Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-45, the cannabis act.
I would like to begin my remarks by acknowledging the very comprehensive and important work of the Senate. The depth and breadth of its review was unprecedented for any proposed federal legislation that has come before it. It included extensive studies by five committees, which together conducted 47 meetings over 195 hours and heard testimony from over 200 experts and witnesses.
We have followed this process very closely. We have listened very carefully to the thoughtful questions and observations put forth by the members of the other place. The country has been well served by their careful attention to this important issue, and we are deeply and sincerely appreciative of their hard work and wise counsel.
I would also like to acknowledge the work of the aboriginal peoples committee. The government's response benefited tremendously and was made better by its advice and advocacy. I am sincerely grateful for its advice and counsel, which I believe has significantly improved the government's response to indigenous community concerns.
The Senate's comprehensive study has also provided parliamentarians and Canadians alike with an opportunity to learn more about the government's policy to legalize and strictly regulate cannabis, including understanding the main objectives and features of the proposed framework. One of the things I have been struck by throughout this process is the overwhelming consensus among nearly all parties that the government must do more to protect the most vulnerable of our citizens—our kids—from the health and social harms that the current failing system of cannabis prohibition has led to.
Prohibition has not stopped our young people from accessing and using this drug. In fact, Canada's record of youth consumption of cannabis is among the worst in the world. Prohibition has enriched organized crime in the billions of dollars each year while exposing Canadians to an unregulated, untested, and unsafe drug. Finally, the failed system of criminal prohibition has resulted in the criminalization of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and contributed to an unjust disparity and impact on vulnerable communities.
Prohibition has failed. We cannot regulate and control a prohibited substance. It is only by ending the prohibition, which is what legalization is, that we are able to implement a comprehensive and far more effective system of strict regulatory control. It means replacing a dangerous system of illicit production and grow ops with a strictly regulated, licensed regime that provides for adherence to rigorous health and security standards, oversight, testing, and accountability. For the provinces and territories, it means displacing drug dealers and illicit dispensaries with a strictly regulated distribution system, which will do an infinitely better job of keeping cannabis out of the hands of kids and redirect revenues from criminal enterprises to the public good.
Bill C-45 acknowledges and respects the jurisdictions of the provinces and territories to strictly regulate all aspects of distribution and consumption to reduce the social and health harms related to the current failed system of cannabis control. I would like to take the opportunity to acknowledge and thank each of the provinces and territories for their excellent collaborative work in bringing forward their respective legislative framework and, in particular, for providing a proportionate and enforceable prohibition for the possession, purchase, and consumption of cannabis for young people under the age of majority that will allow law enforcement to do their job of protecting youth but which will not expose our kids to the harm of a criminal record.
Although the government commends the valuable work done in the other place in conducting a thorough study of Bill C-45, it is our government's view that some of the amendments adopted would not fully support the bill's policy objectives and could have unintended consequences. For example, the other place adopted an amendment that would prohibit prosecution by indictment when an 18-year-old or 19-year-old distributed five grams or less of dried cannabis to a youth that is less than two years younger. The amendment would also allow for tickets to be issued in such circumstances. Finally, this amendment would also allow for a parent or guardian to share cannabis with their 16-year-old or 17-year-old children at home.
Our government has consistently indicated that the proposed cannabis act would not provide a mechanism whereby young persons could legally access cannabis. In fact, we strengthened penalties for adults who provide cannabis to minors or to use it to commit cannabis-related offences. However, the parental exception created by this amendment would essentially serve to create a legal supply channel in the cannabis act for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to access cannabis and would allow a parent or guardian to distribute up to 30 grams of dried cannabis to their 16-year-old or 17-year-old children or wards at home. A youth could in turn distribute up to five grams of dried cannabis received from their parent or guardian in the home with other youth outside the home.
Both the parental exception and the elimination of the ability to prosecute by indictment for close-in-age sharing of small amounts would serve to encourage and normalize cannabis use by our youth and is therefore not accepted by our government.
Ultimately, the crown should retain discretion on how to proceed, based on the circumstances before it. By not accepting this amendment, such discretion would be preserved, and where appropriate, the crown could elect to proceed summarily. This amendment goes against the fundamental objective of the bill, and that is why we are unable to support it.
Next, the Senate has recommended an amendment that would require that the minister collect and publicly disclose the names of every holder of a licence or permit, including persons who have control of or shares in corporations holding a licence. In addition to raising significant concerns from a privacy perspective, this amendment would likely engender a number of significant operational challenges.
For example, the inherent volatility of shareholding in publicly traded corporations could make the proposed reporting requirements practically impossible to meet, and could cause extreme delays in licensing. Moreover, it could also impose unprecedented requirements on businesses operating in the legal cannabis industry, making their treatment inconsistent with the treatment of businesses operating in other sectors of the Canadian economy.
The proposed act was carefully designed to ensure that its current provisions comply with privacy and other obligations and that it respects our charter. Our government has robust physical and personal security screening processes in place for the existing cannabis for medical purposes industry, which is designed to guard against infiltration by organized crime. For example, all officers and directors of a company must undergo thorough law enforcement record checks prior to licensing.
As part of a new regulatory framework, Health Canada has proposed to expand the list of individuals who would require a security clearance to include the directors and officers of any controlling company, in addition to those of the licensed company. An amendment to Bill C-45, adopted by the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, would also give the minister expanded powers in this regard.
We have designed and implemented a rigorous and robust security framework that we believe will prevent organized crime and illegal money from infiltrating the legal cannabis market. For those reasons, we do not support this amendment.
Finally, I turn to the amendment proposed by the Senate with respect to allowing provinces to prohibit personal cultivation. The determination of four plants as an appropriate and reasonable limit to allow Canadians to engage in personal cultivation only for their use was arrived at after very careful consideration through examination of other jurisdictions and consultation across the country by both our task force and our senior officials. It was intended to allow those who may not otherwise have access to this drug, as a result of being from remote communities or perhaps being underprivileged, to have reasonable access. The limitation of four plants was also determined to be a safe limit, whereby the commercialization of that would be highly unlikely, and prevented by other sections in the act, and that any effort to sell that would be criminalized.
At the same time, our government has created an offence for producing more than four plants. However, we also have been very clear that we have acknowledged the provincial jurisdiction to impose strict regulation in relation to personal cultivation. For example, we have acknowledged that any province can place limits on the number of plants up to four and can place restrictions and regulations determining limits on location, safety, security, health concerns, and the size of fences. They can impose a requirement for permits, for example, and fees to be paid.
What we have also recognized is that prohibition does not work, and the effort to continue to enforce a prohibition takes away a province's and a municipality's opportunity to regulate this behaviour. We have seen the failure of prohibition. We have seen it has resulted in an unsafe situation in all of our communities. It has put our kids at risk and enriched organized crime. We believe that by imposing a strict regulatory framework, federally, provincially, and municipally, we will be able to do a much better job of controlling this behaviour to ensure we reduce the social and health harms to our kids, protect our communities, and protect the health of our citizens.
Despite the disagreements we may have on specific amendments, I want to reiterate that based on our extensive study over the last two years, the government is confident that Bill C-45 represents a balanced approach that will help meet our objectives. This is why we believe the amendments proposed in the other place need to be carefully considered, with a view to maintaining that balance and avoid unintended consequences, through the implementation of a new regime.
Where a disagreement exists with respect to a provincial authority, our government is not telling the provinces and territories that they cannot strictly regulate. However, we have also acknowledged that there may be limits to their ability to do that. The government is not saying that the Province of Quebec cannot prohibit personal cultivation. Nor are we prepared to authorize that in our legislation. We recognize that the failure of prohibition should not be perpetuated and continued in the country when we have an opportunity to regulate this substance properly.