Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to the health committee's report, “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”, and how this Conservative government is addressing the problem of youth smoking marijuana.
I would first like to thank the committee for its excellent work on this issue, and especially for the detail that the report offers regarding the lasting and serious harms that come from smoking marijuana. This report makes it clear for all to see that the Liberal leader's plan to make marijuana more available to kids is irresponsible and disturbing.
The Liberal Party wants to legalize marijuana, making it even more accessible to young Canadians. This is irresponsible and completely ignores the scientific evidence regarding its health risks and harms. The serious and lasting health risks of smoking marijuana are irrefutable. The rate of marijuana use among youth in Canada is already twice the rate of use among adults. The committee also found that Canadian youth age 11 to 15 are among the highest users of marijuana compared to their peers in other countries. Evidence suggests that Canadians are also not as well informed about the risks of smoking marijuana as they are about other illicit drugs. These statistics are alarming, and this Conservative government is concerned about the harmful effects of marijuana on youth.
Unlike the Liberal leader, we do not support making access to illegal drugs easier. Marijuana is dangerous, and it is irresponsible for governments to communicate that it is somehow safe and normal for kids to smoke it. Research has already shown that marijuana is harmful to the lungs and brain. The Liberal leader wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for kids and have it sold in stores just like cigarettes and alcohol. The Liberal leader has chosen to ignore the serious and lasting health effects of smoking marijuana, which the health committee has painstakingly detailed in the report before the House today. Marijuana is illegal and is so for a reason. Its lasting and serious health effects cannot be understated.
That is why our government's anti-drug approach through the national anti-drug strategy is working to stop Canadians of all ages, especially kids, from smoking marijuana. Since the launch of the strategy, its drug treatment funding program has provided funding for 29 projects across Canada. Concerning problems related to smoking marijuana, we are also helping with efforts to treat dependency for those people who have serious addiction problems.
We are also providing $1.2 million to the Nova Scotia government for a project entitled “Nova Scotia's strengthening treatment systems project” to increase the uptake of treatment practices by addictions workers. A key target group for these projects are those suffering from concurrent mental health and substance use disorders. This client group suffers from two serious health problems: illicit drug use, like marijuana; and ongoing mental health concerns. The Liberal leader ignores these vulnerable individuals when he attempts to normalize the smoking of marijuana and its lasting and serious health risks.
Our government is also providing $1.2 million to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health to undertake its project implementing evidence-informed practice in Saskatchewan's addiction treatment program. This project is working toward improving its standardized treatment practices across addiction and mental health sectors. When addiction is coupled with problems such as anxiety and depression, the related challenges are compounded for clients as well as the professionals in charge of their care.
The good news for my colleagues is that the rate of kids smoking marijuana in Canada is actually trending down, thanks to this good work. According to a Canadian drug-use monitoring survey's most recent report, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and by 45% since 2004. The same report noted that, while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, 70% of youth drank alcohol.
The Liberal leader's plan to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, would mean increasing the rate at which youth smoke marijuana to the same rate at which they consume alcohol, almost tripling its use.
The president of the Canadian Medical Association said:
Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome.
We know that work needs to be done to reduce the rate at which our kids smoke marijuana, but the Liberal leader is choosing to ignore the advice of experts, showing once again that he is just not ready for the job. The Liberal leader's own MPs are even on the record defending illegal marijuana storefronts in B.C. and elsewhere. His refusal to condemn these illegal operations, which are regularly caught peddling marijuana to kids, should not surprise anyone. These storefronts are the Liberal vision of Canada.
Make no mistake, storefronts selling marijuana are illegal under this Conservative government and will remain illegal, and we expect the police to enforce the law. A marijuana store on every street corner fits perfectly with the Liberal leader's on-the-record statements defending the dangerous home grow ops in Canadian neighbourhoods, which this Conservative government is fighting in court to shut down.
The irony of the Liberal plan to legalize marijuana is that it would in no way reduce the rates of youth smoking marijuana or, indeed, the illegal drug trade. Expert witnesses who contributed to this report by the health committee actually spoke to this point at length. I will quote Dr. Harold Kalant, who said:
...I would point out that the hope that legalizing would eliminate the black market would be true only if it were sold legally at a lower price than the black market. If you do that, the use is likely to increase greatly.
However, this expert's testimony conflicts with the Liberal vision of Canada, so its leader will pay it no mind. Dr. Kalant offered further thoughts on the subject, which I will highlight here before I conclude. He said:
...the use of cannabis for pleasure comes at a cost, and society must ponder whether the pleasure is worth the cost. ...society as a whole must give careful thought to changes in policy that could increase the number and severity of health problems caused by use by its more vulnerable members, which, as I have pointed out, means its younger users.
The Liberal leader asserts that our government's work, which actually shows results in stopping kids from smoking marijuana, is a “hyper-controlled” approach. He cannot even agree with the actions being taken against home growers. He wants to make smoking marijuana an everyday activity for Canadians and completely ignore its serious and lasting health risks. He ignores the risks that the home grow ops put on communities.
The Conservative government is making significant progress on the complex issue of drug addiction. We all have a role to play and a contribution to make. Our government believes in collaborating with our key partners in these efforts. We applaud the work being done and support these efforts by our partners in undertaking research and knowledge brokering, by making intelligent policies, crafting important legislation, and providing funding where appropriate.
The Conservatives' approach to stopping kids from smoking marijuana is working. It is the right public health message to send to Canadian families, and above all, it is responsible.
Again, I want to thank the Standing Committee on Health for undertaking this work and for this insightful report on marijuana's health risks and harms. My hope is that the Liberal leader takes this report seriously and takes the time to listen to the medical experts who agree with the former president of the Canadian Medical Association, who said, “especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”.