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SOCI - Standing Committee

Social Affairs, Science and Technology


Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Issue No. 41 - Evidence - April 25, 2018

OTTAWA, Wednesday, April 25, 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 3:15 p.m. to resume consideration of the bill.

Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.


The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.


I am Art Eggleton, a senator from Toronto. I am chair of the committee. I would like to my colleagues to introduce themselves.


Senator Petitclerc: Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec.


Senator Omidvar: Ratna Omidvar, Toronto.


Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.


Senator Campbell: Larry Campbell, Galiano Island, British Columbia.

Senator R. Black: Rob Black, Ontario.

Senator Lankin: Frances Lankin, Ontario.

Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman, Montreal, Quebec, and deputy chair of the committee.

The Chair: Today we continue with 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.

Today we are focusing on youth, both from organizations that provide services to youth and, in a later panel, getting the views of youth.

Let me welcome for this first panel, which will run for two hours, the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, represented by Jenna Valleriani; Drug Free Kids Canada, represented by Marc Paris and Glenn Barnes, who will share their time; Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth, Corey O’Soup; and as an individual, Emily Jenkins, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia. Welcome to all of you.

I would ask you now give us your opening remarks, seven minutes, please, so that we have enough time to be able to get a lot of questions in.

Jenna Valleriani, Strategic Advisor, Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy: Good afternoon, honourable senators. Thank you for inviting Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy to share some of our work and experiences with young people. I have worked with CSSDP for almost eight years. I am currently the strategic advisor to our board and local chapters, as well as a post-doctoral fellow at the B.C. Centre on Substance Use.

Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy is a grassroots network of youth and students who are concerned about the impact drug policies can have on individuals, families and communities. Over the last two years, we’ve undertaken youth-focused initiatives on cannabis legalization, including a youth round table and submission based on this input to the task force on cannabis legalization and regulation, presentations to various stakeholders, dialogues with youth, as well as meetings with local, provincial and federal governments.

CSSDP recently released a sensible youth cannabis education tool kit, which outlines ten guiding principles for drug education and includes a pull-away curriculum as part of a comprehensive approach. I have a copy here I’d be happy to leave with the chair.

Our efforts started because young people continue to be left out of the conversation regarding cannabis legalization in Canada, despite being central to the government’s mandate of protecting children. Meaningful involvement of youth is critical to ensuring that we are using this opportunity to truly protect youth over and above simple restrictions. Considering that restrictions in and of themselves have never stopped young people from accessing or using cannabis, and that for many young people under the age of 18 or 19 cannabis will remain illegal, we must capitalize on this opportunity to divert young people from the criminal justice system and offer pragmatic education that is inclusive of both prevention and harm reduction in order to maximize effectiveness and protect all youth.

Young people have expressed a variety of concerns when it comes to legalization, but the most important concern, and one we hear in every conversation that we have, is the worry that youth will continue to be disproportionately criminalized under a new regime. A public health approach to the regulation of cannabis requires more than a consideration of potential individual health harms. It must speak to the importance of treating drug use as a health issue as opposed to a criminal violation, particularly when it comes to young Canadians.

We believe the cannabis act, which does not attach criminal penalties to youths 12 to 17 for five grams of cannabis or less, is crucial to ensuring youth are not worse off under legalization than they were under prohibition. We urge senators not to think of this as a possession allowance for young people but rather a way to ensure that they do not enter a cycle of criminalization. The alternative is to continue to criminalize and arrest youth, particularly minority and Indigenous young people who are most impacted by cannabis enforcement.

To put this into context, young adults 18 to 25 have the highest number of drug-related arrests, followed by those who are 12 to 17 years old. A majority of these, close to 80 per cent, are for cannabis possession alone. This must remain front and centre when we’re talking about what it means to protect youth.

Consider that the highest youth rates are for those who are 18 to 25. Protecting young adults in this context means moving this population away from the criminal justice system and the wider illegal drug market by providing an avenue for legal, regulated access to tested and properly labelled products, accompanied by education and harm reduction for all adults.

We have also heard many youth continue to identify a range of concerns around current drug education. We know that drug education can be challenging because youth encompasses a very diverse set of young people in Canada, and what works in one context may not necessarily work in another. The research tells us that authoritarian and fear-based approaches can alienate young people and undermine the credibility of educational efforts and balanced conversations. They also spoke often to the exaggeration of risks, which do not resonate with their experiences. They often told us they felt it ignored any potential benefits, such as medical uses and the medical cannabis system in Canada.

Cannabis education has also often ignored any harm reduction information, which we believe is very critical to a comprehensive approach as well as a very important part of equipping families in Canada to talk about cannabis with young people. An approach to prevention and education that focuses both on reducing the harms as well as on giving young people the tools to make informed choices is increasingly recognized as a more realistic approach to drug education. Programs or resources that don’t speak to the ways we can reduce the harms to youth may do a disservice to young people who have already been using or may have tried cannabis. Reducing harms can still promote messaging around delaying the early onset of use and prevention but without making that the sole focus.

We know that some young people will experiment with cannabis regardless of the legal context, the messaging or the resources available. While roughly 25 per cent of people under the age of 25 report using cannabis in the past 12 months, there is a lot of variability in how that cannabis is being used. This number captures young people who have used once in the last year, but it also captures young people who have used once a week in the last year. What statistics do show us is that a majority of youth who report using cannabis actually use it very infrequently and, as a result, are not likely to experience significant harms from their use. Of the 25 per cent who report using cannabis in the last year, only 2.5 per cent of those report using in ways that are considered high risk for severe health or other problems. Harm reduction information is essential to reducing the harms associated with the use of cannabis among some of these young people.

The inclusion of youth in the design and implementation of drug and cannabis education will be critical to ensuring that this education resonates with their experiences and serves to meet young people where they’re at. We currently see very little meaningful inclusion of youth in drug education and drug policy more broadly. Even in the Senate, I would respectfully note that young people have been largely absent in these discussions.

I want to conclude by saying that young people have a right to honest drug education. This, in turn, will impact how equipped they are to make choices around their health. If we truly want to protect young people, the legal regulation of cannabis is offering an opportunity for more pragmatic and balanced conversations. Youth-centred cannabis education must be thought of as a crucial health resource and will be how we protect young people, by helping them navigate the changing legal landscape as well as their experiences with friends, family and acquaintances.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to be here today. I look forward to any questions you may have.

The Chair: Just under seven minutes, too. I do have a copy of your toolkit. Thank you very much for that.

Marc Paris, Executive Director, Drug Free Kids Canada: Good afternoon. I’m the Executive Director of Drug Free Kids Canada. We welcome the opportunity to address this committee and to present our perspective on the impact that legalization of cannabis may have on youth.

Drug Free Kids Canada is a non-profit organization devoted to educating parents about drugs, raising public awareness issues surrounding drug use and facilitating open conversations between parent and teen in order to ensure that all young people will be able to live their lives free of substance abuse.

With me today is Mr. Glenn Barnes, DFK Advisory Council Member, Managing Director at Barnes and Associates and former president and CEO of the Dave Smith Youth Centre in Ottawa. Mr. Barnes has extensive experience in dealing with youth substance disorder.

We are here before you today to make the case that, whatever the outcome of legalization of recreational cannabis, a key objective must be to protect our kids. We want to discuss today two areas of major concern and propose a few solutions. The first area is the underage market; the second is the youth segment of the legal market that we define as 18 to 25.

First, the underage market: Since the minimum age has been set in all provinces to align mostly with alcohol at 18 or 19, we remain skeptical that we will see a reduction in underage consumption. Canadian youth have one of the highest rates of cannabis use worldwide. You’ve heard this before. Cannabis is the number two substance used by teens, after alcohol, with one in five teens using at least once. However, as teens grow older, consumption rises to over one-third, 37 per cent by Grade 12.

Mr. Barnes is here to talk about his hands-on experience on the front line and to give you some insight as to the kinds of issues that arise between a parent and adolescent in the context of substance use disorder.

Glenn Barnes, Advisory Council Member, Drug Free Kids Canada: Good afternoon. I have the privilege of appearing before you as a member of the Advisory Committee of Drug Free Kids Canada. I offer my skills as a knowledge bridge capable of transferring scientific data to the real world treatment program applications. In addition to an undergraduate degree in biology, I hold a Master’s Degree in Health Service Administration and a law degree. Unfortunately, I also have Parkinson’s disease. As my talk goes on, my voice level will drop; that’s part of the package.

As manager of an addiction treatment organization, parents are often referred to me to assist them in forcing their adolescent children into treatment. My impression was that parents were as much in need of education of accurate facts as the adolescents were. I want to share with you two examples.

In the case of a single parent of a 16-year-old girl, I received a complaint from the mother of the adolescent that we were treating. She was upset with our staff therapist who had suggested that her mother supplying cannabis to her daughter at the age of 14 was wrong and most probably dangerous.

At the other extreme, a middle-aged mother became very upset with staff because they contradicted her opinion that her son could have died from the use of cannabis. Over a period of some two weeks, that woman called me repeatedly on a daily basis to tell me that our facts were incorrect and that the use of cannabis was, in fact, lethal. Despite our frustration, there was little we could do when she showed up at the doorstep of the treatment centre and demanded that we discharge her 15-year-old son into her care.

Our level of knowledge of the functioning of the brain, especially in the area of cognitive skills, has grown in leaps and bounds, and yet there is still so much that we don’t know. In particular, in the fields of psychology, neurology and psychiatry, there is concern about damage to evolving pathways during the maturing process. Will the damaged brain repair itself on notions of plasticity or will there be permanent damages to the pathways? We believe that parents can be central to changing the relationship that kids have with drugs, and we are here to educate and support them.

A robust ongoing awareness and public education strategy targeting parents and youth should be part of the solution to reduce drug use by teens.

Mr. Paris: This past June, in anticipation of legalization, Drug Free Kids Canada launched a national campaign to promote the “Cannabis Talk Kit” — the minister talked to you about it last week — which has now topped the quarter million mark in deliveries and downloads. Our plan is to repeat the same campaign this coming September, running right up to about mid-January.

The second area of concern we wish to discuss today is regarding the branding, marketing and promotion of cannabis products. The current legislation proposes strict packaging and banning all advertising and promotion. This more closely aligns with tobacco than alcohol.

However, we’ve been closely observing the recreational cannabis industry and have huge concerns that they plan on lobbying the government to relax their tight regulations after a couple of years, their argument being that they need to differentiate their product from the illegal stuff. We fear big liquor and big tobacco will quickly swoop in and take over the industry. This would take us down the path of alcohol, which is something we must prevent at all cost.

This has already begun. Witness Constellation Brands’ 10 per cent purchase of Canopy Growth for $245 million, with an option to buy another 10 per cent. To quote the CEO of Constellation in a statement, “Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early-stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction.”

The youth segment represents the biggest group of consumers of cannabis, just like alcohol. If we relax the regulations to allow the marketing promotion of cannabis products, who do we think they’ll target first?

We propose that this committee include in the legislation a moratorium on reviewing the regulations on the branding, marketing and promotion of cannabis for 10 years. The basis for this timeline is that it will take at least a generation to measure the true societal impact on youth of the legalization of cannabis. The government’s approach to legalization of recreational cannabis was to better regulate and control the sale and distribution in order to protect our children. Let’s not leave a crack in the door for our kids to become targets of exploitation by big business.

I’d like to thank Mr. Barnes, the DFK Advisory Council and this committee for allowing us to present our point of view.

The Chair: Thank you very much to both of you.

Corey O’Soup, Advocate, Saskatchewan Advocate For Children and Youth: Thank you, senators, for having me here today. It’s an honour to present to you.

I’m the Advocate for Children and Youth in the province of Saskatchewan. I’m an independent officer of the legislature of Saskatchewan and a member of an organization called the Canadian Council on Child and Youth Advocates across the country. Every province and territory except for Northwest Territories and Prince Edward Island has some form of child or youth advocate within their territory or province. But I am here representing the children and youth of Saskatchewan.

I would like to start by mentioning Article 33 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It states that governments should

. . . take all appropriate measures, including legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, to protect children from the illicit use of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances as defined in the relevant international treaties.

I believe that the proposed legislation fails to provide adequate protection for young people.

In addition, Article 3 of the UNCRC states:

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also recommends that a child rights impact assessment be conducted relative to such actions. I strongly advise that these elements be taken into consideration during the study of the bill.

As the advocate for children and youth in the province of Saskatchewan, it is my duty to ensure the government is acting in the best interests of our young people. I do not believe that Bill C-45 protects children and youth from the risks associated with legalizing cannabis, and certain changes must be made.

The bill does not fully recognize the harmful effects of cannabis on the developing brain, as noted in the May 2017 Canadian Medical Association Journal editorial. In addition, a 2014 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health report stated unequivocally that cannabis is not a benign substance and its health harms increase with intensity of use. We are particularly concerned about the effects of cannabis use on children with predispositions to mental health disorders.

According to Health Canada, the brain continues to develop until the age of 25, and the use of cannabis on a young person’s brain can have serious effects ranging from increased risk of suicide, depression, anxiety disorder and long-term effects related to memory, concentration, intelligence and the ability to think and make decisions. The use of cannabis in adolescents can cause irreparable damage to their developing brains, and we cannot ignore this. Setting quantity and potency limits of cannabis to those under the age of 25 is crucial to the mental health and well-being of our youth.

One of the stated intentions of this bill is to decrease youth access to cannabis. I believe that regardless of how cannabis is legally regulated, many youth are still likely to find ways to access the substance and that there is still a high risk of youth becoming dependent on cannabis and driving while under its influence.

I recommend that a nationally created and funded public-health-informed strategy accompany the legal regulation of cannabis. This strategy should have a specific youth component informed by the latest evidence of what actually works to moderate use of substances by youth. The strategy should, in particular, focus on informing youth about the health risks of cannabis and the safety risks of driving under the influence of cannabis.

The bill also makes provisions for sanctions for adults who supply to minors. However, I believe that the measures set out do not provide sufficient deterrence and will not help to prevent adults from selling or distributing cannabis to children or youth. I recommend sanctions for adults who supply children and youth with cannabis via a strict and escalating system of penalty, similar to what is in place regarding the sale of tobacco in some jurisdictions.

The bill leaves some of aspects of the regulation of cannabis retailers to the provinces, with the risk of creating inconsistent regulation across Canada. We are heartened by the restrictions on promotion of products in such a way that they could reasonably appeal to youth and the restrictions on the use of cannabis products to promote events and activities.

We urge further restrictions on retailers. We recommend federal regulations stating that cannabis products cannot be sold in regulation outlets that children and youth are permitted to enter, for example, grocery stores. They must be sold only in retail outlets that are highly monitored and controlled. They must use plain packaging to discourage child-friendly packaging, and packaging should contain information on potency and potential harmful effects similar to packaging requirements for tobacco.

We recommend that retailers be subject to restrictions on the sale of cannabis in any form that would be attractive to children, such as candy. We recommend that retailers be subject to restrictions on promotional signage, hours of operation and days of sale.

The bill does not earmark specific uses for the taxes that will be collected from the sale of cannabis products. We recommend that a specific percentage of taxes collected from the sale of cannabis products be prescribed in legislation to support research, public education, monitoring, harm reduction and treatment of cannabis-related issues.

Last, we have concerns about clause 8 of the proposed act regarding the criminal offences for cannabis possession as they relate to youth. The current legislation makes it an offence for youth to possess more than 5 grams of cannabis, while for adults an offence does not occur unless there is a possession of 30 grams or more. While we support the objective of reducing youth exposure to cannabis, we have concerns that this could lead to heightened criminalization of youth.

In closing, these are serious risks, and the magnitude of the mental health and suicide crisis we’re already facing needs to be addressed proactively. Our youth are the future and we need to strive to help them reach their full potential by paving the way for them. As the advocate for the province of Saskatchewan, I strongly recommend the federal government and the Province of Saskatchewan consider the impact this will have on the children and youth in Saskatchewan.

I want to be clear that I’m not opposed to decriminalization or blind to the positive effects that medicinal cannabis has on those who often suffer the most. However, I am extremely concerned that we have not fully considered the impacts and long-term negative effects that this bill will have on our youth and that will follow them to adulthood if our recommendations are not considered as you move forward with Bill C-45.

Thank you for your time.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Emily Jenkins, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, as an individual: Honourable senators, thank you for the opportunity to be here today and speak to you about Bill C-45.

As mentioned, I’m here from the University of British Columbia, School of Nursing. My clinical and research expertise are in adolescent mental health and substance use, including co-leading, with my colleague assistant professor Rebecca Haines-Saah out of University of Calgary, the Teens Report on Adolescent Cannabis Experiences, or TRACE program of research.

TRACE is Canada’s longest standing qualitative research program in youth cannabis use, which began with a focus on youth who use cannabis frequently. My research approach is participatory, and I strive to bring youth voices to the evidence base to generate solutions that are grounded in data and that resonate with the populations they are intended to serve. I believe in learning from youth expertise and in supporting youth to engage to their fullest capacity. As such, while I can and will incorporate elements of youth perspective in my testimony, I cannot speak on their behalf.

I am pleased to know that you will be hearing from a young person this afternoon and would encourage you to pursue additional opportunities to have youth meaningfully involved in this policy process.

Today, I will focus on a few key areas where available evidence can help inform this legislation as it pertains to youth.

First, speaking to concerns regarding harms associated with cannabis use amongst youth, an important starting point for this discussion is to provide a bit of perspective by characterizing what we understand to be the magnitude of the problem. As I am certain you have heard in other testimony, the prevalence of cannabis use amongst youth has remained stable or declined in recent years. Earlier this year, Statistics Canada estimated the prevalence of cannabis use amongst youth 15 to 17 years at 18 per cent and amongst youth aged 18 to 24 at 28.4 per cent.

Though cannabis use amongst Canadian youth is high relative to their peers from other countries, the proportion of youth with problematic or high risk use is small. Indeed, a recent study using Canadian population-based data found that approximately 2 to 2.5 per cent of youth who use cannabis do so in ways that result in severe health or social consequences. This means that we anticipate approximately 0.4 per cent of Canadian youth aged 15 to 17 and 0.6 per cent aged 18 to 24 to be using cannabis in ways that will result in harms such as health, social, legal or financial problems. Those who initiate early and who use frequently are most at risk, and young men are more at risk than young women for these harms or experience greater risk.

One the most concerning of the potential health harms are the reported links between adolescent cannabis use and psychosis, particularly chronic or recurrent psychotic disorders. While research suggests there is an association between adolescent cannabis use and psychosis, this area of research remains inconclusive. What we do know from the mental health field is that mental health and substance use disorders tend to result from the complex interplay between biological, psychological and social factors as opposed to single risk factors alone.

A youth participant from our TRACE studies nicely outlines the ambiguity of our evidence on cannabis that contributes to us being here today:

I thought doing research would kind of help us find the yeses and the noes, but actually it didn’t. It made us more confused. But we did learn more of why it could be a yes or why it could be a no, so I think that’s really valuable toward finding the conclusions.

Indeed, ongoing research on cannabis is critical to minimizing the harms, and the legalization of cannabis will facilitate this.

Having provided an estimate of the proportion of the youth population we anticipate will experience cannabis-related harms, I will now discuss my second point, the social determinants of health and the health and social inequities caused by current cannabis policy.

Under the current regulatory framework, cannabis use is dealt with through criminalization, based not in evidence for harms but rather on an outdated punishment-focused paradigm framed around ideology and moral disapproval of drugs. While we lack good data on the full spectrum of costs associated with this approach, cannabis-related enforcement measures alone are estimated at $1.2 billion annually.

Additionally, there’s strong evidence that the social costs of criminalization are profound and disproportionately affect youth, particularly Indigenous and racialized youth and youth in marginalized communities. These harms include stigmatization and exclusion, limited opportunities for meaningful employment, worsening levels of poverty and poor health outcomes, all while exhausting limited public resources.

The cannabis act will create a new legal and regulatory framework that is grounded in a public health approach, with the potential to target and respond to these inequities and generate revenue that can be directed toward intervention across the full spectrum of need, from education and prevention efforts for all youth, as well as the treatment needs of the small proportion of youth requiring this type of specialized care.

To end on a positive and optimistic note, my third and final point is to offer a strengths-based perspective to the dialogue on youth and cannabis use. Current concerns about the impact of legalization on youth cannabis use tend to frame this issue from a deficit-based perspective. There is great emphasis on the need to protect youth, and while this is indeed important, it fails to adequately account for the significant capacity that young people possess and the role that our policies in society ought to play in equipping young people with the skills and resources to navigate cannabis use decision-making in a way that is informed and grounded in best available evidence.

From our TRACE program of youth-engaged research, we have demonstrated that with the right tools, education and support, young people can undertake complex analyses of evidence, draw informed conclusions about the risks and harms of cannabis use and formulate strategies for minimizing these.

This research also indicates that the current approach to prevention and education is ineffective. Much of this results from messaging that is fear-based and exaggerates risk, which potentially leads to other harms. As one of our youth participants has explained:

They make weed sound so bad, and then when people find out that weed’s not that bad, they think all drugs are not that bad. So then they go out into the drug thing, and they think all drugs won’t change them, but those other drugs change you.

But it also is the product of a confusing policy landscape, one in which cannabis is technically illegal but in which the prevalence of use is high, access to cannabis is easy, and conflicting information and messaging is commonplace. In fact, our film-based education resource cycles created for use in school settings came about due to feedback from teachers that they feel ill-equipped to talk to youth about cannabis use, in part because of the legal grey zone in which it sits.

Legalization and regulation will provide a more well-defined context from which evidence-based, open and honest prevention and education interventions can be implemented. This process should be done in partnership with youth and should include harm reduction principles so as to be inclusive of the needs of both those who use and do not use cannabis.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

The Chair: Thank you very much. We have heard opening remarks and set the stage, so we’re now ready for questions. As we’ve done recently, it will be five minutes each, which is both questions and answers. I think it best to direct your question to one or two panellists. If you say all the panellists, you’ll use up the five minutes very quickly. I’ll start with our deputy chairs.

Senator Seidman: Thank you all very much for your presentations. I will address my question to you, Ms. Valleriani.

I might just begin quickly with a couple of quotes.

The first is a January 15, 2018, Maclean’s magazine piece entitled “Marijuana addiction is real, and teenage users are most at risk.” To quote:

A survey conducted by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), published last year, found that a majority of youth were unaware that cannabis can be addictive and lead to withdrawal symptoms.

Youth are better able to list what they consider to be the benefits of cannabis than the harms.

In the Toronto Star on April 16, 2018 was an opinion piece by the CEO of one of Canada’s best residential youth addiction programs:

A large number of our clients tell us cannabis is their primary drug of choice. Many begin using it around the age of 12 and none believed cannabis was anything other than a benign substance. What could go wrong, they thought?

He goes on to talk about the research that tells us a very different story, particularly in regard to adolescents because their brains are still developing.

On the main page of your website, you have a petition. Subject aside — it’s about the ongoing criminalization of cannabis dispensary workers — the very first line reads:

Cannabis is a known medicine with minimal evidence for harms associated with its use.

What I’d like to ask you is this: Could you help us understand, given we’ve all sat here and heard witness testimony from the medical association, nurses, pediatricians, CAMH — a lot of witnesses who have told us in no uncertain terms about the harmful effects of cannabis on the health of young people. So how do you begin a petition with that message? You speak about the importance of listening to youth, so I’d like to hear what you say.

Ms. Valleriani: Absolutely.

First, I would say that we would never advocate that cannabis use is benign. There are certainly some risks associated with use. We would also note that a lot of the evidence around harms remains inconclusive. Under prohibition, we feel that a lot of the misinformation, including this idea that cannabis is a benign substance, has been able to proliferate without any real way to address those claims through any evidence-based, sensible conversations around cannabis.

To address the petition, the petition was mostly in regard to the idea that the continued enforcement around Toronto dispensaries was primarily targeting entry-level youth workers, so that they were often left without any legal resources. In that regard, that petition was more around that.

Senator Seidman: I’m not questioning the subject matter, but I am saying that we have heard in no uncertain terms that there is an evidence base of the harms of cannabis on the brains of youth up until the age of 25.

Ms. Valleriani: Right. I would like to focus attention on a new study that actually was just released last week, in JAMA Psychiatry. It’s a high-impact and well-respected journal. They systematically reviewed 69 studies that looked at youth cannabis use and cognition. I will quote from their conclusion:

Associations between cannabis use and cognitive functioning in . . . adolescents and young adults are small and may be of questionable clinical importance for most individuals. . . . results indicate that previous studies of cannabis in youth may have overstated the magnitude and persistence of cognitive deficits associated with use.

They also go on to say that after a period of abstinence of roughly 72 hours, most of those cognitive deficits observed are reversed.

This only speaks to cognition. They didn’t look at other pieces, such as mental health, which are other concerns.

Senator Seidman: They didn’t look at depression or psychosis?

Ms. Valleriani: Exactly. I have copies of the key points and the abstract that I could also leave with the chair.

It’s important to consider that a lot of the studies we have around the harms of cannabis use — again, not saying that it’s completely risk-free — but they can’t tell us about the direction of that relationship. They can’t tell us the magnitude of that relationship or the strength.

I think it’s really important to consider that oftentimes the harms that are experienced are really part of a larger social, structural and environmental factors. When we start considering things like socio-economic status and concurrent drug and alcohol use, those associations tend to get weaker.

Senator Seidman: I would like to ask you one quick question, if I might, about your education toolkit. You partnered with Canopy Growth Corporation, a cannabis company; is that correct?

Ms. Valleriani: Yes, it is.

Senator Seidman: What was the money they put into it?

Ms. Valleriani: The grant was $50,000. If I may clarify how we mitigated bias in terms of accepting money from Canopy — we took steps. First of all, it was an unrestricted grant. That’s really important to note in that they had no hand in choosing the research team, in the development of the resources, the research, in the messaging or in the design. We also had it reviewed by an external youth committee of three individuals who were outside of CSSDP and then an external committee of nine experts in various realms to ensure that our literature reviews were reflective of the scientific evidence. This included drug policy experts in Canada. It included nurse practitioners from places like SickKids, educational consultants and parent groups that focus on drug use.

Senator Petitclerc: Ms. Valleriani, I want to touch on normalization, because we’ve touched on that point, and because you’ve been working in close contact with our youth for over two years, but, more specifically, I want to hear about normalization in the context of the act that will not attach a criminal penalty for 5 grams of cannabis. What brings me to that is you say you ask senators not to think of this as a possession allowance for young people but as a way to ensure they do not enter a cycle of criminalization. That’s something a lot of people agree with, but it made me curious to know how that aspect of the bill is perceived by youth.

Ms. Valleriani: It would be hard for me to speak on behalf of young people, but to just give you a few thoughts, the first thing I would consider is that provinces are free to add additional — we’re seeing in Ontario, for example, there’s confiscation as well as the powers to ticket young people, much like they do with alcohol, for example, as a legal substance. In Ontario, they can face a charge up to $200. I would note that being cognizant as well of how ticketing differentially impacts young people. More vulnerable and at-risk youths are more likely to be using in public spaces, so there is a real risk they will be disproportionately impacted by a ticketing scheme.

In terms of normalization more generally, it’s a tough question, but I would start by saying a majority of young people simply don’t use cannabis, while there are a lot who do.

Second, I would add that while I think there is an element of normalization that comes along with cannabis use among young people, there’s a bit of experimentation that’s seen as almost normal or a part of growing up. There’s still a lot of discussion around how they still experience stigma from their use. While there’s an element of normalization, there’s still stigma attached to young people using cannabis.


Senator Petitclerc: My question is for Mr. Paris. You talked about packaging and advertising. We have all read the article in La Presse about the rather aggressive, creative approach of a company we do not need to name. Regarding plain packaging, do you think Bill C-45 goes far enough? Could we take an approach more similar to that of tobacco? Do you think it is balanced?

Mr. Paris: I think that is not the most important part. We are talking about products that will be legalized and sold within a regulated environment. If it is just a white box with a cannabis leaf and a name, I can understand that manufacturers need to differentiate themselves. The important thing, in our opinion, is that this product be strictly regulated, that is to say that there be no marketing, no branding, no promotion, no sponsorship, a little like tobacco, but not like alcohol.

We have learned our lesson with alcohol, because we were a bit liberal. Alcohol marketing targets youth, because that is where the market is. It is the same market for cannabis. If we liberalize without even knowing the long-term consequences, we are making a mistake. What is said publicly is that within a few years, the government will be convinced to relax the regulation a bit. That is why we want a moratorium for a certain period of time to find out.


Senator Omidvar: I have a number of questions for each one of the witnesses who have been so generous with their time and expertise.

Ms. Valleriani, given what we’ve heard from Senator Seidman and from you about conflicting evidence on different questions — there is no single point, I believe, that scientists are agreeing on — what would you say to a proposal that even if we approve Bill C-45, its implementation should be delayed for a year, at least, until we understand more fully the science and the impact? What impact would that have on young people, for instance?

Ms. Valleriani: Thank you very much for your question.

I would say, first, considering that young people — and Canadians more broadly — are continuing to be criminalized in the interim for possession and use, that’s of critical importance of why we really do need timely passage of Bill C-45.

I would also point to the fact that individuals are already using cannabis at relatively high rates, and we shouldn’t waste any more time in bringing this into a legal framework where we can start to address questions around public education and access to that information and evidence-based policy. Those numbers are already relatively high, so we shouldn’t waste any time in terms of being able to bring education and harm reduction to the public.

Senator Omidvar: Mr. O’Soup, I was interested in knowing what your position and the position of your organization is on home cultivation and the impact or the potential for harm that home cultivation poses to young people. The legislation will allow for up to four cannabis plants in every private residence for personal use, from seedlings or licensees, and there will be strict monitoring, and provinces can further regulate and legislate as they choose. Why didn’t you mention that in your remarks?

Mr. O’Soup: I only had seven minutes, so I had to use my time wisely.

When it comes to home cultivation, our organization is an advocate for children and youth, but we extend that to advocating for families because we can’t advocate for healthy children and youth if we don’t advocate for healthy families as well.

I believe that responsible cultivation at home should be tightly monitored because there is a process there that can lead to parents cultivating and then that transferring to the kids and different things that we have to consider. The parents are the role models in our kids’ lives and, if they see their parents doing that, there is a trickle-down effect to that. For us to advocate for healthy children and youth, we have to advocate for healthy families.

We haven’t put out an official stance on that but, just reacting to the question, that would be our stance.

Senator Omidvar: How would you monitor and enforce that? That’s the big question. I’m hearing you talk about model parenting, in a way. What lessons would you derive from the current laws that allow individuals to grow tobacco and to brew alcohol?

Mr. O’Soup: It would be difficult to monitor, but we work closely with our justice system in Saskatchewan. I think we would have to have those discussions with them because it will probably be different all across the country.

What was the second part of the question?

Senator Omidvar: Actually, I think that’s okay.

Ms. Jenkins, I was really interested in reading your testimony. You quoted a young person in your study who says they think all drugs are not that bad, so they go into the drug thing thinking all drugs won’t change them, but those other drugs change you. In your opinion and your research, do you have any evidence to suggest that cannabis is a gateway drug?

Ms. Jenkins: No, we don’t have evidence to suggest that it’s a gateway drug. I think that’s been widely disputed at this point. In fact, in one of our studies, we had youth looking through the literature and drawing conclusions, and they were also able to conclude that that was not an accurate claim to be made.

Another interesting point is that in one of our studies, young people actually identified cannabis use as a harm reduction tool and were using cannabis to protect themselves from the harms of other, harder drugs, as they call them. So instead of going in that direction, we’re relying on cannabis use.

Senator Campbell: Thanks to the witnesses for coming today. I have two questions. First, I would like to know if each of your groups support or oppose legalization.

Ms. Valleriani: We strongly support legalization.

Mr. O’Soup: I think I stated at the end that we are not opposed to decriminalization of marijuana, but we want to make sure we have the right policies and legislation in place.

Ms. Jenkins: I’m speaking on behalf of myself and not my institution but, given the evidence, I am in strong support of the legalization.

Mr. Paris: Quite frankly, we feel the train has left the station on this one. As an organization that’s there to protect kids, we are not for or against. We want to make sure that in every regulation, if it does happen, we do our utmost to protect our kids. We’re not necessarily convinced of that.

Senator Campbell: I have a second question for you, and it’s in dealing with youth. We failed as a society to educate our youth: Would you agree with that statement?

Mr. O’Soup: I think so.

Senator Campbell: Do you think that the depression and things that you see are as a result of using marijuana, or are they already there and marijuana use is, in fact, self-medication, the same as alcohol or any other drug? It’s something I’ve been concerned with throughout my life. We tend to blame something instead of seeing what the real problem is. It’s sometimes abuse, a poor home environment or bullying. Would you comment on that?

Mr. Paris: Absolutely. In the presentation we made to the Standing Committee on Health with one of our advisory council, Dr. Barakett, he was very eloquent about that. He is a clinician. In his practice, he said almost half of the kids were self-medicating. A lot were doing so to relieve anxiety and stress often due to often diagnosed ADD or ADHD, but also other traumatic effects like bullying, abuse, neglect or even a marriage break-up in a family.

Yes, it begins that way. The problem is that when a child starts using a drug or whatever substance to relieve the anxiety and the stress, that’s where the spiral of addiction risk begins, because the only time they feel good is when they’re high, so they continue to do that practice and the behaviour then becomes problematic.

Ms. Jenkins: Could I add a response to the last question?

The Chair: If that’s okay with the senator, sure.

Ms. Jenkins: I think it’s important to note as well that we see the harms concentrated in particular groups of young people. Those are young people who have experiences with poor home environments, who have low socio-economic status, who are racialized and marginalized in other ways. I think it’s really important to recognize that piece as well. It really is a chicken-and-egg thing in terms of what our evidence shows.

Mr. O’Soup: Our office just completed a report on the topic of youth suicide in northern Saskatchewan. We spent over a year in northern Saskatchewan. We spoke to over a thousand youth on the topic of youth suicide, and we asked them why and we asked them for solutions.

Throughout those conversations, they came out with six themes, and these are directly from the youth. One of the themes was drug and alcohol misuse, and marijuana was specifically indicated by our youth as one of the reasons. It’s not the only reason but it was one of the top six themes that came out of us speaking to them and getting their perspective on the topic of youth suicide, why kids attempt, and why they die by, suicide.

Senator Campbell: How do we go about identifying these people, these youths, in our schools as they start going through school? I’ve never been able to understand why we couldn’t identify the people who are at risk. The teachers know who they are, the counsellors know who they are, and yet we tend to deal with them as a homogenous group. How do we do this?

Mr. Barnes: There is a researcher from the University of Montreal, Dr. Patricia Conrod, who has done some excellent work in looking at the personality risks or the personality types of the individuals and tying that to future drug use.

Senator Campbell: That’s the University of Montreal?

Mr. Barnes: Yes.

Senator Campbell: Thank you very much.

Senator Lankin: Thank you all for your presentations. It is really helpful for you to take the time, so thank you for the work that you do that has underpinned your interest in this subject.

My first question I want to put to Mr. O’Soup. There was something you said that I didn’t quite understand. You talked about a parent or an adult sibling giving marijuana to someone who is between 12 and 18 years of age. You talked about needing stronger disincentives for that. I’m just not sure what you meant.

Correct me if you have a different understanding, but my understanding is that the penalty for that is a criminal penalty of 14 years. In fact, some people are saying that it’s better to have access to the regulated product, and if it was under the 5 grams, make it like alcohol: It’s not a criminal offence, it’s a ticketable offence for the 22-year-old sibling.

Could you comment on that? I got lost a little there.

Mr. O’Soup: I think the piece I’m talking about here is the role modelling within the home unit. That’s more what I’m talking about.

I’m not opposed to the decriminalization and the 5 grams. I think we need to have a discussion around that, but it is actually more the role modelling that happens within the home unit as parents and as older siblings, to the original question, start to grow in their own home. I think that is the piece that could be transitioned onto those younger people.

Now, it’s really hard to regulate whether a child or youth is getting it from their parents. I’m not fully aware of the 14 years that you’re talking about, but for me it’s the home unit and how that role modelling happens within it. How do we protect those kids of a certain age from older siblings, as you say, or parents who may be passing that on to them? That’s the concern for me.

Senator Lankin: I think that’s an important distinction. I’m glad I asked, because I didn’t understand what you were saying. That really comes down to the kind of public health education that is done and the parenting advice that’s given, et cetera, because I would argue it’s the same for alcohol and the patterning and all of that.

Mr. O’Soup: Absolutely.

Senator Lankin: Ms. Valleriani, did the work that you’ve done with young people include Indigenous youth at all?

Ms. Valleriani: In some of our conversations, there were a few Indigenous youth at our round table, but predominantly they were urban young people living in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Okanagan. We do see a need for resources to be tailored to Indigenous communities, and that is a big point of action.

Senator Lankin: I think there is some evidence that will be coming from communities of consultation with Indigenous youth, but I think we don’t understand that when we talk about this being a public health issue and a health orientation issue, for those communities it is also a social issue of tremendous importance. Anything you have on that or come across, please feel free to send it to us.

Ms. Valleriani: Absolutely.

Senator Lankin: I wanted to ask Mr. Paris or Mr. Barnes, from your organization’s perspective, about the critical issue of the connection between mental health and cannabis. I agree with those who are saying that the evidence is a chicken and egg argument. We don’t know a lot. Hopefully we will know much more with the kind of focus on research that is also being brought about by this bill.

I remain concerned that whatever the reasons are that a young person has mental health issues, whether it was triggered by substance use and/or abuse or as a product of a mental health challenge, we’ve got growing numbers of young people with mental health issues in our country, in North America and around the world, according to OECD reports I have read.

I’m thinking about not adding a legislative amendment but appending an observation, that the federal government now has a potential leadership responsibility to bring provinces around the table to discuss the status of how to get adequate mental health treatment for young people. Is this something that you have talked about or would support — a call for a federal, provincial and national strategy for addressing youth mental health issues? Not just because of cannabis, but in general? Knowing that there is some connection here, do we have a higher obligation if we’re introducing this legislation to make sure we’re also providing supports and treatment?

Mr. Paris: Definitely there is an overlap between mental health and drug consumption. There is a connection there that is absolute, and it always goes back to: Why are children consuming drugs in this day and age? What is their relationship with drugs and why do they think that’s a solution? There is an education piece, but there is also, of course, some mental health support needed. We’ve seen this week in Toronto how devastating the impact can be with somebody with a mental health issue, so we need to do more. I think that with the latest campaigns on mental health, it has taken away some of the stigma, and that’s a good first step. Glenn can probably talk about the issue of trying to get treatment right now.

Mr. Barnes: I want to go back to what causes what, and the real answer is we don’t know. First of all, let’s look at the brain and start off with the premise that we probably know one thousandth of what it does. Until we know what happens in that skull, we will never be able to answer the question of causal relationship.

What we do know is that, in a treatment facility, I do not see cannabis alone. I see poly-substance use, the big four: alcohol, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy. Those are the problems that we are tackling with the kids today.

The Chair: I might add that this committee’s next major study after it gets finished with Bill C-45 is youth and mental health. It will be a broad and major study.

Senator Bernard: I will direct my question to Dr. Jenkins, but I want to thank all of you for your testimony.

We have heard from a number of witnesses that the proportion of youth with high risk use of cannabis is quite small. I don’t think we’ve heard that data disaggregated by race. It’s similar to the Statistics Canada data that you’ve referenced. You brought a gender analysis into that. Has there been a race analysis? We’ve heard from a number of people that the current approach has disproportionately criminalized racialized youth, Indigenous youth and youth living in economically disadvantaged communities. For that proportion of youth that are deemed high risk, has that been disaggregated?

Ms. Jenkins: I personally don’t have information on the disaggregation of that data. The data I have been drawing on is disaggregated by age and sex, which is where I’m bringing the gender analysis from. Ms. Valleriani might have more information.

Ms. Valleriani: I’m also not sure. That is a really good question. I can look at it and report back to the committee.

Senator Bernard: Would you have a recommendation on that going forward?

Ms. Jenkins: In terms of disaggregating our data by race?

Senator Bernard: Yes.

Ms. Jenkins: Yes, I think it’s important, but we also know from experience with populations in those racialized communities that they experience greater harms associated with those things, and they’re concentrated into those groups. I think that beyond just studying the numbers, we need to be taking action to help address the inequities that they experience and that contribute to those harms.

Mr. Barnes: When you’re looking at prevalence rates, what you have to look at is: What is the population that you’re studying? Is it a general survey population, or is it a population in treatment? Unless you overcome that hurdle, that question, you really can’t go on and give meaningful conclusions to any of the data, whether it be gender, age, economic background, geographic location. They become almost meaningless.

If you give me the job of piling up the journal articles that say yes or no, I can probably produce equal sized piles. If you want to be blunt about it, in academic research, what question do you want me to answer?

The Chair: Okay. We get the point.

Senator Bernard: As a former academic myself, what influence do you think those social determinants of health should play in terms of marketing if this bill moves forward? When people talk about youth, they talk generally about youth. They don’t talk about youth from different communities, and youth from marginalized communities have a different experience.

I will give you an example. A few years ago, I did a project on gambling and wanted to target youth, in particular looking at black youth. Several of them said, “Why are you talking to us about gambling? That’s a White man’s problem.” The reason they believed it was a White man’s problem is because they only saw White men in advertising about problem gambling. So, in their minds, why are we wasting their time talking about that when it doesn’t concern them?

The Chair: Who do you want to propose that to?

Senator Bernard: Anyone who is able to answer.

Mr. Paris: There is not supposed to be any marketing around cannabis, and we say it should stay that way. There shouldn’t be any bias in terms of any race because there shouldn’t be any advertising or marketing.

Senator Bernard: Marketing and/or education.

Mr. Paris: Education is different, I agree. We try to represent social diversity in our campaigns and advertising. We always try to show some diversity so it’s not just the perfect little White family in the suburbs, because that’s not realistic.

Ms. Jenkins: I think it’s also unrealistic to expect that we create those campaigns without the input of those populations. In order for them to be effective, we need to include them in this conversation.

Senator Poirier: The first question I have is for Mr. O’Soup. You said that Bill C-45 does not fully recognize the harmful effect of cannabis on the developing brain. We’ve heard different suggestions about how best to mitigate that risk, from raising the minimum age to purchase the cannabis to restricting cannabis qualities and the potency for those aged 25, as you suggested. Can you tell me why limiting the potency of the THC would be preferable to raising the minimum age and how that might work?

Mr. O’Soup: I’m not a doctor so somebody else may be better able to answer, but my understanding is that from the ages of 18 to 25, different potency levels have different effects on the developing brain. I’m speaking about that from what I’ve read but not as an expert at all. That’s why I make that statement and that’s why we make that statement.

Senator Poirier: Is there anyone else who would like to answer?

Ms. Valleriani: I would just like to comment on the THC potency caps. We’re just talking about cannabis varieties, dried cannabis, and restricting access to particular products for young adults. If we don’t give them access to legal, regulated, tested products, where they’re able to know exactly what they’re purchasing, we’re really just pushing them to the illegal market to access the products they want. It’s important to think about that. If you put restrictions on particular products, especially for that 18 to 25 or 19 to 25 age group, they are just able to access them off the illegal market. That’s also important when we’re considering what it means to protect young people. It might be a point of education and harm reduction to talk to them about those products and what their vulnerabilities might be rather than banning them outright.

Senator Poirier: My second question is for Dr. Jenkins. You mentioned — I took note of it and I think I understood correctly — and I assume this is based on research you have done, that young men are more at risk than women are. Could you expand on that a bit?

You also mentioned in your presentation that this research also indicates that the current approach to prevention and education is ineffective. Could you share with us what you recommend would be effective and what could happen that would make it better?

Ms. Jenkins: I’ve been drawing on a recent study published by Leos-Toro and colleagues. It uses data from the 2013 Canadian Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey, as well as the ASSIST tool for screening for problematic substance use. In their analysis, they break down the various types and forms of harms, whether those are health, social, financial or legal harms. They also separate out whether they’re harms associated with young people and adults feeling the need to cut down or having trouble stopping use. Then they disaggregate by gender. We find that harms are significantly higher in the young men who respond to the survey as opposed to young women. This mirrors evidence from other population-based surveys that show that the harms are concentrated amongst young men predominantly.

The second part of your question was regarding current education programs being ineffective. That’s kind of broadly speaking when they are abstinence-based, which is what the majority of our drug education programs in schools are. Young people find them difficult to believe. They don’t resonate with their own experiences and what they’re seeing. We would advocate for drug education that is more pragmatic, that takes a harm reduction approach and that recognizes that young people are using and is inclusive of that experience as well and how to minimize harms within the context of use.

Another important point that I want to make here is that education is absolutely necessary, but it’s not sufficient in reducing these harms. When we see that the harms are concentrated in these marginalized populations, that begs the questions: Why is that? What can we do to try to promote outcomes for those populations, drawing on a mental health promotion lens and working with communities to build on strengths and to support positive relationships and opportunities for youth?

Many of the youth that we’ve had in our studies describe using cannabis as something to do. It’s simply that they experience a lack of opportunity in their life. They don’t have ways to become meaningfully engaged in their communities, so cannabis is something to do with their time.

Addressing those social and structural conditions that contribute to using is going to be important in addition to a strong harm reduction-based education campaign.


Senator Mégie: We all agree on the effectiveness of preventative measures, education and follow-up for youth who already smoke cannabis. I saw in Skylark’s document that some training sessions last up to 30 hours. What is the attendance rate of youth or parents who take part in training of that length? Do they begin the training and then stop going and not finish it? Perhaps those who have given training could answer the question.

Mr. Barnes: Like anything in addiction, it depends. Most studies done do not have a budget allowing them to follow up with youth six months after the end of the training. We see the same thing in Ontario; it is only in the last year that information has begun to be gathered. In the past, no documentation allowed for an analysis of data at the provincial level. It is at the very early stages.

Senator Mégie: Was it in the wake of the cannabis legislation that these education sessions were planned? Was it part of the general drug awareness program or was it only for cannabis?

Mr. Barnes: In Ontario, it is for all drugs; the training does not only target cannabis, nor should it.


The Chair: Does anyone else want to respond?

Ms. Valleriani: I have a couple of thoughts that came to mind. The first thing we noted in our review is that parents are often left out of drug education, especially when it concerns young people, so finding opportunities to include parents in that training is important, as is keeping parents up-to-date on what young people are learning in schools around cannabis. A lot of the young people that we’ve consulted with don’t remember anything cannabis-specific in their drug education, so we think that there needs to be something very specific around cannabis. We generally see that more sessions are important rather than just a drop-in seminar of two hours. Education that is ongoing has better impact.

Senator Deacon: Education and the gift of time are where my questions and my thoughts are going to come from. We’ve learned a few things. This is as complex as the day is long, and we greatly appreciate all of you being here today and giving of your time.

Two of my senator colleagues talked about time and the possibility of a delay. One of my senator colleagues, Senator Campbell, asked point blank: Do you support legalization or not? We’ve heard that answer.

Yet the part that I’m struggling with — and I have reflected on this an awful lot — is that, absolutely, we’ve had some drug education and drug strategies from public health at our schools for over three decades. It started off absolutely as the fear piece, as we do terrorize some of our curriculum in saying, “Don’t take this.” Hard work has been done since 1999-2000, trying to move it from that to harm reduction and acknowledgment of what young people are doing. Across this country, some really good effort has been made there, most times in coordination with education and public health. These things take time. When we’re looking at education and behaviour changes as a result of education, as a result of learning, these things take time. We all know and are aware of behaviour models. This is one, three, five years. The data we have out there on learning to convert a behaviour, I think, is evident for all of us.

We are talking about sharing information. We have Health Canada documents that are very outdated for sure. We’re still not sure of all of the effects of THC. We’re still not sure of brain development. Information is continuing to come forward. I’m coming at it again, even though I’ve heard it addressed today that, yes, if we delay, it does result in the criminalization versus decriminalization issue. But, when we’re looking at measurable, purposeful changes in behaviour, we’re looking at trying to address all of our populations in Canada. We’re looking at education. You talked about the “Cannabis Talk Kit.” I have a second part of this. Is it in the best interest and the best bang for our buck to slow down this implementation? I know we heard an answer once already this afternoon, but I am coming at it from that education, learning, change behaviour lens, the what-we-don’t-know perspective. I just want to take one more swing at that.

The Chair: Who are you putting the question to?

Senator Deacon: Anybody who will respond.

The Chair: That will use up the five minutes. Why don’t we start with Dr. Jenkins, then?

Ms. Jenkins: In the 30-year history that you have evidenced as the current process, we haven’t seen that as being effective, so I think the time really is now to make this change. It will take time for us to see any value, if there is, to this change, which is an experiment. We haven’t had it in our country before, this policy. But I think it provides a real opportunity to be able to study the areas that we remain uncertain about. With better access to cannabis, it will provide better indications of what longer-term outcomes are. So I think we’re ready.

Mr. Paris: From a youth perspective, we already have a problem. We’re the biggest consumer of cannabis in the world. Whether we regulate and legislate recreational cannabis, it’s not going to change anything. The ones who can buy it now will be able to buy it legally, and the ones who won’t be able to buy it legally are going to continue to buy it illegally. That’s not going to change unless we start creating a different attitude towards substances, cannabis, and make them understand that it’s not a benign substance, that there are some risks, making some informed decisions, getting the parents involved with the conversations with their kids.

This talk kit is exactly what parents need to get. People are calling up, ordering these by the hundreds right now. Yukon has just ordered 30,000 copies and wants to distribute it, and the Northwest Territories is going to be distributing this in every household. We’d like to encourage every province to do the same so that at least they have something that they can have in their hands so that they will be able to — it’s evidence-based information to know what is right and wrong about cannabis and how to talk to your child about it.

I think, at this point, in terms of the time frame, let’s keep the regulations as tight as possible until we have better information. That’s why our recommendation to have a moratorium on the marketing is just one example of this. Are we going to create a generation of potheads? We don’t know. Nobody can say yes or no to this, but let’s wait and see what this is going to do. It’s going to take a whole generation to find out what the true societal impact is of this new legalization.

Senator Munson: Just to continue on that with Ms. Jenkins, You talked about your TRACE program. I think we’re talking around a lot of things right now. We talked about things being ineffective, as you said in your opening statement, which I’m sorry I missed. But is it a national program of education that would fit all across the country? Because this is British Columbia. Specifically, if you can get into more of how this would work with education in a school again, a national program, because if provinces are putting something together, you’re seeing something in each province of what will hit home to both adult and child.

Ms. Jenkins: I haven’t proposed an education program per se, but we have done research around how to engage young people in understanding evidence, making sense of evidence, learning how to read it and interpret it. I think one-size-fits-all approaches are ineffective, largely, and don’t work, so I’m not sure that I would advocate, necessarily, for a Canada-wide education program, per se. I think context is so important, and that’s why I advocate for us involving local populations in determining the content of the information and messaging approaches that would resonate with them.

I think that educational resources, such as the ones that Marc Paris is here speaking about today, are a useful starting place. I think we also need to do work with our marginalized communities who are experiencing significant and disproportionate levels of harms to understand the specific needs of those groups, as well as certain groups, such as parents who experience mental health problems or substance use disorders themselves and what types of needs they have around the education with their youth. To answer your question, I don’t think a one-size-fits-all approach will work, and it needs to be tailored to local contexts.

Senator Munson: I always ask this question at this committee, but, in the Senate, we like to make things better. We like to make legislation better, to make it work for the country. Do any of you have an idea of amending this legislation to make it better? As you said, the train has left the station. It’s happening. It’s going to be part of the landscape, and so be it. Let’s move on. But are there ways that we can enhance this legislation? Let’s put it that way? Anybody who cares to look at it, I would appreciate it.

Ms. Jenkins: I will continue to answer. My concern is around the potential that the current legislation has to continue to criminalize young people, both for possession and for sharing cannabis with friends. I think we run the risk, as it currently stands, that those harms would still be disproportionately experienced by young people. I think that that should be looked at more closely.

Mr. Paris: Probably three wishes. First of all, there’s still a lot of discussion around drug-impaired driving and the measurement of impairment. The science is far from proven yet. That’s one area that is of concern, and we’re going to be having lots of people who have consumed cannabis who are going to be on our roads, starting possibly this fall.

Secondly, edibles, which right now is not part of this legislation, but the government has indicated that they’re going to review that, possibly a year from now. That, to us, is bringing in a substance, whether it’s gummy bears or muffins or whatever in the household, and that’s a serious concern to us.

The third one is the marketing. If we could walk away knowing that the government will commit to not opening up that Pandora’s box for 10 years, then we would feel we had done our job here today.

Ms. Valleriani: I would mostly echo Dr. Jenkins’ remarks around the criminalization of young people. I’m not sure if this is in the scope of the bill, but including some kind of amnesty or pardoning of convictions around cannabis-related arrests, I think, would be really important to kind of integrating more language around social justice in the cannabis act itself. I think legalization should be thought of as a social justice issue as well, particularly with its disproportionate impact on minority and Indigenous Canadians. I would flag that as something that I think really could use a lot of improvement.

Mr. O’Soup: As an Indigenous person, I think that our voice has been left out of this conversation quite a bit. I think we need to include that voice. I say that because I believe that solutions need to come from the community. It’s hard to create a solution here at the Senate or in Ottawa or in Regina, from our perspective in Saskatchewan. I believe that those solutions need to be community driven. I agree with what everybody has said, that, unless we actually take those solutions and bring them and support them and resource them from our communities, then we’re going to struggle. There’s not going to be any sort of pan-Canadian answer to this. But I support what everybody else has said as well.

The Chair: Before I go to round two, I’d like to explore with Dr. Jenkins the education, the way of getting to youth, to help give them an understanding of the implications, and the kind of evidence that would help them make an informed decision for themselves and do it in a way that the messaging would resonate with them.

You mentioned in your opening remarks that teachers felt ill-equipped to talk to youth about cannabis, in part because it’s a grey zone, not being legal. Of course, the schools come under provincial jurisdiction, but they do have the means to be able to put part of their education dollars into that system, and perhaps the federal government would be willing to help. How important is it to have the teachers better equipped to deal with this matter? As you say, it’s really multi-dimensional and it’s really not one-size-fits-all. I want to get a sense of how important that particular part of it might be to you.

Ms. Jenkins: Thank you for the question.

The majority of our youth populations do attend school, so it’s a great opportunity to have a captive audience, so to speak. The difficulties that teachers are experiencing within the legal grey zone is the fact that some of them have personal use themselves, but they’re operating within a context where it is illegal for adults as well as young people, where they are also privy to the misinformation that is so widely available to our population.

This legislation really provides the opportunity for us to educate both youth and adults, and those that are providing care and interacting with youth. Teachers are an important target of the education that we can do and, in equipping them with resources to engage in open dialogue, it’s not about having the right answer, so to speak, as much as being comfortable with engaging with the uncertainty that exists and creating a space to dialogue about young people’s experiences.

The Chair: Do you have any sense that the provinces are engaging in that possibility? They do have some aspects of Bill C-45 under their control, both legislatively and also in terms of policy and financial means? Are there one or two provinces that are doing it well that perhaps we should be looking at? We are going to talk to provinces, by the way.

Ms. Jenkins: Most of my engagement has been more at the municipal level or, for example, at the school board level. There are absolutely efforts to better incorporate both substance use education and mental health education into our school system. I think there’s an opportunity here to dovetail with some of the mental health education that’s happening and make sure this enters into our curricula. I think the schools recognize the role they have to play in providing that form of education to our young population. There’s an openness to that.

The Chair: What about the medical officer of health for Canada? What about our federal institution in terms of the educational factor? What role do you think it could play?

Ms. Jenkins: I think in terms of broad public awareness campaigns, there’s an important role to play, and then perhaps working with provinces to find local solutions.

The Chair: I have one more minute in my time, if anyone else would like to add something.

Mr. O’Soup: I was a teacher and educator in my previous life, but once a teacher, always a teacher, is what we say. I agree with Dr. Jenkins that education is a key component to this and using teachers in our school system because we do have that captive audience.

But there is a large proportion of these kids that we would miss if we just used the education system. There’s a large number of kids that are absent, that are truant, and, anecdotally speaking, a lot of those kids are the kids we’re trying to target here. That’s the thing. We need to find them where they’re at. Those are in youth centres, Indian and Metis friendship centres, in different places than in school. They might attend school once or twice a week and, if you’re lucky enough, that might be the day they get that drug or cannabis education, but we need to find them and we need to meet them where they’re at. Sometimes that’s not school. These are the most vulnerable kids and youth that we’re looking to educate, and they’re the ones that may be missing out if we just do it that way. I think we need to find other avenues to educate them.

The Chair: Good point, and my time is up. Let me go to the second round. Thank you for those responses.

Senator Seidman: Again, thank you for helping us understand some of the issues related to this legislation, which is really important to Canadians altogether.

I’m on my iPad here, and I’m on the Government of Canada’s website. They have a new website that’s supposed to answer everybody’s questions about cannabis. It says your cannabis questions answered, get the honest facts, cannabis health effects. If you go down here, short-term effects, long-term effects, how can cannabis affect young people’s health? It says youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis as research shows the brain is not fully developed until the age of around 25.

Then if you click on “youth are especially vulnerable,” it tells you health effects on youth:

Research shows the brain is not fully developed until around age 25. Thus, youth are especially vulnerable to the effects of cannabis on brain development and function. The THC in cannabis affects the same biological system in the brain that directs brain development.

Mr. O’Soup, I’d like to go back to the question about THC level. In your media advisory that you put out at the end of 2017, you did recommend that the harmful effects of cannabis be addressed by setting potency limits for cannabis products and that cannabis quantities and potency be restricted for those under the age of 25. Of course, that accords with what we read on the Government of Canada’s own website that the THC level has a direct impact on the developing brain and is especially challenging for those under 25 as a result.

You go on to say, “Similar to what has already been proposed for alcohol products, we recommend that higher taxation levels be applied to higher potency products.”

Could you help us understand what you are saying, suggesting.

Mr. O’Soup: For us, our mandate goes to the age of 18, but as a council and as we researched this, we came across some of the science. We’re hearing that there’s conflicting information on all levels. Some say no, some say yes. Our doctor over there said we can get equal piles. But our role is to ensure the safety and protection of children, so we tend to err on the side of protecting and safety. Depending on which side you end up on, my role is to ensure that those kids are safe and protected and to err on safety. That’s why we tend to slant ourselves to that direction. I would rather know in a year that we made a decision and we made the right decision than not knowing, and we made a safe decision for our kids.

It’s really difficult because we don’t have that legislation to cover 19 to 25 within our office, but we felt that it was important to protect those children as they transitioned into adulthood.

Senator Seidman: Sure, and that’s an admirable goal.

Ms. Valleriani: I wanted to add that when we’re talking about young people from 18 to 25, we also need to recognize that they are adults by every societal measure. They vote. They can own firearms. A lot of young people in their early twenties are starting careers and families. They’re making choices every day around their health. It seems more pragmatic to have these conversations with young people, make sure that sensible education is available and then have them make choices, as they do with anything else in their life that’s related to their health. It’s really important to remember that these aren’t children, that we’re talking about young adults.

Mr. Barnes: The latest news from NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which funds 85 per cent of the world’s research in addiction, is that the brain matures at 31 to 34 years old.

The Chair: There we go.

Mr. Barnes: And some never mature.

The Chair: We’re next.

Mr. Barnes: The fundamentals of neuroscience would tell us that three things are necessary: frequency, potency and content. You can’t look at potency in isolation of everything else. Is one glass of 80-proof booze more powerful than two glasses of 40-proof?

The Chair: It depends on what time you have between the two. Sorry, I had to.

Senator Petitclerc: I will ask a question, and I would like to have everyone’s answer, if possible. It doesn’t have to be a long answer.

Ever since we started to study this bill and everybody has become introduced to it, it’s been presented as a public health approach and policy. We hear often about two problems: the illicit market and the fact that our youth are among the highest consumers in the world. That really troubles me and many Canadians, you included.

I’m trying to get a bit of an answer in terms of how confident we can be, not only with the bill itself but with the investment and the added investment that’s been committed by this government in terms of awareness, education and research. This bill will also provide for research, and that’s never been done in the past. I know you’re not going to like me, but how successful do you think we can be with this approach if one of the goals is to not be the highest consumer in the world when it comes to our youth? How confident are we that this will in fact lower the consumption by our youth? If you’re not so confident, what else do we need to add to make sure that we do have success?

Ms. Valleriani: The first thing I note is that I echo the concerns. There’s kind of a tension between the elimination of the illicit market and ensuring that we’re protecting youth around access and availability. If you want to remove the illicit market, you kind of open the floodgates so that people can access the products they want in a regulated and legal market.

In terms of addressing this question around youth access and what we can anticipate, what’s really different from anything that we’re seeing in the U.S. is this really tightly restricted approach to legalization. I would argue that what we’re seeing in the U.S. kind of mirrors more of a commercialized approach, and I think our approach of starting small and opening it up — for example, moving to legalize things like edibles a year from now — is the right approach. That will help us monitor the impact on young people as well as the Canadian population health more generally. We’ll likely see a lot of promising results because our approach is different. We can learn things from the United States from particular jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis but also recognize that our approach is much stricter and premised on public health.

Mr. Barnes: We’re really stiff in how we police this problem, and yet we achieve number 1 and number 2 ranking in the World Health Organization literature. I don’t understand that.

Mr. Paris: And there is no answer. I support what you’re saying. We need to know more, and the only way we’ll know more is to forge ahead prudently, slowly and try to assess the impact it has over 12 and 18 months on different communities, among others, and also the levels of consumption. How many adults will start, saying, “Hey, you know what, I’m going to try this. Instead of buying beer this time, I’m going to buy a joint.” We don’t know that. We don’t know if it’s going to increase. We can see what’s happening in some states in the U.S., but we can’t necessarily say it will be the same here.

The way forward is prudence and lots of national study, which is something we’ve always lacked in drug studies. There are no national studies — very few. So we’re encouraging national studies, not just one province or another, because it’s always mixing apples and oranges.

Ms. Jenkins: We don’t know whether the outcome will be a decrease in use. We can be pleased to know that we are seeing a trajectory toward decreased use — or at least stabilization elsewhere. Beyond the use generally, whether somebody has used or not, we can start through legalization to better target the populations that experience harms from use.

Senator Omidvar: I would like to address this question to each one of you in turn. Whoever goes first, I don’t really care.

You answered Senator Campbell’s question on whether you support legalization. I want to go a little deeper and ask you about your views on age of access in the bill. The government has set it at age 18 and is allowing provinces to enact their own legislation. What is your position on what the age of access should be? What are the advantages and disadvantages of keeping it at 18 or raising it to 21, 25 or 34, as someone has suggested?

Mr. Barnes: Again, looking at the principles of addiction and the studies done in the States, a fellow by the name of Michael Dennis processes all of the data the federal government gets. They looked at data and found that the experimentation curve starts at 10, 11 and 12 years old. By 15, you’re really churning along at a good speed. You peak at the age of 18 to 21, and you go through a maturation process — you get married, you have a job, you have responsibilities. You don’t go out and get bombed every weekend with your buds. You mature out, but there’s still a large proportion that continues using. The sooner we can get people to shift the top of the bell curve over to the 21 marker as opposed to the 18 or the 15, the better off we will be in the residue that will become our permanent addicts and cost us a fortune.

Ms. Jenkins: The current system, where it’s illegal for everyone, hasn’t managed to effectively address adolescent use. The age of 18 is pragmatic, reality-based and helps us to not further criminalize young people’s use, which is happening at a mean age of 15 in most places in Canada.

Mr. Paris: It’s interesting that in the U.S., the minimum age is 21 for both alcohol and pot.

The Chair: Does anybody else want to weigh in on this?

Senator Omidvar: I want to get everybody on the record for this.

Mr. O’Soup: For the population I’m representing, the minimum would be 18, but I would have to agree with Mr. Barnes that if we base it on the research, when it starts to go down, let’s let those kids mature. For the kids I represent, it has to be at least 18. For me, that’s minimum, but I think it’s got to be higher.

Ms. Valleriani: I’ll again echo some of the comments of Dr. Jenkins. We’ve tried banning it outright. That doesn’t work to stop young people to access cannabis.

I also take the point about the age of access being 21 in the United States, but the key point there is that it mirrors their alcohol process, which is what we’re largely seeing across provinces.

Because 18 to 25 have the highest use and are also criminalized at the highest rate, we owe it to them to include them in a legal and regulated market. Points of access, such as sale and regulated stores, are the places where they hopefully can get education in harm reduction. That’s something that wouldn’t be available on an illicit market. Also the product information and tested and regulated access is important.

Senator Poirier: Just a follow-up from the first question I had about the education and age, when we had the minister here a while back and we questioned about how we are getting the education and educating the people on cannabis and the pros and cons and importance of it, there was a lot of talk about things being put out on social media. But last weekend when I was back home — I live in a small rural community — I spoke with students around 12 years old, Grade 7, and asked them, just out of curiosity, what do you know about cannabis? Do you know what it is? Do you follow social media? Do they talk about it at school? Is there anything they’re learning about it at school?

To my surprise, they knew it was a drug. They knew some people were out there smoking it. They did not follow social media and Twitter and things like that, and at school the teacher just said, “Don’t take drugs; it’s not good for you.” That’s as much education as they got.

Can you share with us what you think would be an appropriate age that we should start teaching? Right now we are talking about the 12-year-olds, and it’s the 12-year-olds I’m talking to. They can have the 5 grams and that’s where it’s starting. Obviously, in our minds, that means we’re saying there are already children at that young age that are consuming or have it. What would be an age that you would recommend that we should start educating? How can we go about providing the education that we need? If not through the home system, then some way through the parent system or, like you were saying, different organizations, and what age do you think we should start doing that?

Ms. Jenkins: As you’ve mentioned, with the legalization and the 12 years old, the earlier the better. Young people are largely aware of what cannabis is or it being a substance out there that people use. The opportunity to start engaging them as early as possible, in the early primary years, in discussions about this substance is important. It also helps to normalize that discussion and make it a part of normal interactions that a young person has with a parent so they’re comfortable coming to them later on in life about that issue. That would also help to decrease stigma that surrounds that and other mental health and substance-use issues so there is that opportunity to seek help more openly when needed.

Mr. O’Soup: I would say as a teacher, as a parent — and I would liken this to our mental health research on suicides. In our research, we found children as young as six years old dying by suicide. So when is too early? It’s never too early to start having that discussion. Of course, it has to be age-appropriate and at their level of understanding. We have to make sure that it’s not scaring them but educating them.

As young as people are being introduced to it, that’s as young as they should be educated about it. I liken it to the residential school system. Someone asked me one time, “How soon should we be teaching our kids about the residential school system?” I said, “Well, how young were they when they were taken away from their parents?” They were four or five years old. That’s when we can start educating them. I believe this can apply in this area as well.

The Chair: There is this provision in the bill that any underage youth who is caught with 5 grams or less would not be in any way criminalized or punished by federal law, but it does open the door to provincial governments to have some restriction. A lot of them are saying so far that they’re not going to allow even this 5 grams to be carried by underage youth.

A couple of them are suggesting fines similar to a young person having alcohol or some other substance, but I want to ask you about alternate ways. I want to ask you about a restorative justice approach. Would you see that as making some sense as well other than just fines? Is there some other method that might better get the point home?

Ms. Jenkins: One of the opportunities that a restorative justice framework offers, for example, is that opportunity to create a connection with a young person. That is one of the key things we need as well. A ticket, again, can disproportionately have adverse consequences for populations who experience socio-economic disadvantage, for example. Beyond just punishment, it doesn’t provide the opportunity to connect, to provide support, to do that one-on-one educational intervention that could take place with an approach where you have a relationship that’s formed.

Mr. Barnes: If a police officer has discretion to issue or not to issue the ticket in the same way that he does under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, that makes sense. But what do you do with a kid who has just been given his fifth ticket and the first four remain unpaid? Trafficking is his best source of supply to pay his fines.

The Chair: Restorative justice seems to get good marks.

Ms. Valleriani: Discretion has the potential to be very problematic, and that’s why we see particular populations of young people being disproportionately criminalized because there is a decision there that police officers are able to make on whether or not to hand out tickets. That’s why we see such a gap in who is getting criminalized for simple possession of cannabis. I would flag that ticketing can be one option that provinces are certainly reaching to, but we also have to be cognizant of what that might look like in terms of who is being ticketed.

Mr. O’Soup: Part of my role is to go into our youth corrections facilities where we see all of the kids up to 18 that are in these facilities. On an everyday basis, I have staff going in there, and the proportion of Indigenous children in there on any given day is 100 per cent. We really need to consider this group of young people as we make these decisions about them.

I love our police and the work they do, but there are a lot of issues when it comes to our Indigenous children. Ticketing and fining them will keep that target on their back. I don’t want to see any more of our kids in our systems. I can’t speak for any other province and the number of children and youth in their corrections facilities, but we are far overrepresented so we need to find alternatives. Even with the 5 grams, why is an adult allowed to do that and not our kids? I am trying to protect them, but I also don’t want them to fill up our jail systems because that just leads them into our adult correction facilities, and then we’re way over-proportioned there as well. We need to consider that.

The Chair: Smoking cannabis is the most common form of consumption of it. We have had campaigns for a number of years trying to reduce tobacco smoking among adults and youth, and there have been substantial reductions of tobacco smoking in our country. I don’t have any statistics particularly on youth. The Non-Smokers’ Rights Association thinks it has gone from 50 per cent in the 1960s to 15 per cent in 2013, which is a big reduction. Perhaps part of it is due to the packaging and the campaigns that have been held, and perhaps people just waking up to the knowledge of how harmful it is a key part of it, as well. Would these anti-smoking campaigns that we’ve had for tobacco work in terms of smoking of cannabis by youth?

Ms. Valleriani: I worked on a study during my PhD and we published an article in 2016 around the de-normalization of tobacco. A lot of it was linked to big policy changes in terms of packaging and the like, so those things are one tool that is effective in reducing rates of smoking. This project looked at four cities, and it looked at young adults’ tobacco use rates. What we found was one the most common reasons people reduced tobacco use over the long term was because the health harms were becoming increasingly known. It was actually the health harms that led to a drastic reduction in tobacco use, so I would say that while packaging and labelling requirements are part of a strict regulatory policy, that is just one piece. I think that education and harm reduction are the others.

Mr. Barnes: The other issue that you have to take into account is that nicotine is a different drug than cannabis. Cannabis is a hallucinogen. It’s a mood-altering drug. Tobacco does not alter mood. So for that portion of the population that smokes either/or and that population that is close to dependent or just getting there, you’re going to have a great deal more difficulty getting them off cannabis than getting them off nicotine.

Mr. Paris: I think it has to be part of the education piece and understanding that the body wasn’t made to inhale smoke. The lungs are not designed for that. They have to understand that there is harm in smoking versus other ways to consume.

The Chair: Thank you very much to all of you. This is the end of our first panel, so thank you for helping us with your answers to our questions.

Now, the second panel is going to come forward and take the table to help us deal, again, with Bill C-45.

I don’t want you to wonder about the panellist up here. There is an empty chair at this point for a witness appearing by video conference who is apparently stuck in traffic in Vancouver. I will introduce him and he will speak when he arrives.

Meanwhile, we have right here some people that are going to talk to us about their perspective on all of this. From Skylark Children, Youth & Families, we have Danielle Sutherland, Curriculum Development Manager; and from Eva’s Initiatives, we have Kristen Szekszardi, Advanced Peer Worker (alumni), and Grace Costa, General Manager, Eva’s Satellite. Welcome to all of you. As I said before, seven minutes, please. For this panel, we only have an hour, so we’ll have to keep tight on time.

Danielle Sutherland, Curriculum Development Manager, Skylark Children, Youth & Families: As the chair said, I’m the manager of Curriculum Development at Skylark Children, Youth & Families. I would like to thank the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology, and specifically all you folks, for the opportunity to inform the committee’s work on Bill C-45.

At Skylark, we collaborate with children, youth and families with complex mental health and/or developmental needs to enhance their well-being, resilience and capabilities. My role is to work with our Youth Harm Reduction Team, which is a team of six peer youth workers. I also facilitate our drug education programs, including SESSIONS, our 30-hour curriculum for youth who live in a world where drug use is common. I have facilitated SESSIONS with over 300 youths since 2014, and most of what I will discuss today comes from the youth that I have run that program with and also through our Youth Harm Reduction Team.

As we look ahead to the potential legalization of cannabis in Canada, and as we consider how this new landscape will impact youth, there are three core messages we want to highlight today. First, the approach to youth possession of cannabis must be focused on diversion and education and not on penalties and punishments. Second, efforts to educate youth about cannabis must be co-designed and co-led with youth and must be honest. These efforts should not be focused on abstinence or based in fear. Third, tax revenues from cannabis sales should be invested in treatment, support, education and research related to youth mental health and substance use.

Before moving forward, I want to highlight an important point. All the points I am suggesting today have come from the youth I work with every day. They are impacted by the current system of criminalization of substances negatively, in particular of cannabis. In addition, they have expressed concerns about how the current approach to legalization will further marginalize and impact young people.

Bill C-45 would decriminalize youth possession of up to 5 grams of cannabis. However, key questions remain about how young people addressing various amounts of cannabis would be treated under the Youth Criminal Justice Act. As we know, the consequences of having a criminal record include impacts on access to employment, housing, social stigmatization and economic status. Further, while Bill C-45 allows for under age possession under 5 grams, provinces have the ability to set a lower amount for youth possession. In Ontario, for example — where we’re from — possession of any amount of cannabis by an individual under 19 is prohibited and is grounds for a fine of as much as $200. In lieu of a fine, the court may choose to allow a person convicted of one of these offences to an approved education or prevention program. But shouldn’t education and prevention be the first response rather than merely discretionary?

Currently, racialized groups are overrepresented in the criminal justice system and a disproportionate number of arrests for cannabis possession under the current systems are among members of racialized and vulnerable communities. In each of these cases, we need to think carefully about what our goals are. If our goals are to protect young people and reduce harms associated with drug use and criminalization, we need to pursue the options that are most likely to succeed in meeting these goals. We believe that options that will allow us to succeed are based on education, not on penalties and punishment.

Youth are very clear about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to education and diversion efforts with respect to substance use, including the use of cannabis. In the words of one of the participants who attended SESSIONS:

Everyone else is trying to scare children into not doing drugs. I have been doing weed for three years. Here people tell us what the actual harms are. This program doesn’t try to scare you. I learn more.

Efforts in which adults focus on abstinence and youths’ fear of the potential negative consequences to deter these behaviours come across as dishonest. Youth is exposed to people, friends and adults who have used cannabis with no ill effects and in fact may have received benefits. Doctors prescribe medical marijuana. To emphasize only the harm often leads youth to focus only on the benefits and discredit those who state harms.

When asked about what the difference was between current school-based drug education and balanced drug education like our SESSIONS approach, one youth participant stated:

The school focused on the negatives, ignoring that drugs do have positives for some people and the reality that teenagers do drugs, but at SESSIONS they don’t say drugs are bad. They give us facts about drugs but, at the end of the day it’s our decision. They’re here to educate us so we are prepared if we do it. They’re more in touch with reality.

Education efforts in which youth and their peers, with the support of adult allies, can have honest conversations about cannabis are more likely to help young people understand why people use cannabis and what the risks are, which ultimately better prepares them for making informed decisions. After completing SESSIONS, youth indicated that they would use their knowledge or seek information to help them plan to stay safe while using drugs.

One of the benefits of potential legalization of cannabis is that it creates a new revenue stream for governments. This provides an important opportunity to invest in research and programs deeply connected to substance abuse. For example, the implementation and facilitation of the sorts of education and prevention projects I’ve mentioned come with a cost, but a very worthwhile cost for which we need funding. Community-based mental health and addiction support has a long history of being underfunded across Canada. Lack of resourcing in this sector has the consequence of making it hard for young people to access the support they need, often waiting for long periods of time as their issues intensify and become more challenging to manage. Cannabis is used to self-medicate untreated mental health challenges, increasing the complexity of treatment. There is also a significant need to better understand the effects of cannabis on the still developing brains of young people, particularly now with the prospect of legalization. Toronto Public Health stated that, to date, most of the research findings are inconsistent or even contradictory, and causal relationships have not always been established. It is important to make the most of this opportunity and use the new revenue stream for much-needed investments in these areas.

A significant proportion of our youth population currently uses cannabis and, should cannabis be legalized, we are likely to see more youth feeling comfortable with revealing that they use cannabis because of the destigmatization through legalization. With that in mind, I have tried to highlight three core messages over the last several minutes: One, the approach to youth possession of cannabis must be focused on diversion and education; two, efforts to educate youth about cannabis must be co-designed and co-led with youth and must be drug neutral and balanced; and, three, tax revenues from cannabis sales should be invested in treatment, education and research. As the committee considers the potential legalization of cannabis, we think it is essential that you examine these issues with a goal of determining how to protect and promote the well-being of young people in the short and long term and act strategically to do so.

I again want to thank the committee for their time and the opportunity to contribute to this process on behalf of the youth I work with. I look forward to the chance to answer any questions that you have.

The Chair: Thank you very much. You packed a lot into that seven minutes.

Ms. Sutherland: I know. I’m a very fast talker.

Kristen Szekszardi, Advanced Peer Worker (alumni), Eva’s Initiatives: Good day. I am a 25-year-old Advanced Peer Worker based out of Eva’s Satellite in Toronto. Today I’m here to speak about myself and the impact of marijuana use with youth.

I have been in and out of the youth shelter system for the last five years, in many of the shelters and transitional homes in Toronto, Peel and Durham region. When I first had to move into the shelters, I chose Eva’s Satellite for its harm reduction practices and stance. I chose to do this because at the time I was using many different substances and I wanted to get help without fear of being judged for my use. Unlike many other youth I know who used weed from age 14 or 15, I started young, using regularly by age 12.

Where do young people get access to marijuana and why are they using? These questions can be answered in many ways. Personally, I started using to fill some voids that I felt in my life. I grew up in a two-parent household but was pretty much raised by my babysitters. When my parents were home, they were tired from working all day. My parents split up when I was 13, and that may have been some contribution as to why I used. As an only child, I learned to entertain myself. I felt alone at home and alone at school, where I was bullied.

I don’t remember the exact moment I decided to start smoking, but I remember that it helped me cope. I used to try to make new friends, to have something to do, to fit in and to get attention. When I first started using, I learned, through my older friends and online, the risks and safety measures to take. I think this helped me use safely at a time when I was most vulnerable. Just because it was illegal then did not affect how I was able to get access to it. Young people today use for many reasons as well. From experimenting, to dealing with traumas, to poor mental health, to just wanting to fit in, the list could be endless.

By the age of 20, I had moved into the shelters after a brief stay on the street and staying with my friends. I moved out of my home because of conflict with my family and because of my poor mental health and addiction issues. Between the time when I first moved to a shelter and now, my usage and mental health has fluctuated. I’ve been to many programs and facilities to help me try to cope with life. What I found to work and still continue to work is smoking weed daily or every other day on top of social and recreational programs.

At Eva’s, I started learning about harm reduction through their peer program. I learned that me not using harder drugs and substituting it with weed is considered harm reduction. I also learned safe use and coping skills.

I believe that having peer programs in the schools, community support groups and educational workshops will benefit young users compared to being charged for something most young people do at some point in their lives anyway. Why would we charge a 14-year-old with marijuana charges when we really need to see why they are using in the first place and how we can help them make other choices? Through all this, I’ve never been arrested for weed charges. I think if I would have had charges when I was under 18, or even now, it would have held me back in my progress. The laws should be supporting young people, not penalizing them.

Living in the youth shelter, ages range from 16 to 24. In accordance to the laws being implemented, if I were to give my friend who’s under age 18 a joint or some weed, I could potentially be charged with an indictable offence. These friends come to me to get advice or use smartly, but now this law will put me at risk of getting a criminal record. Do I risk a criminal record or risk potential harm to an uneducated friend?

I’m working toward getting my security licence as well as becoming a community worker. This would severely hinder my progress and potentially close many doors for me.

These laws will have severe consequences for many people. Should you be charged for 6 grams because you are 18 years less a day while your friends get to have 25 grams more than you because they are 18 years plus a day?

I hope the government takes into consideration that young people today are the adults of tomorrow. To build a better tomorrow, we need to start with today. This includes education, support and concern for our well-being. Putting youth in jail will not help; it brings them down. Let us all rise together and hold each other up.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

Grace Costa, General Manager, Eva’s Satellite, Eva’s Initiatives: Because I have less time, I’m going to shorten Eva’s point. I am the General Manager at Eva’s Initiatives, a youth shelter in downtown Toronto. We work with youths 16 to 24. By the time they’re 25, they usually move out. I am the general manager at Eva’s Satellite, but we also have Eva’s Place, another crisis shelter, and Eva’s Phoenix, supportive housing with 50 beds.

Eva’s Satellite is specifically geared toward harm reduction. That means we have harm reduction services for 16- to 25-year-olds, both for residents who live there and with drop-in services as well. One of the Satellite programs I want to highlight is the SPOT program, which is the Satellite Peer Outreach Training program. It’s a peer-led educational program that is offered to youth who are active users, and it is meant to create leadership skills. It is also meant to teach young people how to use safely if they’re going to continue using. It also promotes practices that reduce and stop the transition of HIV, Hep C and sexually transmitted illnesses.

I want everyone to keep in mind that when they’re talking about harm reduction, abstinence is part of that continuum. Very often, when I’m talking about harm reduction, everyone seems to think that anything goes with harm reduction. Part of our work is around promoting abstinence for those young people who want to abstain from using any substance. I needed to highlight that.

Based on our experience working with at-risk and homeless youth, we disagree with the criminalization of youth for using cannabis. There are a couple of things I want to highlight. Our experience is that youth who begin using cannabis between 12 and 15 are not drawn to using it because of curiosity or experimentation. Their use is often grounded in experiences of trauma, violence, neglect, sexual orientation and marginalization, which includes poverty, discrimination, lack of access to services and family dysfunction, just to mention a few.

The trauma associated with being homeless adds to the stressors around which increase of use may happen. With the wider range of drug options, once they become homeless, cannabis becomes the less problematic option. It is often associated with cost, impact and danger of overdose, just to mention three.

For youth who come to us experiencing mental health issues, cannabis is often the less scary alternative to being diagnosed, labelled, stigmatized and rejected because of their mental health. Approximately 80 per cent of the youth in-house accessing shelter services or drop-in services use cannabis, and they tell us that they use it to reduce anxiety, mute the noises in their heads and escape from reality.

Young people most at risk for being criminalized under this bill are those who have low levels of social support; do live or have lived in care, group homes or foster care; have substance and mental health issues; and may have a history of criminal justice involvement — many of the youth we work with at Eva’s. We know homeless youth are especially vulnerable for being charged, they are more visible in the community, they often use in public spaces, they are perceived to be dangerous or problematic, and they may have a history of criminal behaviour as well.

The Chair: Thank you very much.

That was just in time for our final set of opening remarks. Via video conference from Vancouver, we have Connor Fesenmaier, Advisory Council Member with Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada. Welcome. Please make an opening set of remarks of no more than seven minutes, please.

Connor Fesenmaier, Advisory Council Member, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada (SAMC): Absolutely. The first thing I want to touch on is that if Bill C-45 immediately becomes law, Canadians will not be adequately informed of the situations when Health Canada states that marijuana should not be used. I’m from British Columbia. I am 21 years old, and I’ve been involved in this discussion for five years. I’ve spoken directly with hundreds of people, includes friends, family, people of my age and acquaintances. I’ve done a lot of talks at schools. The people I’ve spoken with are not adequately informed; they are misinformed and vulnerable. It’s the complete opposite. They have misinformation, have been lied to countless times and they believe it’s common knowledge.

This product should not be used as specified by Health Canada. Cannabis should not be used if you are under the age of 25; if you’re allergic to any cannabinoid or smoke; have serious liver, kidney, heart or lung disease; have a personal or family history of serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia, psychosis, depression or bipolar disorder; are pregnant, planning to get pregnant or breastfeeding; are a man who wishes to start a family; and have a history of alcohol or drug abuse, or substance dependence. This kind of product involves risks of health, some of which may not be known or fully understood. As serious warnings or precautions, Health Canada also states: Do not smoke or vaporize cannabis in the presence of children.

From all my discussions, almost nobody I knew had any of the information. I discussed it at the time with them. That included my friends, family, people of my age and acquaintances. Nobody at all knew even half of this information. I’m asking senators to amend this bill such that it does not come into force until there is evidence that most Canadians from all demographics and parts of the country know most of the situations where Health Canada states cannabis should not be used.

Thank you.

The Chair: That was definitely under seven minutes. Thank you very much for your opening comments.

Now we’ll go to questions, starting again with one of our deputy chairs.

Senator Petitclerc: First, I would like to thank everybody for their comments. My first question will be for you, Ms. Szekszardi. Thank you for your testimony. It’s key. We’re trying with this bill to protect youth, so to hear from you has been very valuable.

I think I know the answer to this, but I do want it on the record and I want to hear you on it. We talk about education. We have funding on education. We have this bill that is coming. From your experience and present involvement, how important is it that you and youth be part of the process of education? And that it is not only youth-centred but solutions provided with youth, by youth? Do you feel you are part of the process, and is it crucial that you will be in the future?

Ms. Szekszardi: The education I got when I was younger was basically what was said earlier today. It’s basically just your teachers telling you, “Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad.” But it’s a reality that people are going to be using substances, whether it be alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, other drugs. You can’t keep telling people drugs are bad. You need to start educating people about the risks and safety measures of drugs.

You guys were all younger at one point, and so I know for myself that I’d rather listen to people around my age when it comes to “telling them what to do or how to do things.” When you’re in school, nobody really pays attention to the teacher, as much as we’d like them to. I actually got to go into a high school and talk about different substances. I believe it was Grade 11 students. And it was surprising that a lot of them kept telling me the same thing: their teachers are saying drugs are bad, but most of them knew someone who did drugs or are doing drugs. They all just wanted to know how they can help their friends or how they can be supportive or, if they were to do it, what they need to do.

I believe people are going to start doing drugs at some point, whether it just be once or whether it be all the time. If they know the safety risks and how to do it properly and how to do it safely, then they will be able to use in a less harmful way than if they were uneducated. I don’t know if that answers your question.

Senator Petitclerc: Absolutely.

Maybe as a follow-up, I will ask Ms. Costa and Ms. Sutherland a question. You know the government has already funded education. It has committed to more funds in terms of education. My general question is this: Hearing this approach, which I feel you support, do you feel that it is enough funding to accomplish what is needed in terms of education? A simple question.

Ms. Sutherland: What I think is really interesting is what we’ve tried to do with the SESSIONS, a drug education curriculum that was informed and named by youth, which is why it’s kind of a cheeky name. I don’t know if you’re familiar but doing a “sesh” is smoking weed or using drugs. The whole thing is informed by young people. We have youth co-facilitators. The program is adaptable.

As much as I work really hard to build over the 30 hours a relationship with young people so that they are able to listen to me, I know that a young person can go in and have that trust a lot faster than I can, which is why we have been piloting over the last two years of having youth facilitators. It’s a lot of work to do that, and it costs a lot of money. We know that balanced education is important, so having young people part of those conversations and be part of that education process, whatever that looks like and however that’s formed, is completely central.

Ms. Costa: I have one small point. In the earlier session something said meeting youth where they’re at. It’s not about more funding. It’s where the funding is going. If the youth are in the shelter, I can’t have school programs funded in schools because they’re not going to schools. That’s the point. That’s what I’d like people to pay attention to. It’s not about more money. It’s about where we are putting the money and meeting youth where they’re at and starting there, because that is going to be how we engage the youth that are most vulnerable.

Senator Seidman: Thank you all very much for your presentations. Ms. Szekszardi and Mr. Fesenmaier, thank you both very much for being with us and sharing your personal experiences, which are really important.

Ms. Szekszardi, you shared with us important testimony, and thank you so very much for having the courage to do that. You say that you started young, using regularly by the age of 12. I’d like to know if there is some approach or some educational information that would have kept you from using cannabis at the age of 12.

Ms. Szekszardi: I’m not too sure about that. To be honest, with everybody saying drugs are bad, it kind of made me feel like, “Let’s try it.” I was never one that said, “I have to go get hammered,” because alcohol is legal. It was like, “Okay, why am I getting excited to do something legal? Let me do something illegal.” That’s a lot of kids I know. But then as you grow older, you start to realize it’s okay.

I just feel like it probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but it’s been helpful, as the years progressed, that I’ve been through more educational programs about my use and safety measures around my use instead of just telling me, “Don’t use.” Because people are acknowledging that I use and they’re trying to help me use safely instead of just saying, “Don’t use.” It’s hard to just stop. You want to use safely if you’re going to use in the first place.

Senator Seidman: So harm reduction is what you’re saying.

Ms. Szekszardi: Yes.

Senator Seidman: Thank you for that. I appreciate it.

Ms. Costa, in your written presentation to us, you said, “We want to reduce the negative impact on brain development in youth based on frequency and potency.” We know that frequency of use and potency of the cannabis used has an impact on young people’s brains, so you want to reduce the development of addictions as a result of youth use while their brains are developing. I think I heard you right when you said you promote abstinence.

Ms. Costa: It’s part of the continuum. For us, it’s having very real conversations with young people and saying, “What is the goal?” For some young people, when they first arrive, they say, “The goal really is just to continue this.” We say, “Okay, let’s talk about where this has led you. You’re here. Where is this” — meaning their chaotic use, for instance — “going to lead you?”

The truth of the matter is young people, when given a chance to pause — when they’re feeling safe, especially the youth we work with, because if they’re in the shelter, they’re now not having to worry about a roof over their head or food — we start calming them down in terms of the basic needs. Then we start engaging them, and it’s building the trust. Kristen can talk about what that looks like, what that feels like. Then we can talk about this chaos is not helping you. So can you move on the continuum? Some young people say, “My goal is to stop altogether.” Then there are referrals we make.

Again, it’s meeting youth where they’re at, not just geographically in the shelter but where they’re at in terms of their use and knowledge and goals, and being very real about that. Sometimes our harm reduction workers will say, “This is not going to serve you well.” So it’s not this idea that a young person has the right. We have to be honest: “This use of yours is not going to serve you well.” Then the young person may say, “Yeah, I hear you, but right now this is what I can do.” And we say, “Okay, let’s see where we can go with this.” That’s basically what it means for us in the shelter.

Senator Omidvar: Thank you to all of you. My question actually goes to the video witness, but I would like to thank you all, and in particular you, Kristen. There’s nothing quite like hearing about lived experience to ground our reflections.

Mr. Fesenmaier, thank you very much for being here. I’d like to ask you a question about cannabis being a gateway drug. You have published a report called Smart Approaches to Marijuana, where you make the conclusion that marijuana use could double opioid use. Your study cites a direct link between cannabis as a gateway drug to other drugs.

Before you answer the question, I should tell you that we’ve asked this question to other scientists as well. We asked Dr. Le Foll, the medical head of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, widely reputed to be a leading scientific organization, who said that there is no direct evidence concerning consumption of cannabis as a gateway drug. We asked Dr. Jenkins, who was here just before you; again, no evidence. Toronto Public Health, who I think came before us last week, made the same conclusion that there was no direct evidence.

Could you clarify this confusion for us, based on your findings and studies and what they conclusively prove?

Mr. Fesenmaier: I don’t have that specific study in front of me, but to pull from personal experience, I recently came out of high school in the last few years. Most people I know who have had experience with marijuana do move on to other drugs, even if it’s just to try or they try something laced in with it, but it is definitely a starting point.

It’s hard to gauge it as a gateway drug and to call it that way. It depends on the person, but I’d say it’s enough to point out that there are enough people to point to who always want to move on to something. Look at cocaine users. They did a study on this a while back. I’m not sure of the exact study, but what it did point out was that almost every single user had a history of marijuana use. It doesn’t necessarily state that marijuana is a gateway drug, but there’s a correlation there. We haven’t found that out scientifically yet, but for me, there’s enough evidence to point to the fact there is more to research there.

Senator Omidvar: What do you say to all the scientists who we’ve asked about cannabis being a gateway drug who have concluded there’s no direct causal relationship?

Mr. Fesenmaier: Honestly, I think it’s irrelevant. We would look at marijuana as what it is. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the substance you’re looking at that will cause a high. You build up a tolerance to it, and there’s a point where they’re constantly merging on to higher potency. But if you want to jump to it, that’s where the point is where you’re moving on to something stronger. My fiance’s brother did the same kind of thing where he started using marijuana and just wanted a better high. You go to that stronger potency, but at that point if you don’t want to keep looking for that stronger potency, you’re going to move on to something else. At that point it gets harder to find high-potency marijuana because it’s easier to find the less potent stuff, so they will move on to whatever next thing is available.

Senator Omidvar: Yes, the evidence that you’re citing is anecdotal and we have to weigh the anecdotes against the evidence. The study you cite in your own research paper concludes with a statement that is not mentioned in your report. When you read the study it’s at the end and it says:

Taken together, results suggest that the strength association between cannabis use and other illicit drug use may be driven by individual characteristics —

Like maybe in the cases you’re pointing to.

— rather than being wholly explained by a direct causal relationship.

So again, I’m trying to get at the causal relationship between use of cannabis and progressing to harder drugs or the absence of this evidence, and the scientists suggest to us that there is no evidence that links A with B.

Mr. Fesenmaier: I think I’m more or less I’m the wrong person to ask. I’m not really a scientist. I pull from the evidence I get from the scientists who work with Smart Approaches to Marijuana and the studies around us. I haven’t done that research myself. I’m only pulling from that, so it’s second-hand knowledge on that specific point.

You say it’s anecdotal, but in talking to the majority of my friends and personal acquaintances who have used marijuana in high school, they do talk about always finding a higher potency of marijuana. To me, that is the point where they look for something else. And if I’ve spoken to people before, that’s the same thing they bring up to me, that they want something stronger.

It’s not hard to think, “I’m already doing a drug, so I can move on to something else. How much worse could it be?” That’s the whole point: the whole pro-legalization idea is that it’s not that bad and when a young person, especially, gets mixed up in the ideology that it’s not that bad, it’s not hard to think that something else is not that bad.


Senator Mégie: Ms. Szekszardi, I really admire your courage in appearing before us. You said you wanted to use safely. In your opinion, what does it mean to use safely? That is what we are seeking with our youth.


Ms. Szekszardi: That’s a good question. To me, using safely would be knowing your limit. They do that whole thing about gambling and knowing your limit and staying within it or whatever the slogan is. I kind of put that into my use, whether it be drinking or smoking. Obviously, when I first started, I didn’t know my limit, but because of those older friends and the online resources, I started to learn. I’m this height, this weight, I’m this age and I could be able to take this much, and this potency might be stronger than this potency.

It’s basically just knowing your limit, knowing the different risks and knowing the different types. You can have an Indica or a Sativa and those are two different highs, even though they’re the same drug, marijuana. You can have either that mind high or that body high. For some people, that mind high works better than the body high, but for others the body high works better than the mind high.

Yes, it’s about experimentation, but it’s also learning from your peers, and that’s basically how I got everything done. I learned from my peers. I see how this person is acting when they do this amount, and I figured, well, I don’t really want to look like that. I just want to feel like this other person, who is just sitting there eating Cheetos and stuff. I want to do that rather than being paranoid that cops are after me. Let me stay in between that.

Know the risks of sharing a joint or something with someone who’s sick or someone who may have spiked your joint. You have to know where your sources are and where it’s coming from. I’ve always been like that. I like to know the person I’m getting it from, when they got it and what’s in it. I don’t like to let people roll my weed unless I’m there, because then I don’t know if they put something in it.

It’s all about being safe. When you get in a car, you put your seatbelt on. Not everybody gets in a crash every day, but there’s that chance that you could get into one. It’s the same thing with me and smoking. It’s not every day that I’m going to get paranoid, but there’s that chance that one day I will. I need to always know that when I start feeling myself getting too up there, basically, then I would just lower myself down.


Senator Mégie: Second, you said earlier that, when you were younger — precisely because it was illegal — you were drawn to marijuana. If we legalize it, do you think that youngsters of 12 to 14 might think the same way you did at the time? “It is legal, so we won’t touch it and we will find something stronger.”


Ms. Szekszardi: I don’t really think that they’re going to say, “Well, now it’s legal; let me stop using weed or cannabis or whatever we’re calling it here.” I’m going to keep calling it weed because that’s what I know it as. To answer your question, I don’t really think people are going to stop using because it becomes legal. I know that was just my perspective of things. Not everybody starts using weed because they think it’s an illegal drug and they want to be that cool person or whatever. That was my experience.

I do feel that, with decriminalization, we’re able to start educating people about their use and about the repercussions or just about how other people are going to act. Some people want to know information just because their friends are using, and they want to know why their friend is acting a certain way when they use and what they can do or what they don’t need to do. I’ve talked to some people who think that, when someone is freaking out because they’re high and paranoid, you should call an ambulance. That’s just going to make them feel worse, to be quite honest.

I think that people will just be more educated. I think they’ll use more safely, and they will be able to just understand it better.

Senator Campbell: Thank you all for coming today, especially you, Kristen. That was incredibly brave of you.

My questions are to Mr. Fesenmaier. I find it interesting that you say that people are being lied to about cannabis with some of the reports that come out considering that virtually everything you have told us today is anecdotal and not scientifically proven, as with marijuana as a gateway to opioids. Are you familiar with the Smart Approaches to Marijuana, SAM, report?

Mr. Fesenmaier: I’m familiar with quite a few of their reports. Be a little more specific.

Senator Campbell: The one Lessons Learned From Marijuana Legislation in Four U.S. States and D.C.

Mr. Fesenmaier: Yes, I believe I have gone over that.

Senator Campbell: It’s interesting, because I’ve gone over it also. This is a document that was circulated by some senators who went down and met with I guess it was Attorney General Sessions. Within this document, it covered a variety of areas, but I have to tell you that I have gone through the whole document and picked out those areas and, quite frankly, they don’t stand up to any kind of scientific criteria.

Perhaps you could tell me how much of your funding in Canada is done by the United States organization SAM?

Mr. Fesenmaier: Almost none. We work —

Senator Campbell: What’s almost none? That’s sort of anecdotal.

Mr. Fesenmaier: I wouldn’t know the exact amount. It’s a different division than me, but I do know our funding comes strictly from us and the work we’ve done. Money is coming both out of my pocket and from other members from Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada. It doesn’t really come from the United States. If anything does, I wouldn’t have a specific amount.

Senator Campbell: You’re a non-profit; correct? So there must be documentation with regard to funding that we could probably find without a lot trouble?

Mr. Fesenmaier: I suppose. I don’t see how this is relevant to the conversation.

Senator Campbell: It’s relevant to the conversation because one of the problems we’re dealing with in the Senate now is foreign entities influencing Canadian legislation, so I just was asking about that.

I’ll give you another example. For instance, in your report, you say that dispensaries — not that we are sure whether there will be dispensaries or not — increase crime in neighbourhoods. The real difficulty with that is that you took a single study, which was basically anecdotal. But, if you went and actually looked at a scientific study, in fact it says that, when they shut down hundreds of dispensaries in Los Angeles, crime went up and not down. In fact, in the areas where there were dispensaries, they would find that the incidence of crime had dropped. What are your thoughts on this apparent contradiction?

Mr. Fesenmaier: What I would point out with the dispensaries is it’s really the placement. It does, in a sense, draw —

Senator Campbell: I’m asking you a question about the criminalization. You state that criminal activity increases when you have a dispensary. I’m telling you that there is a report — and you can look it up; it’s Chang and Johnson, conducted in 2017 — that, in fact, it decreases in the areas where they’re allowed to remain open.

Mr. Fesenmaier: Are both of those studies from the United States?

Senator Campbell: Yes, they are.

Mr. Fesenmaier: One thing I want to point out is that if you look at the placement of dispensaries in the United States, they usually target areas like liquor stores and a lot of cigarette areas. In Canada and the U.S., it’s the same thing. They target minority groups. I was working with Will Jones on the United States portion as well. He mentioned that. That’s a key point when it comes to legalization as well. The retail stores will be targeting those areas. Now, driving up crime and everything, that’s not really a topic I focused on greatly. My main focus with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, more focusing on the youth portion, is about the harm done to the youth in Canada in regard to marijuana legalization.

Senator Campbell: Well, you should maybe try to get rid of that report then, because it’s not helping your cause at all. Thank you very much.

Senator Poirier: Thank you all for your presentations. Thank you, Kristen, for being here. It’s brave of you, and I appreciate that you’re here.

We’ve heard of so many different organizations that are out there, how they’re reaching out and able to reach out to so many different people to help them to have a safe haven, a place they can go, where they can learn the information, a shelter where they can go to, like you have taken advantage of, Kristen, and which has helped you in different ways.

But a lot of these places that we’re hearing from are organizations and facilities that are available in cities like Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal. I’m just wondering if you can share with us how you think we could help or how we can reach out because so much of Canada is rural. Even though we have a large population in the city, the same issues that you’re facing, that you’re dealing with in the city that has the capability of helping these people, we don’t seem to have much of that in rural Canada. I’m from a rural area, and I’m seeing it more and more. There is a lack in the system there.

Mr. Fesenmaier talked about reaching out to the youth and giving them the information. Here, we’ve talked about the facilities. I just want to know if you can share with me, the ones who own the facilities that work with these youth, do you have any outreach at all whatsoever to rural areas in Canada? And how can we help, or how can you help?

Ms. Costa: When I think of Canada and of rural, as in Toronto, we actually have youth from across Canada that come from both urban and rural locations, but these are youth that are in a particular situation, vulnerable and homeless.

When I think of rural Canada, again, I think meet youth where they’re at. Hockey seems to be a really strong connector, so why not look at an educational program that would be tied to sports or community events? Because school boards tend to have very rigid structures around how they educate young people, but to educate young people on harm reduction, where you’re keeping it real, you’re going to have a difficult time unless you force the school boards to approach it from that lens. But if you can’t do it there, then you have lots of opportunities within the context of a community to be able to engage young people where they’re at.

If it’s the hockey team, you have a young person come out and talk to the hockey team or whatever it may be, depending on the community. For me, that would be the key for us to explore in terms of how we connect in those smaller communities.

Ms. Sutherland: One of the things education programs can do, one of the things that ours has done, is look at how we adapt it. It’s adaptable to every community we can go into. It’s a program where we would work with something that already exists. Whether it’s a hockey team, a community health centre or a youth group — whatever kind of group it is — we can go in and work with them and bring our education program to them. It’s adaptable. That’s what youth have really told us works. As much as this curriculum works well with the 300 youth we’ve done already, we know that we can adapt it to fit the needs of the community that we’re working with. That’s part and parcel of why we’ve made the curriculum adaptable.

Senator Poirier: Is that information available to areas in rural Canada? Do they know you have this information and that they can reach out to you?

Ms. Sutherland: It’s on our website, and we try to market it. We are a medium to small children’s mental health organization. We get inquiries from people who found out about us. We’re trying to get it out there, but Canada is a big country. This is the first opportunity we’ve had to really talk to folks like this where we can really give you information you can take back to your communities. That’s why I put information about our program in there. It’s evidence-informed and informed by youth. It’s really a program we think has the potential for a national rollout, and it’s adaptable to every community we work with.

Senator Munson: Kristen, you’re not going to believe this, but I used to have long hair. I had a beard. I was 23 in 1969. I didn’t quite make it to Woodstock, but I tried. You might get the picture. There’s empathy here. But now I’m a mature senator and almost 75.

You brought up the interesting point I hope others can answer, and that was the age of under 18 and the whole idea of being charged with an indictable offence. It was the crux of what we’re trying to deal with here when you asked the question about risking a potential criminal record or risk harming someone because it’s handed over to a person under 18. The person 18-plus doesn’t get anything.

Can somebody tell me how we get around that in amending this piece of legislation? Do you have a view point, Grace, Danielle, Connor or Kristen? This is a real key issue, because someone talked about pardons, amnesty or dealing with it in terms of sitting around and having a conversation saying, “You did it this time, but don’t do it the next time.” I don’t know. It just seems like it’s a double standard.

Ms. Sutherland: One of the things we’ve suggested is education programs being the first rule. Don’t have penalties or punishments being the de facto opportunity. Instead, look at how we have conversations with people, send them to diversion programs — whatever those look like — and education programs, those being the de facto. Someone on the earlier panel or maybe a senator said we did a bad job of educating young people. Part of that is because when we educate young people from a place of fear tactics and harm-based information, they stop listening. They stop listening, and they don’t believe anything that people say — governments or educators.

If we start with education, and start with education for people who are given those penalties, that takes away from this criminalization. That’s really important for young people, because it’s true: If you’re 18 plus a day, you’re able to have 30 grams. If you’re 18 less a day, you’re only able to have 5, and in Ontario, you’re not allowed to have anything on you.

The Chair: Let me interject one thing in here when you’re further responding to this. I think most people are saying if a person in their 20s or 30s is giving to an underage kid and peddling this stuff to them, there should be a heavy penalty for that. But you’re saying that if they’re very close in age — a few days apart even — it doesn’t seem like it should be the same penalty. But where do you draw the line, then? How do you figure it out? I guess you have to do it on the facts of the case, but anyway, please further respond.

Ms. Costa: I was going to say within the context of the shelter, it’s so problematic because I have 16-year-olds who are friends with 24-year-olds and are within the contexts of their personal lived experiences. I think you’re the one who brought up restorative justice. Why are we not looking more at that as a way of dealing with an 18-year-old, for instance, who might be giving a 16-year-old in the shelter that, as opposed to the criminal charge that now becomes an additional barrier? That would be the key. I would love to look at what restorative justice would look like in those cases.

When it was mentioned that we should leave it up to the police to determine this, I can tell you right now that at Eva’s, about 80 per cent of our youth are Black, and I guarantee that for most of their interactions with police, they’re not going to be given the benefit of the doubt. We cannot forget that.

The Chair: We’re running out of time, but if you have a quick comment, Kristen and Connor, that would be fine.

Ms. Szekszardi: Basically, the whole argument is that if you’re over 18, you’re responsible and all that. I know a lot of people who are like 35 or 40 who are very immature — less mature than some of the 16- and 17-year-olds that I know. If you’re 16 or 17 going into a shelter, there is a reason you’re going into a shelter at that age. You’re not deciding one day to go live in a shelter rather than live with mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa. There is a reason. You’ve been through a lot. You don’t have to be old to have a lot of life experience. You can be young and live a full life in just a short amount of time.

Say a 20-year-old is giving weed to someone who is 16 years old. That 16-year-old may have more life experience and more traumas compared to that 20-year-old. It goes to show that I’ve helped educate my younger friends because they look to me as being about their age and I’ve been smoking for a while. They don’t want to ask the staff, or they don’t want to ask other agencies.

I feel that it’s about being able to ask someone your age or even just get it from someone your age. The whole point is that they’re not going to be able to go into the stores to get it anyway. They will get it illegally. I would rather give my friends some weed knowing that I got it from a safe source rather than them getting it on a street corner or in an alley somewhere from a disreputable source.

Mr. Fesenmaier: I do not believe for a second that legalization is going to completely or even in some part get rid of the black market. It will only change their target. Instead of targeting everyone, they will specifically switch to youth. You will look at both competitive prices, because it’s extremely easy to grow a plant in your house and sell it. Someone can easily do that and give it to youth. You can’t keep track of that. If there’s a grow op in a home, it’s the same: They’ll take that and sell it at mark up, because you can’t get it in the store. If you’re getting it bootlegged, regardless of who you are getting it from — adults to adults, youth to youth, adults to youth — it doesn’t matter where they’re getting it from. If someone is giving it to someone underage, as defined, there shouldn’t be any clarification or grey area. You’re consciously giving drugs to somebody underage who is not supposed to have those drugs.

I don’t believe in the decriminalization aspect that people in possession should be charged, but passing it off to someone underage regardless should be. At the root, it’s a public health concern. Overlooked in my initial speech was the whole aspect of this is that people don’t know who they’re getting into, especially kids. Anyone giving it to them, they’re taking advantage of a youth who is simply unaware of the health hazards of marijuana.

The Chair: We’re out of time. I want to thank our panellists, Connor Fesenmaier on video from Vancouver and the three of you here. You’ve all contributed to our understanding of this to a great degree. We appreciate that.

I will remind everyone that we are back here at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

(The committee adjourned.)

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