Madam Speaker, I am glad to have a chance to speak to Bill C-45 regarding the legalization of cannabis across Canada. I would like to recognize the work of my colleague, the member for Sarnia—Lambton, and thank her for her tireless efforts in ensuring all aspects of this matter are considered before the legislation moves forward.
There are many areas of concern surrounding the bill, mainly in the areas of how the legalization of cannabis will affect the general health of population and issues surrounding youth. I have some deep-rooted concerns about what the legalization of cannabis could do to Canada’s youth. I will discuss these concerns in my remarks.
It is necessary to point out just how rushed this legislation is. The government has set an arbitrary date of July 1, 2018, for the legalization of cannabis. This means that by that date, all provinces and territories, including the municipalities and the police forces within these regions, will need to have implemented legislation that allows members of the public to access recreational marijuana. This is a huge ask.
There needs to be time for the appropriate authorities to figure out just how they will handle this new endeavour. It is a serious matter, and should absolutely not be rushed. I worry that the Liberals are more focused on keeping a campaign promise than they are about the health and safety of our communities. Indeed, this is one promise we wish they would not keep, given the wide-ranging implications it could have on society. The legislation needs to be picked apart with a fine-toothed comb to ensure that every aspect of it is considered by the provinces and territories, which will have the responsibility to implement it. Less than one year from now is not enough time, and the government needs to realize that.
In my previous life, before becoming a member of Parliament, I was a chiropractor in my hometown of Estevan. Having a medical background allows me to see the bill through that lens and gives me a unique perspective on just how the legalization of cannabis could affect the general health of our country. I have also been very involved with sport in both a medical capacity and as a coach for youth. I will draw upon those experiences when discussing the use of recreational cannabis.
As most of the members of the House likely know, Bill C-45 recommends the age of 18 as a federal minimum for access to recreational cannabis. While the provinces will be given the power to set a higher age, the federal legislation puts it at 18. This creates an issue from a medical perspective. Given what we should all know and given what health care professionals have testified before committee, the brain continues to develop until the age of 25. In fact, the use of cannabis before the age of 25 increases one’s risk of developing mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety by up to 30% compared to those who have not used cannabis under the age of 25.
This is a very significant number and should not be ignored. For this reason, the Canadian Medical Association, CMA, recommends raising the age at which a person can consume cannabis to at least 21. This reflects the assumption that if the age is raised too high, illegal consumption of cannabis will continue.
I need to reiterate the fact that the CMA is bending when it says that the minimum age for cannabis consumption should be 21. All scientific evidence to this point states that there are significantly increased risks with the use of cannabis under the age of 25. It is simply irresponsible for the government to set the minimum age at 18, let alone at 21.
That also leads me to this question. What is the government’s motivation? It says that it is a party of scientists and constantly remind us of just how important science is. However, on this issue, the government chooses to ignore the facts. It is clear and utter hypocrisy. The science is clear on this health issue.
Could this be because the Liberals are trying to appeal to a younger demographic of voters in hopes they will win the next election? Is it appropriate for them to ignore the health and safety of young Canadians so they can rush through legislation that will make them appealing to young voters?
Furthermore, if it comes out 10 years from now that the effects of cannabis use are much more damaging than was initially thought, as it was with tobacco, will the government be responsible for that? Given that there is not a plethora of medical-based research on the long-term effects of cannabis use and given how rushed this legislation is, will these Liberals take accountability for the results of legalizing recreational cannabis use? I think not. I do not want to be the person who said, “I told you so”, but I will. The Liberals need to do their job to ensure the health and safety of all Canadians, and the bill simply does not do that.
Another issue I have with this bill, and that many others have expressed to me, has to do with the marketing and, more specifically, the packaging. All Canadians know that in recent years there has been a serious crackdown on how tobacco is marketed. We have all seen the grisly warnings on cigarette packaging. I am sure that many of us are familiar with the idea of plain packaging and other measures that serve to deter people from tobacco use. We know the consequences of smoking tobacco, such as breathing problems, emphysema, and lung cancer, but 50 years ago we did not. When the same happens in regard to cannabis, who will pay that bill? It will be the taxpayer once again, whom the Liberals have no problem deferring their expenses to.
Bill C-45 has absolutely zero provisions on how cannabis can be marketed. While tobacco products need to be covered in warnings and hidden from view behind store counters, cannabis will be allowed to have bright, flashy packaging, with no limitations on how it can be marketed. To me, this is a clear double standard. Both products are harmful to one’s health, so why is one regulated and the other not? It is yet another major oversight that this bill does not deal with.
Of course, there is also the matter of public safety in general and how the legalization of cannabis could have serious negative impacts on the well-being of Canadians. Drug-impaired driving is simply not addressed at all in Bill C-45. A recent study by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction put the costs of impaired driving from cannabis at $1 billion. If we look at our neighbours in the U.S. who have legalized recreational cannabis, we see that there has been a dramatic increase in fatal car accidents involving the use of cannabis, not to mention the fact there is currently no instrument that can accurately measure a person’s level of impairment roadside.
We cannot forget about the impact this legislation will have on our businesses, manufacturers, and employers. There are too many questions and no answers with respect to liability and workplace safety. This will affect on-the-job employee performance. Again, how do we test for this? The increased cost to employers to account for this in policy, procedure, and implementation will further add to the increased economic burden they are already experiencing under the current government.
The legal technicalities and challenges will be astronomical, not to mention the costs of training a police officer, which will be charged to municipal governments, as well as provincial and federal police agencies.
It is absolutely irresponsible to move forward with legislation that is clearly missing some major provisions that would keep our country and Canadians safe. There needs to be some sort of public education program before the legislation can be put in place so that Canadians, especially our youth, can understand the risks associated with partaking in recreational cannabis. One month, two months, three months, even nine months, assuming education starts today, will not be enough. It astounds me that this was not considered by the federal government when drafting this legislation.
As with other matters, such as the framework for palliative care, I would not be surprised to hear that the government is hefting the responsibility over to the provinces and territories, rather than taking on this task itself. It needs to put on its grown-up pants and take on the responsibility to look at all aspects of this legislation instead of focusing on what makes it look cool.
In conclusion, we on this side of the House oppose the legalization of recreational cannabis based on evidence and testimony from professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, scientists, law enforcement officials, and many others. We will do everything possible to ensure that cannabis does not end up in the hands of children, something this bill would actually allow.
Unlike the Prime Minister, we will listen to the experts on this matter who say the bill is flawed. I call on the government to stand up and do what is in the best interests of Canadians, and not what is in the best interests of the government in achieving its political goals. This issue is more than about politics; it is the health, safety, and well-being of our country that is on the line here.