Mr. Speaker, I am honoured today to contribute to this debate on Bill C-45, legislation that proposes to legalize, strictly regulate, and restrict access to cannabis. Protecting the health and safety of Canadians is a priority for our government, and the focus of the bill.
Despite decades of criminal prohibition, Canadians, including 21% of our youth, and 30% of young adults, continue to use cannabis. In fact, Canadians use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world.
As is well known, large quantities of cannabis are grown and sold illegally, profiting criminals and organized crime. This is done with no regard for public health or safety.
Too many young Canadians can access cannabis too easily. Young people often find it easier to buy cannabis than cigarettes. This situation cannot go on. Young people run the risk of being exposed to criminals whose only motivation is to maximize their profits.
Simply put, the current approach to cannabis is not working. That is why our government is proposing a public health approach for cannabis legalization and regulation. Our aim is to minimize the harms associated with cannabis use.
Scientific evidence shows that the risks of cannabis are higher for youth than adults, and these risks increase the younger people are when they start using it and the more often they use it. Our objective is to keep cannabis out of the hands of kids, both through the legislation and through early and sustained public education and awareness.
Bill C-45 currently before the House is the cornerstone of the government's approach.
The bill is about protecting our youth and reducing their access to cannabis. It would impose serious criminal penalties for those who provide cannabis to young people or enlist them in committing a cannabis-related offence.
Beyond that, the bill is about creating a legal and regulated market for cannabis, taking profits out of the hands of criminals, and protecting public health through strict product requirements for safety and quality.
Bill C-45 is informed by the recommendations of the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation, which was led last year by the Honourable Anne McLellan. The task force heard from experts in many fields, including health, public safety, justice, and law enforcement, and received more than 30,000 responses from Canadians.
Today, I would like to focus on four key components of our government's approach: protecting youth; education and awareness; product safety and quality controls; and the roles and responsibilities, and implementation.
Let us begin with protecting youth. To reiterate what is already well known, too many young Canadians have easy access to cannabis. During its extensive consultations across the country, the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation heard the same thing: how easy it is for young people to obtain cannabis. Therefore, Bill C-45 is not just about taking action on illegal cannabis markets, which my colleagues will expand on in further detail. It is also about protecting the health of Canadians, and most importantly, the health of young people and children.
Young people are at the heart of the government's strategy to regulate cannabis and restrict access to it for three reasons.
First, there are risks associated with the use of cannabis. Even though some people use it for medical purposes, it can still be harmful to a person's health. Second, young people are particularly vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on the development of the brain and brain function because their brains are still developing. Third, the younger one is at onset of use, and the more one uses, the greater the health threat.
The combination of these factors is why we seek to restrict youth access to cannabis, to penalize those who sell or give to youth, and to restrict its advertising and promotion.
Specifically, as drafted, the cannabis act would prohibit anyone from selling or providing cannabis to any person under the age of 18, but provinces and territories would have the flexibility to set a higher minimum age should they wish to do so. In addition, the act would create two new criminal offences, with maximum penalties of 14 years in jail for giving or selling cannabis to youth or for using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.
The act would also prohibit certain marketing practices. Cannabis businesses would not be allowed to produce or sell products that appeal to youth, such as gummy bears. In addition, they would not be allowed to use any packaging or labelling that is attractive to youth, including depictions of persons, celebrities, characters, or animals. Also, cannabis could not be sold through self-service displays or vending machines.
The bill proposes a number of restrictions on promotion to protect youth from being persuaded to consume cannabis through marketing or advertising. Promotion would be permitted only when it provides factual information and is communicated in a way that cannot be seen by youth. In addition, false, misleading, or deceptive advertising would be prohibited, as would sponsorship, testimonials, or endorsements, or other forms of promotion or branding that could entice young people to use cannabis.
We are confident that these measures will prevent children and youth from obtaining cannabis. At the same time, adults must have access to clear and objective information in order to make informed decisions about their consumption.
Therefore, the legislation would permit information-type promotion. This means it would allow factual, accurate information about cannabis products, such as the ingredients and the THC levels. Information that allows consumers to tell the difference between brands would also be permitted. Again, in all cases, these types of promotions would be allowed only where they could not be seen by youth. Penalties for violating these prohibitions would include a fine of up to $5 million, three years in jail, or both.
When it comes to enforcement, the bill seeks to avoid criminalizing youth and subjecting them to the lifelong consequences of a criminal record. To this end, I should note three points. First, individuals under the age of 18 would not face criminal prosecution for possessing or sharing very small amounts of cannabis, up to five grams. Second, violations of the proposed legislation by youth would be subject to the Youth Criminal Justice Act and addressed in the youth justice system, and third, provinces and territories would have the flexibility to prohibit the possession of any amount of cannabis by youth, thereby permitting police to seize any cannabis a youth has in their possession.
I will move on to education and public awareness. We know that Canadians need information about cannabis. We have to talk about it with our children, make informed and responsible decisions, and ensure that our roads are safe. That was the very clear message that our government heard thanks to the working group's consultations. We have a plan to address the situation.
We are also hearing from the experience of jurisdictions in the United States, whose officials told us that it is important to communicate early and to communicate often about the risks of cannabis consumption. One of the challenges we face when it comes to protecting youth is that they are less likely than adults to see cannabis use as a significant risk to health.
To that end, our government is investing in robust measures to make sure all Canadians, especially young people, are aware of the risks associated with cannabis use.
In budget 2017, our government committed $9.6 million to a public education and awareness campaign to inform Canadians, particularly young people, of the risks of cannabis use, as well as to fund surveillance activities. This campaign has begun and will continue over the next years. In collaboration with the provinces and territories, the campaign will raise public awareness about the risks associated with cannabis use and monitor the impacts of providing strictly controlled access.
It will also monitor patterns and perceptions of cannabis use among Canadians, especially, youth. To do this, we have launched the Canadian cannabis survey to gather information on the rates and patterns of cannabis use, as well as perceptions about cannabis. This annual survey includes detailed questions on how often and how much Canadians use cannabis, how they acquire it, and whether they consume it with other substances or before driving.
In addition to monitoring and measuring the impact of legislative measures, the survey will enable us to orient and better target our public education activities and to reduce the risks associated with cannabis use.
I will now talk about product safety and quality requirements.
Bill C-45 would permit adults 18 years or older to legally possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis in public, or its equivalent in other forms.
Adults would also be able to legally access cannabis through various mechanisms. Primarily, they could purchase it from a provincially licensed retailer or could grow it themselves at home. Sharing of cannabis would be limited to no more than 30 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent, and personal cultivation would be limited to no more than four plants per residence, each with a maximum height of 100 cm.
To deter criminal activity and protect the health and safety of Canadians, our government is committed to ensuring that there is a safe and legal controlled supply of cannabis available for sale when the act comes into force. Under the proposed legislation and regulations, our government would establish industry-wide rules on the types of products that would be allowed for sale, standardized serving sizes, and potency. We would also have rules on the use of certain ingredients and good production practices, as well as the tracking of cannabis from seed to sale to prevent diversion to the illicit market.
Canada already has experience with product safety and quality requirements for cannabis. Our current system, which provides access to cannabis for medical purposes, is recognized as one of the best in the world. It includes a number of safety and security features, such as frequent inspections of production facilities and clear regulations around pesticide use.
We will be using the authorized production system in place as the plan of action to control cannabis production under the proposed cannabis legislation.
While on this topic, I would like to say a few words about the Canadian medical marijuana system. This system will continue to exist when bill C-45 goes into effect, subject to parliamentary approval.
This was recommended by the task force to ensure access to cannabis for individuals who have the authorization of their health care practitioners. The task force also recommended that the government monitor and evaluate patients' reasonable access to cannabis for medical purposes during the implementation of the new law and that it evaluate that framework within five years. We intend to do that.
Health Canada has introduced changes to its program overseeing the medical cannabis industry to accelerate the licensing of producers to enable the industry to meet the increased demand for cannabis.
The existing rules surrounding product safety, good product practices, and restrictions on which pesticides can be used will remain in place. Health Canada will continue to inspect producers and enforce the regime. This will ensure that production is safe and quality controlled.
Finally, I would like to talk a little about the roles and responsibilities with respect to Bill C-45 and its implementation.
As I already mentioned, the proposed cannabis law would establish a rigorous national framework to limit the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis in Canada.
All levels of government in Canada would be able to establish requirements with respect to cannabis, consistent with their jurisdictional authorities and experience. Again, this follows the advice of the task force.
Under the proposed cannabis act, the federal government would be responsible for establishing and maintaining a comprehensive and consistent national framework to regulate production, set standards for heath and safety, and establish criminal prohibitions.
The provinces and territories would license and oversee the distribution and sale of cannabis. Together with municipalities, they could tailor certain rules in their own jurisdictions and enforce them through a range of tools. These rules could include setting additional regulatory requirements to address issues of local concern, such as prohibiting the consumption of cannabis in public or setting zoning requirements for where cannabis businesses could be located.
Active involvement of provincial and territorial governments by, for example, setting strong retail rules to prevent cannabis from being sold to young people, will be critical to ensure that young people do not have access to cannabis.
Earlier, I mentioned that our government's budget 2017 included a $9.6 million investment over five years for a comprehensive public awareness and information campaign as well as monitoring activities.
As health is a responsibility shared by the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, the provinces and territories can complement federal public health programs.
This could include managing health and public safety issues, as well as providing public awareness activities and counselling in schools.
Our government is committed to continuing to work with the provinces and territories to address this complex issue.
When it comes to the implementation of Bill C-45, I should note that cannabis for non-medical purposes will remain illegal as the bill moves through the legislative process. Currently, it is illegal to buy, sell, produce, import, or export cannabis unless it is authorized under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act and its regulations, such as the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Regulations.
Subject to approval by Parliament, the government intends to bring the proposed cannabis act into force no later than July 2018. Under the proposed act, possession, production, distribution, and sale outside the legal system would remain illegal and be subject to criminal penalties proportionate to the seriousness of the offence. These could range from ticketing up to a maximum penalty of 14 years' imprisonment.
In the weeks and months to come, our government will be working with those who share with us the responsibility for the legalization and regulation of cannabis. In particular, we will be working with provincial and territorial governments, municipalities, and our partners in indigenous communities.
To conclude, I would like to reiterate that Bill C-45 uses a public health approach to strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis. Our focus will remain on protecting youth, on educating the public and raising awareness, on ensuring product safety and quality requirements, and on establishing clear roles and responsibilities.
Our government is confident that the proposed cannabis act will protect the health and safety of all Canadians.
Based on these points, I call on my colleagues to support Bill C-45 at second reading so that it can be considered by the Standing Committee on Health.