May 28th 2018 - Social Affairs Committee with MP Bill Blair, RCMP, Health Canada, Justice Canada, CBSA & Public Safety
Senator Poirier: Thank you all for being here to answer our questions again today.
Mr. Blair, since the bill was introduced and throughout the committee hearings, we heard from some people how cannabis is far less dangerous than alcohol, but that notion is really not reflected in Bill C-45. For example, penalties are way harsher for having 6 grams of cannabis in a bag than 6 bottles of beer. If cannabis is so much safer than alcohol, why is the punishment for youth so much harsher with cannabis?
Mr. Blair: Senator, first of all, I have never said that cannabis is safe, particularly for young people.
Senator Poirier: No, I didn’t say that you said it was. I said that throughout the committee meetings, we heard from some people who had stated that. I just wanted your opinion on it.
Mr. Blair: Senator, we’re transitioning from a century-long system of criminal prohibition that the overwhelming majority of Canadians have begun to ignore, but it had enormous consequences for individuals caught in possession. As a result of some youthful indiscretion, many were not caught but some were, and they ended up with a criminal record that affects the rest of their lives — their ability to cross the border, their ability to get a job or the cost of having a criminal record. Those consequences are quite significant.
We’re moving away from that criminal prohibition, but I believe the regulations we’re putting in place will reflect Canadians’ concerns that have been expressed to us about the availability of this drug, and they want to ensure that we do not allow the illicit market to continue.
It’s important to be very clear. We are creating a system of strictly regulated production and distribution of cannabis, and any cannabis outside of that strict regulatory framework — so illegal production — remains a serious criminal offence. Illegal distribution through trafficking remains a serious criminal offence. Importation/exportation not under ministerial licence but by criminals remain serious criminal offences. That is simply an acknowledgment that organized crime has 100 per cent control of this market. The police are retaining all of the authorities, offences and penalties that they have had for a century, but we are adding a new element of competing with organized crime by giving them a competitor in the marketplace so that adult Canadians can make a different choice — a legitimate, healthier, lower risk choice than the one they currently have dealing with criminals.
Senator Poirier: Can you tell me when Health Canada is expected to issue a request for proposal for tracking recreational products between the licensed producers and the retailers?
Mr. Blair: I will refer to Health Canada’s director on those matters.
Mr. Costen: Thank you for the question. We’re prepared to launch the system at a point in time when the legislation will come into force, should Parliament approve it. It is a system that we are designing internally. It is not a system that we are seeking to procure externally at this time.
Senator Poirier: On the question of the home cultivation, our committee has heard the concerns from key witnesses from all fields, including health, police, municipalities, lawyers, and the list goes on. Weighing the pros and cons of this provision, it’s clear that the negative effects and the concerns clearly outweigh the benefits.
The most striking comment came from Professor Benedikt Fischer, a senior scientist with the Institute of Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. He said:
In my opinion, it’s categorically misguided as part of the supply scheme for cannabis in a public health and a strictly regulated approach. It’s a recipe for people producing cannabis that is unregulated, to expose minors and other vulnerable people who shouldn’t be exposed to cannabis and a recipe for diversion. It doesn’t belong in a public health oriented supply framework for cannabis. The provision should be scrapped.
Your government has been clear from the get-go that the intent of the bill was to protect kids from using cannabis, which you say are among some of the highest in the world. Can you please explain how normalizing cannabis by allowing unregulated and unchecked cannabis plants in Canadian homes is part of a strategy from protecting young people from using cannabis?
Mr. Blair: Thank you. Let me also be very clear: Personal cultivation is not part of the supply framework. The supply framework is the only cannabis that will be available, and that supply framework is that which has been produced under strict regulatory and oversight by Health Canada and available through the distribution systems established by the provinces and territories — but not for distribution, not the supply network, but for individuals.
What our task force heard and what we have in our regulations is a limit on how much an individual can cultivate for their own personal consumption. They can’t sell it. They can’t give it to the neighbours. They certainly can’t give it to their children. There are regulations that prevent that. If they went to the end of the driveway and started to sell it, that’s a criminal offence, trafficking, and that’s illegal production in any amount — 4 plants or 400 plans. It’s not part of the supply chain.
It allows an individual Canadian for their own personal use to cultivate up to four plants. It creates an offence for more plants.
It’s very important to be clear. With regard to the provinces and territories, we have said that they can put in regulatory control to ensure that that personal cultivation can take place in such a way as to address local concerns with respect to safety, sanitation, access to children. Municipalities can zone where it can take place. The provinces can put in regulations that would, for example, limit or restrict or prevent it from taking place in multi-residential dwellings, around school campuses, in close proximity to schools and community centres where children are present. They can even put in a permitting system so if some individual wanted to engage in personal cultivation, they need to get a municipal permit to do so and abide by whatever conditions were put in place.
This is an activity not part of the supply chain but rather only for personal use, which is subject to strict local regulatory conditions and controls.