Madam Speaker, I am rising today to speak to Bill C-45. I am honoured to contribute to the very thoughtful discussions that we have been having in this place and indeed beyond the House about the legalization and regulation of cannabis. I want to thank all of my colleagues for sharing their perspectives on how we can best regulate cannabis to foster healthy and safe communities across this country.
Underneath this debate there are many unifying themes. We are united by a common desire to protect Canadian youth, to uphold public health, and to ensure that cannabis profits are not fuelling organized crime or other threats to public safety. A similar desire is visible outside of the House. Canadians are ready to move toward an approach to cannabis that prioritizes public health and safety, especially for our children.
The current model has not achieved that goal. As we know, an illegal cannabis market is all too much a reality in Canada. We agree with Canadians that the status quo is not working for our families and for our communities. Now it is time to look to the future and ask seriously how we are going to make the positive changes that these families and communities deserve.
Bill C-45 does just that. Through Bill C-45 we are entering a new era where our approach to cannabis enshrines public health and safety. The proposed legislation is underpinned by cautious, evidence-based decision-making to ensure that we take the necessary steps to protect our families and communities.
This government has demonstrated its commitment to evidence-based decision-making across diverse policies and cannabis is no exception. Throughout the process of creating the legislation we have listened to evidence from across the country and in June 2016, our government launched the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation. Above all else, I want to sincerely thank the task force members for their incredible and diligent work on this topic.
The tireless members of the task force and their chair, the hon. Anne McLellan, crossed the country to consult Canadians. They spoke with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments. They spoke with indigenous governments and representative organizations. They spoke with diverse people across Canadian civil society including experts, patients, advocates, youth, employers, and industry experts. That is only the in-person discussions.
The task force also reviewed an amazing 30,000 submissions. Throughout these discussions, the task force developed a rich perspective on how we can best design a new legislative and regulatory framework for legal access to cannabis. The result was an extensive report with far-reaching and detailed recommendations, which was released in December 2016. I am proud that our proposed legislative and regulatory system was informed by and closely aligned with these in-depth recommendations, recommendations that are the product of broad public conversations.
Bill C-45 seeks to ensure that Canadians have the information they need to make evidence-based decisions in their own lives. Through public awareness and education, we can cultivate a culture that is more conscious of cannabis's effects.
I want to reinforce the importance of public awareness and education with a question. What happens when we Google cannabis? The same thing that happens when we Google many other things. A deluge of information appears. Some of it is true. Some of it is not, and it can be incredibly dangerous when that false information informs Canadians' decisions around cannabis use.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse released a study in January 2017 called “Canadian Youth Perceptions on Cannabis”. This study questioned how youth form their understandings of cannabis. In their research, the CCSA found that youth receive most of their information about cannabis from, not surprisingly, friends, peers, the media, and to some extent from their families. The CCSA also found that participants appeared to struggle with critically evaluating the mass of information online and in the media. Amidst the glut of information on cannabis, this study found it is challenging to pick out which conclusions are valid and which are highly biased.
Why is this alarming? These perceptions of cannabis are shaping Canadians' choices around cannabis across the country. Misinformation can lead to dangerous choices. We need to question how we can encourage our youth to make safe decisions around cannabis. I am excited that the proposed legislation works towards this goal through two complementary foci, public education and protecting our youth.
Public education on the harms and risks associated with cannabis will be guided by our evidence-based approach. We will monitor patterns and perceptions around cannabis use, particularly those held by Canadian youth, through an annual Canadian cannabis survey. This information will be crucial to informing our public education and awareness activities, allowing us to more effectively reach out to Canadians. What is more, the survey findings will enable us to mitigate the risks and harms of use associated with cannabis. That is the power of evidence-based decision-making.
Budget 2017 reflects our commitment to public education and awareness around cannabis. In the budget, our government committed $9.6 million over five years to a comprehensive public education awareness campaign as well as to surveillance activities. This campaign will ensure that all Canadians, including youth, understand the risks and harms of cannabis use. This is a crucial step toward safe and healthy communities.
When it comes to protecting youth, the framework we have right now is not working. We have all heard the numbers, but they need to be repeated. Statistics show that youth and young adults are the highest users of cannabis in Canada. Twenty-one per cent of our youth and 30% of young adults in our country used cannabis in 2015 alone. To put these numbers in a global perspective, Canada has the highest rate of youth cannabis use in the world. These numbers are a reminder to everyone why this legislation needs to move forward.
Bill C-45 would take strong action to protect Canadian youth. Under the proposed legislation, selling or providing cannabis to youth would be met with serious criminal penalties. What is more, new offences and strict penalties will be established for those who use youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.
The proposed act would also take steps to ensure that law enforcement will be able to focus on working to ensure that cannabis stays out of the hands of Canada's youth.
In addition to these crucial measures to protect youth, the proposed cannabis act would also work to change how cannabis is perceived and assessed. We spoke about the impact of perceptions of cannabis among Canadian youth. The proposed act would address these questions by prohibiting any products, promotion, packaging, or labelling that could be appealing to youth. Similar to the Tobacco Act, this is an important means of ensuring that marketing campaigns are not targeting youth.
Canada's youth are our future. As we stand at Canada's 150th year since Confederation, we need to look at the future and ask, “How can we best support young Canadians?” We need measures like Bill C-45 to create a safe environment for Canada's youth so that this next generation of leaders can flourish.
To protect Canadians, a pillar of Bill C-45 is public health. This legislation will take two fundamental steps to create a regulatory regime that will enshrine public health and safety.
First, we will set rules for adults to access quality-controlled cannabis. I mentioned the importance of increasing awareness and information about cannabis. However, it is key that this information be rolled out in parallel to a comprehensive regulatory regime. These strict quality controls would ensure that Canadians know what they are buying. We need to monitor product quality to minimize risks to Canadians' health and safety.
Second, we will establish a new, tightly regulated supply chain. Through this regulated supply chain, we can take profits out of illegal markets and away from organized crime. Bill C-45 would bring in serious criminal penalties for those who operate outside the legal market. Together, these measures will foster public safety for Canadian families and communities.
I am privileged to have a strong working relationship with the law enforcement community in my own riding, including with the Halifax Regional Police. In fact, on a Saturday night just last month, I had the opportunity to do a ride-along with the commander of the night watch. I saw first-hand that team's commitment to protecting our communities and ensuring our neighbourhoods are safe for everyone. That night I learned that the illegal guns and gun violence on the streets of my city are there because of drug deals, and it is the same across this country. Taking profits from illegal cannabis sales out of criminal organizations is the best way to further the goal of getting guns off the streets and to complement the ongoing efforts of our tireless law enforcement officers.
It is also important to note that under the new act, the program for access to cannabis for medical purposes will continue. Researchers are continuing to explore the medical effects of cannabis use. Dr. Jason McDougall at Dalhousie University in Halifax received a grant from The Arthritis Society to study how cannabis compounds can be used to manage arthritis pain. Bill C-45 would maintain the program that allows access to cannabis for medical purposes, which reflects the task force's recommendation to maintain a separate medical access framework to support patients.
Finally, after listening to Canadians and experts across the country, this government has taken an evidence-based approach to move toward a new regulatory regime. I deeply admire the extensive work that has been done to ensure that we introduce comprehensive legislation that puts Canadians' health and safety first.