June 2, 2015

NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am glad we are having this debate today on the report from the Standing Committee on Health, which was produced in October 2014, because it is a very important subject in terms of public policy as it relates to marijuana. The first thing I want to say is that the report we are debating is unfortunately completely biased.

The name of the report is “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”. We can see from its title that in looking at the subject of marijuana, the majority of the members of the committee, the government members, were only interested in building a political case for themselves to show what they believe to be risks and harms. From day one, the study and the report were very suspect, because they were actually not based on evidence and a scientific approach in terms of how we should be conducting studies by standing committees of Parliament.

We heard from a number of witnesses. It is regrettable that the government members tried to prevent witnesses from coming forward who hold evidence-based views on marijuana based on a health approach. It was very difficult to get that point of view across in the committee. However, I am pleased to say that we were able to get some witnesses who gave us a very balanced picture of what is taking place in terms of public policy. I would say that the approach that was put forward, and certainly the approach the NDP favours, is an approach that focuses on health promotion and on public education and safety. We need to have an approach to marijuana that is more balanced. That is something that did not result from the study and this report.

We produced what is called a dissenting or minority report for this study. Our number one recommendation to the Government of Canada was that it is essential to pursue a public health approach to marijuana that is focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction. This is something we heard from witnesses. It is something that is sensible.

We understand that there is a broad consensus now in this country that the Conservatives' approach of a war on drugs and prohibition has been a catastrophic failure economically, socially, and through the justice system. Giving people criminal records, having a zero-tolerance policy, and denying the reality of what is going on in terms of marijuana in this country is something that is producing more harm than good. That is the Conservatives' approach.

We have a different approach in the NDP. It is based on focusing on public health and health promotion.

We heard from a number of witnesses, like Dr. Evan Wood, Dr. Tony George, the Canadian Public Health Association, Philippe Lucas, and Dr. Perry Kendall. These are all eminent doctors and scientists who have actually studied this issue, and they all told us that a public health approach to the non-medical use of drugs is necessary, and in fact critical, to minimize the risks and the harms.

I spoke a bit earlier and questioned the minister about the fact that very limited research has gone on. We heard at the committee that approximately 50% of people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain. This came from Dr. Perry Kendall, who was a very credible witness. We also heard from Veterans Affairs Canada that the department pays for medical marijuana for the treatment of PTSD in veterans. The witnesses all said that we need to have more research on medical marijuana, but it has been very difficult to do so because of the approach of the government.

I find it contradictory that on the one hand, the Conservatives are willing to encourage research to look at risks and harms, yet there is not one recommendation in the majority government report that calls for research on medical marijuana and some of the benefits that have already been shown. So much for a parliamentary study. It is actually shameful that it is so biased and prejudicial.

We believe that we need have more research done. We believe that we need to take a broad public health approach. In fact, what we think should happen, and this is one of our recommendations in our report, is that we should:

Establish an independent commission with a broad mandate, including safety and public health, to consult Canadians on all aspects of the non-medical use of marijuana and to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.

Why do we come to this conclusion? We come to this conclusion because it is very clear that the current unregulated market has been a complete failure. It produces violence, stigma, and, in fact, control by organized crime. It is very clear.

I think most Canadians understand that criminalization is not the answer. In fact, criminalization produces a huge amount of harm in and of itself. The reality is that whether the Conservatives can see it or not, they know that it is there. It is very clear that they politically choose to deny it. Our marijuana laws need to be modernized, and they need to be based on evidence and public health principles.

This is something that is taking place throughout the world. We only have to look south of the border to see that different states, whether it is Colorado or Washington, are taking a much more realistic public health approach to marijuana based on a balance of prevention, public health, well-being, harm reduction, community safety, and public education.

That is the kind of approach we need in Canada. It is something the government has politically decided it wants to reject. It simply wants to play a little political game. All it talks about is youth. I have not heard anyone in this House or any witness who came forward say that they think marijuana should be available to youth. In fact, that is precisely the reason we need a regulatory approach; it is so we can set clear rules as to where use can take place, and it should be adults who look at issues of commercialization. We need to look at issues of distribution, just as they have done in some of the states south of the border.

The government's sort of political mantra on this focuses on youth. There are issues around the use of any substance, whether it is alcohol, marijuana, or any other substance, but that is only part of the question we are looking at. I would argue strenuously that a regulatory approach, a public health approach, would enable us to have much better coordination and an overview of what we need to do in terms of ensuring that youth do not have access to substances, whether it is marijuana or anything else, that are harmful.

It is staring us in the face that this is the classic example of the response of the Conservative government to an issue. It is tougher laws and bringing in mandatory minimum sentences. That is what it did for drug crimes. However, everything we see before us is telling us that criminalization of drug use, whether it is marijuana or other substances, is actually producing more harm.

It is abundantly clear that what is needed is a public health approach, which has been adopted by the medical health officers across the county and has been supported by many major cities across the county. Certainly the city of Vancouver has led the way on this issue.

I find it astounding that, still today, as this report comes forward, the Conservatives are using this as a political hammer. I want to say that I do not think it is going to work. It is a failure.

Canadians actually understand what this debate is about. Canadians understand that criminalization is something that has failed in this country. The so-called war on drugs, just as we saw with Prohibition in the 1930s, actually produces more crime and violence. That is what we are facing in Canada today. We can look at what has been happening in Surrey or Vancouver. We can see the gang violence and the violence that comes about as a result of prohibition.

In this party, we would rather be on the side of evidence. We would rather be on the side of reality. We would rather be on the side of a proper regulatory approach that produces a coherent response, based on public policy and public health, to the issue of marijuana.

The Conservatives can rant all they want and try to create a black and white situation in which people are either with them or against them, as we have heard so often in the House, but Canadians are not fooled. Canadians know that we need to have these laws modernized. They know that we need to have proper oversight and a regulatory approach that will actually help young people be safer.

We need a regulatory approach that would ensure that we have proper rules, regulations, and guidelines about where marijuana use can take place. These are all very important questions.

I am very proud of the fact that the NDP produced a brief report in the overall Standing Committee of Health report in October. It lays out very clearly the principles and the direction that we believe are absolutely necessary in dealing with the issue of marijuana use in Canada.

To conclude, I will again reiterate that, one, we think it should be pursued as a public health approach; two, we believe that we need to fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana; and three, we call for an independent commission with a broad mandate to provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
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Sub-subtopic:   Health
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CPC

Michelle Rempel

Conservative

Hon. Michelle Rempel (Minister of State (Western Economic Diversification), CPC)

Mr. Speaker, in my role as Minister of State for Western Economic Diversification, I find myself spending a lot of time in the beautiful city of Vancouver, and I know my colleague opposite represents a riding there. However, one of the issues I hear about outside my economic portfolio is the issue of the marijuana dispensaries that are operating illegally in British Columbia right now and in other cities in the country.

The fact is that they are operating illegally, and since my colleague opposite represents a riding in a city where this is a big issue for many people, I am wondering if she could give her thoughts on the marijuana dispensaries that are operating illegally in the city right now.

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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for the question. It is a very good and thoughtful question. She is correct that there are numerous medical dispensaries for marijuana, and probably most of them are in my riding of Vancouver East.

The reality is that in Vancouver, local law enforcement has basically not enforced whatever laws it could against these dispensaries, nor has the City of Vancouver, in terms of zoning or licensing, because they are not considered to be harmful.

The member may not be aware that recently the City of Vancouver made an announcement that it wants to provide a proper licensing and regulatory approach to these medical dispensaries. It was very interesting to hear the response from the Minister of Health in Ottawa, who is so far away from what is going on in Vancouver. Of course, her response was nothing surprising: it was no, no, no, this is not going to be allowed to happen.

The fact is that in the city of Vancouver, elected officials, the police department, and other agencies understand that it is much better to have oversight, licensing, and a regulatory approach to these dispensaries to make sure they are operating properly. That is something, again, that is based on public interest.

Therefore, yes, there is a lot going on in Vancouver, and I expect as with other issues, Vancouver will lead the way on this and will be able to bring in proper oversight and a proper licensing system.

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LIB

Joyce Murray

Liberal

Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member for Vancouver East for her clear remarks about the use of marijuana as a health issue.

I too am from Vancouver, and I have also heard from people like Dr. Perry Kendall and Dr. Evan Wood. Actually, four former attorneys general of British Columbia have spoken out for legalization because of the crime factors and the access for youth in this situation, in which prohibition is the Conservative government's approach.

I do not disagree with anything the member said. Everything she said was consistent with legalizing this product so that we can regulate and control it, make it inaccessible to young people, and take it out of the hands of criminals. However, my understanding is that on this issue, her party does not support legalization but is actually in favour of decriminalization. While that is better than the current situation in which it is regulated and controlled by the criminal underworld, decriminalization would still not allow regulation and control by government.

I would ask the member how decriminalization is consistent with the factors of control and regulation that she described as being important, as is done south of the border?

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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the member's comments. I would draw her attention to the report from the standing committee within which the NDP minority report is contained. This is an official response from the NDP, and its recommendation is very clear: we are calling for an independent commission to institute an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.

I would encourage the member to read the reports. If we look at the Liberal minority report, we see that it uses the word “explore”.

The NDP has been very clear about the direction and the steps that are needed, based on public health and public interest. We need to have an independent commission and we need to have the guidance to Parliament to institute an appropriate regulatory regime. I think that should be very clear to her.

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NDP

Raymond Côté

New Democratic Party

Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for her speech.

The sun is definitely setting on the Conservative government's reign. It reminds me of monarchs in ancient times who, during their final days, assassinated their entourage to facilitate the transition in an attempt to ease their own passing.

This is so sad because the Conservatives have adopted a really hard-line attitude that rejects scientific evidence and social consensus. I am talking about consensus among various stakeholders with an interest in the problems associated with drug use in general, including marijuana use. I would like my colleague to tell me how concerned the witnesses who appeared as part of the study were about the government's attitude and what it is trying to achieve through excessive criminalization.

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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the clarity with which my colleague has put forward this issue. He is quite right. There is a sense of desperation that we see from government members. They are clinging to the vestige of a criminalization and prohibitionist policy, even though they know that it was a failed policy many decades ago when it came to alcohol. There is a sort of blindness to what they are doing. That is very evident.

To answer the question, a number of witnesses came forward and made it very clear that we need to have more research. We have some evidence now about medical marijuana, but we need to have more evidence-based research. However, the problem is that it is not going to happen with this government, because it has already said in its report that it would only allow research based on risks and harms. Therefore, it is a completely one-sided debate.

We have to reject that, just as we hopefully will reject the government so that it will not be here any longer and we can actually move forward with an intelligent public health-based approach to marijuana and many other issues.

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CPC

Terence Young

Conservative

Mr. Terence Young (Oakville, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the member wants to talk about reality and evidence, so why not look at the reality and evidence from Colorado, where marijuana was legalized and where its sale was normalized in January 2014.

Here is what has happened so far. First, the tax revenues Colorado expected have levelled off because given the choice, people would rather stay in a bar and meet their old drug dealer and get their dope 29.5% cheaper, with no tax, than travel to a government-run store. Therefore, that is not proving to be true. Forty-five children eight years old and under have ended up in hospitals getting spinal taps and having their stomachs pumped after eating gummy bears or brownies or whatever their parents left around the house with marijuana in it. There were 45 very seriously ill children. As well, there have been an least two deaths reported from psychotic reactions from people who consumed too much marijuana.

That is the experience so far. Were you aware of that, and are you not afraid the exact same things would happen in Canada?

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CPC

Barry Devolin

Conservative

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Barry Devolin)

Once again, could the member direct his questions and comments to the Chair? I am presuming it is the member for Vancouver East he would like to hear from.

The hon. member for Vancouver East.

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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies

Mr. Speaker, that is the fourth time that the member has not gone through the Chair. I would hope someone with his experience would know the respectful way to debate in this House.

Yes, I am somewhat familiar with what is going on in Colorado. In fact, I was there a year ago as part of a conference, where we heard directly from Colorado officials from the Governor's office. They have a special law enforcement unit only for marijuana that was very impressive, so I do have some knowledge.

The fact is that their approach for legalization has only been in operation for about a year, so I am not surprised to hear that there are still issues that they are working out.

However, let me say this: the member is cherry-picking. I am sure that there have been youths who have been harmed by marijuana, but let us put that in relation to prescription drugs and the number of people who have died from so-called legal prescription drugs. This is all a relative debate.

Rather than cherry-picking and saying that this happened to two youths or whatever it might be, as tragic as that is, let us learn from what is happening in Colorado or in Washington State. Let us focus on the need to have a made-in-Canada public-health-based approach to marijuana use that has the proper oversight and regulations to actually protect our young people while ensuring that there is not criminalization and that we bring forward a modernization of our law as it pertains to marijuana. Why would the government not do that?

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LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I find it very interesting that we are speaking to the concurrence on a report that was tabled in April 2014. This is obviously no longer about a report and its concurrence, but about politics.

At no point when we were studying this in the health committee did people start talking about the Liberal leader. We were talking about marijuana. The fact that the summary is about a report that was not even mentioned is quite amusing and fairly transparent, which is probably the only time the government has been transparent about anything.

The Liberal Party of Canada rejects this report. We do not concur with it, and we presented a dissenting report. I want to be very clear that this report does not reflect the testimony and advice we heard from expert witnesses who presented to committee. In fact, much of the testimony, specifically around scientific evidence, is absent from the report. There is very little scientific evidence in this report, so we find the report inherently flawed.

The Liberals asked that the study include the benefits versus the risks, as all drug studies do in any kind of appropriate review of any drug. My colleagues in the New Democratic Party also asked for it. It was completely rejected. We have a study that is very flawed because it looks at only its harms and risks, and not its benefits. In fact, in the testimony we listened to during the whole course of the five committee hearings on this, we heard about the benefits, but they were completely discarded in the report. Many witnesses said that this should be looked at in a objective, scientific manner, in the same manner in which all drugs are assessed.

What we heard was very clear. We have the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health recommendations, based entirely on evidence and because of the high use of marijuana among youth aged 11 to 15 years old in Canada. UNICEF reports that Canada has the highest use among all other countries. The UNICEF report is a comparative report, based on looking at other countries in the world.

The minister continues to refer to one report that says that the rate is going down. It is one simple report, and it is a Canadian report. It is not a comparative report. It simply says that the rates are going down. The minister has yet to prove to anyone what she is in fact referring to when she says that new reports have shown this.

The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey showed very clearly that of the 41.5% of Canadians who had used marijuana in the past, at least once in their lifetime, 25% were chronic users. In that report, what we did not break down in the report was that 17% of people who used cannabis did so for medical purposes. Of that 17%, 50% use it for pain and the other 50% use it for depression, insomnia, and anxiety, which suggests there is a medical benefit to marijuana. Incidents among youth remained at 20.2%, as per UNICEF.

Here is what we did not see in the report. Every scientific group presented conflicting evidence.

Mr. Philippe Lucas of the University of Victoria said that regulated access to marijuana was associated everywhere that it was done with a decrease in the recreational use of other drugs, such as alcohol and prescription drugs. It is important to look at the regulated use of marijuana.

Dr. Evan Wood at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and the Urban Health Research Initiative pointed out that the illegal status of marijuana did not prevent youth access, since 80% of young people in a U.S. suggested that cannabis was very easy to obtain.

Dr. Le Foll of the University of Toronto and Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad of the University of Montreal recommended legalizing marijuana through a system of strict regulation of use and taxation, which would help reduce its health risks and harms. However, they also said that if we regulated it, there should be oversight of content, including the level of THC, which we know has gone up a great deal since the 1960s. They also said that we could look at less harmful ways of using medical marijuana and marijuana per se.

Clearly, we have all of these very well-known incredible researchers and physicians saying that we should legalize marijuana and that wherever that is done, it not only brings down the use by youth, but also brings down the use of other related drugs that are used in conjunction with marijuana, such as alcohol, cigarettes and prescription drugs.

We recommended that the Government of Canada explore a regulatory framework of legalization, working with experts in the field, that aimed at keeping marijuana out of the hands of youth. We wanted to explore what the legislation would look like based not only on best practices of other countries, but by bringing in the experts to show exactly what should be included in that kind of recommendation, one of the biggest things being age-related.

Data from 2002 told us that hospitalizations in Canada related to cannabis accounted for 0.3% of all hospitalizations in our country. Yet hospitalizations for the use of alcohol was 5.8%, and for tobacco was 10.3%. Tobacco and alcohol are legal drugs in our country. The direct cost to the health care system of cannabis in 2002 was $73 million, for alcohol it was $3.3 billion, and for tobacco it was $4.4 billion. Here we have huge health risks associated with two legal drugs.

When the minister spoke so movingly about how much she cared about youth and how much she cared about the harms of the drug, did she mean that she intended to make alcohol and tobacco illegal in the country? I do not know. If she really cares, that is what she might be talking about.

One of the things that we learned was that a public awareness campaign was very important. For instance, Dr. Tony P. George of the University of Toronto said that in the United States it was found that the perception of harm among youth would decrease if there was a public awareness campaign. However, what he did not say was that a public awareness campaign needed to focus on accurate information, because using scare tactics have been shown to be the least effective way. The government put out its ad that was a scare tactic and did not have any accurate information at all in it.

This is important. When the government asked the Canadian Medical Association and the College of Family Physicians of Canada to help it with the public awareness ad, both of these groups, which are very credible organizations, said no because the ad was all about scare tactics and did not have anything to do with accurate information.

Here we have this predisposed bias of which the government is taking care. Therefore, if the government cares so strongly, why would it not want to legalize it?

We found a lot of conflicting reports about the harms and risks of using cannabis versus the benefits of using cannabis. From some groups we heard that there were obviously risks of cognitive impairment, brain development, respiratory effects, mental health problems, motor vehicle accidents and cardiovascular disease. Then we heard from others that there was no direct causality between chronic marijuana use and long-term cognitive effects. We heard that there was a comprehensive meta-analysis done at the University of British Columbia that showed no substantive systemic effects of long-term cannabis use and neuro-cognitive function. Therefore, we are getting two sets of conflicting reports.

Then we heard again that there were long-term effects of marijuana toxicity on the lungs and yet others suggested that research in this area was unclear and that more studies were necessary, especially with the vehicle for inspiring marijuana, either with paper and all of the leaves, which has an effect, or vaped. We heard two sides of that argument, all from very credible scientists.

Some witnesses said that marijuana impaired cognitive function and psychomotor skills, and that it could lead to driver impairment. Others said that, in fact, traffic fatalities related to cannabis were always combined with multi-drug use or alcohol. Therefore, we cannot take these simplistic responses that we have been hearing from across the way that this bad and this is good, unless we understand the causality of certain things and the multi-factorial causality involved. Always in terms of motor vehicle accidents there was use of another drug, mostly alcohol.

All researchers pointed out that MRI and brain activity studies showed that the developing prefrontal cortex was where marijuana had its biggest effect. However, other researchers warned that other factors could contribute to intellectual attainment in certain youth who used marijuana, because we had to take into consideration the multi-factorial causality: economic static, social stress and personality characteristics. Therefore, we cannot say that one plus one equals five in the way the report suggests.

In summary, all of the contradictory evidence pointed to a need to look at benefits versus harms and risks. We heard that cannabis increased anxiety and psychosis and yet other physicians and scientists said that it was used as an antipsychotic. One is a benefit and one is a risk. We heard that evidence of panic attacks and increased depression came from the use of cannabis. Then we heard that cannabis was used to diminish anxiety and chronic pain conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, HIV-AIDS and post traumatic stress disorder. I find it increasingly amusing, and I do not know if maybe the Minister of Health was not aware of it, that Veterans Affairs Canada pays for the cost of medical marijuana for PTSD patients.

Much of this contradictory testimony was not included in this report. In fact, the vast majority of witnesses pointed to inconclusive evidence so far of direct harms and risks and the need to research. The Liberals suggested that extensive research be done on the risks and benefits, and we got an absolute no from the Conservative members of the committee. The report, as we can see here, does not mention research.

It is unfortunate that much of the evidence from credible witnesses would be taken out of the report. It is unfortunate that something as serious as a drug is being used by Canadian youth starting at the age of 11. Remember when people used to smoke cigarettes, when they 10 and 12, behind the barn. We now see, with all of the regulation that came about in terms of tobacco use, 11 and 12-year-old kids are not hiding out behind the barn. In fact, there are enormous fines if a young person tries to buy cigarettes. Therefore, we can see how the legalization, regulation, age-related specifics and strong penalties for selling to young people has had an impact.

I remember when I graduated from medical school, and I am sure many in this room can remember this, that the whole idea was to get absolutely blind drunk at the graduation. Today, with the work of MADD and the regulation on age-related limits being imposed and enforced with regard to alcohol, we have dry grads. Any kind of public health approach to anything needs to be based on evidence. We need to look at the benefits of the drug. Every drug has a benefit and every drug has harms. Aspirin has benefits and also has huge harms.

Let us really talk about scientific evidence and data. We cannot look at any drug without doing both. This report, which we do not concur in, does not speak to both and does not weigh those two pieces of evidence so we can look at that drug in the way we look at all other drugs. Also, we have heard that the cost to the health care system of alcohol and tobacco is, by thousands, more costly and harmful than cannabis.

Here, we have some stuff we have to look at. If we are going to look at evidence-based systems, we have two drugs in use currently that are regulated and that are legal and that have a lot of evidence to show that regulating and legalizing and imposing penalties makes us decrease the use of those drugs.

The idea that this is being used as a political football is a disservice to our caring about the young people we do not want to see drink, smoke and use cannabis. Why would we take cannabis and treat it so differently? It is a drug, just like alcohol and just like nicotine.

Let us really talk about good scientific evidence, objective data. We in this party care about youth. We do not want to see our young people using cannabis in large amounts. We do not want to see them using it at all. We know how easy it is to get. Eighty per cent of youth have testified it is easy to get.

Let us start regulating this drug, very clearly, and let us start putting penalties to the drug, but let us also, at the same time, do research so that we do not deprive our population of any benefits that this drug could have.

I notice that the minister talked a lot about Vancouver and the municipality of Vancouver and how it is licensing dispensaries.

Way back, in about 2001, Health Canada decided to license dispensaries for the production of medical marijuana because there was evidence that for people with MS, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, depression, certain mood disorders and terminal illness, it did have impact. Doctors would write prescriptions. People would go to the licensed dispensaries, that Health Canada licensed, and they would be able to get their prescription filled.

The current government came in and decided that, in fact, it did not like the idea that Health Canada licensed it. The government decided to commercialize the industry, giving licences to commercial entities, and stalking people who needed to use this drug and who would grow two plants. We actually set up regulations in which people could grow two plants, for personal use only. Now, people are not allowed to do that. The current government cancelled that. What we have are thousands of commercial industries waiting to get licensed to produce medical marijuana and we have not got very many of them done. Those that have licences are in the single digits.

We have a government that entered the fray and changed what was working extremely well. Now we are in limbo. The Province of British Columbia and certain health authorities in British Columbia took the Government of Canada to court because it did not want people to grow two plants and people were now going to have to buy it at enormous prices from these commercial entities. The Supreme Court of British Columbia said, “Well, no, you can't do that. You cannot protect people who are taking something that is helping them, in effect. If some physicians are prescribing it for them, you cannot remove that at a cost that many people cannot afford.” Many of the people who use this for medical purposes are either terminally ill or disabled and are not working full time. They do not have money to buy an extraordinary amount of drugs. We know, in this country, that most people cannot afford to buy prescriptions for diseases like hypertension, diabetes, et cetera, because the cost of drugs is so high.

The government absolutely admitted that there was a medical benefit to it because it was going to license commercial industries for the production of medical marijuana.

The City of Vancouver, because of the chaos caused by the current government that does things and then never follows up on them, has been sitting in limbo now for about two years. We find that there are many dispensaries being set up that are not licensed and are not legal. The cities of Victoria and Vancouver had to take matters into their own hands to license and bring some control to the chaos of the current government.

Finally, I am saying we presented a dissenting report. I gave all the reasons we cannot concur with the report that we are discussing today.

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Sub-subtopic:   Health
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CPC

Terence Young

Conservative

Mr. Terence Young (Oakville, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, the member has claimed that the marijuana issue has become a political football. That has never been the goal of the government. It is not a political football. The government's goal is to protect Canadian youth. To the extent that it could be considered a political football, that came when the Liberal leader went to a high school on Prince Edward Island where children as young as 14 were present and announced to great cheers that he wanted to legalize marijuana. If the marijuana issue is a political football, it is because of the Liberal leader's attitude.

The member has also said, “there is very little scientific evidence in this report”. I am sorry, I was at the same committee hearings she was, and we heard from Meldon Kahan, Women's College Hospital; Harold Kalant, University of Toronto; Michel Perron, chief executive officer of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, and their senior researcher. We heard from Andra Smith, associate professor, University of Ottawa, and three professors who came as individuals, professors of psychiatry from the University of Toronto, and others.

Here is what they told us. They told us that marijuana can cause psychosis, marijuana can cause neurological damage, marijuana damages the prefrontal cortex of children's brains. That is scientific evidence.

Why is the member misleading this House?

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LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry

Mr. Speaker, I was not misleading anybody.

I quoted the people who talked about the frontal lobe. I quoted the people who said there were harms. However, this report is only quoting those people; it is not talking about the other people who said that there is no actual causal link and that we have to look at some of the effects of combined drug use, with cannabis, that may have caused some of the problems.

If members are going to present scientific evidence in a report, they have to present both sides, including the ones that a particular political party does not like. They cannot just pick and choose one set.

I stood in this House and talked about all the pluses and all the minuses that we heard from different scientific evidence. I did not cherry-pick. I gave both. We need to research this thing properly. The government does not want to do that, because we have a ideological belief in here that this is bad for people. That is what the government is saying. As far as politicizing it, the Liberal leader spoke to a policy issue. That is going to be our policy. He said it very clearly.

Now, we said why we think it is important, and all who care about youth would think it is important as well.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I certainly appreciate the hon. member for Vancouver Centre and her contribution on the HESA committee. I know she is very knowledgeable on this issue, and I thank her for that.

We had a Liberal government and there was a commitment to move to decriminalization. I remember it was in a Speech from the Throne. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had that commitment. A bill came forward. I was the NDP critic on it, so I remember it very well.

It went through second reading. It even went to committee. In fact, we were at the point where we had the then-minister of justice Martin Cauchon agreeing with us on an amendment that the bill would be amended to ensure that the estimated 600,000 Canadians who have a criminal record for the personal use of marijuana—that he would agree to that.

Then all of a sudden, it came to a crashing halt. The government decided not to proceed with the bill.

We actually did have that opportunity. I am wondering if the member could tell us why the bill did not proceed, was dropped at that time and never came back.

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry

Mr. Speaker, as the hon. member mentioned, there was a move to decriminalize.

The hon. member also remembers when this went through and came to second reading. There was an election very soon after, so a lot of these bills did not come to the floor and get done. The government did decriminalize the use of marijuana in terms of allowing people to grow enough plants for medical purposes.

In the meantime, there was enough evidence coming out to suggest that legalization, as some countries in Europe were doing, was achieving better and more effective results than simple decriminalization.

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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LIB

Joyce Murray

Liberal

Ms. Joyce Murray (Vancouver Quadra, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I want to commend the member for Vancouver Centre for her health-based approach and all her work on good public policy on marijuana.

Coming from Vancouver, of deep concern to me is the kind of unfettered access that young people have to this product, at very young ages, in the corners of their schoolyards.

I would like to ask the member this. From the research and the testimony that she has heard, how would regulating and controlling marijuana help to prevent children from accessing this product? That is a big concern to some of the communities in Vancouver, whether in Richmond, Surrey or Vancouver itself. Reducing young children's access to marijuana is a big priority for us in Vancouver. How would regulating and controlling help accomplish that?

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry

Mr. Speaker, I look at the experience with tobacco. There was a time when I first came into this House in 1993 when we found that young people were able to buy cigarettes off street corners. There were contraband cigarettes being sold all over the schoolyards. We began to tighten and increase regulations until we got it right. Now we have high penalties, and labelling on tobacco packages that says the harm that tobacco can do. We have seen rates of smoking among young people in this country go down very much as a result of those regulations and the strengthening and enforcement of those regulations.

When 11-year-olds to 15-year-olds in Canada have the highest use of marijuana among 11-to-15-year-olds in all other countries in the world, it is something that concerns everyone in the same way it did with alcohol and tobacco. We are suggesting that if we learn from what we did with tobacco, we can get some of those same results if we ensure that there is an age-related regulation to this and that in fact huge penalties are attached to selling to minors. However, it has to be legal to regulate.

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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CPC

Cathy McLeod

Conservative

Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I find it very bizarre that the hon. member brought up the issue of smoking. We saw just yesterday billions of dollars in settlements against the tobacco companies. We watched some of the coverage of families who were so distraught over what that did to their loved ones who either died or were suffering from cancer. We have seen municipalities taking on this issue. I compare Vancouver to Whistler. In Whistler, people are saying that they are going to ban smoking, not just in public buildings and patios but more broadly. We have provinces where people are very concerned about youth and they are getting into banning flavours. We have so many issues related to smoking.

The member has made the point that when we have something that is very harmful we can never catch up with that process. I would like the member to acknowledge and recognize that legalization of marijuana would not help youth at all.

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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LIB

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry

Mr. Speaker, I cannot actually agree with the member. She would like me to acknowledge something that is untrue.

We are talking about evidence again. Evidence is what used to happen. We would apply certain policies and the results would show that we got improved outcomes. Evidence is telling us that in fact the rates of smoking have gone down because of the regulations that have been applied and that alcohol use has gone down because regulations have been applied.

If we are very concerned about 11-to-15-year-olds using marijuana here more than in any other country in the world, we need to look at how we legalize, regulate and tax. We have seen this happen with very much more harmful drugs. If the member does not think that we should legalize and regulate, then is the member suggesting, as I asked before, that we actually make tobacco and alcohol illegal in this country?

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Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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CPC

Cathy McLeod

Conservative

Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health and for Western Economic Diversification, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I am really pleased to contribute to the debate today. I would like to note that I will be sharing my time with the member for Kootenay—Columbia.

The health committee did an excellent job in producing the report before the House today that enumerates the evidence provided by expert witnesses detailing the serious health risks and harms of smoking marijuana.

From the debate that has happened today so far, it is really clear that our government's position is starkly different from that of both the Liberal Party and the NDP. I would argue that we are really the only ones who have a strong focus on the health of Canadian youth.

For the benefit of my colleagues I will read a portion of the report, which is in fact a quote from Dr. Harold Kalant, a professor of pharmacology in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto, who has been involved in researching the harmful effects of marijuana since 1959. Dr. Kalant 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.

This is just one of the quotes from one of the experts who testified during the committee's study. This particular expert has over half a century of his own professional expertise and research to back up his testimony. It is one of the reasons I am concerned when the Liberal leader wants to make smoking marijuana a normal, everyday activity for Canadians and make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes.

The report from the health committee details comments from not only Dr. Kalant but others too that highlight the problem with the proposal to legalize marijuana. For the benefit of my colleagues, I will quote again directly from page 15 of the committee's report. It states:

Witnesses such as Dr. Kahan, Professor Kalant and Dr. Sabet do not support the legalization of marijuana because it would increase the health risks and harms associated with its use. They suggested that the legalization of marijuana would increase its availability and lower its price, which would make its use more widespread....the legal status of alcohol and tobacco does not prevent youth from gaining access to it, nor does it eliminate the black market for tobacco, where content remains unregulated.

Legalization is irresponsible in my opinion and can only have one effect: increasing access to and use of marijuana by our young people. Our Conservative government does not support making access to illegal drugs easier. We have made significant progress in recent years, reducing drug use through the national anti-drug strategy. What is more, this strategy is working. The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey's most recent figures report that while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, this has dropped by almost 45% since 2004. That is a significant reduction. This speaks to the success of our approach in educating families on the serious health risks with smoking marijuana

The same survey highlights the problems with the Liberal leader's plan. Seventy per cent of youth drank alcohol in 2012, which is of course a regulated substance. Comparing 20% to 70%, it is very clear that the legalization process would, at least in my opinion, add to increased use.

Not only have medical experts and families lined up to criticize the Liberal plan, but we have also heard hard numbers demonstrating the fallacy of his logic. Having marijuana in stores just like alcohol and cigarettes would not decrease the use in this country and it could actually triple its use. Remember that figure of 20% compared to 70%.

I have to go back to the question I just asked the hon. member. We look at the tremendous concern and effort by our municipalities and provinces around the issue of smoking and by individuals suing tobacco companies. It really contrasts moving forward and encouraging use, on one hand, with the huge costs and enormous effort being put into concerns about the use of tobacco, as an example, on the other hand.

The committee report also put forward some important recommendations that have helped inform our Conservative government's action to prevent kids from smoking marijuana.

The first recommendation tasked the government to work with relevant stakeholders and experts to develop a campaign to raise public awareness and knowledge of the risks and harms associated with marijuana use.

Health Canada did just that. The preventing drug abuse campaign ran from mid-October to early December and provided parents with the tools they need to talk with their families about the risks of smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse.

The campaign featured ads that focus on the fragile brains and bodies of teenagers, and demonstrated how marijuana use and prescription drug abuse can cause permanent damage to their development.

I can remember key instances in my past career when I saw young people who came in to the ER with their first psychotic episode. As we did the histories with families and friends, we heard of heavy use, and so anecdotally there were certainly some causal relationships, and we saw traumatized and devastated families and friends, and we saw young adults whose lives had been changed irreversibly.

Health Canada worked with research experts throughout the development of the campaign to ensure that it was based on the most up-to-date peer-reviewed scientific evidence.

I'm pleased to say that the results of this collective effort were extremely positive. Over 60% of parents saw the campaign, and of those, more than 80% understood the message of the dangers drug use can inflict on youth.

The second recommendation from the committee's report was regarding the need to increase awareness of the scientific evidence regarding marijuana's health risks and harms. Again, we have taken action in this area as well.

In April 2014, the Minister of Health hosted a round table with representatives of the health care community and research experts to discuss the scientific evidence of the risks associated with the use of marijuana by youth, especially over the long term.

The committee's third recommendation calls for further strategies to address the risk of impaired driving due to marijuana consumption.

Canadians, unfortunately, know all too well the risks of impaired driving related to alcohol and the devastating impact it can have on families and communities. We should be just as intolerant of impaired driving due to drug use, and there is a real misconception that driving while under the influence of drugs, such as marijuana, is harmless.

Our government shares this concern and is committed to ongoing enforcement of impaired driving laws and is working with provinces, territories, and key stakeholders on strategies and initiatives to prevent drug-impaired driving. I contrast this work again with the Liberal plan to legalize and normalize the smoking of marijuana.

The Liberal leader wants to allow for and expand home grow ops in residential neighbourhoods, normalizing marijuana and creating grow ops in neighbourhoods across the country. He quickly condemned our Conservative government's work to end these dangerous neighbourhood grow ops saying:

Our worries are that the current hyper-controlled approach around...marijuana that actually removes from individuals the capacity to grow their own, is not going in the right direction.

...we don't need to be all nanny state about it ...

Again, we heard that same comment from the previous speaker.

Liberal MPs have brought their leader's legalization policy to its logical conclusion by supporting marijuana dispensaries in B.C. that are, as of today, operating illegally and providing marijuana to children. In fact just a few weeks ago the Vancouver Police, who had so far been loathe to enforce the law, finally raided one of these dispensaries when an employee was caught selling marijuana to a 15-year-old who actually ended up in hospital.

The message that our Minister of Health and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness have sent to the City of Vancouver is crystal clear: storefronts selling marijuana are illegal, and under this Conservative government will remain illegal, and we expect the police to enforce the law.

To sum up, the committee's hearings over the course of a month and the testimony heard from expert witness have painted a very clear picture. Marijuana is an illegal drug that is so for a reason: it has lasting and serious health effects for kids who smoke it.

Whereas the Liberal leader would legalize marijuana, making it easier for kids to buy and smoke, this Conservative government wants to prevent kids from smoking marijuana.

I would like to thank committee members for their report and end with a quote from the former president of the Canadian Medical Association who said:

...especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous.

Topic:   Routine Proceedings
Subtopic:   Committees of the House
Sub-subtopic:   Health
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June 2, 2015