Remove the distribution risk of cannabis being given to minors

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague from the Bloc Québécois for his support for my amendment.

I stand before you, Mr. Speaker, in a position at report stage that were it not for a motion passed at committee that is identical to ones passed in every other committee to reduce my rights as a member of Parliament, I would be able to submit today at report stage substantive and detailed amendments such as I have had to do before committee. Previous Speakers have ruled on this discriminatory procedure, the first time in the history of Parliament that a majority of MPs in the House, at the request of a Prime Minister’s Office, have reduced the rights of individual members of Parliament who have this artificial threshold. Only Canada among the Westminster parliamentary democracies has this rule that there is such a thing as a recognized party, so that if a party has fewer than 12 seats, it is not not a recognized party. It is unique to Canada, but I digress.

These PMO-directed motions, identical in every committee and dreamt up under former Prime Minister Harper’s PMO and repeated under the current Prime Minister’s PMO, reduced the rights of MPs like me to present detailed substantive amendments at report stage. This is called an “opportunity”. This is not an “opportunity”. This is a coercive process in which my amendments are deemed to have been presented. Therefore, I do want to make note of the fact that this procedure has become increasingly difficult, requiring me to run from committee to committee. Sometimes clause-by-clause consideration happens at exactly the same moment in different committees.

In this case, my amendments at committee went forward and I regret very much that my substantive opportunity to speak to these amendments was precluded by illness, so I want to put on the record that I had more detailed, targeted, substantive amendments. They were all defeated in my absence. I think they would have been defeated even if I had been there, but I did want to thank the hon. member for Vancouver Kingsway who, in my absence, attempted to argue that my amendments had merit and attempted to help some of them get through. At report stage, I am precluded from putting forward substantive amendments, as the Speaker will know, and I am bringing forward deletions of those sections of the bill that are most difficult.

Let us step back and explain what the difficulty is for members such as me. I lead the Green Party of Canada, the first party in Canada to call for the legalization of cannabis. That is for the very reason cited so often by government members in explaining why the Liberal Party campaigned for the legalization of cannabis, which is that it is very clear that prohibition of cannabis is a failed policy. It is very clear that prohibition of cannabis profits primarily organized crime and fuels an underground economy whose main beneficiaries are people in organized crime. It is clear that it takes people who are otherwise honest, law-abiding Canadians and gives them a criminal record. There are many ills that come from the failed policy of prohibition. One of them in particular is that it fuels grow ops, which take up residence in otherwise calm, quiet, residential cul-de-sacs, and fuels the gang wars that break out. In some cases, criminals have broken into the homes of innocent people because they think they are running rival grow ops. In some cases, police have kicked down the doors of people who are completely uninvolved in grow ops. There have been cases of mistaken identity because quiet neighbourhoods can breed grow ops. Therefore, I am entirely in favour of anything that would take away the profit-making criminal activity in trafficking and growing cannabis.

This legislation, therefore, is something that I should be able to support 100%, but the reason I cannot is that it appears that in drafting this legislation, the governing Liberals were seized with somewhat of a schizophrenia. On one hand, they want to legalize cannabis. On one hand, they recognize the overwhelming scientific evidence that there is nothing, for instance from the World Health Organization or other organizations focused on health, that would make the case that cannabis is more dangerous or more addictive than otherwise legal substances that we also know are health hazards, such as tobacco and alcohol.

The Liberals approached the drafting of their cannabis legislation with the apparent intention, as publicized during the election campaign, of legalizing cannabis. However, at the same time, they seemed to be carrying a prohibition mindset into the drafting of the legislation legalizing it.

Accordingly, I want quote one of the witnesses who was before the committee, Michael Spratt, a well-known and respected criminal lawyer. He has appeared a number of times before parliamentary committees, and I have drawn on his evidence in the past. I find his views compelling. However, this is from an article he published under the title “Marijuana bill another example of Liberals’ broken promises”. It reads:

When it comes to legalization of marijuana, it seems that the Liberals will keep their promise—sort of. They pledged to legalize marijuana because it “traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system,” because illegal weed funds criminal organizations and because legal but regulated cannabis better keeps drugs away from our children. So, in 2015, the Liberals promised to “remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code.”

The article continues:

…the Liberal’s proposed cannabis bill actually doesn’t do any of those things very well. Sure, the new legislation does legalize some marijuana—some of the time, under some circumstances—but it does not “remove marijuana consumption and possession from the Criminal Code.”

In reality, the new bill is an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in many circumstances.

Therefore, the intent of my amendment to delete clause 9 is to remove the distribution risk of cannabis being given to anyone under 18 years old. Distribution is defined as not selling cannabis but basically giving someone else a cannabis substance, which in some situations is legal but in others is not.

Now, I understand that it is illegal to sell alcohol, depending on the province, to a minor. It is illegal to sell cigarettes to a minor, and so it should be. However, this proposed legislation is sending out a signal that cannabis is far more dangerous than cigarettes or alcohol, but there is no evidence for that. It is also sending a message that it is legal for an 18 year old to ingest cannabis, but if that same 18 year old passes it to a friend who is in the same year in high school and whom he or she thinks is also 18 but is not, the onus is on that 18 year old to try to find out how old the friend is before passing the joint to them. Otherwise, that 18 year old could spend 14 years in jail.

This is an extreme punishment that is completely tone deaf to the Liberal campaign to legalize cannabis. It is out of sync with all of the evidence. I would hope that judicial discretion would step in, but I cannot imagine for a moment why we would think that someone who, without a profit motive, without any idea that what they are doing is illegal, distributes some cannabis, that is, gives it for free to someone whom they know and who also happens to be under 18, should be subject to a very harsh criminal sanction of 14 years in jail.

There are other parts of the legislation that I attempted to amend in committee, including the treatment of edibles. In terms of assistance to people who need medical marijuana, it is a safer way of ingesting cannabis for many people than smoking it. We are making a little progress on that at committee. I have to say that it was good to see the majority of Liberals accept amendments to remove some of the sillier provisions, such as a height restriction on plants. Some progress was also made in increasing the amount that could be possessed before one hits the criminal mark. Also, on the good Samaritan exception, again, I give credit to the Liberals for accepting that amendment, as well removing the height restriction of 100 centimetres.

That said, much more could have been done to fix the bill in committee, but we can still make progress here at report stage by accepting this amendment. I applaud the Liberals for their intent to legalize cannabis, but I decry the fact that this legalization is contaminated with a prohibition mindset that would undo a lot of what was promised.

Mr. Garnett Genuis – Member for Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan

Mr. Speaker, I have have substantive differences with the member’s assessment of the risks, and I think the medical evidence clearly bears out the significant associations between marijuana use and mental health challenges, which we want to avoid.

I want to ask the member about her comments with respect to the Standing Orders. I do not go out of my way to agree with the government, but the way the Standing Orders work in combination with the motions passed by committees, and the way that most, if not all, committees work now, is that every member has an opportunity to bring forward substantive amendments at committee. Thus, they cannot bring amendments at report stage that they could have brought forward at committee.

The member in question wants to have the right to bring forward substantive report stage amendments, I understand that. However, as a member of a major recognized party, I am not able to bring forward substantive amendments at report stage either, except in certain very particular circumstances, which would apply to the member as well, where the Speaker judges the measure to be of great importance and makes an exception in its case.

Can the member clarify if, in this case, what she is asking for is actually a right that other members do not have? No one can bring forward substantive amendments at report stage if those could have been brought forward at committee.

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, I really appreciate my friend from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan for allowing me to amplify this point. The reason members of large recognized parties do not have the right to bring forward substantive motions at report stage is relatively new. It was in response to the over 700 amendments to the Nisga’a Treaty moved by what I think was the Reform Party. At that point, the majority Liberals took it to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs, where, generally speaking, if we are to change the way legislation moves to the House it gets done. This reduced the rights of every Liberal, NDP, and Conservative member of this place, because if one their colleagues sits on a committee they do not get the chance to bring forward amendments here. Again that is a derogation of the individual right of every MP. We are all equals. We are not elected here as blocks of different parties. It is an unfortunate provision, but it did go through the procedure and House affairs committee and did change the Standing Orders.

For members such as me who are not allowed to sit on any committee, we are given a fake opportunity, a false opportunity, to have amendments brought forward in our name and deemed moved. Members in positions such as mine are not allowed to sit on the committee or put forward questions to witnesses. It is a fake, lesser opportunity for the sole purpose of depriving me of a right that I would have had but for the motions passed at every committee.

Kevin Lamoureux
– Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I commend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health for being able to deal with what is a very important issue. If I were to best describe it, it is to minimize the impact of cannabis on our young people. Today, we have more young people than virtually any other country in the western world consuming cannabis in some form or another. We finally have a government that recognizes that we need to do something to deal with the criminal element, the hundreds of millions that go toward crime as a direct result.

That said, the leader of the Green Party indicates that she has a problem with the legislation. She is concerned that an 18 year old sitting in a high school could possibly go to jail for 14 years for passing a cigarette to a 17 year old. I am repeating what the leader of the Green Party said.

If that same 18 year old possibly passed it off to someone who was 13 or 14 years old, does she not believe that would also be problematic, if her amendment had passed?

Elizabeth May

Mr. Speaker, the reality of the way this bill has been drafted is that the sentencing is extreme. This was the expert testimony we heard at committee by those representing the Criminal Lawyers’ Association, individuals with day-to-day experience defending people. There are a lot of people in this country whose personal reputations continue to be stigmatized because they are charged with a crime. As the hon. parliamentary secretary pointed out, a far higher proportion of our population than other populations has used recreational cannabis. Many people who are otherwise law abiding have used recreational cannabis over the years and are stigmatized with a criminal record.

This legislation should remove that risk of stigmatization, but it perpetuates it. To my friend from Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, the medical evidence from the World Health Organization and the report by the Canadian Senate are really clear. By the way, as I stand here, I am someone who would never want my kids either to ingest cannabis or to smoke cigarettes or access alcohol. These are health risks, but cannabis is no worse a health risk than the others.