives have indicated that they are getting ready to support the timely implementation of the new regulations and to ensure that high standards are met in the production of regulated product.
The committee also heard that while the government has been working very closely with provinces, territories, and municipalities to support the implementation of the new framework, more work is needed. The collaboration will be critical to ensure that all levels of government are ready to support the new legislation.
We were pleased to note that progress is being achieved by our provincial and territorial partners in developing their respective approaches. Provinces and territories have a key role to play in the success of the new system. They are responsible for the oversight and regulation of the distribution and retail sale of cannabis.
The timely passing of this federal law is important to provide clarity to our provincial and territorial partners. In circumstances where provinces or territories do not have a functional retail system at the time of coming into force of the bill, adults would be able to purchase cannabis directly from a federally licensed producer by ordering online with secure delivery at home by mail or courier.
A representative for the Cannabis Canada Association, Colette Rivet, pointed out:
Licensed producers are eager to work in collaboration and compliance with the federal and provincial governments to quickly establish effective, low-risk distribution and retail models that are well regulated, highly secure, and tailored to the needs of each province.
Upon the coming into force of the bill, adult Canadians would have access to a range of quality controlled products including dried cannabis, fresh cannabis, and cannabis oil, which could be consumed in a number of different ways including smoking. The committee heard from health groups that limiting legal cannabis to forms primarily suited to smoking had negative health impacts. They identified the need to permit the legal sale of edible cannabis products as part of the federal framework as soon as possible.
The committee also heard expert testimony that experience in other jurisdictions, such as Colorado, underlined the unique health and safety challenges associated with edible products.
It is important that the government takes the time to enact appropriate regulatory controls to address the health and safety risks posed by edible products. In this regard, I was pleased to introduce an amendment to Bill C-45, which clarifies the timelines for the government to develop regulations and legalize the sale of edible cannabis products and cannabis concentrates.
The amendment stipulates that the sale of edibles and concentrates would be permitted no later than 12 months following the coming into force of Bill C-45. Under this proposed timeline, the government would have the time to safely develop regulations and mechanisms to put these edible cannabis products on the market correctly.
I think it is important that we let Canadians and the industry know that we are listening and that these products will be coming. However, we must heed the advice from other jurisdictions, get this right the first time, and not put the health and safety of Canadians at risk.
As I mentioned earlier, one of the purposes of Bill C-45 is to prevent youth from accessing and consuming cannabis. Yesterday, the government announced a $36.4-million investment for cannabis education and awareness campaign aimed, in particular, at Canadian youth, to ensure that they understand the health and safety risks of using cannabis. Young Canadians need to know the facts.
The bill contains a range of provisions that would restrict promotion or packaging that could make cannabis appealing to youth. For example, the bill would ban the advertising and promotion of cannabis, except in limited and restricted circumstances, as well as set out requirements for packaging and labelling of products.
As I have outlined, protecting the health and safety of Canadians, and most importantly the health of our youth, is at the centre of the government's approach to legalizing, regulating, and restricting access to cannabis.
The Government of Canada is committed to a comprehensive, collaborative, compassionate, and evidence-based approach to drug policy, which uses a public health approach when considering and addressing drug issues. I believe that is consistent with the wishes of the people in my riding of Oakville. I am confident that this public health approach, which focuses on reducing harms and risks of cannabis, rather than on criminalizing Canadians for possession, is the best path forward.