Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to thank the member for Yukon for clarifying some of what I will call the misconceptions that have been put forward to the House this afternoon. It is important that we stick to the facts that are in front of us, that we look at the legislation as it appears in front of us and that we look at the facts that have occurred throughout history to get us to this point in time.
I have heard some hon. members say today that we are rushing this bill through. It has been over 30 years since the last change in legislation with regard to the possession of marijuana and changes to the criminal issues around that.
We also have heard today we are legalizing marijuana. It is absolutely not true. Very clearly under the proposals included in the bill, cannabis possession and production will remain illegal in Canada under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. What is going to change is the approach to enforcement. Let us be very clear with Canadians on what exactly is happening and why we are doing it.
It also is important that we talk about fairness and about all Canadians because that is something that Canadians expect from Parliament, their legislators, law enforcement officers and the laws of the country.
I want to clarify and continue on the point the member for Malpeque explained earlier. In about half of all incidents in which law enforcement officers encounter individuals in possession of cannabis, no charge is laid. In large urban centres, police are much less likely to lay a charge for possession of small amounts of cannabis than in other parts of the country. Where a charge is laid in large urban centres or in other parts of the country, the accused is more likely to receive a discharge, particularly in large urban centres. We know that large urban centres and smaller rural communities are being treated differently under the current law.
We also know that heavy use of cannabis is linked to serious health problems, like respiratory damage and the impairment of physical coordination. The government believes that in the interests of health, cannabis use must remain illegal. When we put those together, how do we make this work for all Canadians?
We have to ensure that all Canadians are being treated fairly and equally under the law. What is in front of us is a proposal that would create different offences.
First, we begin with the offence of a fine for small quantities of possession. Why is that? It is to ensure that Canadians are treated fairly and equally. It is to ensure that when people are charged, they do not receive a criminal record for a small quantity, as was raised by the hon. member for Yukon and the hon. member for Malpeque, so they can continue on in their lives with their educations and careers. Therefore, someone who takes the opportunity to try marijuana or smokes one joint, as it is called, or takes a toke is not faced with a lifetime of prohibition against certain job activities or with problems as they cross the border into the United States because they have made that mistake one time.
We recognize there are other types of laws, and I correlate it to speeding. We recognize that speeding is illegal. Yet I guarantee that a large majority of members of the House have often gone over that maximum speed limit posted on the side of the road. It graduates into different offences as well and at some point it becomes reckless. At the point when it becomes reckless, people then suffer criminal consequences. Otherwise, people are faced with fines.
Who are we really after? We are really after the growers. We are really after those large grow ops. I heard the member for Pickering—Ajax—Uxbridge say that over 90% comes from farm grow ops. We know the marijuana problem in our country stems from the grow ops. What are we doing in this legislation? We are addressing the problem. We are increasing the penalties. We are changing the law from a single offence to four separate offence categories. To me, we are dealing with the issue.
Let us take a look at those four new separate offences are. Before there was a single offence punishable by up to seven years of imprisonment, whereas today, under the law in front of us, an individual found growing one to three plants would face a summary conviction with a fine of up to $5,000 and/or 12 months in jail; four to 25 plants would constitute an offence punishable by up to $25,000 or 18 months in jail; 26 to 50 plants would result in a jail sentence of up to 10 years; and the penalty for growing more than 50 plants would be up to 14 years, which is double the current maximum term of imprisonment.
That to me goes to the heart of the problem, as recognized by those who have just spoken against the bill. Some 90% of the marijuana that is produced in this country is by grow ops. We are doubling the punishment those growers can receive to prohibit, stop and deter those types of operations.
We found those operations in small towns and in large communities. We know we must have better enforcement and deterrents. What else are we doing? We are providing those resources. Let us remember that not only do we want to be tougher on grow ops and be consistent in how we apply the law, we also want to ensure that this is in coordination with the national drug strategy, which it is.
That strategy aims to reduce the demand for and supply of drugs by addressing a number of underlying factors that are associated with substance use and abuse. Specifically, the strategy aims to: decrease the prevalence of harmful drug use; decrease the number of young Canadians who experiment with drug use; decrease the incidence of communicable diseases related to substance abuse; increase the use of alternative justice measures like drug treatment centres and courts; decrease the illicit drug supply, and address new and emerging drug trends; and decrease avoidable health, social and economic costs that are related to substance abuse.
The strategy goes further because it will be implemented in partnership with the provinces, territories, communities and stakeholders. The strategy would include education, prevention and health promotion initiatives, as well as enhanced enforcement measures. It addresses the concerns that have just been raised by members who are opposed. The government is doing exactly what people are suggesting we should be doing.
Activities to be undertaken would include community based initiatives that would focus on prevention, health promotion, treatment and rehabilitation. Public education campaigns would consist of and deal with substance abuse, with a specific focus on youth, with the issue of illegality, as well as educating our youth so they understand that the laws in Canada are different than the laws in other countries.
It is particularly important in a community like mine that borders on the largest international border crossing in the world. It is important that the youth in Windsor and Essex county understand that it is illegal to possess marijuana and that they understand that in Canada they will receive a fine for small possession, and they will go to jail for trafficking and growing large quantities of growing. If they cross the border with marijuana into the state of Michigan, they will suffer serious penalties and serious consequences.
It is important that we educate our youth so that they understand the differences between the countries, and that they understand what the law is about and why Canada has laws. It is important that they understand why the Americans have different laws. That is part of the plan, to educate.
We also want to have new funding for research activities on drug trends to enable more informed decision making to take place; a bi-annual national conference with all stakeholders to set research, promotion and prevention agendas; as well as new resources such as funding for increased enforcement efforts against marijuana grow operations and clandestine drug laboratories. That is exactly what I heard members on the opposite side telling us.
We had two committees that travelled across the country, a Senate committee and a House committee. Members of Parliament and Senate listened to Canadians. The House committee came back with a unanimous recommendation. There was no objection other than that the quantity should be smaller. Recommendation 41 stated:
The Committee recommends that the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Health establish a comprehensive strategy for decriminalizing the possession and cultivation of not more than thirty grams of cannabis for personal use.
This strategy should include: Prevention and education programs-- [which I just outlined].
The government is responding to the work of the members of Parliament and Senate. I hope that we are able to come together and recognize that we have a law that is 30 years old. Problems are being created for young people in the country, and older people as they are trying to go on in careers as we are changing the rules to cross borders. We need to change our laws. We need to react. We need to be proactive and we need to ensure that we go after the people who are responsible for 90% of the growing of marijuana in the country, which are the grow ops.