May 7th 2018 - Social Affairs Committee with the National Security and Defence Committee Steering and Other Witnesses
Senator Poirier: Thank you all for the presentations. I have two questions. Hopefully time will allow me to put them through. Both are for Mr. Freedman.
In an interview with the Westword in September 2017, you said:
Once an industry gets moving in a certain direction, it’s hard to go back and revisit it because a lot of people have a lot of capital invested in whatever direction it’s going. So there is a momentum on its own. Some of the changes that might have been easy at first become harder to get as you go along.
From your experience in Colorado, which changes would have been easier to do at the beginning, which is where are here in Canada, compared to being harder to do later on?
Mr. Freedman: You guys are by far the hardest people to testify in front of because you actually do your research ahead of time.
The first three that come to mind, and I think the one that I was referring to in that piece, was edibles. That is, putting forward intuitive edible rules so that a naive consumer knows they’re having one dose of marijuana. It’s something I wish we had done at the beginning because people pay for the equipment that they use in order to create those edibles pretty early on, so the sort of thing where you either limit it to 10 milligrams altogether or make sure that they’re easily scored and demarcated and the universal symbol is stamped directly on the product.
Also, starting out on the front end with banning certain shapes. There is just no reason there should be a gummy bear. Not only banning those shapes, but having a direct talk with industry that says please don’t come anywhere near this line or we’ll ban it in the future and you will have paid for equipment you can’t use down the road. I think doing both of those in conjunction allows for some self-regulatory power in the industry.
The second was home grows once there is a right given to citizens. In Colorado, we had people arguing they needed 99 plants growing at home, which is not an argument we hear anywhere else. Make sure you have a clear right that you’re giving that. I do like the part of your law that you don’t allow for co-oping and that it’s per residence or dwelling and that’s clearly defined.
The third thing is advertising. Again, it’s one of those places where some people will spend a lot of money deciding that advertising is their path forward to gaining a lot of market. Setting rules early that set the strictest forms of advertising will help you stop that sort of industry capture.
Senator Poirier: You touched on this a bit in your presentation, Mr. Freedman, but in the same interview, when it came to driving while high, you also mentioned the importance of having cannabis legislation committed a year ahead of time and to use that time to properly train our officers and have a year’s worth of data before we go into legalization. In your opinion, based on your experience again in Colorado, how crucial can that one year be to ensure public safety and public education?
Mr. Freedman: I’m not sure I can quantify how crucial it is. I can tell you that the first two to three years of information that we got — and this is somewhat to Beau’s point — from our “Driving While High” was right after we changed the driving while high laws and then spent a couple million dollars training people to be drug recognition experts, training police officers. The biases alone in the system rendered any trend absolutely useless.
If you can’t get a year's worth of training, I would choose a few jurisdictions and get people trained quickly and get some test examples of what you’re seeing on the street now. I think it would help in the future to see if you have a new growing dynamic of the problem or if you simply have the same problem but you’re catching it more.
Dr. Madras: I just saw data from the Massachusetts General Hospital that was generated a few days ago comparing drug recognition expert views of people intoxicated with marijuana compared with their self-reports of being quite high, compared with blood pressure increases and other parameters. Their accuracy rate was among the lowest of all the other parameters that were being tested as a way of understanding who is and who is not impaired with regard to potential for driving.
Ms. Margolis: I have defended dozens of cannabis DUIs in the last 15 years. We came later than Colorado and earlier than you, but I think it’s important to recognize that the skill sets that are being used by officers in evaluating intoxication, both from controlled substances and alcohol and in combination, are not new skill sets at this time. We’re not going to need to see — and we did not need to see it in Oregon — a new training program implemented. In Colorado, we saw a 16 per cent decrease for any type of DUI between 2011 and 2016. Marijuana DUIs went down 33.2 per cent between quarter 1 of 2016 and quarter 1 of 2017. In Washington, we saw a 32.9 per cent decrease for any type of DUI between 2011 and 2016. In Colorado, only 4 per cent of all DUIs involved people testing positive for THC, and 8 per cent in Washington.
Senator Poirier: My question is for Dr. Madras. The government’s rationale with the legalization of cannabis has been that it will keep it out of the hands of young people. Actually, we had Bill Blair, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, appear before our committee. He is the point man that was working on the legislation. He appeared before our committee a few weeks ago and he actually said that the goal of legalization is that it would eliminate usage among our youth. Does the experience to date in the United States jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis bear out this theory? Is it a realistic observation?
Dr. Madras: I think it’s totally unrealistic. Here are some of the reasons why. Eliminating marijuana sales to youth does not necessarily eliminate access to marijuana by youth. For example, if parents are using and older siblings are using, what is going to stop them from sharing marijuana with each other? What is going to stop the denormalization of its use in a household? There is nothing to indicate that.
There is nothing to indicate that marijuana use de facto is going down among youth. The trends are in the opposite direction. It’s risen. We had a downturn up until 2007. We actually had a drop of between 18 and 24 per cent of youth marijuana use while it was illegal in all the states between 2002-07, by two different surveys. One was the NTF; other was the NSDA. With a rekindling of normalization and a rekindling of permissiveness within the federal government, youth use soared again. It increased, and we lost all the gains we had made during that period of time.
My feeling is that by legalizing the drug, we are feeding into the youth perception — I have the data right here — that it’s safe, it is not harmful and the perception of harm is going to decrease.
The idea that we don’t make direct sales to youth is the same concept we have with alcohol and tobacco. You have to be over 18 to buy alcohol and over 21 to buy tobacco. That never prevented young people from having access to those substances.