Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague.
It is my honour today to speak to Bill C-45, our government's bill to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis consumption in Canada.
The future cannabis act represents a new approach to cannabis, one that puts public health and public safety at the forefront and will better protect young Canadians.
The current approach to cannabis does not work. It has allowed criminals and organized crime to profit while also failing to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth. In many cases, it is easier for our kids to buy cannabis than cigarettes. Canadians continue to use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world. It is the most commonly used illicit drug among young Canadians.
In 2015, 21% of youth aged 15 to 19 reported using cannabis in the past year. That is one out of five young people in this country. In the Laurentian region, it is almost 50%.
Too many young people see cannabis as a benign substance. They are often ill-informed about the harm it can do, and they do not realize that early use of cannabis increases susceptibility to long-term effects. Youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on brain development and function. This is because the THC in cannabis affects the same biological system in the brain that directs brain development.
At the same time, too many young people today are entering the criminal justice system for possessing small amounts of cannabis, potentially impacting their long-term opportunities. Clearly, there has to be a better way of educating and protecting our young people.
Given these facts, I would like to focus my comments today on the benefits of this legislation for youth. This is one of our government's primary objectives for Bill C-45, to protect youth by restricting their access to cannabis.
I would first like to note that this legislation is just one piece of the overall approach to addressing cannabis use by youth. Our government's commitment to keeping cannabis out of the hands of children comprises several complementary measures to protect their health, keep them safe, and ensure their well-being.
Our government is trying to reduce cannabis use by youth, to restrict their ability to obtain the product, to provide them with better information on its harms to health and its risks, and to keep them out of the criminal justice system for possessing even small amounts of cannabis.
This approach requires legislative and regulatory measures, and support for public education and awareness. To that end, our government has begun a public education campaign with a focus on youth and their parents to better inform them about cannabis, its harm and risks to health.
Considering all of these measures combined, I am confident that our government's overall approach will be effective in better protecting our youth from the potential harm of this mind-altering substance.
I would like to explain the specific measures in the cannabis bill that would help safeguard our youth. As a society we have learned from the health and safety controls that have been put in place for other potentially harmful substances, such as cigarettes, alcohol, and prescription medication.
Bill C-45 uses these best practices as the starting point, and contains a number of measures that are designed to protect youth.
At the outset, Bill C-45 prohibits the sale of cannabis to anyone under the age of 18 and prohibits adults from giving cannabis to anyone under 18. It also creates an offence and penalty for anyone caught using a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. Any adult found guilty of engaging in these activities could face a jail term of up to 14 years.
To avoid the kind of enticements to use cannabis that we have seen in the past with cigarettes, Bill C-45 would prohibit any form of cannabis designed to appeal to youth. This means that things like cannabis-infused gummi bears or lollipops would be illegal.
To further discourage youth from using cannabis, cannabis producers or retailers would be prohibited from using any kind of packaging or labelling that might be appealing to youth, or to use any kind of endorsement, lifestyle promotion, or cartoon animal to promote their product. The promotion or advertising of cannabis products will not be permitted in any place or in any media that could be accessed by youth, such as grocery stores, movie theatres, or on public transportation, just to name a few examples.
To further reduce the chance that youth might be able to access the product illegally, cannabis will not be sold in any kind of vending machine. Bill C-45 also includes authority to make regulations that could require cannabis to be sold in child-resistant packaging, to protect our youngest ones from accidentally consuming this product.
Taken together, these measures constitute a comprehensive approach to protecting the health and safety of our youth.
In addition to protecting public health and safety, one of our government's goals is to avoid criminalizing Canadians for relatively minor offences.
Having a criminal record for simple possession of small amounts of cannabis can have significant consequences. Having a record can seriously impact opportunities for employment, housing, volunteerism, and travel. The question we have to ask ourselves is do we want to continue to saddle Canadians with these burdens for the possession of small amounts of cannabis? Our government's response is an emphatic no.
The proposed legislation sets out a 30-gram possession limit for dried cannabis in public for adults aged 18 and over. As I stated earlier, it would also establish offences and strict penalties for adults who give or try to sell cannabis to a youth, or who use a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence.
Under Bill C-45, youth would not face criminal prosecution for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis. Any activities by youth involving more than small amounts of cannabis, defined as over five grams, would be addressed under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Our government will be working with the provinces and territories to support the development of legislation in each jurisdiction that would allow law enforcement to confiscate any amount of cannabis found in the possession of a young person. This would allow authorities to take away any amount of cannabis they may have in their possession.
Let me be clear, the proposed approach addressing youth possession of cannabis does not mean that such behaviour is encouraged or acceptable. It is not. Rather, it recognizes that a more balanced approach that uses a range of tools, and does not rely on the criminal justice system, would provide a better way to reduce cannabis consumption among youth.
This approach is consistent with the findings of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation. The task force's final report noted that cannabis use among youth could be better addressed through non-criminal approaches that discourage youth from possessing or consuming cannabis. I believe this strikes the right balance between avoiding the criminalization of youth for the possession of small amounts and ensuring that cannabis remains tightly regulated and controlled.
In conclusion, our government has put the health, safety, and well-being of youth at the core of this proposed legislation.
I am convinced that, through this balanced approach, our government will be able to help Canadians access recreational marijuana in a way that is safe and regulated and that will take this substance out of the hands of our children.