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May 9th 2018 - Social Affairs Committee with the Government of New Brunswick & the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation

Senator Poirier: Thank you both for being here and for your presentations.

My first question is for you, minister. You made a comment a few minutes ago about ensuring we have the right public information out there on the cannabis legislation. The task force recommended the minister provide Canadians with that information to ensure they understood the regulatory system. However, we heard last week, from the Canadian Bar Association and also from other witnesses, that right now what many Canadians are hearing is that cannabis will be completely legal soon. This is not the case, since the bill still maintains a strong criminal regime in many aspects of possession, distribution and cultivation. When your report was done in 2016, the government clearly didn’t take the time to properly inform Canadians. To ensure that Canadians are well informed of all the consequences, whether it’s health, law or otherwise, should the government, in your opinion, delay the legislation to ensure we have the proper information out there for the people?

Ms. McLellan: No. You have just heard from my colleague that, for other reasons, he doesn’t think it should be delayed.

We noticed as we began our round table discussions across the country that the commitment of the Government of Canada, and the mandate we were given, was to engage people on legalization, regulation and restriction of access. Unfortunately, there was a group of people — and to some extent the media, but not entirely — who focused on legalization, and they forgot about the rest of the mandate. Our report is actually all about regulation and, quite honestly, restricting access, especially to young people who today have very easy access to product and nobody knows the quality of that product. I agree that, for whatever reason, people chose to focus on only one word of the mandate. Our report is embedded in the other two words: restriction and regulation.

Public education will be key. That is why we make that recommendation. Over and over again in the report, we talk about the importance of public education. That public education has begun. There is a working committee of federal and provincial officials who are coordinating public education messaging. If we go to social media, you see more and more of the public education targeted at young people. We learned from the State of Washington not to bother with a piece of paper for a young person. Don’t go on television, because that is not where they live. It is all social media. Washington had to tear up, after spending millions of dollars, their youth-focused education campaign because they did it wrong. What did they do next? They went and talked to young people to figure out how you actually reach young people. In today’s world, it is through social media. That is why if you go on social media, you will see a lot of that education.

Is it enough? Will it ever be enough? No, because public education is an ongoing process and the government, and all governments in a civil society, need to do more.

Senator Poirier: To follow up on where you are — and Dr. Ware can jump in — we know that, despite the millions of dollars the government announced in the budget, Health Canada has only spent $295,000 on its official cannabis public education campaign. The campaign that was targeted especially to youth only began in March 2018. Last year, they said Canada should boost spending on intensive public education to ensure research on the impact of marijuana and not wait until 2018. What are the consequences of the legalization of cannabis without youth fully understanding the risk? From what we are seeing here, not a lot of the money has come forward, and what has come forward only started in March 2018.

Dr. Ware: First, I don’t agree that youth are not understanding what is happening with cannabis. I think they are extremely engaged. They are tracking this, as Ms. McLellan said, through social media. This is a topic that is in the press almost every single day. It is in the news every single day. It is dominating Twitter and social media platforms. The youth are engaged. They are well aware of what the risks have been. I think they were told for decades, and in fact when some of us were youths, about the harms of cannabis and the dangers, and it continued to be widely used illicitly. I think the youth are aware. I think we underestimate their intelligence and awareness of the issues. If they are taught and tuning into the messages, including the dialogues in these chambers and what is being discussed in the public media, there is an opportunity for public education in every single intervention that we do. Everything single word we put out there will be heard by young people.

Teaching them that cannabis use is an adult activity, that the longer they delay using cannabis the safer it is for their brains, teaching them about the potency — these are simple messages. The lower risk cannabis use guidelines, published by CAMH and endorsed by multiple medical associations, all speak to the reality of cannabis use by young people and encourage and teach ways to reduce those. Those documents are out there. They have been disseminated and have been endorsed by the Canadian Medical Association. There is information out there. It is up to all of us, including parents, teachers and professionals, to distribute this information at every opportunity we have.

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Senator Poirier: Welcome, minister.

Several of the witnesses we’ve heard from have expressed concerns about home growing. The RCMP is worried about having enough officers. Municipalities wonder if they’ll have enough financial resources. Health experts fear this policy is inconsistent with the bill’s public health objectives. Real estate agents are concerned about safety and cleanliness in homes. What’s more, we know that some provinces have decided to ban home growing altogether.

What data did your government use when it decided to allow not only indoor growing, but outdoor growing as well? I think that New Brunswick is the only province so far that plans to allow outdoor growing.

Mr. Bourque: I don’t know what the other provinces have or haven’t done in this area. What you say is perfectly possible, senator. Speaking for ourselves, we, as a government, feel at ease applying the home growing measures proposed in Bill C-45.

That being said, we have added some fairly strict regulations. As I said in my earlier answer, we are implementing much stricter regulations that go beyond what the bill proposes, to make it clear that this is a controlled product that needs to be handled very carefully. We think that, with these measures, we are sending a clear message that we can in fact control this product.

Another important thing, which I believe is part of our regulations, is that any cultivation needs to be approved by the homeowner. In the case of an apartment building or any kind of rental housing, the owner’s approval is required. Without that approval, it’s illegal to grow the plants.

Senator Poirier: Your government was the quickest in Canada to table a bill to regulate cannabis. However, since your bill was tabled, several committees have heard from many witnesses who have been full of concerns. We’re wondering if you might have been a little too quick off the mark. Were you as quick to allocate money to a possible educational campaign, in schools, for parents and youth?

Mr. Bourque: I would say yes. We quickly created a fund with an initial budget of $250,000.

Senator Poirier: Wasn’t that only just announced?

Mr. Bourque: We’re showing leadership. That $250,000 is a commitment that was made as part of the current budget, which started April 1.

I think we’re handling this issue responsibly.

Back to: Bill C-45 The Cannabis Act in Committee