June 2, 2015

NDP

Libby Davies

New Democratic Party

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health has some very strongly held views, but I wonder if she could comment on whether or not this report was actually balanced in its views. As she knows, the name of the report was the “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”, so there was no intent from the beginning to actually look at, say, medical marijuana and what benefits there have been, what research needs to be done. I am sure she is aware that Veterans Affairs actually does dispense or allow medical marijuana as part of its program to help veterans.

I am curious to know the member's response as to why government members refused to include a recommendation that would have allowed research into medical marijuana. All of the research that the recommendations speak about are only associated to risk and harm, as opposed to any of the benefits that we believe have come about. I wonder if she could tell us why they were so biased that they refused to allow research on medical marijuana to be included in their government report.

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

Cathy McLeod

Conservative

Mrs. Cathy McLeod

Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to speak to this issue, but as the member knows, committees are responsible for their own destiny and decisions. In this case, the committee clearly decided to look at the health risks and harms, and I think that is important to do. We have not done enough of that.

We have heard a lot of issues out there about medical marijuana, but we have not looked at the normalization and what the potential health risks and harms are. This study was strategically and importantly focused on something that is very important to Canadians.

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

Hedy Fry

Liberal

Hon. Hedy Fry (Vancouver Centre, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if the hon. parliamentary secretary can answer a question. Dr. Philippe Lucas of the University of Victoria, Dr. Evan Wood of British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and Urban Health Research, Dr. Le Foll of the University of Toronto, Dr. Didier Jutras-Aswad as well of the University of Montreal, and the Centre for Addiction on Mental Health, based entirely on evidence, have all suggested that marijuana be legalized, regulated, and taxed.

They have shown that in other jurisdictions, and I visited many of those countries in Europe, it has brought down use, especially among youth. What part of that evidence does the hon. parliamentary secretary not understand?

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

Cathy McLeod

Conservative

Mrs. Cathy McLeod

Mr. Speaker, within my comments and remarks we looked at alcohol use as an example and the incidence of its use with our youth of 70%, and the use of marijuana, which is an illegal substance, has now gone down to about 20%. So it is important that we look at what the impact would be. To me, not only intuitively but from many of the experts from whom we heard, we would be heading down a path of potential disaster in terms of our youth.

As we are getting more and more evidence, it is becoming more clear in terms of the real significant concerns that we need to hold as parliamentarians in terms of the impact, especially on our youth and especially in terms of the brain, the link with mental health, psychosis, schizophrenia, and others.

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

Dave Van Kesteren

Conservative

Mr. Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham-Kent—Essex, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest, and it is somewhat bizarre. The government has recognized that there are potential medical reasons for a regulated system, but it is somewhat bizarre to suggest that we legalize a drug that we know principally, aside from medicine, is used to get stoned, frankly. I am wondering if the parliamentary secretary could comment. We have listened about experts saying this and experts saying that, but what about moms, what about moms with kids? Can the parliamentary secretary tell us what they think about the Liberals proposing that we legalize marijuana for that purpose?

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

Cathy McLeod

Conservative

Mrs. Cathy McLeod

Mr. Speaker, we all have families and friends who have had challenges in terms of their children, not only in terms of becoming addicted to marijuana, but becoming addicted to harder drugs, and the tremendous toll it takes on the families and the life of a particular child, as the families try to support their young ones, their children, into rehabilitation. So again, as parents, we all want our children to grow up healthy, to have lives that are very strong and positive. Really, to support making it easier for them to perhaps head down a path that is less healthy is not in anyone's interests.

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

David Wilks

Conservative

Mr. David Wilks (Kootenay—Columbia, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, it is my privilege to rise and contribute to this timely discussion on the health committee's report on marijuana's health risks and harms. The report details clear evidence of marijuana's risks for addiction, the effects on the developing brain, and the level of awareness among Canadians regarding the health risks and harms associated with marijuana use.

Our government shares the committee's concern about the harmful effects of marijuana on youth. That is why we are working to stop kids from smoking marijuana. This approach is in stark contrast to the Liberal leader's policy of legalizing marijuana and making it available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes. The Liberal leader's approach is irresponsible and shows that he is just not up to the job.

There is increasing evidence that marijuana today is much more potent than it was even three decades ago. On average, it is 300% to 400% stronger. We also know that smoking it can seriously harm the developing brain. Numerous studies show that being exposed to THC early in adolescence, frequently and continuously over time, can not only interfere with brain development and harm brain function but can increase the risk of triggering a psychotic episode or a mental illness such as schizophrenia. These lasting and serious health risks, enumerated in the report before this House today, demonstrate how the Liberal leader's plan to make smoking marijuana a normal everyday activity for Canadians is irresponsible.

Regular marijuana use poses a risk of becoming dependent on the drug, and those who begin as teenagers have a one in six chance of dependency. These are facts the Liberal leader has either willfully ignored or missed entirely.

The normalization of marijuana would have a very serious consequence on intellectual function. Marijuana impairs concentration, reaction time, memory, and the capacity to make decisions effectively. These are essential abilities needed in operating a vehicle, going to work, paying attention in school, or indeed, delivering responsible leadership. When it is mixed with alcohol, as many young people may do, these functions are further impaired.

The Liberal plan to legalize and normalize marijuana sends a message to youth that smoking marijuana is not only an acceptable activity but is one endorsed through government regulation. The Liberal leader's policy is irresponsible. It ignores marijuana's lasting and serious health effects, as reported by the health committee in the report before the House today. It is quite simply bad policy.

We know that exposure to marijuana use before birth also has an impact on the intellectual development of children, based upon the findings of the Ottawa Prenatal Prospective Study, which followed groups of children of mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy and compared them to the offspring of mothers who smoked tobacco or did not smoke any substance at all. It followed them from birth until young adulthood. The study found that children of mothers who smoked marijuana during pregnancy experienced certain cognitive harms, beginning at school age, that stayed with them into their adult years. These harms were reported as being significant enough to affect the children's educational attainment.

The many dangers and unpredictable consequences of drug abuse make this a real and widespread public health issue, and no one feels that more acutely than families.

This Conservative government takes the responsibility to inform Canadians of the real and lasting health effects of smoking marijuana seriously. Unlike the Liberal leader, this government wants to stop kids from smoking marijuana

In 2013, we invested an additional $11.5 million to support the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse drug prevention strategy. The 2014 economic action plan also committed $44.9 million to expand the national anti-drug strategy, which educated Canadians about the serious effects of drug use and abuse.

What is more, we are seeing results. According to the Canadian drug use monitoring survey's most recent report, marijuana use by youth has dropped by almost 30% since 2008 and 45% since 2004. These are some encouraging figures, which demonstrates that when families are made aware of the health risks associated with substance abuse, they take notice. Another interesting point from the same report is that while 20% of youth smoked marijuana in 2012, 70% drank alcohol. The Liberal leader's plan to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, could see kids smoking marijuana at more than triple the rate seen today.

Early in her mandate, the Minister of Health met with the Canadian Medical Association and a broad range of researchers and health stakeholders to discuss the harmful effects of smoking marijuana. The clear message coming from this meeting was that it is imperative to make sure that health messages on the serious and lasting effects of smoking marijuana were reaching parents and their children. They also said that kids do not know how harmful marijuana is to their health and that parents think it is the same as it was 30 years ago. They do not realize how harmful it is today.

Researchers recognize psychosis and schizophrenia as real and serious health issues resulting from marijuana. That is why they recognize the need for action, and the Government of Canada has responded. The Canadian Medical Association called for a national marijuana smoking cessation campaign for youth. The president of the CMA said, “Any effort to highlight the dangers, harm and potential side effects of consuming marijuana is welcome”. The former president of the CMA was a strong advocate against smoking marijuana, having stated that “especially in youth, the evidence is irrefutable—marijuana is dangerous”.

Contrast these experts with the Liberal leader's plan to legalize and normalize the smoking of marijuana by our young people and it shows that he is just not up to the job. What is more, the Liberal leader not only wants to make marijuana available in stores, just like alcohol and cigarettes, but wants to allow for expanded dangerous home grow ops in neighbourhoods across Canada.

This Conservative government does not support making access to illegal drugs easier, and we will continue to support strategies that stop kids from smoking marijuana. Health Canada, for example, has done its research to advance its successful awareness campaigns. Its recent marketing campaign was aimed at educating parents on how to talk with their teenagers about the dangers associated with smoking marijuana. The campaign, which ran from October 20, 2014, to December 28, 2014, featured television ads that focused on the fragile brains and bodies of teenagers and how smoking marijuana and prescription drug abuse can cause permanent damage to their development. Additional web and social media content, including print-ready resources on the dangers associated with drug abuse, was developed to encourage parents to get the facts and tips on how to speak with their children about drug abuse.

After the completion of this campaign, surveys were conducted to look at recall and awareness levels and to evaluate the ads' overall effectiveness. I am pleased to say that over 60% of parents saw the campaign, and of those, more than 80% understood the message about the dangers such abuse can inflict on youth.

What I found particularly striking about this campaign was that it was designed to help parents protect their children from the dangers of marijuana, first by describing the harmful affects it can have on the developing brain and second by equipping parents and educators with the information they need to keep their children safe.

This Conservative government's approach is to educate families about the lasting and serious health effects and to stop kids from smoking marijuana. The Liberal leader's plan is irresponsible, ignores the facts in the health committee's report, and is simply bad policy.

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

Raymond Côté

New Democratic Party

Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is pretty sad to hear the Conservatives' messages. This is a show of political power. They are trying to strong-arm their opponents. Good for them. I do not blame them.

However, we know that to achieve their goal, the Conservatives chose to listen to a very limited number of opinions and to focus solely on the dangers of marijuana. Nobody here denies that there are problems associated with marijuana use. However, by taking a very narrow view and carefully selecting a few witnesses who support their hard-line position, the Conservatives are preventing us from seeing a bigger picture and taking a more sensible approach that could prevent drug abuse.

Can my colleague comment on why the Conservatives are choosing to emphasize just the dangers of marijuana rather than educate people and adopt much broader policies based on prevention and knowledge of this phenomenon?

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

David Wilks

Conservative

Mr. David Wilks

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite answered his own question when he said that no one denies the harm from marijuana. Since I retired from the RCMP, I still go into schools and speak about the harmful effects of marijuana and other drugs. There is no good that can come from this.

The member opposite has spoken about the medical uses of marijuana. From the perspective of the medical uses of marijuana, we have been brought down this path by the courts, and we are respecting the courts' decision, and we will move forward on that. However, with regard to harm to youth in this country, it is irrefutable that smoking marijuana at younger ages can have extremely harmful effects on the brain and can have other cognitive effects.

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

Sean Casey

Liberal

Mr. Sean Casey (Charlottetown, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, just repeating something over and over again does not make it true. The suggestion that we are constantly hearing from the other side is that the Liberal leader is committed to making marijuana available in stores and is encouraging young people to use marijuana, both of which are not true. Repeating that over and over again does not make it true.

My question for the member is based on his law enforcement background. He would know full well that enforcement of the simple possession law for marijuana across this country is extremely uneven. In his own province, in fact, it is routine for people not to be charged with simple possession. What does it say about the progress that has been made by the government with respect to the war on drugs when front-line enforcement has decided what the most appropriate allocation of its resources is at the low end of the scale?

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

David Wilks

Conservative

Mr. David Wilks

Mr. Speaker, the member opposite brings up a very good point. It was his government that changed the rules in 1995. I would encourage the member to go back and look at what the Attorney General of Canada did in 1995 to change the laws with regard to simple possession. That is the problem today with police officers having a lot of difficulty with regard to enforcement for small amounts. When I say “small amounts”, it is under subsection 4(5) of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act. He should read it.

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

Terence Young

Conservative

Mr. Terence Young (Oakville, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, since 2010, 5,000 Ontario youth, 18 years old and under, have ended up in emergency rooms of hospitals desperate for care after smoking or ingesting marijuana. Some of them were treated, some were addicted and had been there before, and some were there due to automobile accidents. I think there is great value for the House in hearing from the member who I think was an RCMP officer for over 20 years.

I wonder if he could please tell the House what he witnessed, as a police officer on the front line on the streets, roads, and hospital emergency rooms, of the harms and risks of marijuana.

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

David Wilks

Conservative

Mr. David Wilks

Mr. Speaker, the fact of the matter is that children have become normalized to using marijuana at younger and younger ages. The challenge we have as a government is ensuring that children do not have access to marijuana at young ages because their cognitive activities, especially in school, become affected. As a police officer, I saw time and again that youth who were smoking marijuana on a daily basis were making poor judgments that they normally would not make under other circumstances. If they had not been smoking, they would have not made the same decisions.

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

Murray Rankin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Murray Rankin (Victoria, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise and contribute to this important debate today.

The government has sought concurrence in a report from October 2014 from the Standing Committee on Health, entitled “Marijuana's Health Risks and Harms”.

I start by noting the title because, as members will note from my remarks to follow, it seems to be the theme of the government to emphasize one part of this complex public policy debate involving marijuana. I was not the deputy chair of the health committee, as I am proud to be now. At the time, it was my colleague from Vancouver East, who has been leading the charge on this debate for the official opposition. I salute her work on the dissenting report. I would like to focus my remarks upon this dissenting report and then talk more generally about the war on drugs and what has led us to this state today.

The report that the government wishes us to concur in is a report that focuses, as its title would suggest, on health risks and harm, which are of course not to be minimized. However, there is another side to the story, and that is why the New Democratic Party produced three recommendations in a dissenting report, the subject of which I would like to address today.

The dissenting report starts by saying what I did: that the current study was unbalanced and designed to focus on the harms of marijuana policy and use in Canada. It then says that significant testimony was dismissed, so the committee was not allowed to hear and address points of view that were different from the government's preconceived notions about marijuana. The dissenting report also says that so-called opinions are what were at stake, rather than evidence-based decisions, which everyone in health policy says is the important way to do business. As a result, there were more witnesses focused on harms and risks than on the other side of the debate.

The point I want to make by way of introduction, which the dissenting report clearly addresses, is that a war on drugs is simply not working. To that end, I would like to refer to last month's issue of The Economist magazine, a very right-wing publication from the U.K., which starts a full discussion on illegal drugs with the following:

In 1971 Richard Nixon fired the first shot in what became known as “the war on drugs” by declaring them “public enemy number one”. In America and the other rich countries that fought by its side, the campaign meant strict laws and harsh sentences for small-time dealers and addicts. ... Billions of wasted dollars and many destroyed lives later, illegal drugs are still available, and the anti-drug warriors are wearying.

The article concludes by saying:

Those preparing to prosecute the next drug war need only look west to see what lies ahead of them: more violence and corruption; more HIV/AIDS; fuller jails—and still the same, unending supply of drugs.

Prohibition, which seems to be the only solution offered by the government, is simply not working. Billions of dollars later, even The Economist magazine has acknowledged that reality. That is why the NDP has sought a more balanced approach, focusing on health promotion, public education, and safety. To that end, three recommendations were made. I would like to address each of them in turn.

The first was that we “pursue a public health approach to marijuana focused on education, and where necessary, treatment and harm reduction.”

Let me be very clear. No one is suggesting that somehow there are no risks or harms associated with this activity, and I hope I am not misunderstood. Particularly for youth, there are issues that need to be addressed, without a doubt. However, to avoid a public health approach and to simply revert to a war-on-drugs approach is not going to work in addressing those harms.

For example, many people came forward—including a constituent of mine, Dr. Philippe Lucas—to advocate a public health approach to the non-medical use of marijuana and other drugs in order to minimize risks and harms. Public awareness campaigns aimed at youth have to focus on accurate information. I am old enough—and I believe you are too, Mr. Speaker—to remember the reefer madness ads that used to be around in my day. It was a joke. They did not work, and they were dismissed by most of the young people whose marijuana consumption the ads were trying to change.

Using a zero tolerance approach has not worked either. Something more nuanced is required. We should listen to the experts like Dr. Lucas and others to that end, so I will come back to that first recommendation, the public health approach.

The second recommendation by the NDP in its dissenting report is to “fund research to examine the potential effectiveness of medical marijuana.”

Medical marijuana has become a large industry. Dr. Perry Kendall, from my part of the world, claims that approximately 50% of the people who use medical marijuana do so to relieve chronic pain. There are a number of illnesses, such as HIV-AIDS and multiple sclerosis, for which it has been proven to be an important contributor to treatment. Indeed, Veterans Affairs Canada pays for the cost of medical marijuana to treat veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, research on medical marijuana, which could provide benefits in many areas, is limited because of the prohibition approach that the government takes to this issue. We need more research. I am the first to acknowledge that. Funding research on clinical effectiveness and, yes, on risks to youth and others is critically important.

The expansion of the use of medical marijuana in Canada has been absolutely remarkable. In an article in the National Post back in March 2014 that examined the marijuana medical access regulations program, I was shocked to see that in 2001 there were 88 Canadians authorized to possess marijuana under those regulations. As of 2013, that number had gone up to almost 37,000 Canadians. There were 85 marijuana production licences in 2001; in 2013, there were almost 30,000.

We can see that this is an enormous issue and a challenge, but it seems to be beyond dispute that medical marijuana has certain benefits.

The third recommendation that I would like to focus on is the one that is the most salient in this discussion: that we “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”—here is the punchline—“provide guidance to Parliament on the institution of an appropriate regulatory regime to govern such use.”

We believe there needs to be this kind of independent commission to hear from people from different communities, including the law enforcement community, the medical community, the legal community, and others, to figure out how we can provide guidance to Parliament on instituting an appropriate regulatory regime, because prohibition has failed. All it has produced is violence, stigma, and control by organized crime. Simply continuing with the criminalization model is not going to work. We need to use evidence-based solutions to figure out an answer to this problem together.

Dr. Lucas is now with Tilray, a licensed producer of marijuana on Vancouver Island near Nanaimo. He has pointed out that cannabis prohibition creates more harms than cannabis use itself and that prohibition has failed to control the use and domestic production of marijuana. He points to higher and higher arrest rates in certain parts of the country, and one of my colleagues made reference to the very uneven enforcement across the country with respect to marijuana.

He says cannabis is our top cash crop in Canada and claims it has been used by approximately 50% of the population. He says prohibition ensures that young Canadians can access unregulated cannabis of unknown potency and quality and points out that it is a well-known fact that the potency of this drug has changed dramatically since the 1970s and that the drug is often cut with other products that are either very addictive or cause great harm to those people who take them. There is no quality control. People do not know what they are getting.

Youth cannabis rates have been going up. They have gone down in the last little while, but they have generally gone up. So much for the war on drugs. So much for saying, “Thou shalt not, young people.” It has not worked. We know that. Certainly in my part of the world, it is self-evident.

Cannabis enforcement is highly disproportionate across the country. That much we know. Young men, visible minorities, and first nations are greatly overrepresented in cannabis arrest statistics. That is a fact as well. Gangs, organized crime, and so forth are part of the picture, as we all know.

There are other ways to address the problem. The country I am most interested in at the moment is Portugal. In 1997, opinion polls in Portugal said that drug use was the country's biggest social problem. Now, 12 years since Portugal decriminalized personal use of small amounts of marijuana and other drugs, meaning less than 10 days' worth, what has happened is that drug use now ranks 13th in concerns. All parties in that country—left, right, and centre—support the policy of treating drug use as a health issue, and that is the first thing that was said in the dissenting report of the NDP: that this issue needs to be understood as a public health challenge and that we have to address it as such.

In Portugal, all parties support the policy of treating drug use as a health issue, not a crime. HIV rates have plummeted as well. However, decriminalization is not the same as legalization. Portugal uses what they term “dissuasion boards”, made up of doctors, psychologists, and other specialists, which aim to get addicts into treatment and prevent recreational users from falling into addiction. When necessary, they can impose fines and community work. However, removing the fear and stigma of criminal punishment has encouraged drug users to seek the help they need.

There are different approaches around the world that need to be studied if we are going to come to terms with this issue. That is why the fundamental recommendation of the NDP in its dissenting report, again, is to create an independent commission to guide Parliament on instituting an appropriate regulatory regime for the non-medical use of marijuana.

The law of unintended consequences is with us in so many areas. We now know that states such as Colorado and Washington have essentially legalized marijuana. After a year, have there been increased rates of driving under the influence? Has there been an impact, positive or negative, on youth who consume this drug? What is the reality of that? We need an evidence base.

We have the benefit of seeing whether there have been any unintended consequences. We could now check out that experience, as well as see what has been done in Uruguay or Portugal and other parts of the world. We could see whether or not there are lessons for Canada.

That is why this independent commission has to look at what is going on in other countries and see how we can address this issue. There is no doubt that issues with respect to youth have to be addressed first and foremost, so what lessons do we have in that regard?

One thing is clear: the Conservatives' “Let's just say no” is not going to work. Zero tolerance and the war on drugs have been an unmitigated disaster. We can just look at any of the streets of any city in Canada.

The question is, what we can do if we are serious about addressing the situation with respect to youth? What are the lessons we learned? That is why this commission ought to be taken very seriously.

I remember when Mr. Justice Le Dain led the Le Dain Commission back in the 1970s. We have many insights from that experience, but all that data needs to be updated. One thing that is clear is that this is not a black and white, yes-or-no issue.

Somebody who is often a witness in British Columbia cases involving drug use and addictions is Professor Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a scientist, he says that, as with any social initiative, there could be negative effects. He advocates close monitoring of excessive use among adolescents. As I said, driving under the influence certainly has to be addressed. With respect to politicians, he says that we need to inform them that they have underestimated the complexity of this problem.

It is a complex problem. That is why these yes-no, on-off solutions, the “thou shalt nots”, just simply do not cut it. We need to hear from experts like Dr. Kleiman going forward.

That is why we talk, in the second recommendation, about the need to fund research. We need to know whether this product that is so prevalent can have benefits. We need to know what those benefits are and what the risks are. Everything in life is risk versus benefit.

We can say that alcohol is a drug, which it is, that is causing harm to many families, has a staggering impact on the workplace, et cetera, but I do not think anybody is recommending a prohibition on that substance, yet we have to figure out ways to address it more effectively. I suggest that marijuana is no different in that regard and requires the kind of multi-faceted solution. As I mentioned, the commission could address it.

The NDP has talked for many years about the idea of decriminalizing and ticketing for small amounts of marijuana, and investing in additional education and programs to reduce marijuana use by young people. I was pleased to hear the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police say that it was open to that suggestion. It wanted an expanded range of enforcement options and so forth.

This is a problem among our young people. According to the United Nations Children's Fund, in August 2013, Canadian youth were the top users of marijuana in the developed world. In fact, 28% of our youth were considered in that category. However, apparently marijuana use among Canadian youth has declined to 20.3% in 2012, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

Why has that happened? If that statistic is accurate, does it apply across the board to all demographics, all communities, aboriginal, non-aboriginal, visible minority, non-visible minority? What part of the country more or less? I would think that if we had a serious public health problem, we would want to grapple with that very type of question.

Maybe a one-size-fits-all regulatory solution does not make sense. In which case, how will we deal with it in different parts of the country if we do not assume that it is simply a criminal law issue that needs to be addressed through a simple prohibition model?

Those are exactly the kinds of things that the independent commission advocated by the New Democratic Party would address to provide guidance on implementing an appropriate regulatory approach, a modernized marijuana legal regime based on evidence and public health principles, seeking to balance prevention, public health and well-being, harm reduction, community safety and public education. Those are the hallmarks of good public policy.

I suggest that addressing the marijuana issue, both recreational and medical, is no different than any other challenge in the sphere, and that evidence-based policies need to be understood on the basis of comparative research and other countries, assessing best practices made available to Canadian legislators so we can come up with a made-in-Canada solution to address it to meet the unique needs of our country and our population.

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

David Wilks

Conservative

Mr. David Wilks (Kootenay—Columbia, CPC)

Mr. Speaker, I listened to the member's speech intently. He kept flopping between a regulatory regime versus decriminalization. They are completely different. There is not one iota where one is the same as the other.

Could the member explain to me what his definition of decriminalization is? I know what it is. However, I would like to hear from members on the other side what their definition of decriminalization is.

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

Murray Rankin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Murray Rankin

Mr. Speaker, the definition of decriminalization, I guess, is relevant and not relevant to the debate before us. We have talked about an appropriate regulatory regime and in the context of that, I talked about decriminalization. My focus in my remarks was that third recommendation about an appropriate regulatory regime, but decriminalization would allow for a range of options, such as ticketing for small amounts and that sort of thing, as opposed to simply throwing people in jail for small amounts.

We want to take away the sanctions that are in the Criminal Code in the controlled drug substance legislation, move that to a different place, and deal with it in an entirely different way, as a first step in dealing with an appropriate regulatory regime, which would be much more comprehensive in nature.

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

Scott Brison

Liberal

Hon. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, I listened with great interest to my colleague from Victoria. He made some very good points. I hate to say it, but he makes good points in the House quite frequently on a range of issues. He is a pretty smart fellow.

On any criminal justice issue, it is really important to look at examples from other countries. For instance, if we want to talk about things like mandatory minimums, we could look at the U.S. and say that if putting more people in jail for longer periods of time created safer communities, then American cities would be the safest in the world.

However, on the decriminalization side of marijuana and some other drugs, if we look at the Portugal example, 12 years ago Portugal decriminalized marijuana and some other drugs. Since then, the rate of drug abuse and addiction has declined because the government redirected money that it was spending in the past on interdiction, jail and the whole police and judicial system on health promotion. It treated drugs as a medical issue and invested in mental health, addiction treatment and health promotion, telling people the dangers of it.

Does the hon. member agree that perhaps things could lead to less drug abuse and addiction if we redirected resources to health promotion, mental health treatment and addiction treatment?

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

Murray Rankin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Murray Rankin

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my friend from Kings—Hants for his very supportive comments.

I absolutely concur that that is what has happened in Portugal. There has been a reduction in the use of drugs, including marijuana, since the regime was changed 12 years ago. As I said, it was not just legalization in that context, but it also tried to dissuade people using a harm reduction type of approach. I think health promotion would be at the centre of that particular regulatory approach, an approach which we need to study in Canada to come up with the best possible solution.

It is like the anti-tobacco regime. The government has taxed cigarettes very aggressively, but those monies are not necessarily made directly available for prevention programs, as the Canadian Cancer Society reminded me of this morning. We need to take that kind of an approach to deal with the anti-tobacco regime and apply it to marijuana in a comprehensive new regulatory program.

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

Tyrone Benskin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Tyrone Benskin (Jeanne-Le Ber, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to go back to what my colleague spoke about with respect to the need for continued research into medical marijuana. There is an operation in my riding that supplies medical marijuana and it has helped many people with issues such as cancer and glaucoma. I have heard members on the other side sort of allude to the apparent safety of standardized drugs. I am sure members have heard the ads that list a litany of harmful side effects that some prescription drugs have, including death, as well as the growing problem among young people about using prescription drugs illegally.

I have a two-part question. Would my colleague like to comment on the importance of research into medical marijuana and the irony of the government's support of prescription drugs but not the medical use of marijuana?

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

Murray Rankin

New Democratic Party

Mr. Murray Rankin

Mr. Speaker, the key reason we have such difficulty doing research on medical marijuana is because of the government's prohibition approach. The second recommendation in the dissenting report addresses that. It says that more in-depth research to examine the potential benefits of medical marijuana is needed, but is difficult to undertake due to current Canadian government policies on marijuana. It recommended that the government fund research on the clinical effectiveness of marijuana, as well as the long term effects on vulnerable populations, such as youth and those who suffer from mental illness.

Smoking anything cannot be good for people and I know ingesting it in other ways is an option as well, and that is before the courts right now. That is the first thing. The emphasis on prescription drugs versus marijuana actually needs to be addressed as we find more and more people producing medical marijuana in the market, as I described in my remarks.

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

June 2, 2015