Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-46. Just as clarification for folks watching on television, this is not the bill to legalize marijuana, but the bill to deal with offences related to the conveyance, and also to deal with offences and procedures related to impaired driving for both cannabis and alcohol.
It is important to note at the outset that the Conservatives support measures that protect Canadians from impaired drivers. Impaired driving has needlessly taken away too many lives far too early. Unfortunately impaired driving remains one of the most frequent criminal offences and it is among the leading criminal causes of death in Canada. The legalization of marijuana must be considered with this reality in mind.
Let me be very clear. I do not support the legalization of marijuana. The Conservative Party has adopted a much more measured, responsible approach to keep minor marijuana possession illegal but to make it a ticketable offence. This is a position that has long been adopted by the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. However, if Liberal backbenchers are willing to support the Prime Minister's dangerous proposal, which sadly appears to be the case, we have a moral responsibility to soberly consider the consequences of legalizing marijuana in so many areas of Canadian life, including on the safety of motorists on our roadways.
As I said, we on this side of the House always have supported measures that protect Canadians from impaired drivers. The mandatory fines and higher maximum penalties send a strong message that Canadians will not tolerate impaired driving. Indeed, this is the type of common-sense legislation the Conservatives regularly brought forward when we were in government and the Liberals opposed. I am pleased to see that on this issue the Liberals seem to have come around somewhat, but we also know there are many factors to take into consideration other than just penalties, and those concerns must also be addressed.
For one thing, the Liberal government has indicated that it plans to rush both Bill C-45, the legalization of marijuana, and Bill C-46, this legislation, through Parliament by July 2018. This is a hurried and unrealistic legislative timeline that puts the health and safety of Canadians at great risk, given the immensity of the task and the volume of the questions that have been left unanswered. One such challenge lies with law enforcement.
While I certainly have confidence in our law enforcement officers, as is to be expected with such radical change, police do not currently have the resources or the training required to manage the increased threat of impaired driving associated with the legalization of marijuana. Moving forward with this legislation prior to properly resourcing and training police in a classic “cart before the horse” scenario but with profoundly dangerous and deadly consequences is reckless.
The chair of the Liberals' marijuana task force has said that the best solution for the issue of impaired driving is to give researchers additional time to develop proper detection tools, yet time is something the Liberals seem unwilling to give. Addressing these issues must be a priority of the Liberal government long before legalization, and adequate time is needed to get it right.
The marijuana task force report highlights a number of the complications that exist when it comes to cannabis-impaired driving. “It is clear that cannabis impairs psychomotor skills and judgment”, it reads, before launching into a list of considerations when it comes into actual testing for impairment.
Here are several of the points raised.
While scientists agree that THC, or the tetrahydrocannabinol, impairs driving performance, the level of THC in bodily fluids cannot be used to reliably indicate the degree of impairment or crash risk. Whereas evidence was gathered over many years to arrive at an established metric for alcohol intoxication, the blood alcohol concentration levels, these types of data do not exist for cannabis. In contrast to alcohol, THC can remain in the brain and body of chronic heavy users of cannabis for prolonged periods of time, sometimes several days or even weeks, far beyond the period of acute impairment, potentially contributing to a level of chronic impairment. Some heavy, regular users of cannabis, including those who use cannabis for medical purposes, may not show any obvious signs of impairment even with significant THC concentrations in their blood. Conversely, infrequent users with the same or lower THC concentrations may demonstrate more significant impairment. There is a significant combination effect when cannabis is consumed with alcohol, leading to a greater level of intoxication and motor control problems than when either substance is consumed individually.
Other challenges exist, including the need to account for the rapid and sharp decline of THC levels in the blood in the hours following consumption through smoking. With edibles, the decline is more gradual. When these complications are coupled with the fact that there is still really no reliable testing device for marijuana impairment, it becomes clear that the July 2018 timeline is pushing the limit. Even with an effective testing device, the task force report noted that there was little agreement among experts on what the limit for THC should be.
With this bill, there are more questions than answers. This does not mean that we cannot find answers; it just means that we need more time to research. The report suggested additional research in these areas: to better link the THC levels impairment; to develop effective and reliable roadside testing tools to detect THC levels and help law enforcement enforce the rules that are put in place; and to hire and train more drug recognition experts and officers able to conduct standardized field sobriety tests.
Second, as the minister of youth, the Prime Minister should understand that adolescence is a critical time for brain development. Research shows that the brain is not fully developed until around age 25, so youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on brain development and function. This is because the THC in cannabis affects the biological system in the brain that directs its development.
Health Canada has noted several negative effects of using cannabis, including how:
The THC in cannabis can impair your ability to drive safely and operate equipment. It can also increase the risk of falls and other accidents.
This is because THC can affect one's coordination, reaction time, ability to pay attention, decision-making abilities, and the ability to judge distances.
Health Canada also says:
Impairment can last for more than 24 hours after cannabis use, well after other effects may have faded. People who use cannabis regularly may have trouble with certain skills needed to drive safely for weeks after their last use.
The consequences for driving are obvious and the potential harm this can cause to young Canadians is alarming. Taking the time we need to consider the long-term impact on young Canadians is so much more important than a self-imposed deadline.
Third, public education plays a significant role in ensuring that Canadians do not get behind the wheel when they are impaired. However, we know that even the most effective public education campaign does not achieve success over night. The Liberals have yet to take proper steps to develop effective educational campaigns to deter Canadians from impaired driving. Without a doubt, the government must ensure that Canadians fully understand the risks of impaired driving before moving forward with legislation.
When the Prime Minister expressed his intention to push these new laws through Parliament by July of next year, his main concern was not with the safety of motorists on our roads, but instead about the symbolic optics for him and his party. This should not be the focus of the Liberal government with so much at stake for public health and safety.
While doing some reading on this issue, I came across several articles that I thought would be helpful contributions to this discussion.
In a 2015 Globe and Mail article, data was presented detailing how four emergency rooms in British Columbia surveyed 1,097 drivers and found that cannabis was the most common recreational drug, after alcohol, used among injured drivers; 7.3% were found to have consumed marijuana in the hours preceding their crashes; and 12.6% still showed traces of the drug from earlier use.
Another article shared on the Mothers Against Drunk Driving website, originally in the December 9, 2015, edition of The Province, tells the story of a constable from the Abbotsford police reviewing the report from a Saturday night's roadside counter attack effort aimed at combatting impaired driving. This overnight report included four driving suspensions for drivers impaired by marijuana while there were no mentions of drivers impaired by alcohol. The constable even shared about what he called “a 'Cheech & Chong' scenario, where the windows come down and the billowing smoke comes out of the car.”
In the article, Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD, stated, “There’s this impression out there by young people, especially, that they’re safer (driving) stoned than drunk...If you’re high on pot, your skills to drive a motor vehicle are deteriorated and you’re at risk of being in a crash.”
It is precisely this sort of myth that must be tackled before marijuana becomes not only more accessible to Canadians, including young people, but more acceptable in a recreational context. It must also be considered in the legislation. Time is what is required, time to study this, time to hear from the experts and get the proper research and data we need. I urge the Liberals to take the appropriate amount of time to engage with Canadians in a public education campaign and to abandon their reckless rush on this legislation.
Numerous voices have sent these same messages to the Liberals. In fact, their own marijuana task force recommended extensive marijuana and impaired driving education and awareness campaigns before the drug's legalization, noting in its report, “Public opinion research shows that youth and some adults do not understand the risks of cannabis use.” Worse yet, youth underestimate the risks of cannabis use.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health points out that cannabis affects a person's ability to drive by impairing depth perception, attention span, and concentration, slowing reaction time, decreasing muscle strength, and hand steadiness. Do Canadians, and Canadian youth in particular, know these essential facts? The Canadian Automobile Association concurs on the need for public education and adds “It’s clear from the report that work needs to start immediately in these areas, and that the actual legalization should not be rushed”.
In the states of Washington and Colorado, public education campaigns did not begin until two years after legalization. The task force report noted, “Officials from both states strongly advised starting educational campaigns as soon as possible.”
As a Globe and Mail article highlights, both states have “seen significant increases in the proportion of fatal accidents involving drivers who tested positive for the drug.” It goes on to say, “the percentage of those accidents in which the drivers tested positive for marijuana increased considerably.”
Colorado saw about 10% of drivers involved in fatal accidents test positive for the drug in 2010. In 2014, a year after recreational marijuana sales were legalized, that percentage nearly doubled. A similar doubling occurred in Washington in the same period from about 6% to 12%. Without a proper public education campaign, this legislation will lead to the same tragic mistakes seen in these two jurisdictions.
The task force also identified a need for immediate investment and to work with the provinces and territories to develop a national, comprehensive public education strategy to send a clear message to Canadians that cannabis caused impairment and the best way to avoid driving impaired was not to consume. The strategy is also to inform Canadians about the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving, with special emphasis on youth and the applicable laws and the ability of law enforcement to detect cannabis use.
Much can be learned from the way public education has changed the way Canadians look at drinking and driving. Although we still have far too many tragic incidents, there is a better understanding of the consequences of alcohol-impaired driving today than there has been historically.
If legalization proceeds without taking into account the lessons learned from drunk driving prevention education, including the amount of time it took for public education campaigns to yield meaningful results, it will be a fatal mistake.
I want to reiterate that I have many serious concerns about the legalization of marijuana. If the Liberals are going to move forward with this legislation, it is incumbent upon all of us to lay the proper groundwork for the protection of the Canadian motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians who share our roads.
We must also ensure that young people understand the risks inherent in marijuana usage so that we can avoid needless loss of life based on myths that suggest that marijuana causes somewhat less impairment than alcohol. These assertions must be countered with the truth for the safety of everyone. The Liberals must abandon their politically motivated, rushed timeline to allow more time to prepare for the consequences of marijuana legalization and to ensure that Canadians are protected from impaired drivers.
This legislation is being rushed to committee. It is being rushed through the House. The debate has been curtailed. As Conservatives, the right thing to do is to support it, because we know that the Liberals are going to push it through anyway. We need to get it to committee. We need to study it thoroughly. We need to bring in expert testimony. We need to consider the effects cannabis could have on our youth. We need to consider whether the age limit is correct as is currently prescribed in the legislation.
The medical community has indicated very clearly that the brain is developing until the age of 25 and that the early use of marijuana does irreparable damage to the brain. The medical community strongly suggests that we not legalize marijuana prior to the age of 21, yet the Liberal government has recklessly proceeded with legislation that would legalize it at the age of 18.
The Liberals have said that they want to keep marijuana out of the hands of children and youth. I would suggest that it currently is not as abundantly found in homes as it would be once this legislation was passed. People would be allowed to have four mature marijuana plants up to 100 centimetres. I do not know if that is 100 centimetres in height or length or what, but if it is actually 100 centimetres in height, they would start growing horizontally, and that would create other problems. We know that four mature marijuana plants also means that there would be non-mature marijuana plants growing in the same household that would reach maturity at different stages. As we heard in earlier testimony, that could mean upwards of 12 marijuana plants per household in Canada. Law enforcement would not make a huge effort to ensure that those limits were maintained. That is going to be problematic.
The good thing is that the Liberals are being somewhat proactive with Bill C-46 by at least trying to address the concerns with respect to impaired driving from both cannabis and alcohol.
Something that has not been mentioned, at least I have not heard it mentioned, is what the impact will be on employers. I own a construction company that deals with heavy equipment. What burden will this place on employers to properly test that their employees are not coming to work stoned and under the influence of marijuana? When I am looking at machines that operate 150,000 to 200,000 pounds of payload, and I have a guy operating that equipment who is under the influence of cannabis that I cannot properly detect, that is going to put not only him but many others at grave risk.
There are lots of things in this legislation that need to be carefully examined. I am hopeful that the Liberals will allow for proper time at committee to examine this legislation carefully and to bring in expert testimony. Contrary to what I have seen at committee in the past, I am hopeful that the Liberals will allow for meaningful amendments to be considered and passed.