Mr. James Lunney (Nanaimo—Alberni, Canadian Alliance)
Mr. Speaker, last night the debate began on Bill C-38. It is a controversial bill. Yesterday the hon. member for Langley—Abbotsford spoke on behalf of my party about this bill and outlined conditions which we on our side would consider for the decriminalization of marijuana, conditions that have not been fulfilled, that are some very serious issues which need to be addressed, and conditions by which many members of our party feel they could support the bill.
I want to address several issues that I feel are very important concerns that come out of this bill. There are five issues or reasons that come out of this bill and show that this bill is poorly thought out, poorly timed and a high risk for Canadians and for our society.
The first of the five issues I wish to address in the brief time allotted to me involves health. As members of the House, we should, I believe, be concerned about the health of Canadians. I think there are some very serious health issues related to the bill and to the use of marijuana.
The second issue is the effect that this bill would have on our young people and on children.
The third is safety. I am concerned about safety. There are some very serious safety issues. This bill would expose Canadians to significant risks.
The fourth is organized crime. There are some very serious concerns in this area.
Finally, the fifth is trade and the effect that this bill if implemented will have on our trade with our largest trading partner.
First, on the subject of health, the government is spending about $500 million taxpayer dollars on a health issue: trying to convince Canadians not to smoke cigarettes. That is a lot of money. We know that tobacco smoking is a very serious, undermining factor in regard to the health of Canadians, and it continues in spite of the warnings and the labels. Now, due to this bill, the Minister of Health is proposing to spend another $250 million trying to convince Canadians not to smoke marijuana at a time when we are making it easier for them to do so and lowering the consequences. I wonder if this is a good investment in our health care dollars.
If I had time to refer to it, I could quote the committee report, “Working Together to Redefine Canada's Drug Strategy”, from the committee chaired by the hon. member for Burlington. In the report, the committee correctly identified that marijuana contains tars and benzopyrenes far in excess of what cigarettes do. It is widely known or accepted that smoking two or three marijuana joints is the equivalent to smoking about 20 tobacco cigarettes.
I wonder if Canadians have had an open and thorough discussion about the liabilities we are exposing ourselves to if we increase and encourage this habit of smoking a product that is almost certain to undermine the health of long term users. These studies are not in place. I think Canadians deserve the right to discuss this more thoroughly before we take on liability for future health care costs and for future taxpayers.
I am concerned about the effect on children. The bill proposes a lower fine for young people aged 14 to 18 in regard to possession of marijuana. What kind of program is this? What kind of message does it send to our young people? We have heard about passing the buck, and that happens a lot, even in a place like this. There is a lot of passing the buck, but now we are passing the pot. I can see this encouraging older users to make sure there is a young person along with them so that if the police show up it would all belong to the young person. That is passing the pot. I think this is a very serious thing.
I am concerned about the effect that using these products has on our youth. There was a major article in the Vancouver Sun that talked about another drug, but I think it is related. It is called crystal methamphetamine. It is cheap. It is everywhere. It lasts for hours and does serious damage to the brain. It seems to be replacing marijuana for young people on the coast, and a lot of them, in fact, because it is cheap, readily available and is produced in many homes, in a dangerous fashion. However, for young people taking crystal meth, there is no place to deal with them. They are often paranoid when they come off this very nice high they get; they go through periods of paranoia and violence and have extraordinary strength because of the drug. Hospitals do not want them and care facilities do not want them.
I am concerned that the attitude the House would be projecting if we approve the bill would be to encourage young people, to say that drugs are okay, it is not a big problem, to use marijuana, but if it does not give them the high or costs a little too much or is a little hard to get, to try crystal meth. Once people cross that barrier of indulging in mood altering substances, it is a slippery slope with very nasty consequences.
On the safety concerns, we are closing our eyes to the fact that organized crime is very heavily involved in this issue, with billions of dollars. We estimate that in Canada, at least on the west coast, there are some 15,000 to 20,000 homes with illegal grow ops in them. They pirate hydro in a dangerous fashion. It is dangerous for the hydro workers and dangerous for the communities and neighbourhoods these houses are found in. It is dangerous to the children. It is estimated that one in four of these homes is rigged with illegal electricity, which creates fire hazards for our police and firemen going to these homes. Many of them are booby trapped, but there are children living in these homes. That is a very serious concern.
The fact is that there are billions of dollars going into this illegal drug trade. Do we think that by decriminalizing this we are going to undermine criminals' ability to earn profits from this? Or are we in fact increasing the market for their product?
An article from the Vancouver Sun of May 9 reports:
In every neighbourhood: Marijuana has transformed B.C. from crime backwater into the centre of a multi-billion-dollar industry that has crept into communities across the province.
The article states that the cultivation of marijuana is estimated to be worth $4 billion a year in sales. By increasing the market for these products, are we trying to encourage organized crime?
I know the justice minister will say that he is toughening up penalties, as if that would be a deterrent, and he says maximum penalties, by the way. If we really wanted to send a message, we would toughen up by increasing minimum penalties, because the same article goes on to say that jail terms were imposed in only 18% of the cases and the average length of the jail terms was just under five months. The consequences are too low for this type of crime.
This same article goes on to state:
High profitability, low risk, and relatively lenient sentences continue to entice growers and traffickers, making it difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement agencies to make a truly lasting impact on the marijuana cultivation industry in Canada.
Do we really think that by making it more available we are going to help the police in this cause and will the judges impose anything other than minimum sentences and minimum fines?
Thus, there are very serious concerns related to organized crime.
Returning to the safety issue, the police have an opportunity to take a breathalyzer test for someone who is under the influence of alcohol, but we currently have no test to determine impairment from drugs or from marijuana. I know there are experiments with a blood test. It is one thing to take a breathalyzer test from someone at the side of the road. However, when someone is under the influence, it might be a high risk activity for both parties involved for a police officer to take a blood sample.
Blood is a high risk factor. I can imagine a police officer who is trying to take a blood sample getting a spurt in the eye. There could be serious health risks associated with that in this day of viral diseases, AIDS, hepatitis C and so on. What kind of risk are we exposing our officers to?
I am also concerned about trade issues. Our neighbour and largest trading partner, the United States, is clearly not going this way. We have huge trade, about $2 billion, going across the border every day and our country is very dependent on that. My riding is hurting right now because of hold-ups with the softwood lumber tariffs and we have other border issues that we are trying to resolve with the Americans.
What are we doing to our borders for the citizens who like to travel to the U.S.? The United States is certainly not going our way on increasing marijuana possession. We are creating another barrier for citizens who want to travel to the United States to visit their families, to holiday, to do business and for other reasons. We are putting ourselves at risk.
There are serious health concerns associated with the bill. Smoking anything is not good for us. I can well imagine the risk that the health minister is exposing us to with medical marijuana. Her department is sending out packets of marijuana seeds to medical doctors to dispense to their patients to grow their own.
I can see well-heeled liability lawyers who like to sue governments taking a class action suit when we find that down the road some of these people have been taking so-called medical marijuana with no proof that it will help anyone. What kind of liability are we exposing future taxpayers to?
We had a serious issue with hepatitis C and compensation related to that. What kind of liability are we exposing taxpayers to when people using this product develop cancer or some other serious debilitating element because of this?
These are serious issues that need to be discussed. I hope these issues will be thoroughly aired before a decision is made by the House.
Subtopic: Contraventions Act