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Thursday, May 31st 2018 - Cannabis Bill - Third Reading - Debate on Senator Vernon White's Proposed Amendment

Cannabis Bill

Bill to Amend—Third Reading

Hon. Rose-May Poirier: On the amendment, honourable senators. I rise to speak in support of Senator White’s amendment in banning home cultivation. First off, I would like to acknowledge the tremendous work done by the National Defence and Security Committee, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, the Aboriginal Peoples Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee. As a member of Social Affairs Committee, their report recommendation and observations were crucial to the study of Bill C-45.

On the issue at hand, my position since my speech at second reading has not changed. I’m still opposed to home cultivation. In fact, after listening to various expert witnesses, I am more convinced than ever that home cultivation must be taken out of Bill C-45. The government has stated at every opportunity that Bill C-45 was a public health approach, and as the Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor has clearly stated in her opening remarks at our committee on March 28:

I believe that our public health approach to Bill C-45 is a part of that healthier future... Strong legislation and regulations to strictly control cannabis are essential to the protection of public health and safety. Our top priority, as we move ahead with the legalization and regulation of cannabis, is to keep it out of the hands of our youth.

Now, keep in mind the Minister’s message of a public health approach because when Benedikt Fischer, Addiction Chair and Professor at the Department of Psychiatry, University of Toronto and the Canadian Research Initiative in Substance Misuse appeared in front of the Social Affairs Committee on April 18, he said the total opposite and I quote:

First is the provision of home growing. In my opinion, it’s categorically misguided as part of the supply scheme for cannabis in a public health and 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.

We are strict about who can distribute in terms of retail stores, what products are available and who will have access, but then at the same time, we’re saying, “Well, but if you don’t like those official access mechanisms, you can grow the stuff at home.” It’s four plants according to the law, but who will control it? Will the police go into the house and check?

He was not the only one, honourable senators. So was Dr. Harold Kalant, Professor Emeritus ,Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto who appeared on April 16 and I quote:

One measure that the Senate could take to help prevent that would be to limit the number of outlets, to provide for a local option of areas and municipalities that do not want the legalization, and to cancel the provision for home growth, because it is obviously impossible to monitor that home growth, because it is obviously impossible to monitor that home growth will be restricted to four plants, what members of the family will have access to it, including even adolescents, and to ensure that none of it gets into the black market.

Not only at the Social Affairs Committee, but also at the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, they have heard many concerns. For example, on March 29, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health opposed home growing and said it was not required. It goes against a public health objective. L’Association des médecins psychiatres du Quebec, on April 18, suggested to prohibit home growing for non-medical purposes.

And during the Committee of the Whole on February 6, 2018, the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor explained home growing as follows:

When examining the bill, the House of Commons debated whether to change the provisions regarding home growing. The bill would allow adults to grow up to four marijuana plants per residence. The objective of allowing limited home growing was twofold: first and foremost, to prevent the needless criminalization of otherwise law-abiding Canadians who grow a small number of plants for reasonable personal use; and second, to help eliminate the illegal market. The approach we are proposing is based on the recommendations of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation and on the approach adopted by most of the American states that legalized cannabis. What is more, under no circumstances will commercial size grow-ops be permitted in personal residences.

Not only the Minister of Health but also Mr. Bill Blair, the government’s spokesperson on Bill C-45, insisted on strong regulations for home growth. Mr. Blair talked on Monday about strict regulations, zoning and how provinces can impose their own restrictions on home cultivation.

I question, honourable senators, how do we regulate if someone has four plants, eight plants or 10 plants? We have heard time and again how this is enforceable. Many municipalities and police organizations expressed their concerns on how to enforce this regulation and to properly do it would require resources they do not have. For example, Chak Kwong Au, a councillor from the City of Richmond, appeared in front of the Social Affairs Committee on March 29 and I quote:

There are five issues that we are concerned about. The first one is home cultivation. We are concerned that the bill as is will allow people to grow marijuana at home...If people can just grow their own marijuana at home, there will be no way to control it. We cannot send police officers to knock on every door or respond to every complaint and do an investigation...Kids will have more opportunity to get in touch with the marijuana because it can be grown in a place where kids on their own or kids of other people might be present.

At the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, they also heard from Yvon Soucy, from the Féderation Québécoise des municipalités, and I quote:

However, the Quebec bill will completely prohibit growing cannabis plants at home. The FQM backs Quebec’s approach on this matter. Indeed, it would seem difficult to control the number of cannabis plants a citizen will have in his home in rural areas. The municipalities we represent have neither the resources nor staff to enforce that provision. We would prefer that cannabis be grown in secure, well-monitored location.

The committees also heard from different police associations who have said they did not have the resources to properly enforce this law. For example, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on March 29 heard from the President of the Canadian Police Association and I quote:

Some aspects of this legislation will, quite simply, be impossible to effectively enforce, regardless of any additional funding provided by the government. Allowing individuals to cultivate and possess up to four marijuana plants is one specific example. I have difficult imagining how any police service in the country will have the resources, whether financial or personnel, to monitor this particular provision.

Finally, the Province of Quebec has shown leadership and wisdom in prohibiting home production. Jean-Marc Fournier, Minister responsible for Canadian Relations and the Canadian Francophonie explained the province’s position which should be applied to all of Canada, and I quote:

Quebec has intended to pass legislation to protect public health and safety, particularly when it comes to young people. Because we need to protect public health and safety, we propose permitting the production of cannabis only by authorized producers for a number of reasons.

The first is to limit access and prevent the trivialization of cannabis from for minors and young adults, since access is the major determining factor in cannabis use. The second reason is to be able to provide relevant information at points of sale. This would allow us to assess whether some customers need to be referred to appropriate social services. Home production prevents us from providing relevant information and assessing whether some customers might have special needs associated with cannabis use.

The third and final reason is to limit the illegal sale of cannabis and to avoid creating networks.

I’m going to close. I think my time is coming to an end. At the end of the day senators, what good is it to have a regulation that is unenforceable? It would be irresponsible to put the burden of this responsibility on the provinces, the municipalities and the police force, especially when they are telling us they don’t have the means to enforce it.

Finally, honourable senators, with the evidence that I’ve provided to you in very little time, the question, in my opinion, is as follows: Is the reward of allowing home cultivation of four plants worth the health risk of the law and regulations that are unenforceable and contrary to public health policy? We have to take a close look at both sides where we have the health experts who are the most knowledgeable on this issue. We have the various police associations and municipalities who will need to enforce it, all having their own concerns over how effective it will be and how nearly impossible it will be to enforce.

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On the other hand, we have the government, who never addressed the home growth and claims this is a necessary step in eliminating the illicit market. How effective can an unenforceable regulation be to eliminate the illicit market? I know what side I will be on, and it will be on the expert side, to protect our health and to protect our homes.

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