Madam Speaker, I am honoured to rise today to speak in favour of Bill C-45, which our government introduced to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis consumption in Canada.
The cannabis bill represents a new approach to cannabis, one that puts public health and safety at the forefront, and will better protect young Canadians.
The current approach to cannabis just does not work. It has allowed criminals and organized crime to profit while also failing to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth. In many cases, it is easier for our children to buy cannabis than cigarettes.
Canadians continue to use cannabis at some of the highest rates in the world. It is the most commonly used illicit drug among young Canadians. In 2015, 21% of youth aged 15 to 19 reported using cannabis in the past year. That is one out of every five young people in our country.
Today it is regulated and controlled by organized crime. It is far better to have it regulated and controlled by government.
Too many of our youth see cannabis as a benign substance. They are often ill-informed on the harm that it can do, and are unaware that early use of cannabis increases susceptibility to long-term effects. Youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on brain development and function. This is because the THC in cannabis affects the same biological system in the brain that directs brain development.
They are unaware that black market cannabis can be contaminated by mould, pesticides, and other more dangerous drugs. At the same time, too many young people today are entering the criminal justice system for possessing small amounts of cannabis, which could potentially impact their long-term opportunities. Clearly, there has to be a better way of educating and protecting our youth.
In Vancouver Quadra, in the second decade of the century, we were seeing regular violent attacks on our city streets, in my riding included, with bystanders being hurt, which was part of the competition for these profits among organized crime gangs. That is why in September 2011, I began working in Ottawa, within the Liberal caucus, organizing meetings and bringing expert speakers to Ottawa to advance the dialogue about cannabis prohibition and how legalization could address some of those serious problems. I have the privilege in Vancouver Quadra and Vancouver of working with former attorneys general and justice and health professionals in a coalition called Stop the Violence BC. We have common cause on legalization.
I would like to focus my comments today on the benefits of this legalization for youth, one of our government's primary objectives for Bill C-45.
I would first like to note that this legislation is just one piece of the overall approach to addressing cannabis use by youth.
Specifically, our government is trying to reduce cannabis use by youth, to restrict their ability to obtain the product, to provide them with better information on its health harms and risks, and to keep them out of the criminal justice system for possessing even small amounts of cannabis, as is possible today. This approach requires legislative and regulatory measures and support for public education and awareness. To this end, our government has begun a public education campaign, with a focus on youth and their parents, to better inform them about cannabis and its health harms and risks.
Considering all of these measures combined, I am confident that our government's overall approach will be effective in better protecting our youth from the potential harm of this mind-altering substance.
I would like to explain some of the specific measures in the cannabis act to help safeguard our youth.
As a society, we have learned much from the health and safety controls put in place for other potentially harmful substances, such as tobacco, alcohol, and prescription medications. Bill C-45 uses these best practices as a starting point.
At the outset, Bill C-45 prohibits the sale of cannabis to anyone under the age of 18 and prohibits adults from giving cannabis to anyone under 18. It also creates an offence and penalty for anyone caught using a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence. Any adult found guilty of engaging in these activities would face a jail term of up to 14 years.
To avoid the kind of enticements to use cannabis that we have seen in the past with tobacco, Bill C-45 would prohibit any form of cannabis that is designed to appeal to youth, such as gummy bears or lollipops. To further protect youth, cannabis producers or retailers would be prohibited from using any kind of packaging or labelling that might be appealing to youth, or to use any kind of endorsement, lifestyle promotion, or cartoon animal to promote their product, and the promotion and advertising of cannabis products would not be permitted in any place or in any media that could be accessed by youth.
We are taking the health and safety of our youth very seriously. Bill C-45 also includes authority to make regulations that could require cannabis to be sold in child-resistant packaging to protect our youngest ones from accidentally consuming this product.
Taken together, these measures constitute a comprehensive approach to protecting the health and safety of our youth.
In addition to protecting public health and safety, one of our government's goals is to avoid criminalizing Canadians for relatively minor offences.
Having a criminal record for simple possession of small amounts of cannabis can have significant consequences. Having a record can seriously impact opportunities for employment, housing, volunteerism, and travel.
The question we have to ask ourselves is do we want to continue to saddle Canadians with these burdens for the possession of small amounts of cannabis? Our government's response is an emphatic no.
For this reason, the proposed legislation sets out a 30-gram possession limit for dried cannabis in public for adults aged 18 and over, with strict penalties for adults who give or try to sell it to youth or who use a young person to commit a cannabis-related offence.
Bill C-45 takes a different approach to cannabis possession by youth, one that recognizes that in some circumstances, entering the criminal justice system can do more harm than good. Prisons can be known for turning a misguided person into a bad person, at great public expense.
Under Bill C-45, youth would not face criminal prosecution for possessing or sharing a very small amount of cannabis. Any activities by youth involving more than small amounts of cannabis, defined as over 5 grams, would be addressed under the provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.
Our government will be working with the provinces and territories to support the development of legislation in each jurisdiction that would allow law enforcement to confiscate any amount of cannabis found in the possession of a young person. This would allow authorities to take away any amount of cannabis they may have in their possession.
Let me be clear: the proposed approach to addressing youth possession of cannabis does not mean that such behaviour is acceptable or encouraged. It is not. Rather, it recognizes that a more balanced approach with a range of tools works better to reduce cannabis consumption among youth, which is exactly what we are aiming for.
We believe that this law strikes the right balance between avoiding criminalizing youth for possession of small amounts and ensuring that cannabis remains tightly regulated and controlled, just as Canadians wish it to be.