Mr. Speaker, Bill C-45 will legalize cannabis use within the limits my colleagues have already mentioned.
Many decisions fall to the provinces, including the legal age for using cannabis, the development of a point-of-sale system, and education. The government is pushing for a very short deadline. We are talking about passing this bill before July 1, 2018, which is only eight months from now. In politics, eight months goes by fast.
However, we are still waiting to see how the federal government intends to make sure that the law is applied from Vancouver to St. John’s, Newfoundland, by way of Quebec. Despite everything, I think it is very clear that we must go ahead with this bill. I support the legalization of marijuana, provided that it is done effectively and that we can prevent the sale of cannabis to children, that a reliable long-term source of revenue is devoted to public health, prevention and research, and that a comprehensive strategy to fight impaired driving is adopted.
We know that the prohibition and criminalization of cannabis, which the Conservatives have maintained in place in the past 10 years, have proven to be completely ineffective in reducing cannabis use and related criminal activity in Canada.
Earlier I touched on the statistics concerning drug-related offences reported in 2014, when the Conservatives were in power and had already implemented an extremely repressive system with longer minimum sentences, in an attempt to manage drug use. One year after the Conservatives passed their repressive laws, cases of methamphetamine and heroine possession had increased by 38% and 34%, respectively. Methamphetamine and heroine trafficking had increased by 17% and 12%, respectively.
Thus, drug use was not reduced, but actually increased, as did trafficking. We need to determine a strategy for making sure that those who use cannabis the most, young people aged 25 and under, are truly taken into consideration, and that we stop hiding our heads in the sand and practising denial. We must realize that the war on drugs has not worked, and that we need to find new solutions.
We agree with the solution proposed by the Liberals, namely adopting a public health approach. There are, however, many flaws in their approach, hence the need for discussion. Unfortunately, we are already at the third and final reading stage. We are concerned because we proposed several amendments that were rejected out of hand by Liberals at committee.
The government set up a task force, and in their report, the experts on the task force explained that legislation must be enacted to do the following:
reduce the burdens on police and the justice system associated with simple possession of cannabis offences; prevent Canadians from entering the criminal justice system and receiving criminal records for simple cannabis possession offences; protect public health and safety by strengthening, where appropriate, laws and enforcement measures that deter and punish more serious cannabis offences...
The bill addresses those issues by legalizing the consumption of up to 30 grams of dried cannabis and the possession of up to four plants per household.
However, as I said, the bill is scheduled to come into effect on July 1, 2018. Around 100,000 people have been given criminal records over the past two years for simple cannabis possession even though the government is planning to legalize it in less than a year. How many more young people is the government willing to put in jail for something that will be legal in about 10 months? Will it at least direct the police and judicial authorities to stop enforcing the existing law until such time as the new law is in force?
The Liberals' own working group was given a recommendation to decriminalize marijuana. They do not agree amongst themselves. The Prime Minister recently said that granting pardons would certainly address some of the backlog in the justice system. We know that, since the Jordan decision, a number of investigations have been halted and charges have not been laid in cases involving offences much more serious than simple marijuana possession.
We are going through the same thing with Bill C-45, as they do not want to proceed with decriminalization in the interim. This will only add to the burden on the judicial system and to the monumental costs associated with arresting people for simple possession.
Statistics Canada and other organizations have repeatedly demonstrated to us that these arrests and ensuing criminal records disproportionately affect young people, racialized persons and aboriginals. I wonder how many criminal records from young people arrested for smoking a joint end up on the desks of my colleagues from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. How many applications for pardon do they process each year?
As elected members, do we not want the Liberal government to fulfill its promise while making the right choice for Canadians, regardless of their age or the colour of their skin, meaning to go ahead with decriminalization, at the very least, and consider granting pardons? I cannot understand why this would be a problem in light of the fact that it appears in the Liberal Party's platform in 2015.
These long overdue amendments will only come into force in 15 months, at the earliest. Delays and lack of resources are causing a crisis in the justice system. We cannot afford to continue to allocate police and court resources to charging and convicting people for simple possession of cannabis, a substance that will be legalized in a few months.
The working group will continue working toward meeting its objectives, which now focus on youth, prevention and education. The bill must protect Canada's youth by keeping cannabis out of their reach, and must ensure that Canadians are well informed through public health campaigns so that young people especially are made aware of the risks of cannabis use.
Bill C-45 imposes heavy sanctions on whomever traffics, sells or gives cannabis to a minor. How is this a public health matter, I wonder? First off, we need more scientific research not only on the short and long-term effects of cannabis use, but also on the properties of this plant. Some people already use it for medicinal purposes. We have often heard of patients undergoing chemotherapy or veterans using it, for example.
Since they claim to want to protect youth, will the Liberals increase funding for research on the chronic and long-term effects of consumption on the health of young people in particular?
I am also looking at the 2017 budget, which announced a ridiculous budget of less than $2 million per year over five years. Last week, it was announced that this budget will be increased to $6 million per year over five years, but it still totally ridiculous. On top of education, awareness campaigns and prevention, we need federal funds for frontline community organizations. Along with the schools, they will be ready to engage with young people on the ground when they want information. However, how will $6 million ever be enough to help the millions of community groups in Canada? Will the burden fall on the provinces? It is a fair question.
If we do a comparison with American states such as Colorado, we are far from doing all we can. Colorado spends nearly $37 million per year in prevention alone. That is seven times what the Canadian government provides for in this major bill on the legalization of marijuana. I would remind members that will happen in less than eight months.
I also know very little about what the government intends to do with the money that will be made from the sale of marijuana. What types of prevention programs will be available? Who will they be targeting? Will there be funding for community groups? We should keep in mind that this is extremely important.
The bill also raises a lot of important questions concerning the provinces. Will they need additional time to establish their regulatory system? This is another reason why we would have wanted the process to start earlier or go beyond July 1, 2018. The issues relating to the sale system and the legal framework are also very important to minimize the risks associated with the legalization of marijuana.
Another issue we need to clarify has to do with the nature of the cannabis tax structure and revenue. How will they be shared among the provinces and the federal government? The provinces and Canadians are looking to the Department of Finance to make a decision on this issue. In Quebec, Minister Charlebois has already expressed her displeasure about the time granted to the provinces, and Premier Couillard did the same regarding taxation.
I would like to talk about many other things, but I see that my time is up. I want to simply point out that the NDP proposed 38 amendments in committee and that all 38 amendments were rejected. That is rather absurd.