Mr. Speaker, the Liberal government recently introduced Bill C-45, which aims to provide legal access to recreational cannabis and to control and regulate its production, distribution, and sale.
The Liberals are on record as saying they hope it receives royal assent before July 2018. Numerous studies cite marijuana as one of the most abused drugs across the world. The Liberal call for its legalization has a significant impact on governments, businesses, and individuals.
In an August 1, 2016, opinion piece, Richard Berman of The Washington Times wrote:
Proponents like the Drug Policy Alliance claim that legalization should occur partially for “health” reasons. The Marijuana Policy Project has called pot “harmless.” Others say it is “safe” and even “healthy.” Nearly all proponents seem to deny or minimize its risks. Popular culture reinforces this view portraying use generally as a risk-free endeavor. And big business looking to cash in on legalization is all too happy to propagate this claim.
But here’s the problem: This view is out of step with the medical literature. In fact, a scientific consensus exists that marijuana has serious health implications—even for casual users.
Despite marijuana gaining greater acceptance in our society, it is important for people to understand what is known about the adverse health effects and extenuating implications of its use in a society. Parliamentarians, in particular, are entrusted with the health and well-being of Canadians and should not overlook these risks.
Recreational marijuana has a very different use from the already legal medicinal marijuana. Recreational marijuana is used with the intention of altering how one feels by achieving an altered state of consciousness by getting high. THC is the main psychoactive or mind-altering chemical in marijuana and the one responsible for the intoxicating effects that people are seeking.
According to an April 2017 paper published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, advancing an addiction science letter to the director:
When marijuana is smoked, THC and other chemicals in the plant pass from the lungs into the bloodstream, which rapidly carries them...[through the bloodstream and into]...the brain. The person begins to experience effects almost immediately....
If...consumed in foods or beverages, these effects are somewhat delayed—usually appearing after 30 minutes to 1 hour—because the drug must first pass through the digestive system.... Because of the delayed effects, people may inadvertently consume more THC than they intend to.
...THC stimulates neurons...to release the...chemical dopamine at levels higher than [attained normally by the human body. It is this assisted]..."high" that...recreational marijuana [users] seek.
The American Society of Addiction Medicine marijuana fact sheet states that pleasant experiences with marijuana are by no means universal:
Instead of relaxation and euphoria, some users [due to their age, previous exposure, and toxicity levels] experience anxiety, fear, distrust and panic.... People who have taken large doses of marijuana may experience an acute psychosis, which can include hallucinations, delusions and a loss of the sense of personal identity.
Richard Berman, The Washington Times writer, goes on to state in his August 1, 2016, report:
According to research published in the medical journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: “Someone who uses marijuana regularly has, on average, less gray matter in his orbital frontal cortex.”
Another study finds that the hippocampus—the part of the brain responsible for long-term memory—is abnormally shaped in daily marijuana users.... Studies show even casual marijuana use causes abnormalities in the density, volume and shape of the brain.
He concludes his argument by stating:
I don’t want to be associated with the fear-mongering “This is your brain; this is your brain on drugs” commercials from last century, but their underlying message was essentially correct.
In January 21, 2014, John Hawkins, a Townhall columnist, wrote:
A recent Northwestern University study found that marijuana users have abnormal brain structure and poor memory and that chronic marijuana abuse may lead to brain changes resembling schizophrenia. The study also reported that the younger the person starts using marijuana, the worse the effects become.
Marijuana has been shown time and again to distort perception and impair short-term memory and judgment. This reality played out in an even larger legal recreation forum has major future implications for our youth, industry, and government institutions, and the above seems to be just the start of our concerns.
In addition to the various mental health studies cited above, we cannot overlook physical health as well, specifically lung health. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that because of how it is typically smoked, with deeper inhale and held for longer, marijuana smoking leads to four times the deposition of tar compared to cigarette smoking. Believe me, I am not suggesting that cigarette smoking is a better choice. Further, it stated that people who frequently smoke marijuana had more outpatient medical visits for respiratory problems than those who do not smoke. It states:
Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke is an irritant to the throat and lungs and can cause a heavy cough during use. It also contains levels of volatile chemicals and tar that are similar to tobacco smoke, raising concerns about risk for cancer and lung disease.
Marijuana smoking is associated with large airway inflammation, increased airway resistance, and lung hyperinflation, and those who smoke marijuana regularly report more symptoms of chronic bronchitis than those who do not smoke....
Marijuana smoke contains carcinogenic combustion products, including about 50 percent more benzoprene and 75 percent more benzanthracene...than cigarette smoke.
In short, marijuana smoking is terrible for one's physical health. It is even more toxic than cigarette smoke with the side effects manifesting themselves much earlier than found in tobacco users. In addition to lung health concerns, there is also concern for the effect of second-hand smoke and ingestion. Here is just one example of what I mean. We are all aware of the horrendous effects of fetal alcohol syndrome and how it has wracked our society. The same alarm bells can also be raised on marijuana use during and after pregnancy. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study published on December 11, 2013, states:
Smoking tobacco or marijuana, taking prescription painkillers, or using...drugs during pregnancy is associated with double or even triple the risk of stillbirth, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health.
I note that the previous speaker commented on some of the health concerns and also talked about packaging and what would be on that packaging for adults purchasing it. I did not hear about anything on that packaging that would indicate any of the health concerns that we are mentioning here today. The American Society of Addiction Medicine marijuana-use fact sheet says two alarming facts that parliamentarians need to take particular note of:
Brain development may be negatively affected by THC exposure very early in life. Research in rats suggests that exposure to even low concentrations of THC late in pregnancy could have profound and long-term consequences for both brain development and behavior of offspring.
Evidence from human studies shows that pregnant women who use marijuana have babies that respond differently to visual stimuli, tremble more and have a high-pitched cry, suggesting problems with neurological development.
Although laws will be put in place respecting age restrictions for the drug, we are all not so naive in this day and age as to expect that, with increased accessibility, those younger and below the legal age will not also access it. The April 2017 National Institute on Drug Abuse study raised additional concern for increased potential for youth exposure to the drug:
Considerable evidence suggests that students who smoke marijuana have poorer educational outcomes than their nonsmoking peers. For example, a review of 48 relevant studies found marijuana use to be associated with reduced educational attainment.... A recent analysis using data from three large studies in Australia and New Zealand found that adolescents who used marijuana regularly were significantly less likely than their non-using peers to finish high school or obtain a degree. They also had a much higher chance of developing dependence, using other drugs, and attempting suicide.
In the face of these revelations, for my fellow Liberal parliamentarians to want to rush to legalize this drug by July 2018 is deeply concerning.
Whose needs are truly being met here? As Townhall columnist John Hawkins further states:
Movies portray potheads as harmless, fun-loving people who spend their time giggling and munching Cheetos, but they don't show these people when they are flunking out of school, losing their jobs, frustrated because they can't concentrate or losing the love of their lives because [of their addictions].
Denver Post writer, Joanne Davidson, wrote, and quotes Dr. Drew Pinsky in a September 19, 2014, article:
Make no mistake, says addictions specialist Drew Pinsky, marijuana is addictive—and the earlier one starts to use it, the greater the consequences. “It acts like an opiate and causes severe addiction,” Pinsky said during a Colorado visit this week. “It affects the white matter of the brain, and for kids who start using marijuana when they are 12, or even younger, those bad consequences tend not to reverse.”
Do we need that to deal with as well?
It is not lost on anyone here that potency levels are a lot higher than they were 20 to 40 years ago. Not only are legalization alarm bells being raised by our respected health and youth institutions but also by industry.
As Tim Bradley writes in his October 2016 article, “No, We Should Not Legalize Recreational Marijuana Use”:
Some argue that marijuana use is merely a private vice—if it is a vice at all—and that it does not have much of an effect on others. But...private acts of vice can imperil important public interests when the private acts begin to multiply.
No one sits down to smoke a joint hoping to avoid getting high. No one ever seeks out a seller and says, “I want some marijuana, but not enough to get high on.” Even those who might try marijuana experimentally are intending to get high.
With legalization of this drug will come increased use by our workforce and with that, unintended consequences and costs for others, with increased risks for injury or accidents.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse, in April 2017, said:
One study among postal workers found that employees who tested positive for marijuana on pre-employment urine drug tests had 55 percent more industrial accidents, 85 percent more injuries, and 75 percent greater absenteeism compared with those who tested negative for marijuana use.
On February 17, 2017, on CBC News, Newfoundland and Labrador Radio One, Stephanie Kinsella interviewed Dan Demers, an occupational health operations manager at CannAmm Occupational Testing Services. It is well reported that detectable amounts of THC remain in the body for days or even weeks after use. Mr. Demers states:
Marijuana and dangerous activities, safety-sensitive duties, can't mix. The issue is, the use the night before work actually affects performance the next morning.... reaction time and depth perception can be affected even if someone uses marijuana the night before. If you're working at heights in the construction industry, your ability, for instance, to take into account somebody beside you, their facial expression changed because something is falling, the part of the brain that's responsible for recognizing facial expressions gets impeded for over 12 hours....
It's going to become much easier to access and there's going to be less cultural stigma towards it...
Which is what will happen,
... and the consequence is we're going to see it more frequently on our roadways, more frequently on our work sites...that's going to have some consequences.
Mr. Demers is right in citing this concern. According to a May 10 2017, CBC News report, Saskatoon police handed out over $18,000 in speeding tickets to 50 drivers in construction zones in one day over two hours. That is a lot of workers lives needlessly already in danger, without additional marijuana impairments added to the mix.
When speaking to industry stakeholders in my own constituency, similar concerns are being levelled. As Dean Beeby, senior reporter for the CBC Parliamentary Bureau, notes in a March 15, 2017 article:
“More stoned workers will be showing up in Canada's workplaces with the coming legalization of marijuana, but companies have few tools to cope with potential safety risks.... We're caught in a potential Catch 22: how do you protect the worker and those around them as well as deal with legalized marijuana?” said Cameron MacGillivray, president of Enform, a Calgary-based oil-and-gas safety group. “It is a pressing concern for the industry because of the...catastrophic impacts of somebody doing a critical safety job when they're impaired.” The Liberal government is expected to introduce legislation by the summer making recreational marijuana legal, at a time when the science of detecting and measuring impairment is incomplete.
Even more disturbing is a news development cited, on April 17, 2017, in The Globe and Mail, in an article by Robert Weir and Adam Pennell, “How Canada’s marijuana legislation will affect employers”. It says:
In the meantime, Canadian employers have questions about how to respond to this changing legal landscape. This uncertainty also extends, to a somewhat lesser degree, to the Canadian judicial system. Coincidentally, on April 3, 2017, an Ontario Superior Court judge declined to grant an injunction striking down a random drug testing policy sought by the union representing employees of the Toronto Transit Commission.
Think about that. With legalization, what challenges will existing employee protection laws be under? It is alarming to think that safety laws are already starting to be questioned and challenged. Although marijuana users will be subject to similar rules as alcohol users, the propensity of THC to remain in the system and impair judgment long after use remains in play.
The article goes on to say:
...section 25 of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act requires that employers take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of a worker. Safety-sensitive positions, such as those involving the operation of heavy machinery, may include essential duties or requirements that create safety concerns when a proposed accommodation plan includes marijuana use.
Right now, workers' compensation rates for Saskatchewan for injury time losses are down. What toll on these otherwise encouraging statistics, personal and economic, will legalized marijuana have in this instance? We need to think about the added time and cost for both small and large businesses to monitor marijuana toxicity in their work sites. As well, there are looming safety implications for workers in industries like Alberta's oil sands plants and Saskatchewan's potash industry, industries that require thousands of operators a day to run some of the largest equipment on earth. I have to shudder at how at ease the Liberal government is putting this additional weight on our industry stakeholders to fulfill a poorly thought through election promise to garner the votes of a special interest group. Is that the priority of the Liberal government? Is this worth putting at risk the health and safety of Canadians impacted by illness, addiction, injuries, and death on our roads and in the Canadian workforce?
Two junior high boys stopped me on the street while I was campaigning for the election and asked if I was supporting the guy who wants to legalize marijuana. The response to my “No, definitely not”, was “Good, we don't want that in our town.”
At every school I have visited since becoming the MP for Yorkton—Melville, classrooms have always asked why the government wants to legalize marijuana. These concerned young people told me that they know doing so will increase access, use, and negative repercussions for their generation. I share their concern with the government today, and on their behalf, indicate that the common sense and concern they have toward this issue is refreshing and affirming and should be heeded by the government.