Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue No. 39 - Evidence - March 28, 2018
OTTAWA, Wednesday, March 28, 2018
The Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology to which was referred Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts, met this day at 4:13 p.m. to study its content.
Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
I’m Art Eggleton, a senator from Toronto and chair of the committee. I will ask senators to introduce themselves.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman from Montreal, Quebec, and I’m deputy chair of the committee.
Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick. Welcome, Madam Minister.
Senator Manning: Fabian Manning, Newfoundland and Labrador.
Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Montreal, Quebec.
Senator White: Vernon White from Ottawa, Ontario. I am sitting in for Senator Doyle.
Senator Dean: Tony Dean, Ontario.
Senator Munson: Jim Munson, Ontario.
Senator Petitclerc: Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec.
The Chair: Today we begin our examination of Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.
I should point out that while our committee is the prime committee for dealing with this issue, there are four other committees currently dealing with different aspects of it, as you know. Those committees are due to report by May 1, and those reports will also be coming here at the same time.
We’ve decided at this point, through the steering committee, to focus on the health issues, since health is one of our areas of jurisdiction, and youth issues as well. While everything is interrelated in Bill C-45, nevertheless we’ll try to leave aspects that the other committees are dealing with until we get their reports, and then we will delve into them further, and we will probably want more ministers back at that point in time.
Those reports are due here by May 1. We’re due to be out of here before the end of May into the Senate for third reading, which has been agreed to by all concerned as being a vote on third reading on June 7.
I need to point out, as most of us know, we have an issue with our agenda today because there is a vote in the Senate. As it turns out, there is a vote in the house at the same time, too. Bells will be ringing at 5:15 in both houses, and we will have to leave here at that time. That covers the first session with the minister, between now and 5:15.
The session beyond that is with various officials for additional questions we may have.
We can come back after the vote and pick up with the meeting; at least we have until 6:15. We could probably go to 6:30, a little bit beyond our normal time, to make up for the time lost. Is there anybody who can’t make it back after the vote or anybody who thinks we should adjourn when the vote comes and not come back? No? So we will come back, and officials can hang in for half an hour while we go across the street.
Senator Munson: Is there a possibility of other votes?
The Chair: I don’t think so; I checked on that. We will be back.
I want to welcome the Honourable Ginette Petitpas Taylor, P.C., Minister of Health, the prime person responsible in the cabinet for Bill C-45, together with Bill Blair M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Health.
With that, minister, the floor is yours.
Hon. Ginette Petitpas Taylor, P.C., M.P., Minister of Health: Thank you very much, honourable senators. It is a pleasure for me to be here with you today. I am also joined by Eric Costen, Director General, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat. He will be here for the hour following our appearance.
Mr. Chair, I’d like to thank the honourable senators for inviting me to speak about Bill C-45, the cannabis act.
Let me first acknowledge the impressive work that you all have done on this committee in addressing many health issues that affect Canadians, among them some that are of great interest to me, including palliative care, obesity and dementia. Your recommendations are helping to guide our country toward a healthier future. I believe that our public health approach to Bill C-45 is a part of that healthier future.
The current approach to cannabis is not working. It fails to keep cannabis out of the hands of Canadian youth and allows organized crime to profit. According to the most recent statistics from the Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, 21 per cent of youth between the ages of 15 and 19 and 30 per cent of young adults between the ages of 20 and 24 used cannabis at least once in the previous year — despite the fact that cannabis is illegal. And Statistics Canada estimates that Canadians spent more than $5.7 billion on cannabis in 2017 — the vast majority of it sourced through illegal supply.
I am proud to say that our government is taking action to address these issues.
Bill C-45 was shaped through extensive consultation with the provinces and territories, law enforcement, health and safety experts, and the hard work of the Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation.
It was also informed by lessons learned from jurisdictions in the United States and elsewhere that have legalized and regulated cannabis. We have integrated proven practices from other regulatory regimes, such as tobacco, to help guide and inform our public health approach to cannabis.
Our approach to the legalization and regulation of cannabis is evidence-informed. It seeks to minimize harm and to reduce the likelihood of problematic use. It includes strong legislative and regulatory measures to protect youth. It also includes public education, awareness and surveillance to equip Canadians with the facts on cannabis and to understand the effects that our approach will have on society.
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. We know that packaging can be a powerful marketing tool. Studies have shown that young people are especially susceptible to appealing packages.
For this reason, Bill C-45 includes restrictions on cannabis packaging and labelling, including that it must not appeal to youth or contain lifestyle elements or testimonials or any form of endorsement. Last week, we announced that we will require plain packaging for all cannabis products. However, the approach will be slightly different from the approach used for tobacco. These requirements will strictly limit branding and logos, as well as the use of some colours and other features on cannabis packaging. This approach was recommended by the federal Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation and was supported by the majority of Canadians in our recent regulatory consultations.
In addition to plain packaging, we announced several other requirements that will help to minimize the product’s appeal to youth and protect against accidental consumption.
Packaging of cannabis products will need to be tamper-evident and child-resistant, display clearly printed mandatory health warnings, and include a mandatory cannabis symbol, a red stop sign with a cannabis leaf and the letters THC on the bottom. When we focus tested the cannabis symbol with children and youth, they clearly understood that this symbol means stop.
Let’s look at public education now.
The legislative and regulatory measures for protecting youth are complemented by our ongoing public education efforts. We all agree that public education on cannabis is vital to protecting health and safety — and is as relevant today as it will be under the cannabis act. For Bill C-45 to achieve the objective of protecting public health, Canadians must have the facts. We want Canadians to make informed and responsible choices and we want to equip and encourage parents to talk to their children about the health and safety risks of cannabis use.
Many of you have asked us how the government is preparing the country for the legalization and regulation of cannabis. I would like to reassure you that public education on cannabis is well underway and will continue following the coming into force of the cannabis act.
Since last spring, Health Canada has had an ongoing digital campaign targeted at parents — including advertising, social media, web content, and articles and radio stories in local media. In addition, to encourage parents to learn the facts about cannabis and to talk with their teens about its use, Health Canada partnered with Drug Free Kids Canada on the Cannabis Talk Kit. More than 180,000 copies of the kit have been distributed, downloaded and requested by Canadians. This initiative was amplified by a three-month multimillion dollar ad campaign on TV, radio and the Internet in the summer of 2017 and Drug Free Kids Canada will launch a second wave of advertising in September 2018.
Health Canada recently launched a national advertising campaign on cannabis health facts targeting youth and young adults. The ads are already appearing on social media platforms and on digital screens on school campuses across the country. Moreover, provinces and territories have indicated that they would like to further disseminate our national messages in their jurisdictions. This campaign will be expanded after royal assent to help Canadians understand the new legal framework for cannabis.
To increase the reach of the Government of Canada’s public education activities, we are working with and funding a range of organizations to help encourage conversations about the use of cannabis.
I would now like to highlight a few of these partnerships. Health Canada will be funding several organizations through its Substance Use and Addictions Program, including the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the Canadian Nurses Association and the Schizophrenia Society of Canada.
Through these funding agreements, we will enable organizations to develop public education tools and resources to reach their target populations, including pregnant and nursing women and people with a history of mental illness.
The Public Health Agency of Canada is working with its partners to support health and social service professionals and community service providers to better understand the risk of cannabis use and to implement evidence-based approaches that can prevent problematic cannabis use.
Our government is also working closely with Indigenous organizations to address the specific needs of Indigenous communities. Our intention is to support them in leading the development and delivery of public education and engagement efforts that are effective and culturally relevant.
For example, our government is providing funding to the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, an expert organization working to improve health outcomes and address substance use issues among First Nations, to lead structured dialogue sessions across the country.
This is only a snapshot of what this government is doing to raise awareness about the health and safety facts associated with cannabis. We expect that more partnerships and funding arrangements will be finalized in the coming weeks and months.
We are making significant investments in cannabis public education, awareness and surveillance. In addition to the $46 million announced in October 2017, in Budget 2018 we proposed a further investment of $62.5 million for public education initiatives. This new funding will support the work of community-based and Indigenous organizations and governments to educate their communities on the risks associated with cannabis use.
Beyond this, Budget 2018 announced $10 million for the Mental Health Commission of Canada to help to assess the impacts of cannabis use on the mental health of Canadians.
It also proposed another $10 million in funding to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions to support research on cannabis use. I am confident that our comprehensive public awareness campaign will increase Canadians’ understanding of the facts on cannabis and will ultimately protect their health and safety.
In conclusion, honourable senators, our government introduced Bill C-45 last spring to address an existing problem: the high rates of cannabis use by youth, and high profits by organized crime. We must change this. Bill C-45 moves us in the right direction. And we are not starting from scratch. We must recognize that. Canada already has a world class system for the production and regulation of cannabis for medical purposes. With this bill, we are proposing to build on this strong regulatory regime.
I’ve spoken about how our proposed regulatory approach will enhance public health and safety with a focus on protecting youth. And I’ve highlighted just some of our public education and awareness efforts and partnerships. We are taking a whole-of-government — in fact a whole-of-Canada — approach to expanding the dialogue on cannabis that has the health and safety of the Canadian public at its heart.
I know that the provinces and territories have been working hard to prepare for implementation once Bill C-45 receives royal assent. We will continue to work closely with them and other partners to support an orderly transition to legalization.
I thank you, once again, for this opportunity to appear before you. We would be very pleased to reply to your questions now.
The Chair: Thank you very much. There are a lot of questions here. So much so that we will have to go on the basis of one question each. If we can get through the list in time, we’ll go to a second round. So you can indicate that you want to go to second round if you have a second question. With that, I will start questions with the sponsor of the bill, Senator Dean.
Senator Dean: Thank you, minister, for the presentation and welcome.
First of all, I congratulate you on this legislation. I will ask you a question about minimum age of access to legal cannabis. The bill outlines a provision whereby a minimum age of 18 or 19, I think with the assumption of alignment with provincial alcohol laws, would be the minimum age of access to legal cannabis. As I understand it, just about every province and territory has landed on age 18 or 19 — most on 19. I would welcome your observations on that and some of the thinking that went into the original proposal, which seems to have sat well with colleagues across the country.
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Thank you for your question, senator. When all the decisions were made with respect to the legalization of cannabis with Bill C-45, no decisions were taken lightly.
We were pleased with the task force recommendations and the excellent work done by the task force members. The task force was very clear with respect to the age they recommended, and they recommended that the minimum age be set at 18. From there, we left it to the provinces and territories; if they chose to increase the age, it was up to them.
Now we are seeing that most provinces and territories are following the legal age of alcohol; at whatever age alcohol is permitted in their province, they will follow through with that. For example, in the province of New Brunswick, it’s 19, and that’s the age in effect. We see that.
The reasons we set the minimum age of 18 are because we recognize that Canadian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are among the highest users of cannabis in all developed countries. So we recognized that if we went with a higher age for a minimum age, we would not divert them from getting out of the black market. We wanted to make sure we did all we could because we want to prevent that from happening.
We also want to recognize that we can restrict access to cannabis right now. As many of us have heard through testimony, and as many people have told us, it’s easier for youth to purchase cannabis than it is for them to purchase tobacco. Therefore we want to set a minimum age to ensure we can restrict that access for them, but we also want to make sure it’s an age where we’re going to be diverting the older population from going to the illegal market and receiving an unregulated type of supply.
That was the thinking behind the minimum age. Also, with the wealth of information provided by the task force, we’re very comfortable with that decision.
Senator Seidman: Minister, our consideration of this bill has prompted many comparisons to the government’s efforts to help people quit smoking. In both instances, we have a highly regulated product that is known to be harmful. In the case of cigarettes, smoking rates have fallen steadily thanks to harm reduction efforts. We can always do more, so I was pleased to see that the renewal of the Federal Tobacco Control Strategy will seek to reduce the rate of tobacco use to less than 5 per cent by 2035.
Minister, you say that cannabis legalization and regulation is also about harm reduction. Can you tell us by what percentage you seek to reduce the rate of cannabis use, and what reduction targets and benchmarks Canada has set to quantify the success or failure of legalization?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Thank you for your question.
I was also pleased to see in Budget 2018 that significant investments were brought forward with respect to our tobacco strategy. I’m a champion of doing all we can to minimize and reach those ambitious targets with respect to smoking; I’m convinced we can do so with the proper investments when it comes to public education and awareness.
With respect to the legalization of cannabis, we’re moving forward because, at this point, we recognize we have an unregulated market, and we want to make sure we can impose restrictions. We want to prevent young people from having access to cannabis use. With respect to the proposal we’ve brought forward with this legislation, we see with the restriction that setting a minimum age will make it more difficult for youth to have access to cannabis.
The restrictions we’ve put in place regarding the marketing and promotion of this product, as well, are similar to the tobacco strategies we’ve put forward and the steps we have taken; we’re taking similar steps when it comes to the marketing and promotion of cannabis products. Just last week, we announced all the regulations we’re putting forward for packaging and labelling. Again, we are moving forward with strict regulations because we want to make sure that in no way will this product be enticing to children.
We want to continue with those types of approaches. We are taking a public health approach when it comes to dealing with this legislation because we want to minimize the harms and make sure people are aware of the harms that exist, because in no way are we saying that cannabis consumption comes without any health effects.
But we want to do all we can to put the public education first to ensure the product is not enticing to children so that we can move forward in making sure we’re doing all we can to prevent Canadians from using this product and by ensuring it will not be enticing to them.
Senator Seidman: I’m trying to clarify so I understand the answer, if I can.
The Chair: Very quickly.
Senator Seidman: There’s an absence of targets. Either you’re not interested in reducing the number of users, or you believe that policy will not have the intended effect. I’m trying to understand.
Bill Blair, M.P., Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and to the Minister of Health: The target is to eliminate usage of cannabis among young people. There will be an enforceable prohibition across the country — not using the criminal law, because that’s an additional harm that we impose upon young people through the code system — but using provincial regulation that will create a civil penalty. It’s an enforceable prohibition. Through regulations, we are intending to restrict the access young people have to the drug and also to be able to enforce a prohibition using civil penalties available in that legislation. The third element, as the minister was saying, is a robust public education campaign, warning people about the health and social risks of cannabis use.
Our intention is in no way to promote the use of this drug but to significantly restrict the access that young people have to it, and by giving them better information, because, frankly, “just saying no” has not been effective, as the data prove. In a regulated environment, we believe the opportunities for teachers, health professionals, parents and peers to share factual information about the real risks of cannabis use will have a significant effect in deterring individuals from the early onset of its use, the frequency of its use and the higher potency of its use.
Our targets are to get kids right off of this because it’s not healthy for them to use it.
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: With respect to the investment we’re making in research, we want to be able to measure this. In the past, there has not been a lot of research in this area, so I was pleased that Budget 2018 contains significant investments to be made in that area, because we want to measure outcomes. Moving forward, we’ll be pleased to see that work done.
Senator Petitclerc: Madam Minister, thank you for appearing before the committee today. I’d like to talk about a group I am somewhat concerned about. I’m referring to youth of less than 18, who represent 21 per cent of the population, but I am also concerned about the 20 to 24 age group.
We know that the consumption of cannabis will be legal as of 18, and that several medical organizations agree that the legal age for the consumption of cannabis should be that same as that for alcohol. However, there is quite a broad medical consensus that the consumption of cannabis before the age of 25 is concerning.
I find it hard to understand how we will be able to target this group, which we know is more vulnerable than those of 25 or more, and which will be able to legally purchase cannabis. How are we going to target this group of youth who are younger than 25? The warnings we hear are about youth, pregnant women, the risks to mental health; no one anywhere has said that they would make sure that we protect and properly inform those of less than 25. What is your specific answer on this?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Once again, senator, thank you for your question.
We absolutely recognize that there are issues involving youth from 15 to 24; we know that those from 18 to 24 will be able to purchase cannabis legally. We also know that that population is purchasing cannabis at this time. This is not a new issue. We are attempting to regulate an existing problem to try to make consumption safer for them.
In order to reach that population, it will be important that there be education programs to convey the appropriate messages. Recently, I heard several people tell us that they had not seen very many awareness-raising programs. Often those who make that kind of comment are not the young people we are attempting to reach. They tend to be people my age. I am not on social media as they are, but with our awareness campaigns, we try to reach people where they are. Often it is not through television or radio; we have created tools to get the message out to them.
I’ll give you an overview of the investments we made and of the number of people we have reached through these awareness campaigns. First, we did an awareness campaign together with Health Canada, from March 2017 up till now. We wanted to target youth between 13 and 24. With that in mind, we devised our campaigns. We used social media like Facebook and Twitter, and Web ad banners. That was really our target clientele. With that program, we reached 7.9 million people. Finally, 47 million people saw the Web banners. So we can see that these awareness-raising campaigns do reach young people.
There was another awareness campaign we set up. My colleague Ralph Goodale had launched a campaign entitled “Don’t Drive High,” from November 2017 to March 2018. Here again, we really used social media like Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Spotify and Facebook Chatbox. We also put up signs in movie theaters. Once again, we wanted to target young people where they are, perhaps not people our age, but youth. Let’s look at the number of times young people saw these messages: 58 million people saw them on Facebook and Instagram, and 6 million people saw them on Spotify. Moreover, we put adds up in 210 movie theaters across the country.
The third campaign we are now conducting with Health Canada began on March 13. We are trying to develop the second phase of that campaign. Once again, it is an awareness campaign targeting young people. It is very different: we asked Canadians to ask the questions they would put to professionals. They could be police officers, nurses, social workers, psychologists; we asked them to ask questions if they were curious. Canadian men and women, ordinary people, may ask those questions. Finally, the professionals answered the questions. We documented all of that. We also created social media tools where young people can go and get that information.
We want to use everything we can in order to provide proper information to young people. We recognize that youth from 18 to 24 are already consuming cannabis, but we want to do everything we can to ensure that they receive the right messages, that they understand exactly what risks are associated with consumption, and that they also have accurate information about the product they are purchasing.
Mr. Blair: Very briefly, in the proposed regulations regarding packaging and labelling, there are mandatory health warnings that will be prominently displayed on the front of the package, which will also convey the information regarding health risks to women of child-bearing age and to people of that age cohort who are at greater risk. They are mandatory health warnings on the packaging.
The Chair: Minister and Mr. Blair, you’ve mentioned a lot of different messaging, advertising messages and awareness messages. It would be helpful if you could provide some samples of that for the committee to see. We may not all have caught it on social media.
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: I will be more than happy to provide you with that information first thing tomorrow morning, and from there you will be able to circulate it to the committee members. I know with respect to the views and the hits and the rest of it, it’s an awful lot of information, and we only have an hour, so I want to get everything in there. But I’m more than happy to provide you with that.
The Chair: Send some samples. That would be great.
Senator Poirier: Thank you again, Madam Minister. I’m going to ask a question about age. I understand that you explained that the task force has recommended the age of 18. But we also hear health professionals and public health experts every day who tend to prefer the age of 21 or 25, because they say that the consumption of cannabis can adversely affect brain development in some cases.
I understand that you set the age of legal consumption at 18, because you say that young people of that age are smoking cannabis in any case, one way or the other. But there is something I’m having trouble understanding. Was the government’s priority to eliminate the market estimated at 6.2 billion, and would it not have been wiser to decide to protect our young people? By setting the age at 25 or at least at 21, it seems to me that we would have sent the message that we are listening to the experts who tell us that there is a danger. Rather than saying that we simply want to eliminate the black market, could we not consider completely eliminating access to cannabis for youngsters in that age group? Is the government’s priority to lay hold of the profit from the black market, or is it to protect our youth and their health?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Thank you very much, senator, for your question. I must say to you that as Minister of Health, my priority is the health and safety of Canadians. That is our objective, and it was very clear from the beginning. We are introducing Bill C-45 to legalize cannabis, but also to restrain the access that young people have to cannabis, and to ensure that we have a regulated product.
At this point, it is easier for young people to purchase cannabis than it is to purchase alcohol or tobacco. We want to set a minimum age and put an end to the black market, but we have to choose an age where young people will not be attracted to the black market.
Finally, in the bill we are proposing, we follow the recommendations of the task force, which did a huge amount of work. Several medical groups do not support the age we chose, but there are also many groups who agree with the age of 18, the minimum age we chose. The Canadian Paediatric Society said that it supported the minimum age of 18. In this bill, we want to make sure that the age of consumption will be comparable to the legal age for other substances such as alcohol, since we want to prevent young people from turning to the black market. We also chose that age because we know that young people are already consuming cannabis. We think that the minimum age of 18 is a good standard, but the provinces and territories can also increase it to an age of their choice.
Senator Mégie: Thank you, Madam Minister. I was very happy to hear that investments will be made in research and that prevention measures have already been planned or are being planned. Young people have access to the networks where all this advertising is being done. A small cohort of youngsters, from 12 to 17, may legally possess 5 grams. How can we square that with the fact that the parents may cultivate four plants in their homes? How do you see that scenario unfolding? Can the publicity and awareness campaigns, in your opinion, manage that situation?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: I’m not sure I understood you.
Senator Mégie: Children from 12 to 17 are prohibited from having more than 5 grams in their possession. However, they can have access to more than 5 grams if their parents are cultivating four cannabis plants at home.
Mr. Blair: If I may, senator, it will not be a criminal offence for a young person to be in possession of less than 5 grams, but it will be a provincial offence. In virtually every province and territory, it will be an offence. We are not criminalizing those children. We’re enforcing that prohibition through a civil penalty through the provincial regulation. So that’s, quite frankly, a false statement. No child in Canada between the ages of 12 and 18 will be lawfully able to possess any amount of cannabis because there’s an enforceable legal prohibition, but it will be enforced under provincial regulation. The law does not allow children to have cannabis in their possession. The enforcement will be done through provincial regulation. And, for an amount exceeding 5 grams, then the criminal law will apply.
But, quite frankly, as we travelled across the country and looked at reducing the harms, we looked at the health and social harms, but one of the social harms that was very clearly identified to us was the criminalization of kids, putting them into the criminal justice system, giving them a criminal record for this. So we’re trying to address that harm as well by having a more appropriate method of enforcing that legal prohibition on their possession. But no child in this country between the ages of 12 and 18 will be able to legally possess it unless medically authorized by their doctor.
Senator Mégie: I was considering this strictly from the health perspective, and not the criminal one.
Senator White: Thanks to the minister, the department staff and the parliamentary secretary for being here. My question is actually going to fall in line with the comment you made about accidental consumption being a concern. How does that circle get squared with allowing four plants to grow in a residence and the high potential for accidental consumption and the fact that there won’t be any do-not-touch labelling on those plants? Why wouldn’t we, under a truly regulated system, just make it unlawful to grow it personally?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Once again, we’ve certainly looked at the situation closely, and the task force made the recommendation of allowing for personal home cultivation.
When it comes to the recommendation that’s been brought forward, we have made it very clear that we recommend no more than four plants per household. And if there are five people in the household, it still means four plants. So we certainly have to make that very clear.
With respect to accidental consumption, with the packaging and labelling, as you’re probably very aware —
Senator White: With respect to growth.
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: With respect to growth, with respect to provinces and territories, different provinces have made different references regarding the limits and requirements for home cultivation. I’m going to just speak about my home province of New Brunswick. New Brunswick has made it very clear that, when home cultivation is going to occur, it has to be done in a closed and locked setting. So different provinces and territories are taking different approaches when it comes this, and we are monitoring the situation very closely. Perhaps my colleague Bill can respond.
Mr. Blair: There’s not a great deal to add to what the minister has said, except that, first of all, the ingestion of cannabis, just eating the raw leaf, is not a sufficient method of ingestion. It has to actually be combusted in order to be ingested.
As well, I think the main point of access for alcohol for a 12-year-old is swiping it out of their father’s liquor cabinet, and, quite frankly, any parent has a responsibility to protect their children from anything, from the medicine cabinet, from anything that can cause them harm. If they’ve made a legal choice to have cannabis in the home, whether it’s through personal cultivation or acquiring it through legal purchase, they still have a responsibility as parents not to expose their children, a legal responsibility not to expose their children to that risk. I think that part of the public education campaign for parents is to have a better understanding of what those risks are for their children and to know that they have a responsibility to protect their kids.
Senator Raine: All of us, I think, at the Senate are really interested in sober second thought on this issue, and I feel personally that we are going too far too fast.
I know you had the task force, and the task force did a job. I’m not sure the task force spoke to everybody. I don’t know who exactly they spoke to, although I did look at the list, and it was extensive. However, as things progress and more information comes forward, more and more concern is being shown about the age limit.
When I hear you talking about choosing the age to keep illicit and harmful cannabis out of the hands of children, I ask myself: Aren’t there other ways of doing this? I see very strongly that, by saying that it’s legal at age 18, you’re giving a very strong message to young people that it’s okay, that, at age 18, it’s okay to smoke marijuana. The evidence is coming more and more strongly that it’s not okay. It’s not okay at any age to smoke marijuana in terms of harms to your health.
I really want to know: Would you be willing to listen to an amendment on the age and perhaps to raise it, knowing that we can always lower it again later? Once it’s established at 18, it’s very hard to raise it up to where we are actually protecting young people.
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: I think we have to look at the current situation we are faced with in this country right now when we look at the age of consumption of cannabis. Again, when we look at the research, the research shows us that youth between the ages of 15 and 24 are amongst the highest users of cannabis in the world. So, if we want to deter them from getting their unregulated substance from an unregulated source, we certainly have to make sure that we put them in the other system. Moving forward with the age of 18, again the minimum age that’s been set, we feel that it’s the right balance. We certainly recognize that, for kids nowadays, there is a 30 per cent range that we see that are accessing cannabis through the illegal market. We want to make sure that we prevent them from getting that substance, and that’s why we are proposing moving forward with the minimum age of 18. We certainly don’t want that age group to have access to cannabis. For the ones that are of legal age, we certainly want to make sure that they have access to a regulated product that is going to be sold in a government facility.
Mr. Blair: Federal law recognizes that the age of majority in our provinces is either 18 or 19. The law, as written, says “at a minimum.” In the federal law, it’s 18, but we gave the provinces the right to harmonize their approach to other harmful substances with the age of majority. That’s precisely what they’ve done.
There is an age, and part of the consideration in the task force discussion — and I think I can share this with you — was that we looked at a number of risky behaviours that adults are allowed to make choices around — the use of tobacco, the use of alcohol, getting married, having children, getting a mortgage, for a police officer to carry a gun, to join the military, to fight in a war and to vote, too. We say that, at the age of majority, you’re deemed to be, in our society and in our law, of an age to make informed decisions about your own health and safety. There was a recognition of that tradition within our society that, at the age of majority, as determined by the provinces, that authority would be extended to the decisions around the use of this drug as well.
Quite frankly, the health risk profiles of other substances, particularly tobacco and alcohol, are, in many ways, far more significant and serious than the health risk profile of cannabis. We’re trying to also be consistent with the way in which Canadian society has historically approached those other risky substances.
Senator Manning: Thank you to the minister and the parliamentary secretary for appearing here today.
As I’m sure many of my colleagues do, I have many questions, but we’re down to one today.
Minister, the Liberal Party website states:
. . . the Liberal government introduced a smart plan to legalize, regulate and restrict access to marijuana.
What started as a grassroots policy proposal on the convention floor, is now concrete, evidence-based legislation in the House of Commons.
But then your own Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation stated:
It is more appropriate to refer to our recommendations as “evidence-informed” rather than “evidence-based”.
What does this mean, and is it still the government’s position that the framework provided by Bill C-45 and accompanying regulations is evidence-based?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Yes, the recommendations brought forward by the task force are evidence-based. They listened to and heard from hundreds of witnesses about the recommendations they brought forward. Many professional groups have been before the task force and testified before committee, and they based their recommendations on the testimony they heard.
When it comes to the legalization of cannabis, I have to stress we are taking a public health approach with this bill. We talk about legalizing, strictly regulating and restricting access; we want to do all that needs to be done to ensure we can prevent underage children from accessing the substance. We’ll be doing so in a thoughtful way and by following many of the task force recommendations that were brought forward.
Senator Munson: I think my question will go to Mr. Blair.
The word on the street is that local police forces aren’t ready, or don’t have the tools or wherewithal to detect the amount of THC in a person’s system. We heard from many police force representatives that the train has left the station; this is moving too fast for them. The expectation is that all the regulations will be law in September, so that will take place.
You’re a former police officer. Are you satisfied at this juncture that municipalities in this country have the wherewithal and are ready to do this, or is the government going to provide these municipalities the wherewithal to do their job? There is a serious worry out there about this.
Mr. Blair: In 2013, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police passed a unanimous resolution urging the Government of Canada to make available oral fluids testing. In 2008, they passed a unanimous resolution urging the Government of Canada to provide them with the resources for the training of drug recognition experts.
In the documents they provided, they talked about the current situation that exists on their streets where they do not have the technology, the training or the resources to detect this, and yet they knew it represented a significant public safety threat.
They urged the Government of Canada to act. We listened and met with them, and they said they needed access to the technology and the authorities to be able to detect it. They also said they needed resources to train their officers, so we provided that. The Minister of Public Safety announced $161 million for the training of police officers as drug recognition experts in standardized field sobriety testing and in the use of new technologies.
The police services said they didn’t necessarily have the money to access these new technologies. Our government, as part of the announcement of $274 million for law enforcement in the efforts to maintain public safety, said they’ll pay for those devices and make them available.
The training has begun apace. For a decade, they’ve asked for the resources for training. Drug recognition experts have been authorized in law since Bill C-2 in the Thirty-ninth Parliament in 2008, but the resources were never there to train the officers. We’ve made those resources available. There are 22 drug recognition courses already scheduled for this year, and we’re hoping through the training being offered to double the number of officers trained in standardized field sobriety testing.
Back to Bill C-45 and the enforcement of the cannabis act and its regulations, police officers in Ontario issue about million and a half tickets a year. They know how to write a ticket. This will be a ticketing offence. The processing of a criminal charge for simple possession of cannabis took about 22 hours of work, start to finish, for the police and prosecutor. It will now be down to 18 minutes. It is far more efficient for the police in the maintenance of the enforcement of the prohibition. It will also be far more proportional in its impact to the problem at hand.
The police, quite rightfully, have said, “We need the training. We need the resources. We need access to the technology.” We’ve listened to that, and that has been provided, not just in Bill C-45, but in the funding announcements we’ve made to accompany it.
Senator Munson: So you don’t have any worries?
The Chair: We have to move on.
Mr. Blair: I’m confident they will do the job we’ve asked them to do.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you for being here. I have a two-part question.
I would ask you to explain something once again, even if you have explained it before. I need an answer I can refer to in the records. You had a policy choice of choosing decriminalization over the public health harm reduction approach, so can you explain why you chose the latter? Second, what are some of the key elements of this public health approach? In order to gain some lived experience with this, I was in California and visited an outlet store in Monterey where it has recently been legalized. I was subjected to a high level of security checks, and there was consumer education and customer service. What are the elements of your public health approach that build on some of these experiences gained by other jurisdictions?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: I’ll try to be as brief as possible. We chose legalization as opposed to decriminalization because, with respect to decriminalization, we were not going to be able to restrict access and regulate the product. It would still be provided by the illegal market. We wanted to be sure we had a framework in place — a piece of legislation — that would be able to do two things: legalize to strictly regulate and restrict access of cannabis to youth. That’s why we’re moving forward with this. We want to make sure there is a minimum age and ensure that once the product becomes legal, people will have access to a regulated product that will be on the market. That was the reason we went forward with that.
With respect to our public health approach, there are probably two or three things there I would like to elaborate on. We talk about the issue of packaging and labelling. That is moving forward with the public health approach, because we want to ensure that in no way will this encourage or entice children to want to use that product.
With respect to the regulations that were announced last week, you may be aware we have moved forward with strict regulations when it comes to plain packaging. Definitions for “plain packaging” can vary, but some people have indicated in media outlets that it does not look appealing to children. When I read that headline, I was pleased. It was moving in the right direction. That’s where we want it to land in all this.
With respect to the public health approach, it’s about making sure the proper warnings are on the package, as is the proper information regarding what they will be consuming, and to THC and CBD levels. We wanted to make sure it’s all there.
Last is the health warnings on the package. They’re very much like tobacco products and cigarettes. We want to ensure the health warnings will be clear on the packaging and that people will be receiving those messages.
Another component of our public health approach is the issue of public awareness campaigns. I’m pleased to see an investment of over $108 million over the last two years that will be brought forward to build on these public education campaigns Health Canada has provided and also in partnerships we have established with other agencies.
Earlier, I talked about the work we did — and I believe it was to Senator Petitclerc I gave a brief overview. There are also groups we’ve partnered with, including, to name a few, Drug Free Kids, the Schizophrenia Society of Canada and the Canadian Nurses Association. We want to do all we can to make sure that public health information is out there.
The Chair: We now have our newest senator. Welcome, Senator Deacon. You get the last question in round one.
Senator Deacon: Thank you all for being here today. We continually talk about the aim to minimize harm in the general population. You talked about the national public health approach, which is a good thing. You talked about education and some of the groups and partners in your speech earlier this afternoon.
When we talk about groups that are marginalized, it could be groups with a history of early and frequent use, it could be adult heavy users. You talked about mental health earlier, and there was reference to targeted measures used to mitigate these groups.
Are there any more targeted measures beyond the important education piece? Is there anything else you want to highlight?
Ms. Petitpas Taylor: Thank you for the question, senator. With respect to the partnerships that we’ve established, we are focusing on several vulnerable groups. That’s why we want to partner with these groups. They know their client base, the vulnerable populations they serve.
Moving forward, we will establish more partnerships with those groups to make sure we can target that population. We also have to look at the investments we’ve made in the area of mental health. With our government, I’m proud to state that we are mental health champions, and we certainly have made significant investments with provinces and territories to ensure that Canadians have access to the proper services they need as well.
Aside from investments, when it comes to the cannabis legislation, there are also significant investments made there as well because we want to ensure we can provide the services to those who need them. And we want to make sure we can provide investments to the agencies that work with these vulnerable populations to ensure they can help with that public awareness campaign and the public health approach.
The Chair: That brings us just about to time. Within two minutes, we will have the bells ringing in both houses for votes, so we cannot get into a second round. I do have three people down for round two, and I will start with them after we come back from the vote. Hopefully we’ll be back around 5:45.
At that point in time, we will have officials here. I must say, Mr. Blair, you would be most welcome to come back if you can come back at that time.
We will now suspend and we’ll be back a little bit later.
(The committee suspended.)
(The committee resumed.)
The Chair: We are talking about Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.
For this session, we were originally scheduled to go from 5:15 to 6:15 but because of the vote, we’re not starting anywhere near that time. I would suggest we go to 6:30, if that’s okay, if there are still questions.
We have officials with us. Bill Blair is going to rejoin us. My invitation put him on the spot, but he’ll be able to come back. However, he is still tied up in the votes in the House of Commons. Our vote is finished and we’re back.
Could I ask the people at the end of the table to introduce themselves?
John Clare, Director, Policy, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs, Health Canada: I’m John Clare, Director of Policy, Legislative and Regulatory Affairs in Health Canada’s Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat.
Eric Costen, Director General, Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat, Health Canada: My name is Eric Costen. I’m the Director General of the Cannabis Legalization and Regulation Secretariat.
Paul Saint-Denis, Senior Counsel, Criminal Law Policy Section, Department of Justice Canada: I’m Paul Saint-Denis and I am Senior Counsel with the Criminal Law Policy Section of the Department of Justice Canada.
Diane Labelle, General Counsel, Department of Justice Canada: Diane Labelle, General Counsel for Health Canada legal services.
The Chair: We have somebody back in the audience who is part of this team. I believe it is Trevor Bhupsingh, Director General, Law Enforcement and Border Strategies, with Public Safety Canada.
Those are the officials that are here to answer further questions, and, colleagues, unless you signal to me otherwise, I will leave the names on the list that were for the second round when we had the minister here. We can try to be a little bit more relaxed, but it may not last very long. We may have to tighten up, but, go ahead, Senator Petitclerc.
Senator Petitclerc: My question is quite specific and concerns information I was not able to find.
We are talking about everything that could attract children. Clause 26 of Bill C-45 indicates that generally speaking, a label or package that would be appealing to youngsters will be forbidden. When I sponsored Bill S-5 on tobacco and vaping products, there was a lot of debate on this, and I remember quite well that we didn’t only talk about “reasonable grounds to believe,” but that we went so far as the name of the products.
By consulting the Internet to see what is being sold at this time, I went to a Canadian site where you can order products. I saw products with names like “Vegan Gummy Bears,” which are edible cannabis products. This type of name was not permitted under Bill S-5. Can you tell me whether they would be under Bill C-45?
Mr. Costen: I will reply in English, if I may.
I’ll start the answer. Then I’ll turn to my colleague to answer your question precisely. I think the point that you’re making about the diversity and the types of products that are available very easily on the illegal market is a really important one. It’s completely unfettered, and, in many ways, trying to get control of that situation really kind of gets to the heart of the control framework that exists — this is where I’ll turn to John in a moment — in the legislation but then is complemented through the proposed regulations as well. I’m fairly certain that John is going to speak to controls that would exist at the level of the act, proposed in Bill C-45, and that are then further defined through regulations.
Mr. Clare: To answer your question really quickly and directly, those types of product names, any other characteristic of the product, not just the name or the strain name but the appearance of the product itself, any sort of suggestion that it is associated with youth, a particular movie or song, anything like that that would make it in any way appealing to youth would be prohibited under the legislation.
The Chair: I might add, while Mr. Costen and Mr. Clare are here from Health Canada and we’re primarily focusing on Health Canada, the other officials, if you have anything to add at any point or any comment you want to make on a question, including the gentlemen back in the audience, please signal to me. I’m happy to work you into the comments.
Does that cover that?
Senator Petitclerc: Yes.
Senator Mégie: Earlier I put a question to the guests who preceded you about what happens if a young person from 12 to 17 has in his possession a quantity of 5 grams, if his parents are cultivating four plants at home.
According to what the minister said, there is a lot of publicity, a lot of prevention and awareness campaigns that were launched to reach young people on social media, et cetera.
I took part in a discussion group two weeks ago and no one had seen anything about this. But that is not my question. My question concerns the parents of those young people. Has something been planned for them, for instance, some awareness-raising regarding educating their children about cannabis, or for those who realize that their children have begun to consume it?
Mr. Costen: In fact, when the minister described the various stages of the public education campaign, beginning with very early efforts to do public opinion research to really understand what people know and think about cannabis, to determine the areas in which, as a government, we need to target fact-based interventions, the first wave, and a continued priority, is actually specifically targeted to parents to equip them to have intelligent, fact-based conversations about cannabis with their kids.
I believe the minister, although I couldn’t say for certain, made reference to work that we’ve been doing with a community organization called Drug Free Kids. Drug Free Kids created a tool kit for parents, and it’s a fairly comprehensive document that is directed entirely to parents of young kids to help them to have conversations about cannabis use, about the harms of using cannabis, with a view to preventing anyone who is thinking about starting from starting and helping those who are currently using to stop using. I believe there are in the neighbourhood of 180,000 copies of this talk kit in circulation. It’s something that we would be very happy to make available to members of this committee if you’re interested in seeing it as an example.
The Chair: That’s a good idea. Thank you.
Senator Dean: I’d like to return to the discussion of legal age of access. It is an issue that is of concern, I think, in the Senate and broadly. My question is this: The minister and the parliamentary secretary gave us some compelling information about rates of consumption, diversion from the illicit market, and age of majority. On the question of risk, the one thing that we absolutely know, that is uncontested, is that the harms of intoxicants, including cannabis, are greatest in the early teen years. That’s what we really have to worry about, I think. That’s what the evidence tells us. I would assume that — and this goes to brain development and other things that we hear — as we get to 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, that risk at ages 13 and 14 is dropping off fairly dramatically. If we are to believe the evidence, on my twenty-fifth birthday, the last synapse connects, and suddenly I’m able to make rational decisions and operate safely.
We’re going to have 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds, who, in this new world, would have much more public information on safe use, on harm reduction, including at point of sale. We’re going to have them a long way down the risk curve from ages 13 and 14.
In addition to the diversion and age of majority issues, is that a consideration? Was that a consideration in the minds and the policy-making at the ministry or the department?
Mr. Costen: I can offer a couple of comments in response.
As you are aware — and I’m sure many others are aware — and as the minister described and Mr. Blair supported, the conversation around minimum age was hotly debated and closely examined by the task force. The conversation has since continued.
I think your characterization around harms of use is correct. There are three factors that influence the health harms, and as you’ve said, Senator Dean, the age at which use begins is one. Harms are appreciably greater, the earlier in life you begin to use. That’s the first factor.
The second factor is how frequently you use it. If you use it every day, once a week, once a year, that factor also influences the severity of the harms experienced. And the third factor is whether or not use is sustained over a period of time. When you have those three factors happening concurrently — someone who starts young in life, they use frequently and that use occurs over a duration of years — the science tells us that’s where the harms are most acute.
The minister, on several instances in her comments, made references to a public health approach. And I think there was a comment earlier in the session regarding lessons that we’ve learned from the tobacco control experience. I think it’s safe to say that the tobacco control framework and all the literature around what public health interventions work — when you think about preventing people from starting to use, helping those who use to do it in a way that is less risky and eventually not use — is well established.
We frankly appropriated it as a blueprint, in many ways, to look at a different control framework. So that, overlaid with an understanding of the nuance of the risk, is very helpful when you start to understand the true nature of the health risks associated with people who are 13 years old versus 18, 25 or 45 years old. Hopefully that is helpful.
Senator Omidvar: I spoke on Bill C-45 in the chamber and I got a question around the black market. I want some of your perspectives on it. The point was made that in Quebec, the black market for cigarettes has grown exponentially.
I want to understand how legalization and regulation of cannabis will disrupt, contain and minimize the black market. I think I understand there will always be some elements that will still continue to operate, but what’s your strategy there?
Mr. Costen: Again, I may turn to my colleagues to help me out a little.
I think it’s helpful, when we talk about displacing markets, to think about it from the perspective of the consumer. The black market exists because there is a consumer that is demanding a product from somebody. It’s not available in a licit environment, so they seek it out in the illicit environment. The strategy becomes how you create a system where the consumer — the demand for the supply — shifts away from the illicit environment to a legal environment. And it becomes a question of basic economic principles around competitiveness with respect to the availability of product, price competitiveness and accessibility.
Part of our thinking in proposing the legislation before you, our thoughts as we turned our minds to the regulatory program and all of our conversations with provincial and territorial governments — I know this is something the Minister of Finance and his colleagues expressed in the context of their excise policy proposal — is all with a view to creating an environment where the demand will shift into the regulated space. The value proposition presented to the consumer is equal to or greater than what currently exists today for the black market, and you really take the market away by diverting the consumer and taking the demand away from the supply environment.
That’s complemented by a series of enforcement actions. The bill makes it clear than anyone who sells, grows or distributes outside of the legal scheme is still breaking the law, and there are serious consequences for doing so. There are a number of enforcement measures to take action against those who continue to operate outside the law, at the same time as some market understanding and looking to make it more appealing for a consumer to purchase from a legal environment.
That’s kind of what we’ve seen in the U.S. Over a period of a few years the majority of consumers shift. After about three or four years, 75 or 80 per cent of consumers are purchasing from the legal market.
Senator Seidman: My question is for you, Mr. Costen. I would like to come back to the points you were making about the health harms around intensity and frequency of use, because that is critically important.
The Cannabis Policy Framework 2014 — the CAMH report — talks about how health harms increase with intensity of use; particularly when used daily or near daily, cannabis is associated with problems of all types, cognitive, psychomotor functioning and respiratory dependence. It’s pretty serious that frequent users of cannabis are at the greatest risk, and that’s why I’m increasingly concerned. Since that CAMH report in 2014, there have been growing bodies of evidence and publications in peer-reviewed journals, studies from Europe and the United States that are coming to the same conclusion, which is that kids who are already using cannabis use even more of it after it becomes legal.
Intuitively, that makes sense because legalization normalizes its use. As one of our colleagues asked you earlier — I think it was Senator Raine — the government makes it legal, so kids think it’s okay and they don’t feel so intimidated. They don’t have to call their father from the police station and they don’t have an excuse anymore to tell their friends as to why they don’t want to use it. It’s legal now; no problem.
First of all, are you aware of the evidence showing that teenagers in jurisdictions where cannabis use is legal use even more of it? Why proceed with legalization with advance knowledge that it’s likely to negatively impact those who are most vulnerable to the harms associated with cannabis?
Mr. Costen: Thank you for the question. We spend quite a bit of our time looking carefully at what we can learn from other jurisdictions, both through an academic review of whatever data is available to us and, frankly, through quite a bit of on-the-ground work. We have been to most of the U.S. states and have fairly well-developed relationships with the regulators there. I’d like to think that we’ve reflected, to the greatest extent possible. We’ve learned from the mistakes that they were pretty open to telling us about.
I confess that I’m not aware of the research you’re talking about regarding that there is unequivocally a correlation between legalization and greater propensity of use. I’m not suggesting it’s not there; I’m not calling it to mind.
There was quite a bit of reporting regarding the Colorado experience in particular, so I’m more familiar with the evidence coming out of that jurisdiction.
There’s a letter that the Governor of Colorado wrote to Attorney General Sessions in response to some questions that the Attorney General had asked. One of the questions was around the impact legalization had had over the years with respect to youth access, and in the response, the governor indicates that it has been a net-neutral experience. I forget the name of the survey, but the Rocky Mountain public health survey or whatever the source of the data is showed a flatlining of youth access, and I think that’s in the context where the state has taken a fairly permissive approach to the regulation of cannabis.
When we look at the proposal that we’re contemplating, whether it’s the packaging and labelling, certainly to the question earlier, the restrictions that are set out in the bill with respect to sponsorship, marketing, promotion, any kind of corporate endorsement, these are all features that don’t exist at the state level, so audiences are much more exposed to promotions than they would be in the Canadian context. It’s hard to necessarily extrapolate precisely from the Colorado experience.
Senator Seidman: I don’t mean to be rude and interrupt, except that, with all respect, the Colorado example, I think, is not a good one to use in the sense it’s still very new. It’s maybe a couple of years old. The data they collect is fraught with huge biases and problems. If we’re talking about the increase in frequency of use and more regular use by young people, there’s a lot more data available than Colorado.
I’ll leave at that for now, but it is a growing problem.
Mr. Costen: To the best of my knowledge, Colorado is the first jurisdiction in the world to legalize. This is a relatively new phenomenon tracking the impact over a period of years, but they and Washington state were the first. I agree with your point that data collection needs to be looked at with a critical eye. But in terms of looking at the impact over years, that’s probably the best predictor, with all the caveats that would be appropriate.
Senator Raine: I have so many questions, and it’s really hard because we only have one. I’m going to recognize that cannabis has pharmaceutical qualities, THC and CBD, and ask you, how the legalization and the ability to purchase this or be prescribed this compare with any other pharmaceutical product that would be brought onto the market in Canada.
We know these are strong products, that they have qualities, but my concern is that there isn’t a way to prescribe them or they haven’t gone through the normal regime for the approval of a pharmaceutical drug. Can you describe to me how it is that we’re going so far so fast when, really, doctors that I talk to refuse to prescribe it because they don’t know the amount, what it will do, and all of these other issues? If you could just give me some information on that.
Mr. Costen: Sure, and I’ll try to be as brief as I can.
I understand the question is really around the therapeutic use of cannabis and how the system works right now. You’re absolutely right. The availability of cannabis to people who have a medical need for it did not come about through the sort of normal way that medicines come to markets in Canada. Usually a company brings an application to the department, there’s a certain volume of research evidence that speaks to safety and efficacy, the department reviews it, an approval is given, and it is dispensed.
The way that medical cannabis came to be in Canada was largely as the result of court decisions. I don’t want to speak on behalf of my Justice colleagues, but courts found that individuals who had a therapeutic need had a right to access. As a result of a series of different decisions, the government had to create a legal access mechanism, and there have been a variety of iterations of that system.
Largely what you’re describing today is the system that exists, which is that a patient consults with their doctor, the doctor does or does not make a decision that cannabis is appropriate, and then following that the patient gets it from a federally licensed entity who is subject to a fairly rigorous regulatory program that exists today.
To your point about THC, as a quick example, there are fairly significant regulatory requirements whereby the concentrations of THC and other compounds in cannabis need to be accurately labelled so as to help with questions of dosing and use and these sorts of things.
Senator Poirier: My question is for Mr. Costen also, and it is on the THC limits. We have heard from the medical professions about the specific danger of the high potency of THC products, particularly for youth between the ages of 18 and 25. Just for one example, a Canadian company called Boutique Cannabis sells 90 per cent of the THC vape pens, including one which goes by the name of Durban Poison.
I only have one question, so I’m going to drive it all together here. Is selling any form of cannabis that contains 90 per cent THC currently legal? In that case, will it be legal with the new proposed framework in Bill C-45? Does the government have any plans to impose further limits on the THC through additional regulatory proposals that have not yet been made public?
Mr. Clare: I can answer the question. The first question is whether 90 per cent THC product suitable for vaping is legal in Canada today. No, it is not, not under the access to cannabis for medical purposes regime that my colleague described, or any legal regime. Will it be legal for sale upon the coming into force of the proposed cannabis act? No, it will not.
There is a schedule in the proposed bill that sets out the classes of cannabis that would be available for sale upon coming into force, and that is dried cannabis, fresh cannabis, cannabis oil, and then cannabis plants and seeds. Cannabis oil, under the proposed regulatory framework, would be limited to 3 per cent THC concentration.
In terms of future regulatory proposals that may enable additional classes of cannabis to be sold under the legal regime, an amendment was made by the House of Commons that would require edibles containing cannabis and what are referred to as “cannabis concentrates,” which would include solutions suitable for vaping, hashish, things like that, to be added to that list of classes of cannabis that would be permitted for sale subject to regulations made by the Governor-in-Council that would address issues such as packaging and labelling, dosage, the amount of THC per unit and potentially potency limits for those classes of products.
Senator Manning: Many fundamental questions which will determine how the legislation will be operationalized are left unanswered by the legislation. Given this government’s decision not to pre-publish the regulations, parliamentarians like ourselves are being told to trust that it’s all going to work out, that everything is going to be fine. Our concerns that we’re raising will be addressed outside the legislative process.
I would like to know, on a decision of this nature, why you would not pre-publish regulations, at least to give parliamentarians an opportunity to question some of these concerns. We can talk about our legislation here. We can, if we want to, move amendments to that. There is a process that we’re all aware of, how it works here, but regulations we have no say. It’s done at the ministerial level. I’m just wondering why, with such an important piece of legislation, in my humble opinion, we wouldn’t have pre-published regulations.
Mr. Costen: Maybe I will take one tiny step back. As everybody knows, right now cannabis is controlled under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, and then cannabis is regulated through a whole bunch of regulations. There is a hemp regulation, we’ve already talked a little bit about the medical cannabis regulations, there are permissions for people who do research and lab work, and there is a whole series of regulations that exist today.
As we contemplate effectively taking cannabis out of the CDSA and putting it into the cannabis act, the moment we contemplate bringing the cannabis act into force, regulations need to be in place immediately. That’s the situation that exists.
I will say two things to answer your question. The first is that the regulations that need to be put in place under the cannabis act, presuming that it does receive Royal Assent, are in very large part an articulation of the regulations that exist today. So it really is a transfer of the regulatory authorities that exist under this act and moving them under this act, and I think the example of industrial hemp is a really helpful illustration of that.
There is a series of activities and permissions described in the regulations, and those are simply recreated under the cannabis act.
The second thing is that where there are differences, because, of course, there are fairly significant differences when it comes to the CDSA and the cannabis act, we set out those differences in a fairly detailed regulatory paper that was published in November, and we have since followed it up after having done a 60-day consultation where we did go to regulated parties to try to have detailed conversations about our interests from a regulatory perspective so that when the regulations are published, we as the regulator, first of all, benefit from the input provided to us, but the regulated community has a certain amount of assurance about what those regulations will look like.
So we’ve tried to minimize the impact of going directly to the Canada Gazette, Part II through those consultations by relying on existing regulations and, as much as possible, telegraphing the final characteristics of those regulations.
Senator Munson: These may be naive observations, but I look at the four cannabis plants, and I’m thinking of pot police and the whole sense that someone in some place has six plants. I’m just trying to imagine what happens in that kind of scenario, because I’d like to lay a brief picture out there of what we’re looking at.
In this country, you cannot go into a liquor store, walk out, take out a pint and walk along the street. What is a picture going to look like, for example, outside of Health Canada’s offices here? Is there going to be a designated pot smoking area like you have for cigarettes? When people are smoking today, you walk by them, and it’s legal. It’s sometimes difficult to walk by them when you’re a reformed smoker.
How is that picture going to look? You talk about public education and all these things in place, and I think there may be a feeling out there that it will be, “There it is, folks, here is what it’s all about, and enjoy yourself.” As you walk from home into school or into work, are we going to see that picture?
Mr. Costen: I’m pleased to report that outside the offices of Health Canada, as a federally regulated workplace, once the consequential amendments set out in the bill are made to the federal Non-smokers’ Health Act to expand the definition of smoke, which is currently confined to tobacco smoke, to cannabis smoke — So to paint the picture, and I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush here, what we tend to be seeing, whether at the municipal or the provincial level, is the same kind of approach where there are well-established systems that control where people can smoke cigarettes. The simplest and most direct way to control public consumption, to use your example, is to extend the rules that exist today for smoking tobacco and have them apply to cannabis. You’re seeing, across all sorts of jurisdictions, the expansion of those second-hand smoke rules that exist on a patio, a street, in a park or wherever, and have them inclusive of tobacco.
I think you’re seeing a significant discussion in communities about controlling public use and determining where it is going to be okay to use. You see other levels of government moving into that space to make sure that they’ve got the rules in place to answer the question that you’re asking.
Senator Munson: But it won’t be illegal if you’re walking down the street and having a smoke.
Mr. Clare: It will be illegal, but it won’t be illegal under federal criminal law; it will be illegal under a provincial non-smoking act. What that does is open up a greater flexibility for law enforcement or bylaw officers to enforce those rules in a manner that’s proportionate to the offence that they’re dealing with. It no longer is a criminal offence that could see you charged and then tried before a criminal court and potentially face a criminal record, but you absolutely may have to deal with the police or a bylaw officer who comes into that space and says, “You’re not allowed to have that. I’m going to confiscate it from you. I’m going to write you a ticket and you are going to pay a fine.”
Ms. Labelle: There are instances where a province has prohibited consumption in public, and I believe that is the case for the Ontario legislation. To your question about whether you will see people smoking or consuming cannabis on the street, based on Ontario’s legislation, that would be prohibited. They have yet to determine if and when there would be areas, like a retail space or a lounge of some type. For the moment, it’s all in private.
The Chair: Okay. The good news is Mr. Blair is back. The bad news is we have four minutes and we have four speakers for round three. We finished round two. The only way I see this happening, and we may spill over a little bit although people here have other committee obligations coming up in a few minutes, is that I would suggest that the senators I have here each pose your questions without preamble, and those who are at the other end of the table make notes, and when you have posed your questions, I will go to the panel.
Senator Petitclerc: Thank you. The way I understand it, out of the collected taxes, 75 per cent will go to provinces and 25 per cent will go to the federal government. I want to know if there is any intention that part of these revenues will go back to awareness and public education.
Senator Seidman: Last night you gave a briefing on the regulations and the regulatory proposals, and you put out packaging and labelling requirements, but there were, as far as I understood, no additional restrictions on cannabis advertising. Bill C-45 doesn’t prohibit Internet advertising for cannabis, provided the person responsible has “. . . taken reasonable steps to ensure the promotion cannot be accessed by a young person . . . . ”
What are those reasonable steps and how does that approach compared to existing rules for tobacco and alcohol?
Senator Raine: I want to know why you are allowing the growing of four plants in a dwelling given that there are already mail-order marijuana sites, and it’s easy to purchase it through the mail anywhere in Canada. I know there are huge problems with growing marijuana in buildings.
Senator Omidvar: If cannabis is legalized, what should the government do to make peace with racialized communities that are disproportionately affected by prohibition?
The Chair: There are the four questions. I would ask Mr. Blair if he wants to start on any of them, and then Mr. Costen or any of the other officials can go from there.
Mr. Blair: I’m happy to speak, and I’ll do it as quickly as I can, senator. You know I’m not known for my short answers, but I’ll do my very best.
With respect to the excise tax, I will point out there are both excise and sales taxes that will apply. But regarding the 25-cent federal portion of the $1 excise tax, the Prime Minister has made a very clear commitment that we will use that money to invest in research, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation.
We also recognized that, even before that revenue begins to flow after the parliamentary processes are finished and the new regime is established, we had to make those investments. So we’ve made upfront investments, but we have an ongoing, going-forward commitment to continue to fund research, prevention, public education, treatment and rehabilitation with the federal portion of that revenue.
Actually, the second question particularly pertained to regulations. Four plants is always an interesting one. I acknowledge the challenge, and we’ve had a number of discussions with the provinces and territories. What we’ve said is that more than four plants would be a criminal offence and that that production was only for personal use. Anyone attempting to sell that would actually be committing a serious criminal offence. That would remain a serious criminal offence. The four-plant limit was an acknowledgment of our experience, over the past 15 years, with medical cannabis. In 2002, beginning with the MMAR regulations, then reinforced with the MMPR regulations and then the ACMPR regulations, there have been three iterations of regulation around medical cannabis, but it allowed for personal cultivation within limits. It also allowed for designated growers, which, from a law-enforcement standpoint, has been really problematic. We do not allow, in this legislation, designated growers. We’ve placed a very strict limit of four plants in any dwelling. That’s not four plants for everyone who lives in the dwelling, but only four plants maximum for the dwelling. That was in response to what we heard in the testimony, particularly before the task force, about the challenges for law enforcement. I will tell you that, for quite a period of time in the City of Toronto, as the police chief there, we had as many as 10,000 residential buildings that had been given over to the illegal production of cannabis. Those houses were rendered uninhabitable. There were hydro bypasses. There were fire hazards. There were mould and other health hazards related to that. All sorts of nefarious activity took place around those places. We wanted to make sure that was not replicated. That’s why we’ve placed the strict limit of four plants.
An Hon. Senator: Why not zero?
Mr. Blair: We looked at other jurisdictions. For example, California, Oregon, Colorado and other states that have introduced a legal regime have all put in place the possibility of personal cultivation. It begins at four plants. In one of them, it is four plants. Several of them are at 12. We thought the more prudent approach was four, but we also said to the provinces — and I think this is critically important — that the provinces have the authority to put in appropriate regulation so that the four plants would be done in such a way as to not compromise public safety or public order. For example, they can put in regulations that restrict what type of buildings that activity can take place in, its proximity to schools, the access that children can have. They can have regulations that require security, proper air ventilation, proper sanitation measures to ensure that the previous unregulated situation that we were dealing with can actually be brought under control at the appropriate level of governance, which is both municipal and provincial. That’s how we propose that that would be dealt with.
Finally, to the very important question about racialized communities, the first time I stood in the House of Commons and talked about the government’s intention to bring forward a new regulatory regime for this, we spoke of that disproportionality, that disparity in enforcement, the impact it has had on racialized communities, poor communities, Black communities, Indigenous communities. It’s one of the harms we seek to remedy through this initiative.
We also recognize that, just on a go-forward basis, this will actually, I believe, significantly reduce the harmful impact that that disparity has had on minority communities, but we also recognize — and the Prime Minister has been very clear — that those who have a criminal record from this are, quite frankly, not a matter dealt with within this legislation. There are already laws in the country with respect to record suspension, and the Prime Minister has made an undertaking that, when this important work — You cannot nullify the existing laws, the only system of cannabis control that is currently in place. Until it is repealed and replaced with a more effective regime, we urge all Canadians to continue to obey the law. But once we’ve repealed and replaced this legislation with a more comprehensive and effective system of cannabis control, then I think there is an appropriate time to have that important conversation about how to remedy the negative impact that those simple possession convictions have had on so many people. Almost half a million Canadians have a criminal conviction for possession of cannabis. We know all sorts of people that, as a result of a youthful indiscretion, got arrested for this offence and have that criminal record, and they are otherwise exemplary citizens. They are otherwise productive, decent, honest and honourable, yet, they carry the burden of that record. So we’ll look at finding an appropriate way to address and remedy that, but that can only be done once we have completed this important work.
Mr. Costen: I’ll answer Senator Seidman’s question because I think Mr. Blair covered the others. Very directly, the advertising prohibitions that are set out in the act are entirely consistent with those that you would find in the Tobacco Act, so all the restrictions that you would imagine and particular to your question around youth. Different sections kind of elaborate these in detail, but they cannot be seen by young people. One of the fundamental constraints is that any promotional activity can’t be false, misleading or invoke a whole series of different things, but, importantly, it can’t be done in a manner in which it could reasonably be thought to be seen by a child or young person. So specific to your question about how that applies on the Internet, that would require — And this is something that really then immediately enters into conversations that we have with provinces and territories. As you know, they are fairly heavily invested in moving forward their plans to develop bricks and mortar stores but also to create an e-platform, an e-commerce environment. There have been several examples already tonight where people are saying that the availability of cannabis is ubiquitous.
There are fairly well-established methods whereby age verification occurs. Take, for instance, regulators in the province of Ontario. You can purchase alcohol through their stores, and there are safeguards in place that would require a certain level of due diligence to ensure that the person you’re selling to is not a minor, both at the point of purchase and at the point of delivery. Respecting the time, I won’t go into those, but there are a variety of different technological means where that can occur. You’re absolutely right; the legislation is not prescriptive in that regard. It simply acknowledges that those safeguards must be in place.
The Chair: We’ve come to the end of the meeting, and we’ve just scratched the surface. There could be a lot more questions. I didn’t get a chance to put one in.
Thanks to Mr. Blair, particularly for coming back on short notice, and we hope to see you again and the other officials as well, Mr. Costen and all the others who joined you today.
Colleagues, we will resume on Bill C-45 tomorrow morning at 10:30. Tomorrow will be municipal day, one of my favourite levels of government. So we will have the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and a few municipal officials and mayors here tomorrow to talk about the municipal impact.
(The committee adjourned.)