Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Social Affairs, Science and Technology
Issue No. 43 - Evidence - May 10, 2018
OTTAWA, Thursday, May 10, 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 10:31 a.m., in public, to continue its study of this bill, and in camera, to consider a draft agenda (future business).
Senator Art Eggleton (Chair) in the chair.
The Chair: Welcome to the Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
I’m Art Eggleton, a senator from Toronto and chair of the committee. I will ask the committee members who are here at the moment to introduce themselves.
Senator Petitclerc: Chantal Petitclerc from Quebec.
Senator Raine: Nancy Greene Raine from B.C.
Senator Deacon: Marty Deacon, Ontario.
Senator Mégie: Marie-Françoise Mégie from Quebec.
Senator Patterson: Dennis Patterson from Nunavut.
Senator Poirier: Rose-May Poirier from New Brunswick. Welcome.
Senator Seidman: Judith Seidman, Montreal, Quebec.
The Chair: Today we continue with Bill C-45, An Act respecting cannabis and to amend the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, the Criminal Code and other Acts.
We have three components to our meeting today, and all three are important. Panel 1 deals with the edibles and vaping aspects of cannabis. I will introduce the three participants in that panel in a moment. I want to point out that at twelve o’clock or maybe just before that, if we can do it, the steering committee membership of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade will be coming in for the second panel.
I want to draw your attention to what is noted as an in camera consideration of draft agenda. That will be important because I want to get your agreement on the process we will go through in terms of amendments or observations to the bill, which we will be doing on May 28. I recognize there is a timing problem and that people need to get over to the chamber for the Senate session at 1:30. There is also a big demonstration on the Hill today, apparently, and there is rain as well for those trying to get up there. I will attempt to finish this meeting by one o’clock and get all of the components in. However, that means I will have to tighten up a bit on the questions and answers. We need to keep them clear and succinct.
That is the outline of the meeting, so let us proceed.
Panel 1 is on the edibles and vaping aspect of cannabis control. We have, as an individual, here with us, Margie Skeer, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University; on the vaping end of things, from dosist, a Canadian company, we have Josh Campbell, President; and via video conference from Johns Hopkins University, we have Dr. Ryan Vandrey, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.
Let me start with our video participant, Dr. Vandrey. I ask that all opening remarks by our panel members be no more than seven minutes. Those presentations will be followed by questions from the committee.
Ryan Vandrey, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Johns Hopkins University, as an individual: By way of background, I’m an experimental psychologist. I do acute laboratory research with cannabis and acute dosing studies. We have done edibles and vapourization in our laboratory, looking at different dose effects, pharmaco-kinetics and things of that nature. We’ve also done product evaluation testing. We’ve also evaluated in our research cannabis use disorder, cannabis withdrawal as well as the health impacts of medicinal cannabis use.
I am here mostly to answer questions the panel might have of me about edibles and concentrates, but in reading through the law, I had some comments I wanted to make.
With respect to edibles, it will be important to consider a number of facets, including dosage, packaging and the food matrix you are allowing to be sold in retail stores, testing and quality control standards, as well as labelling.
To expand on those a bit, it will be important to have an informed establishment of a unit dose. How do you package, label and describe the dosage of a cannabis edible product? Is it by THC, is it by CBD, and does it include other constituent components of the cannabis plant?
The State of Colorado has led that area in the United States by establishing a 10-milligram THC unit dose for their edible products. That seems to have worked fairly well in Colorado. In my laboratory, a 10-milligram dose has been associated with a discriminable drug effect but not impairment on cognitive performance and functioning. However, if you have more than one dose and you get up to 20 or 25 milligrams, we do see some significant impairment and some adverse events.
With cannabis, there is a fairly narrow therapeutic window from where you are in a good place versus being in a bad place, from a subjective point of view — where you will potentially run into issues. I think that dose characterization will be very important. While 10 milligrams might be good, if you have a situation where people want to ingest multiple doses, you might want to consider something smaller.
Packaging will be important, not only in defining a dose within a package but also with respect to childproofing so you don’t have accidental ingestion of the products. That has become an issue in the United States.
The matrix is important. There are multiple examples in the U.S. of how that is achieved. In some cases, cannabis edibles are limited to gel caps, pills or capsules; in other states, you can have cannabis infused into popcorn, soda, chips, cookies, brownies, candy and anything else you can put in your mouth and eat. The question becomes: What do you do there? Do you constrain it, and if so, how?
The other thing related to that is whether it will be limited to prepackaged retail products or if you will allow things like restaurants to infuse dinners with cannabis. If so, how do you regulate that and establish what a dose is? How do you inform the patron what they are getting?
Those are all challenging questions from a regulatory perspective, and they beg the question that maybe we need to wait a bit longer than a month for all edible products to be put out onto the market. My challenge to this committee is what you will do to ensure that one year from now, when it is mandated that edibles get rolled into Schedule 4, you are more informed to make those regulatory decisions than you are now.
One of the big issues in the interest in this legislation from my perspective is that you are trying to eliminate a black market. If you don’t allow edibles and concentrates into this process now, you are not eliminating the black market. When I testified to a House of Commons panel in the fall, one of the panellists was a gentleman from British Columbia. He said that if edibles are not included, he will not stop selling them. He has a big client base and he was unapologetic about that.
You have to balance the intent of the law with your ability and capabilities to gather more information, preferably through funding cannabis regulatory science efforts in Health Canada or elsewhere. You have to think about whether you will be in a better position a year from now to make these regulatory decisions.
With respect to quality control and testing, each individual edible type, whether it be a brownie, a lollipop or a piece of gum, will have to have standards for testing and quality control. There will have to be a defined allowable variance for whatever it is that you think is important to test, whether that, again, be only THC or other cannabinoids. It can quickly get complicated. You will have to make decisions on what that is and whether that allowable variance is feasible within the matrix and big scale production, and also not artificially inflate dosing. If it is easier to fall within a 10 per cent variance if your dose is high rather than low and if you artificially inflate doses, then you run into problems with adverse consequences and adverse health events.
With respect to the concentrates, you see a similar kind of issue where you will have to be cognizant of the concentration, similar to alcohol. The higher the alcohol concentration in a liquid, the more difficult it is for the user to control their dose and use. You want to consider that the higher the concentration, the harder it is to titrate dose and, potentially, more risk of harm comes about. Again, I think you might want to be concerned with residual solvents and having quality control and all of the important things that are evident to regulate to minimize public health burden.
That concludes my opening statement.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Margie Skeer, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University, as an individual: Good morning, Mr. Chair and honourable members of the committee. I appreciate the opportunity to speak here today on the cannabis act.
By way of background, I am a social and behavioural scientist and I study adolescent substance use initiation. I also design interventions to prevent substance use initiation among adolescents and teach courses on substance use and addiction to public health graduate students and medical students at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.
Given that Massachusetts in 2016 voted to legalize recreational marijuana, I have been thinking a lot about this new policy that is coming down. I have been spending a fair amount of time trying to understand the public health implications of infused cannabis food products in particular as it relates to youth initiation and continued use. Right now in Massachusetts, it is legal to use marijuana and grow it, but not to buy it, so we will see an uptick in purchasing starting in July when dispensaries start to proliferate.
I realize there are several issues related to edible marijuana and, having reviewed some of the prior hearings, I want to focus on two key issues that are more specific to my areas of study. The first is accidental ingestion by children, as Dr. Vandrey mentioned, and the second is the intentional consumption by adolescents, even among those who will be of legal age to consume marijuana at 18, if that winds up being the legal age.
With respect to accidental ingestion, a recent study out of the State of Colorado demonstrated that there was a five-fold increase in calls to poison control centres and emergency department visits between 2009 and 2015, when recreational marijuana became legal. This is among children under 10 and was related to accidental ingestion of marijuana. Edible marijuana was implicated in over half of these calls and visits, the most common sources being baked goods, candy and popcorn.
Even with plain, tamper-proof packaging with pronounced symbols displayed on the packaging, children will still find these products and ingest them, particularly because they look like food they are familiar with and know. Cannabis-infused food products that are indistinguishable from regular food products outside of the packaging create a significant risk for children. You take them out of the packaging and it looks like popcorn, a brownie or a lollipop. Children won’t know the difference unless it is regulated. Even requiring that products such as gummy candy not be in shapes that appeal to children, it will still appeal to children because it is candy. To reduce this risk, the onus will be on caregivers to properly secure edible marijuana in their homes.
With respect to intentional consumption by youth, I know this has been mentioned before but I want to reiterate that there is robust scientific evidence about the relationship between marijuana use and adolescent brain development. The earlier teens start using, the greater the impact on their brain and their risk for developing substance abuse disorders later in life. We know that 9 out of 10 people with substance-related problems started using before the age of 18 — 90 per cent — and each year, research has shown, we can delay initiation of substance use. It has a long-term influence on the risk of developing substance use disorders over time for young people. This is a critical juncture we are in with respect to long-term disordered use of substances, including marijuana.
How does this relate to edibles? We know that research has shown that risk perception of edible use among teens is lower. Teens and adolescents who use marijuana perceive edible products to be of lower risk. Part of this is because there is a familiarity with these products. Many of them have used and consumed products that look, taste and smell like them since they were toddlers: brownies, lollipops, cookies. This is something they are familiar with, and that familiarity increases the risk of them being less inclined to think they are problematic. It is a much shorter leap between smoking a joint for the first time and eating a food product to get high. The perceived threat of products that people are comfortable with will be lower, even among adults as well.
We know from research that edibles are appealing to young people for many reasons. First, they say, “We don’t smell like pot, so we will reduce the risk that we will get caught from using marijuana.” They can be used covertly in schools and movie theatres and anywhere that food products are allowed. Even with regulation, people can covertly use edible marijuana products.
In addition, teens have admitted that they like using edibles — and girls in particular — because they feel less like drug users when they are eating a drug with a food product rather than smoking the drug.
My biggest concern about edible marijuana products is the sheer variety that is available even without elaborate packaging. Even if we are taking away any pictures, even if it is just plain packaging, the sheer variety of products available on the market, at least in the United States, is staggering. This reduces risk perception even further. With more products out there, it normalizes the drug even further.
When I was in Denver right before the 2016 election in the United States, I went to a dispensary, realizing that this was coming down for Massachusetts. The dispensary looked like a concession stand at a movie theatre. That was just the candy and baked goods; it doesn’t even come close to scratching the surface of what is available out there if you do even a quick Internet search of what food products are available on the market.
I absolutely understand the need to offer multiple routes of administration of marijuana, particularly in smokeless forms for people who do not want to smoke the drug. However, I believe that edible marijuana, especially in forms that are appealing to young people, even if they are not specifically designed to be appealing to young people, is extremely problematic.
For recommendations, outside of regulation, I believe that for public health efforts, prevention campaigns must target parents and other caregivers to properly secure their marijuana with a special emphasis on edible products with respect to accidental ingestion among young people and children. This is vital because risk perception among adults may also be reduced with marijuana-infused foods that they are familiar and comfortable with.
To reduce the risk of youth initiating and using edible marijuana products, I believe that we have to limit the types of products that are available, as Dr. Vandrey mentioned. If people wish to obtain oils or butters and make the products themselves, that is a different situation that policy-makers have slightly less control over. However, in my professional opinion, there is no reason that a recreational drug should be sold in the countless forms of enticing foods that young people are already familiar and comfortable with. As Dr. Vandrey said, potato chips, crackers, granola bars, pasta sauce, beef jerky, anything and everything — it is unbelievable the variety of products out there on the market that are available for purchase. There are contests to make the most delicious-tasting coconut cream pies, ice cream and, again, anything and everything. I believe that in order to control the distribution, the more we can do to limit the variety available for sale, the more control we will have over this over time.
Thank you very much. I look forward to your questions.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Now for our third speaker — and this will deal with the vaping aspect — from dosist, we have Josh Campbell, President.
Josh Campbell, President, dosist: Mr. Chair, honourable senators and members of the committee, thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Josh Campbell and I am the president of dosist.
On behalf of dosist, I want to thank the standing committee for the invitation to appear before you today as we continue this important conversation with respect to Bill C-45.
If you are not familiar with our company, we have been successfully operating in California since 2016. We use science and dose control to provide a consistent, repeatable, safe and positive experience around cannabis. California is the largest, most competitive and maybe the most complex regulatory environment for cannabis in the world. We have been in the market there for a year and a half, and that puts us in a unique position as we approach the passing of Bill C-45.
As you have been studying this, I am sure you realize there are perceptions and stigmas around cannabis that we as an industry have been working hard to end. We have been successfully navigating the space because of our innovative experience and our evidence-based approach. We are helping people and we are changing perceptions.
Our approach is simple: We focus on the customer while providing a safe and effective experience, and we focus on dose. Since our launch, we have been able to help hundreds of thousands of people in California, and our efforts have been recognized. Time Magazine named us one of the best inventions of 2016, referring to our efforts as “cannabis that could replace pills.” And this year we were named by Fast Company as one of the most innovative health companies in the world.
We are on the way to passing one of the most progressive and transformative pieces of legislation in our country’s history. We are excited and confident we will have a positive effect on Canadians, but there are certain measures designed with the right intent that are, in fact, preventing a company like dosist from coming to market and denying Canadian citizens access to important tools to manage their experience around cannabis.
In its current form, the most critical tool — dose — will possibly not be available until a year after the regulations go into effect because vapourizers and concentrates aren’t included from the outset.
At dosist, we have created the first and only scientifically designed dose-controlled cannabis vapourizer. When the law goes into effect, dose control devices like this will not be allowed. The dose pen is designed to specifically deliver a precise dose of our formula each and every time, guaranteed through three key features: optimized temperature control, controlled air flow and time control.
With our pen’s technology, customers know when they have consumed a precise 2.25 milligram dose of our formula. When using the pen, you inhale for three seconds and the pen shuts off. A user is alerted to the completion of a dose by a small vibration, similar to a toothbrush. No matter how hard you inhale or for how long, you will experience exactly the same results. You can only get this type of control through a vapourizer.
Cannabis concentrates have their own stigma, but concentrating cannabis is not simply or exclusively about “making it stronger.” It is a critical part of providing a controlled and consistent experience around the plant.
Let me say this another way: You cannot control the dose if you can’t control the ingredients in the plant. The chemical makeup of plants is volatile. It can change based on many factors, including growing conditions, harvesting methods and curing. When I’m seeking a therapeutic tool, I prefer consistency, and that requires processing. It requires concentrating the active compounds in the plant so we can recombine them to ensure the chemical profile is always the same, and in many cases reduce its potency.
Our product and science teams have determined the right balance of cannabis derived to create the necessary targeted formulas that deliver a consistent response while controlling the sometimes overwhelming psychoactive effects commonly associated with cannabis consumption. This is the first complete solution in cannabis, delivering a precise dose, regulating the volume and delivering a consistent formulation each and every time.
When the bill comes into effect and regulations come into force, this option should be available on the first day. Every day we wait is another day that people will turn to less safe methods or remain with the illicit market. We believe it would be beneficial for Canadians and the future of cannabis legalization to include regulations for concentrates and vapourizers as this legislation is passed and brought into force, not in some future round of amendments. If we wait a year for the appropriate regulation of vapourizers and concentrates to be enforced, we risk the illicit market proving and providing their own solution.
Members of Parliament at the Health Committee recognized this when they amended the bill to say that before the first anniversary of the day on which Royal Assent is achieved for the cannabis act, Health Canada must enact section 193.1 of the act or it automatically comes into force. They ensured this was added to the original version.
While we understand the government is grappling with a number of important issues around the legalization of cannabis, the current approach leaves a gap. Products like ours take a responsible approach to protecting public health, and companies like dosist are seeking to work collaboratively with government from the outset. Through immediate regulation, these types of products can ensure that the government is able to truly combat the sophisticated illicit market.
Dosist exists to empower people to manage their own health; to provide sustainable, plant-based tools that help people live healthier and happier lives. Dosage is the justification for everything we do and every product we create. As I said, we have been operating in California for over a year. We can safely say our products help people, and it is important that a product like ours exists on the legal market when increasing access to cannabis.
We are here to help make Bill C-45 the best possible bill designed to keep Canadians safe as we move closer to the legalization of cannabis. Right now, Canadians may need to wait a year after the regulations go into effect before a product like dosist’s is available. It is simply too long. We propose you ensure we have the tools available to combat the illicit market and help Canadians better manage their cannabis consumption from day one.
The Chair: Thank you very much.
Senators, I have a note here indicating that the Conservatives are having a caucus meeting at one o’clock, so we will have to tighten things up even more and finish by about ten to one. At this point, though, we will keep it to the usual five minutes, which includes both question and answers. The quicker the question and the quicker the answer, the more you will be able to get in during those five minutes. We will start the questioning with the deputy chairs.
Senator Petitclerc: I have some general questions. My first question is for Dr. Vandrey. I have two questions in one. First, how prevalent are edibles? How big is the market? I know you touched on this, but how popular is it in, your experience, or will it be?
Depending on the diversity of edible products, the complexity of labelling and having proper information on dosage but also how long it takes for the specific edible to take effect, it seems there is a lot of information that could be on each of these products. How complex are we talking about when it comes to providing proper information, depending on each of these edible products? Or is it simple but I am making it complicated?
Mr. Vandrey: No, you’re absolutely right, it is complicated.
To address your first question, the edible market is big. It’s not as big is inhalation, but I think, and I’m ballparking here, that roughly a quarter of cannabis users will ingest edibles. That estimated percentage is increasing over time. It’s not an inconsequential market in the U.S., and it depends on where you look to see what numbers you see. Edible use is normative now. The more you have access, the more people are going to use it.
In terms of the different types of products, I think that, without constraints, you’ll see hundreds of different food types and liquids being produced because, again, this is a capitalist market and companies are going to create something novel and new to try to corner market share. So you’re going to see variety just because you can.
What we don’t know very well is how important that matrix is in delivery of the dose. Hypothetically, we can say that if you take a pill and you swallow it and the drug goes directly into your stomach, you might have less and slower absorption than if you have a lollipop that you suck on where you get buccal absorption in addition to gastrointestinal absorption. But we have not done that research study to understand what the differences are there. That’s again an example where we need more research and regulatory science to inform these decisions.
The more variety you have, the more complicated the regulations become with respect to not only dosing and absorption but also with regard to quality control and test methods. You’d need to establish a standard procedure for manufacturing, testing and labelling a brownie versus a lollipop versus a soda versus popcorn versus a pill. The bigger it is, the more complicated it becomes.
The other issue that has to be considered, and this is something that came from a meeting I had with Health Canada last fall, is if it’s in a food product, do you label all of the food contents, ingredients and dietary information? Do you put the number of calories? Do you put how much sodium is in it? If you do that, do you then come into a situation where people are incorporating cannabis-infused products into their daily diet and taking them for dietary content versus just as a drug? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it’s something you have to think about.
The Chair: Very quickly, Ms. Skeer.
Ms. Skeer: With respect to your question about how popular it is, in the first quarter of 2014 in Colorado, which is the first year that recreational sales were allowed, edibles made up 30 per cent of the legal sales. By the third quarter of 2016, that grew to 45 per cent. So this is quite a large market.
In addition, a recent study with over 5,000 high school students in northern California saw that 72 per cent of lifetime marijuana users and 82 per cent of past month marijuana users reported having used edibles. So this is a big market and a growing market, which is what is so alarming to me.
Senator Seidman: Thank you all for much for your presentations.
I’d like to address my question to you, Dr. Vandrey, because I must admit that I became a little concerned listening to your presentation about quality control and THC levels. You’ve done some research on THC labelling of marijuana edible products. In fact, you published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. One of your findings is that more than 75 per cent of product labels misrepresent the amount of THC. First of all, that’s very disconcerting if people can’t count on a product label to give them accurate information. If there’s mislabeling on edibles, what is the likelihood of the same kind of mislabeling of product THC contents that we’re going to propose to have on dry marijuana products? My question around that is what can governments do to ensure that the labels accurately reflect the THC content? Would it be advisable to set a maximum THC potency limit for edible cannabis products, for example?
Mr. Vandrey: I think they are very valid points. The paper we published in JAMA was based on product samples obtained in medical cannabis markets in California and Washington. Again, those markets didn’t have really tight regulations about dosing, testing and things like that. That highlights the importance of having good standards for quality control.
Just because we found that most products were not labelled accurately doesn’t mean that they can’t be. I think what’s important is that the manufacturing process be fine-tuned to ensure, for example, that you know the exact potency with regard to THC of the source material that goes into baking a batch of brownies. There’s quality control processing to make sure that material is evenly distributed or that individual products are dosed specifically. For example, in my laboratory, we make each pot brownie separately so that we have a fixed amount of cannabis in it and we know the concentration of THC in that plant material we’re putting in each brownie. So we can get precision in our doses that way.
Again, this is a challenge that goes out to the manufacturer, but there have to be standards for ensuring that they do this, and there has to be oversight to make sure that when a product goes out and hits retail shelves and says it contains 10 milligrams of THC, that someone is validating that from batch to batch, the same way you would validate the labelling of any other drug, would be my guess.
Senator Seidman: Thank you. My question, then, is there something that government can do in the regulations down the road, which will come in a year if the plan is to make edibles legal in a year? Is there something that governments should watch out for to ensure this kind of manufacturing quality control and ensure it in the regulations? Should there be a maximum THC potency limit for edible cannabis products? I might address that to Dr. Skeer.
Ms. Skeer: With respect to being able to regulate how much is in each product, the government absolutely should have regulations around that. In the States, there are different states that have legalized recreational marijuana that have different levels of potency that they are allowing in products. I don’t remember exactly, but some require a maximum of 10 milligrams and some have a maximum of 5 milligrams. Part of that is because this is a pretty recent regulation. We are trying to figure out what those doses should be. The more we learn about the problems related to edibles, the more the regulations are becoming stricter, so we are seeing up to 5 milligrams. I think the Canadian government really does need to put a cap on what’s allowable in a product.
I do also believe, as Dr. Vandrey was saying, the problem with having higher concentrations even within one product is extremely problematic. So making sure that the manufacturers are held to task on that will be really important.
The Chair: Thank you. I must move on.
If any of the other panelists want to make a point on something, please show your hand, and if it works within the five minutes of the senator, I’d be happy to try to accommodate it.
Senator Mégie: My question is for Dr. Vandrey. In your presentation, you talked about an upper limit of 10 milligrams as the maximum dose that does not cause harm. Within that standard, harm would be controlled. In the documentation provided to us, there are standards in percentages and standards in milligrams. I would like you to clarify this. The percentage in 10 milligrams of one product might be higher than in 10 milligrams of another product. Could you explain that to us?
Mr. Vandrey: Sure. With respect to the difference between a percentage and a milligram dose, percentage is just the concentration of the drug in a matrix. When you’re talking about dried plant material, you’re talking about how much THC per mass is in that plant. When you’re eating a drug, the concentration isn’t really as important because you can control how much you eat.
When you’re talking about drug effects, milligrams is the more important thing, and THC is the predominant driving factor in intoxication and impairment in cannabis. So milligrams of THC is the most important thing to measure, label and control. There are arguments that other constituent components of the cannabis plant can mitigate some of those effects, but I think controlling THC dosage is very important.
With respect to how much THC you have and what kind of effects it has, there is a lot of individual variability there. When we did our research studies, we predominantly tried to study individuals who infrequently used cannabis so that we’re modelling the effects in a novice user. Individuals who use more frequently can develop tolerance to those effects and not have as many adverse effects or strong effects, very similar to alcohol or any other drugs. It’s important to craft your regulations to protect the infrequent, novice user but allow for more tolerant users to reasonably be able to get a functional dose, if that makes sense.
In our studies, a 10-milligram dose or less usually protects most people from having severe adverse effects, but if we jump up to a 25-milligram dose, we’ve had examples of people vomiting, having paranoia, anxiety-provoking experiences and other negative consequences. That gets even more frequent when we jumped up to 50 milligrams.
Senator Mégie: You said earlier that individuals who smoke regularly can develop a certain resistance. Are there people who consume a lot of marijuana and who do not react the same way as others because there might be an enzyme missing in their metabolism? Have you ever seen that?
Mr. Vandrey: Yes. Tolerance to cannabis and THC effects has very clearly been established. The more frequently you use the drug, the higher the tolerance and dose you can use to get a desired effect. This is just basic pharmacology. The more often you use a drug, there are neurobiological adaptations that occur such that a higher dose has less of an effect, and you have fewer side effects and adverse consequences.
There’s also just natural variability from one individual to the next, and there are genetic predispositions that can contribute to that variation, both with respect to neurobiology of the cannabinoid receptor system and with regard to drug metabolism. There are also sex differences, where females tend to be a little more sensitive to cannabis effects than males in several research studies.
With regard to dosing, again from a public health perspective, you want to be more conservative on the unit dose to protect unwanted consequences in individuals who might be trying it for the first time or might be more prone to adverse effects. That would be my recommendation.
Senator Raine: Thank you to all of you. My question is for all three panellists. Basically, if there is a desire — and in Canada it appears we have a desire — to provide legally regulated cannabis for medicinal and recreational use that does not require smoking because of the adverse effects of smoking, do you think our laws should be written to, one, limit cannabis use to non-food items; and two, require clear dosage with a cap?
Mr. Campbell: Thank you for the question. I’ll answer the second part of your question first, if that’s all right.
Absolutely, there needs to be caps. Obviously, we have a vested interest around dosage. We find the single biggest challenge around the medical community actually prescribing cannabis is there are currently no dose standards. There’s no unit of measure for it. That’s the most critical piece.
As it relates to your first question regarding the non-food aspect of it, we would agree that that requires further study. As Dr. Vandrey has alluded, it is a much more complicated issue as it relates to where that absorption happens, whether in the mouth or the stomach. The effects of it can be quite different, which we would agree needs more work.
Senator Raine: Why would we allow food, which sort of normalizes it and has all these problems? Why not, at this point, say not food?
Mr. Campbell: The challenge with that is a more policy-related one as it relates to the black market.
Senator Raine: We’re talking about the legal market.
Mr. Campbell: It’s a fair point, but if we look at the government’s mandate to stamp out the black market, it becomes challenging when the black market can provide a solution that consumers want. My perspective would be to allow for it and heavily regulate it so that food manufacturing standards are spelled out very clearly and then enforced after the fact.
Ms. Skeer: It’s a complicated question. I agree, to an extent, about needing to be careful about black market products that will come about if it is not regulated at the federal level. That said, as a preventionist, I have extreme concerns about edible products for many of the reasons that I stated before. I think if it is at all possible to very tightly restrict the types that are available — for example, if you said that you would be able to provide brownies, cookies and maybe one other thing, that opens it up to interpretation potentially, but it doesn’t allow for the variety. I think that would be very helpful, because then you can closely monitor and control the products that are on the market.
Mr. Vandrey: Just from a public health perspective, having alternatives to smoking a drug is important. Smoking things is just not good for you.
Again, with regards to the variety, I think the two other panellists have laid it out for you. From a medical use perspective, it’s much easier to say you can only have a capsule or pill. That makes sense because that’s how we deliver all other medicines. When we’re talking about non-medicinal use, recreational use, there’s no mandate that beer not taste good. These products in brownies, cookies and candy have been established. They’re on the market already, even though it’s the black market. There’s going to be a regulatory challenge in where you draw the line. If you can constrain them, I think it would be better, but there needs to be some research to evaluate this and to actually understand the market push and whether, if you offer a legal gel cap alternative, will that eliminate the need or desire for a brownie? Can you eat your pill and eat a brownie after? That might be acceptable to people if it’s legal and that’s what the law says. Again, there needs to be some kind of investigation into that to some degree.
The Chair: To follow up on that, if in fact we limited edibles to things that are pills, gels or whatever that don’t have the attractiveness of cookies or things like that, would there not still be a black market for these other kinds of products? Are people not going to want to look for those kinds of attractive edibles out there?
Mr. Vandrey: We don’t know the answer to that yet, so that’s the question. Pharmacologically, from a drug effects perspective, there should be no difference in the drug effects you get whether you swallow a pill or eat a brownie — but the brownie is going to taste a lot better and it’s more appealing. So if you had to choose between one or the other, you would eat the brownie every time, but if the brownie were illegal and you could go to 7-11 and buy the pill, you might do that.
Ms. Skeer: May I add something? In addition to what Dr. Vandrey just said, the more products that are available, the more it normalizes it. When we tell children as their parents, for example, it’s okay to drink alcohol, the children are going to do so because the parents are saying it’s okay. It’s available.
If we say here, have any kind of edible product that’s available to you, people will use it. If regulation says we are going to actually restrict this, it will send a message in terms of normalization. So yes, there may be products available, but we don’t believe they’re good for you and we don’t believe, from a public health perspective, that this is what our country needs.
Senator Omidvar: My question is for Dr. Vandrey. Thank you very much, all of you, for being here. Maybe you’ve already talked about this, but I need to hear it again. Have you talked about THC limits on cannabis oil and capsules? We already know that Health Canada proposes to impose a regulatory limit of 30 milligrams of THC per millilitre of oil, or 3 per cent; and cannabis oil sold in single units, such as capsules, will not contain more than 10 milligrams of THC per unit. In your opinion, is this a safe and reasonable limit, or should it be lower?
Mr. Vandrey: Given the data that I have and that I’ve seen and the experience from talking to folks in Colorado where they have the same limit in terms of 10 milligrams per unit, I think it seems to work. It produces a drug effect in most individuals. If someone is a frequent cannabis user and needs a higher dose, they can take more than one dose reasonably and get the drug effect that they’re desiring, so I think that would work. Maybe a little bit less would be okay, but I have not seen anything where 10 milligrams in an edible is going to be a really bad idea.
Now, I have not done work with oils, so I can’t speak to the 30 milligrams per millilitre in oil.
Senator Omidvar: Mr. Campbell, I was curious, you say you’ve been operating in California since 2016. What is your share of the market?
Mr. Campbell: It depends on how you define “share of the market.” We’re typically within the top three products in the market.
Senator Omidvar: In Canada, CAMH, which is our leading mental health institution, has suggested that ingesting cannabis through edibles or vaping devices is safer than smoking because it mitigates the risk to your lungs and to those around you. I wonder if both of you could comment on that.
Mr. Campbell: I can start on that. Smoking is a very inefficient vapourizer. Most of the vapourization devices on the market today are built on an e-cigarette platform. We’re suggesting there are dose limits and temperature limits within that to make sure you’re not burning oil. It’s actually a low-temperature way to ingest. In the work that we’ve seen and the research we’ve done, it’s significantly safer than combusting or smoking cannabis.
Ms. Skeer: I would agree from a public health perspective that ingesting marijuana rather than smoking it would be safer for many reasons — the lungs, the mouth and the environment. We also know that from other substances, the route of administration matters with respect to dependence, so the quicker the drug can get to the brain — and inhalation, smoking, is the quickest way — that has links to faster routes to dependence rather than ingesting or having a pill or a food.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you.
The Chair: I have a follow-up question for Mr. Campbell. I thought you said in your opening remarks that the kind of vaping device that you have would not be covered by the regulations that are forthcoming to deal with edibles and vaping. Is that what you said? Why is that? Is that because of the design of your product?
Mr. Campbell: It’s an interesting situation we find ourselves in. There’s the Tobacco Act, which has been amended recently to allow for vapourization devices. Our challenge is a couple-fold. There are half a million vape pens sold in Canada every year on the black market. We know the market is there. Our challenge with it is most of those are refillable devices. Ours is a single use, tamper-proof device, so we fall between the cracks of the legislation right now. In order for this to come to the market, we need to allow for concentrates. Within this device particularly, there are 200 2.25 milligram doses. In order to achieve that, we need to have a higher concentration of product. That’s where we need the ability to sell a self-contained, recyclable device that doesn’t require reloading.
The Chair: So right now, that falls between the cracks?
Mr. Campbell: Absolutely, yes.
Senator Poirier: Thank you all for being here and for your presentations. I think my question is going to be to Ms. Skeer.
In your presentation, you highlighted that edible marijuana is extremely problematic in many different areas, and you were extremely clear in your presentation about what it is. We’ve heard from all the witnesses we’ve had about the risk to youth from 18 to 25, about the development of the brain if they’re smoking marijuana. In your presentation, you also talked about a five-fold increase in calls to the poison control centre and talked a lot about that the children were under 10 years old, which was very alarming.
We understand and it’s very clear that an edible would be of higher risk for a child to have access to than smoking. Comparing the brain development of a younger child — they’re saying even under 18, the younger you are, the higher the risk. Is the risk as high for a child to be having edible marijuana than they would have if it would have been smoking? Is there a comparison? Other than all the other health issues involved with smoking — just the marijuana part itself.
Ms. Skeer: Are you referring to adolescents or younger children?
Senator Poirier: Children.
Ms. Skeer: With children, if this is a one-off situation where they get a hold of an edible and they eat it, under 10, we’re more worried about accidental ingestion through food. It’s less of a worry that a child under the age of 10 will find parents’ marijuana and smoke it. If it’s a one-off situation, we’re less concerned about the long-term brain development than we are about youth using regularly. We know that, even with alcohol, if the percentage of people who start drinking alcohol — and there are many comparisons with marijuana — before the age of 13, close to 50 per cent of them will use illegal drugs in their lifetime compared to those who start when they’re 21. Around puberty, the brain starts going through a massive restructuring, where it’s making changes and solidifying pathways, and marijuana interferes with that. So the earlier they’re using, the more that marijuana is interfering with those pathways being solidified and the brain’s restructuring to allow for information processing as they get older.
Senator Poirier: Whether it’s edible or smoking?
Ms. Skeer: Whether it’s edible or smoking. The primary difference is how quickly it gets to the brain; but if it’s getting to the brain, it’s getting to the brain. With consistent use over time, my belief is that it will have the same effect over time.
Senator Poirier: Dr. Vandrey, do you have anything to add to that?
Mr. Vandrey: Yes, I do. The difference in the route of administration kind of comes into the time course and the likelihood of over-ingestion. With smoking, the drug effects are immediate. Once you go too far, you stop right away. With oral ingestion, it takes about an hour for effects to start kicking in. Peak effects don’t happen until one to three hours later. What ends up happening, if somebody either accidentally ingests or doesn’t know what they are doing, if a six-year-old finds a pile of brownies, they’re probably not going to eat just one. You can have this overdose happen, and it can be much more severe and longer lasting. That is one consideration. In terms of brain development, if you give 10 milligrams orally or 10 milligrams smoked, I don’t see any reason why there would be any difference in brain development from that perspective.
The other thing that I want to just comment on is that accidental ingestion is not just important for kids. It can also be very important for adults, and that hasn’t been raised yet. I have been an expert witness on a bunch of criminal cases where people have accidentally ingested or been reported to have accidentally ingested a cannabis product, and they are adults. It can impact not only their health, with regard to cardiovascular effects, but you can have acute episodes of psychosis that can result in crime. Also, it can impact people’s job performance, just to throw that out there as well.
Senator Poirier: When you are eating something edible that has marijuana in it, does a brownie taste any different than a regular brownie? Does the candy taste any different? Can you tell that there is something in it that’s different?
Mr. Vandrey: In some cases, yes. In other cases, no. It all depends on how it is prepared. If you put a highly concentrated resinous substance in there, it doesn’t taste good, but if you have finely ground the plant material and mixed it in with a really rich brownie, you might not taste it at all.
Ms. Skeer: I would add that manufacturers are doing a great job of making it taste as delicious as possible. That’s their job right now.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
Senator Patterson: Thank you, witnesses. This is very informative.
Dr. Vandrey, you’ve talked about the 10-milligram-THC-unit dose as kind of okay. It doesn’t produce impairment. Could you tell us what dose would produce impairment, and what are the adverse effects as that dose increases? Can it even lead to death? What are the adverse effects as the dosage increases?
Mr. Vandrey: When I say 10 milligrams seems to be a good dose, it has been tolerated well in Colorado, and it has been tolerated by the handful of healthy adults in my lab who have been administered it. Ten milligrams is also an acceptable dose, and a therapeutically recommended dose, for Dronabinol in the U.S. So 10 milligrams is tolerated, but it doesn’t mean it’s tolerated by everybody. There are a lot of individual differences and variability in response to cannabis and THC. For example, individuals with a family history of psychosis or with psychosis have a much more exaggerated response and are more likely to experience adverse consequences than a healthy adult without that history.
With respect to the types of adverse consequences that can occur with cannabis or THC ingestion, most commonly, it includes, at higher doses, nausea, anxiety, paranoia, vomiting, hallucinations, dry mouth, red, irritated eyes and, in some cases, an actual acute psychotic state where people kind of dissociate and act in very unusual ways. Those are all time limited. They typically resolve within a couple of hours, sometimes faster. Again, it depends on the route of administration. For inhalation of the drug, the duration of effects doesn’t last as long as if you eat it.
But I can’t say with any certainty — you can’t say that about any drug — that one particular dose is going to be okay for everybody because people have allergic reactions. People can have greater sensitivities for a variety of reasons.
Senator Patterson: Is there research on the susceptibility of certain types of people to THC? This is maybe a bit of a sensitive question, but is there any research on whether certain races or ethnic groups have a different rate of susceptibility?
Mr. Vandrey: The data right now will tell us that females tend to be more sensitive than males. I am not aware of any research that indicates that there are any racial or ethnic predispositions that are reliable. There are hereditary differences. We see, very reliably, that people with a family history of psychosis, be that bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, things like that, tend to have exaggerated responses to cannabis and THC. There may be other genetic heritability factors related to expression of the endocannabinoid system or drug metabolism that can also contribute to that, but they haven’t yet been identified.
Senator Patterson: Mr. Campbell, smoking is very inefficient vapourizer, you said. The device you have is very efficient. What is the percentage of THC ingestion that results from the vapourizer you described? You say you’ve controlled the one dose very carefully, but is there not a danger, especially with a high percentage of ingestion or impact of THC, that people will just keep ingesting? They could ingest up to 200 milligrams with one of those devices at one sitting?
Mr. Campbell: Yes. They could consume up to 200 doses, but I would use an analogy from alcohol. You could buy a case of 24 beers and consume all 24 if you chose to. I probably wouldn’t recommend that course of action.
To the first part of your question regarding the percentage of THC, that varies highly, depending on which formulation. If you look to our high CBD formulation, there is very little THC in that product versus some of our higher THC products. You could be in the 70 per cent range. The important distinction to make is per cent concentrations versus milligrams of THC, as Dr. Vandrey pointed out.
Currently, the legislation is limiting the per cent concentration within oil. We’re suggesting we move that to milligrams per dose to make it more effective and more accurate to protect Canadians.
Senator Omidvar: I just have a curiosity. I’m looking at the device that you’re holding up, and I recognize it from somewhere else now. Is your device like an Epipen or a pill dispenser? I am trying to get my head around what it actually is.
Mr. Campbell: I am happy to pass one over to you. It’s unloaded. It is very similar to an asthma inhaler. That’s a close analogy. There are no buttons. There’s nothing to push on it. All you do is simply inhale, and the microprocessor within the device controls the flow.
Senator Omidvar: Is it childproof?
Mr. Campbell: In California, we do have child-resistant packaging that we require there. The device itself is not child proof, but the container in which we store it is child proof.
Senator Bernard: My apologies for being late.
The Chair: People can have a look at the unloaded pen, if you want.
Senator Bernard: I have two quick questions. The first is for Ms. Skeer. Edibles are sold in Amsterdam, but only in coffee shops, the public point of sale for cannabis. What are your thoughts about that system of only selling edibles in certain spaces? Could that work?
Ms. Skeer: I think that the more we restrict places and variety of types of products, the better it will be.
We are currently formulating the policies in Massachusetts, and things were on the table such as being able to sell edibles and marijuana products in yoga studios and lots of other places. The more we open the availability, I believe the worse it will be. Any time we can restrict it, whether it’s just in coffee shops or just in dispensaries or just in specific places, the better. The problem is how much those spaces are proliferating as well. If you have dispensaries on every corner, that’s a problem. It’s the type of places that will sell them as well as the proliferation of those places.
Senator Bernard: My second question is a follow up to Senator Patterson’s question to Dr. Vandrey with respect to research. It seems that you are doing analysis of the research by gender but not by race or ethnicity. Should there be such research conducted?
Mr. Vandrey: Absolutely. It’s not that we aren’t doing it, it’s just that we haven’t seen any differences of note by race or ethnicity yet. We also are not conducting studies explicitly to look for that. It’s more a convenience of evaluation. When we look at cannabis use disorder, we see it in all races and ethnicities. Where we have seen differences emerge, it has been in sex differences. However, we have not developed and conducted research carefully with the sole purpose of evaluating that.
Again, I will go back to one of the points I made at the beginning of this. My recommendation to this group is to empower Health Canada and CAMH to conduct these types of studies. Put funding forth to answer these questions with empirical data rather than just thinking about what might be the case. Make sure that a year from you will be better positioned to do that than you are now if the end decision will be to delay a rollout of these types of products.
Ms. Skeer: One last thought: Something was also mentioned by Senator Seidman earlier about how many milligrams. I want to point out that if we are talking about a portion size of 10 milligrams, if we say a brownie this big has four serving sizes, we have to be careful. Will people measure out exactly four serving sizes? Or, with a cookie, how do you break a cookie into the right portion size? That has to be part of the regulation as well, how much dose is in a portion size and how many portions are in each product.
The Chair: Let me say thank you to our panellists who have spoken on edibles and vaping. As you may know, and as my colleagues know, it is proposed by the government not to proceed with the regulations at this time. They are still in development of the regulations on both of these issues, and they are planning to put it into effect and publish the regulations in about a year’s time.
I might note, members of the committee, that the regulations are not scheduled to come to either a committee of the house or of the Senate. You might want to consider, when we get down to amendments or observations to this bill, whether we want to request that the regulations come here so we can go into the edibles and vaping issue in more depth. We have only had this one small session on it, considering that we are not proceeding with these products in the bill at this point in time. But, as Dr. Vandrey points out, meanwhile, the black market moves on in this area. We have said that we want to deal with that as effectively as we can.
With that, I will again thank the panelists.
I am now pleased to welcome our colleagues from the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade who have done a report, which we have in front of us. They will talk about that report for a few minutes. Please take 10 minutes in total. That is three of you into 10 minutes, please. That is what we have asked for everyone else. Let me welcome the Honourable Raynell Andreychuk, chair of the committee; the Honourable Anne Cools, deputy chair; and the Honourable Dennis Dawson, member of the steering committee.
Hon. A. Raynell Andreychuk, Chair, Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade: I will try to be extremely brief. I can do the overview, and my colleagues will add as to what the committee dealt with, et cetera.
On behalf of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade, I welcome the opportunity to appear before you and present the summary of our committee report. Our committee was authorized by the Senate to study the subject matter of Bill C-45 insofar as it related to Canada’s international obligations.
The committee held eight meetings and heard from 23 witnesses, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs as well as officials from Global Affairs Canada, Health Canada and Canada Border Services Agency. Other witnesses included legal and academic scholars as well as representatives from nongovernmental organizations. The International Narcotics Control Board, the body tasked with monitoring and promoting the implementation of the UN drug control conventions, submitted a written brief. The committee heard varying opinions, and this report is a result of the consensus that could be reached by members.
The committee was informed by witnesses, including the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that the passage of Bill C-45 will contravene the provisions of three international drug control treaties. In her appearance before the committee, Minister Freeland confirmed:
. . . our government recognizes that this proposed approach of legalizing, restricting and strictly restricting cannabis will result in Canada contravening certain obligations related to Canada under the three UN drug conventions.
I will not list the three; they’re in our report.
Witnesses then, in addition to the minister, expressed their views on the potential political and legal consequences of these contraventions. Most agreed that withdrawal from the conventions could not be accomplished at this time as this would have had to have been done well in advance of the bill. However, there was no consensus by the witnesses on a single preferred approach forward. Some suggested approaches to work towards decriminalization with like-minded countries. Others canvassed options towards compliance of the existing conventions. Still others felt strict compliance is necessary.
The minister again stated:
We do believe that our approach is consistent with the overarching goal of the conventions, which is to protect the health and welfare of society.
Overall, all witnesses, including the minister, agreed that the Government of Canada must address the contravention of the international drug control treaties.
You will also note in our report that the minister informed the committee that discussions are ongoing with international partners regarding Canada’s intention to legalize recreational cannabis.
In light of this evidence, the committee recommended, and I quote from our report:
. . . that the Government of Canada take such action that mitigates Canada’s violation of the three UN drug control treaties. The action to be taken should be communicated in a clear and transparent manner to Canadians, the Parliament of Canada and the international community.
Testimony surfaced on a number of other issues. One of them was the examination of Canada’s commitment to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, in particular, Canada’s duty to consult with Indigenous peoples, as indicated under article 19 of the declaration.
Testimony also surfaced regarding Canada’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the threshold for triggering criminal sanctions for youth possession versus adult possession.
The committee also heard testimony related to the impacts of Bill C-45 on Canada’s relationship with the United States, particularly related to cross-border issues. I’m not going to go in further detail there. However, education and information are crucial to addressing the cross-border issues. The minister stated that the federal U.S. position is not the same as the Canadian position.
I will turn to my colleagues.
Hon. Anne C. Cools, Deputy Chair, Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade: Very creative. Thank you, chair and colleagues for hearing us.
We heard some excellent testimony from very qualified witnesses, many of whom shared the same concerns. Our chairman has already addressed the essential questions: relations with the U.S. and the impact Bill C-45 is having on our treaty obligations with them.
Another group of witnesses raised concerns about children, in particular the whole question of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Some of their testimony was quite compelling, and I will cite one or two of them for you.
A lawyer, Gwendolyn Landolt, testified that by Bill C-45 not criminalizing youth between the ages of 12 and 17 to possess, distribute or share up to 5 grams of cannabis completely convenes article 33 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I was impressed by the number of witnesses who kept raising the question of Canada’s contravention of the UN convention.
Another witness, Grant Wilson, President of the Canadian Children’s Rights Council, noted that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child dictates that, because the Government of Canada is ultimately the guardian of all Canadian children, it should analyze, explain and monitor its own goals respecting laws that touch and affect children.
There was a lot of deep concern and a lot of appeal to our committee to act with more caution and also to move more slowly than the government has had us moving.
I don’t have anything further to say, but I am prepared to answer questions in general.
Hon. Dennis Dawson, member, Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade: You have about 80 years of parliamentary experience in front of you. This is probably the best experience I have had in disagreeing with some of my colleagues, but we did arrive at, I think, a reasonably balanced report.
We did not interpret everything that was being said the same way. I think, clearly, yes the minister and many, many witnesses accepted the fact that we are contravening international agreements, but that’s it. Some of these agreements were written in 1940 and 1950 and agreed upon in 1961. There was some thought, some request, that the bill be not applied until we renegotiated these agreements. This won’t happen. These agreements have been in a stalemate for 40 or 50 years and they are not going to change.
I participated at the UN IPU conference on this subject, and people have agreed to disagree. The minister clearly indicated that, in the national interest, we are going to accept the fact that some people will not be happy with what we do.
As far as the border situation, the witnesses that know what they are talking about told us there is not going to be any effect. This legislation will not affect how Canadians will be treated when they cross the border. Nothing in this changes.
What happens is we do have — and all the ministers have — a responsibility to educate Canadians on the consequences. Obviously they have to understand that they can’t cross the border, whether or not it is legalized, with marijuana. They have to recognize that if they are asked questions about their consumption, they have to tell the truth. This is not something we have necessarily educated them on in the past, and it has created problems for Canadians, not only in the U.S. but in other countries where they continue their habit of consumption even though they are not supposed to.
It was a very tough experience but we just agreed to disagree, and I am ready to answer some of your questions, too.
Senator Andreychuk: I have the scars to prove that, too, as chair.
I would add just one thing. The education on the border was very important, because if you are going to legalize it in Canada, as we know on passport controls, Canadians often think they are leaving the border with Canadian rights, and then they get into trouble in another state and find out that that law applies to them. The urgency of the education at the border is very important both ways. Thank you.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Right on 10 minutes.
Senator Cools: We also heard a lot of interesting testimony to the effect that cannabis is not a simple or harmless drug. It is, in fact, a very, very dangerous drug. We heard testimony to the effect — and I am sure that you have heard some of it yourselves — that it is a psychoactive drug, which means it has a terrific effect on the workings of the brain. Many people present cannabis as a reasonable drug that is not dangerous. They would have us believe that cocaine is the bad drug or that others are the bad ones.
The Chair: Our discussion today is on the international obligations.
Senator Dawson: One of the problems we had at the committee was getting witnesses to understand that we were dealing with the international aspects of the bill.
The Chair: It is time to go on to our committee for questions and answers, starting with the deputy chairs. We will try the five minute provision. At this point, it looks like it will work. It may not. Anyway, we will try the five minute provision. We need to finish in half an hour so we can go into the in camera session, so get your names down here.
Senator Seidman: Thank you very much to all three of you and to your committee for the work you have done on this. We appreciate it.
If I read your first observation and recommendation, you do say that the minister agreed at committee that three treaties were being contravened and that Canada needs to address this. My question is around that and Canada’s international reputation. What did the minister say about her concerns about Canada’s international reputation? Can we pick and choose which treaties are more important than others? What happens to Canada’s respect for the rule of law? Let’s start with that, please.
Senator Andreychuk: Perhaps I can start with that.
The officials, when they first came, said that the violations of the conventions were technical and that there was no plan to deal with them. The minister, however, said that it was significant and that she intended to address it. What she was not able to tell us — she’ll have to explain herself — was that she is now talking to some like-minded individuals, et cetera. Therefore, you can imply our first recommendation as saying it needs to be addressed, but we’re not quite sure how the minister is going to address it. We could not come to an agreement on how it should be addressed, so what we’ve said is it is a violation, the minister agrees and it must be addressed. That’s as far as I go with it.
Senator Seidman: I’m aware of my time. There’s something important you say in that first recommendation. You say the committee notes various remedial options available to the Government of Canada that were identified by witnesses. Could you just put on the record for us what kinds of actions were recommended by your witnesses?
Senator Andreychuk: There was no consensus from the witnesses. We had academics and constitutional experts and international law experts. Of course, they said there is the possibility of withdrawing from some of these treaties and then re-entering with a reservation. However, you have to be bound by what’s inside the convention. Therefore, if you have to give one year’s notice to withdraw, then there has to be a time to re-enter, and all of that goes on. Most of them said if in fact the government is moving with this bill, that one wasn’t going to work.
The rest were really debating on how you go about dealing with a contravention. Some said Uruguay legalized and there have been no penalties, yet the Narcotics Control Board continues to say that Uruguay is in violation of the conventions. So there was no consensus.
There were other models, like the inter se model, which has been used but in a negative, not a positive way. Basically what that is is you find those who are like-minded and start building a consensus in a negative way about the treaty. This would be in a positive way in the treaty. So the point is, would it work? Is it acceptable in international law? And there are many variations of how to do it.
That’s where I think the greatest disagreement is, because some of the witnesses said that Canada should just admit that we’ve violated them and start working on bringing the international community to that point, that they’re outdated and not valuable. Others said, no, that’s not how you go about it. There wasn’t consensus among the witnesses and there wasn’t consensus among the senators. So that’s why we’re in the middle.
Senator Cools: We actually produced a recommendation respecting some of this. Page 22 of the report states:
Your committee recommends that the Government of Canada take such action that mitigates Canada’s violation of the three drug control treaties. The action to be taken should be communicated in a clear and transparent manner to Canadians, to the Parliament of Canada and the international community.
But I want to impress upon colleagues that there was a lot of concern that Canada was going to lose a lot of its moral standing in the international community.
The Chair: Senator Dawson, do you have a quick comment?
Senator Dawson: That’s where we don’t hear the same things coming from the same witnesses. For us, first of all, there are witnesses who have international stature and credibility and those we just want to hear because they have an opinion.
Clearly, if it creates damage, we would not be reporting that the government go ahead and we’re going to contravene and educate people on that fact that we have to be careful.
That being said, the World Health Organization says we should be going forward with decriminalization. I would rather respect what the World Health Organization says on this issue than many organizations.
On the whole issue of the decriminalization of drugs, they said they’re not up to date. International agreements do not reflect the realities of 2017-18.
Senator Andreychuk: That is the crux of the matter.
The Chair: Sorry, we’re out of time. We’re trying to get everybody in here.
Senator Petitclerc: I would like to continue with a question about recommendation 40, which concerns me a great deal.
It pertains to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the group of children aged 12 to 18. I would like to know what happened in the committee in this regard. You recommend the adoption of all appropriate measures to protect the child against all forms of discrimination and punishment. I am not sure if you are suggesting there should be an amendment or at least a comment to that effect.
Senator Dawson: We are not proposing an amendment. Obviously, there is no consensus on this particular issue. Once again, we have to separate out the international aspect as regards children. Our mandate was to review the international conventions involved. We pointed out that this convention is affected. The 12 to 18 age group was not discussed. Other committees such as yours will study that.
Senator Andreychuk: The technical point was by Kathy Vandergrift, who has been working for years on the Convention on the Rights of the Child very closely with Landon Pearson, The fact is there will be a harsher penalty for young people than adults, and that contravenes a particular article in the convention. We were mindful of the fact that the Legal Committee is looking at the legal aspects, but we wanted it noted because they’re looking at Canadian law and the Young Offenders Act and all of that. She pointed out that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has implications when we start going there.
I would say just one other thing. The conventions are highly technical, and they are very difficult. Each one is unique. It is an exhaustive exercise to try and deal with them, so we noted that issue and drew attention to the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Senator Omidvar: Thank you. I’d like to ask Senator Andreychuk to please read back the last sentence because I didn’t hear it. It was the last sentence in your presentation about the U.S.
Senator Andreychuk: The minister came before us and there was a lot of discussion about nine states, and she put on the record that the United States federally has not changed its position on marijuana yet. It may. We hear different things every day from the U.S., and Canada’s position will be different.
Therefore, I think she was drawing attention to this because we want to know what this will mean for Canadians going over the border. The issues with the Canadian border were the result of the minister saying: This is the U.S. federal position so far; this is our position at this time, should the bill pass. And Canada Border Services Agency has engaged each other in discussions. Because if you say you’ve smoked marijuana or used marijuana and you answer the question truthfully, you could be put in a second line, which is what happens now. So we wanted to know whether this was going to change. There are discussions that they’re going to try to keep the border efficient, so those are ongoing discussions.
But we are concerned, and we don’t want people coming to the border being asked a question and not knowing the consequences. It is both ways, because you’re talking about Americans coming here and Canadians going there. We need that education.
Now I’m going to go off script. One of our witnesses said, “Do we put the signs about the consequences on both sides of the sign,” those coming this way and those coming that way?
When the question was put to, I think, a very professional border services agent, the question was put by one of our members, “If we admit we used it, they could stop us. So what should we say?” She took a deep breath and said, “Tell the truth.” That’s why education is so important.
The Chair: If you have a further question, you have time.
Senator Omidvar: I have a follow-up and I hope this is a quick answer. I’m curious about your list of witnesses. They all have experience in foreign relations; they’re experts. I don’t understand the expertise of REAL Women of Canada in terms of this report. Senator Dawson, could you answer that?
Senator Dawson: There’s one example where we certainly have to compare REAL Women — one of my colleagues would always point out that they are R-E-A-L Women because they are not more real than other women I know. The reality is that their expertise on some things they don’t know much about was evaluated as being the equivalent of international specialists on different issues. We accepted all kinds of witnesses because we were in the spirit of compromise and cooperation, and we wanted to be nice to as many people as possible. I certainly take that example as being an unbalanced type of — we tried to balance them out with other kinds of witnesses.
Senator Andreychuk: May I say they were called not because of any knowledge or work in Canada; they have recognized observer status at the UN. We got witnesses from our committee, we got witnesses from the Leader of the Government and witnesses who asked to appear. We had witnesses who couldn’t accommodate us in the time frame we had. We had a long list.
Senator Omidvar: Did you speak to the counterparts of the CBSA in the U.S.? I noticed you spoke to international law experts and institutions, but you didn’t really speak to the official government in the U.S., and I wonder why not.
Senator Andreychuk: That may be a good question. It’s time frame.
Senator Omidvar: Fair enough.
Senator Andreychuk: What we, first of all, wanted to ascertain was the position of the federal government, and we got it through our minister.
Senator Omidvar: Fair enough. Thank you very much.
Senator Poirier: I have one question, and it’s concerning the last recommendation regarding the Minister of Foreign Affairs to report to your committee on the actions taken by the Government of Canada to comply with the international convention. Could you elaborate what action the minister should take, in your opinion? And should the current government have done more prior to the legislation with regard to the international convention?
Senator Andreychuk: Well, we’re not the government, and we were very aware of that. The witnesses were not united at all, and therefore, what we want to know is that the minister is taking it seriously and is following through. She gave us the indication that she’s in early discussions. I think it’s incumbent on the minister to develop her strategy and come back to us, and we’ll see where that leads us both on a foreign policy aspect and a compliance aspect.
I think our committee was united in this. People have a right to know where we’re going on this, but not necessarily tell the minister what to do. It is a government option, and the government will stand and fall on their own options. This is where I think we backed off and said it should be done and come back and tell us what you’ve done.
Senator Poirier: Thank you.
The Chair: I’ve got a bit of a quandary here. We have six more people on the list. Six fives are 30 and we have 15 minutes, so I would suggest we go to three minutes. We do have the report in front of us, and there’s a lot of information provided in that report. So three minutes, colleagues. Is it agreed?
Senator Patterson: I have two questions, first of all, about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which I believe our government has totally endorsed. The Aboriginal Peoples Committee heard that consultation with Aboriginal people was inadequate, although there was some consultation. The problem was that it mostly took place after the bill was finalized. Does that fit in with the free, prior and informed consent in UNDRIP? Would that omission justify taking more time before the bill is proclaimed coming into force?
Senator Andreychuk: We were mindful that the Aboriginal Committee was studying this. We were mindful that we were looking at the international conventions. It was noted to us from the witness base that there is this obligation under the declaration, so it is noted that there should be free, prior and informed consent. We noted it because it goes to this committee to take everything from all the committees and sort it out. Beyond that, time wasn’t on our side. And secondly, we were hoping that the Aboriginal Committee, by noting it here at this committee, would simply note there’s an international declaration that impacts Aboriginal people.
Senator Patterson: Very quickly, secondly, you mentioned that Global Affairs Canada will launch a multifaceted education campaign about the risks of border crossing. Did they tell you how they are planning to communicate this type of messaging? And if not, should we slow this implementation down in order to put the required advertising and multifaceted education campaign in place before it becomes law?
Senator Andreychuk: I think there was enough disparity on the committee on the philosophy of why we’re doing this bill that I could not answer that question. I can answer it personally, but not as a committee.
What I would say is that we were universally in agreement: Education, education. Please do not not address this. It’s a security issue. It could be a terrorism issue. It could be just a vacation issue. It’s imperative that Canadians not be misled by thinking they can go now because if it’s legalized in Canada, I’m a Canadian and I can cross the border.
Senator Cools: Some will think they can cross the U.S. border with the drugs. That’s going to be hard for us to correct.
Senator Andreychuk: It’s a massive education program, as I think it was noted. We know in the Senate that education is a long-term issue.
Senator Bernard: I just have one quick question. I’m wondering, under the section around relations with the United States, was there any discussion about the reality that many Canadians are oversurveilled at the borders already and how this law might differentially impact them?
Senator Andreychuk: This is the conundrum. We don’t know what the reaction of the Americans will be. The government has said they’re engaging with border security. I think those are the kinds of issues that have to go into those discussions. We don’t know how this bill is going to roll out. We don’t know how Canadians are going to respond to it. We don’t know about the border issues. That’s why we’re on alert to say it’s important to deal with this.
Personally, I have dealt with so many Canadians who would take their Canadian passports and leave the country and think Canadian law would apply. Or their parents would call me when I was an ambassador, saying, “I know my rights. I want my child to get A, B and C.” And I would say, “Sorry, A, B and C doesn’t apply because you’re now in this country and they do X, Y and Z.”
Education and education again. We’re not sure where the government is going. These are questions that need to be put to the government.
Senator Bernard: Did any of the witnesses mention this at all?
Senator Andreychuk: I think it was raised, and if I go beyond that, we’re then into the differences.
Senator Bernard: Thank you.
Senator Mockler: I’m here substituting for Senator Manning.
With that said, I used to be a customs officer and I live a thousand feet from the State of Maine. Even when I crossed there as late as last week, both sides of the border customs officers asked me what will happen with the law and how will they treat it. I said to them, “Stay tuned.” I just wanted to bring to your attention that yes, there are some concerns and confusion.
I’ve also gone to other committees on Bill C-45. There is a dilemma and a problem, and I think this is where I can ask this question. We have hundreds of thousands of Canadians from the East Coast to the West Coast who have had a criminal charge in the past for one cigarette or multiple. I’m not talking here about the ones who are selling on the black market. I’m talking about people who the U.S. has charged them on a criminal charge and, as we speak today, they cannot go to the U.S. or to Europe because of that criminal charge.
With your experience and the people that you have met and the witnesses that I’ve looked at, has anyone touched during your study on how we could pardon those Canadians so the criminal charge by the U.S. would be eliminated and they then can then go to the U.S. and Europe as any ordinary Canadian not charged?
Senator Andreychuk: To answer that, it’s very complex, and whether a pardon in Canada will in fact be effective in another country, that’s one issue. No, we did not touch that. We knew that the Security and Defence Committee did. Again, we come back to there being a lot of questions that need to be addressed so Canadians can get the information, and that is as far as our committee went.
Senator Cools: On your question, Senator Mockler, there’s a statute called the Criminal Records Act that allows the administration of pardons once the subject has been crime-free for I think it’s a period of 10 years or something like that. So there are many entrances to pardons.
I was on the Parole Board so I know a lot about this sort of thing. Many people don’t know these legal possibilities exist until somebody tells them. It is not a hard thing for young people. The ones we must keep top of mind are the young kids, the younger people who have already had a bad experience and were charged. Unfortunately, this happens. Our government must tell these young people that that statute is available and allows them to apply to the National Parole Board for a pardon. Pardons are administered by the National Parole Board. I served on it and I recommended many pardons to the minister.
Senator Deacon: Thank you to all three of you for being here. You mentioned earlier that we do have an outdated legal treaty framework, so that may not be the best place to put energy at this moment, but I do wonder from an international perspective, knowing that Canada is the first G7 country to legalize cannabis, since there has been a shift around the world in cannabis policy, do you think this provides an opportunity for Canada to lead this community in this area of policy and reform policy? At this moment, have you had any discussion, thoughts or feedback through your witnesses that indicate Canada from this international effort is in a positive light, a negative light or no light? Could you help me out?
Senator Andreychuk: Again, you’re right into the difficulty the committee had. You commented that the conventions are outdated. That was the opinion of some of them. The rest said a convention is a convention and there’s a way to change a convention from inside. So there was no consensus on that issue with the witnesses nor the members. Therefore, should Canada be leading is a public policy question that we didn’t deal with because we couldn’t come to a consensus on it. There is also the issue of consequences, et cetera.
The somewhat longer answer than I intended is that it’s for the government to put in place the direction so that Canadians know. It’s in the backdrop of our committee that said in trade negotiations, in convention issues, more and more transparency and accountability is necessary. We’ve filed reports in the past on this. Therefore, our report simply says we’re not going to tell the government which way to go because we have different opinions, and we will, I suppose, express them on the floor of the chamber about what we should do, but the government must put something forward.
Senator Cools: It’s the government’s role as well. We are just a committee.
Senator Andreychuk: It is a diverse committee, as the Senate is a diverse community, so stay tuned.
Senator Mégie: My question pertains to the import and export of cannabis. Some witnesses said that nothing will change, especially as regards medical marijuana. With regard to recreational marijuana, however, I understood that transporting cannabis across an international border without permission will still be a serious criminal offence. What are the consequences for people who buy cannabis online and then have their order delivered by a delivery service? How will that work?
Senator Andreychuk: We called Health Canada just because of this issue. It arose indirectly. The officials came and stated very succinctly that you can only export and import according to a certain system that has been in place and will continue. It only covers medicinal marijuana and scientific. Their statement was that nothing will change. The other thing they said is that the definition of scientific probably not so much but on medicinal is within the purview of the country that defines it.
We talked about anything coming in. We were told, by whatever means, coming in for recreational purposes is not allowed and will not be allowed if Bill C-45 comes. The question is implementation.
Senator Cools: That’s the question on the minds of many people right now: Just how will it be implemented? We’re all eager to find out.
Senator Raine: I think my question was partially answered, but I’m more interested in the exports, because when you look at media coverage you see Canada poised to be the greatest exporting nation in the world of cannabis, yet we’re saying that’s only if the other countries allow it to be imported. This is medical.
Senator Andreychuk: Apparently there is some transborder medicinal marijuana coming in and going out and for scientific purposes. We did not get into the details. We did not have time. But we’ve heard a lot in the press — and that’s why we called them — about oversupply and undersupply. The question I posed is: Are we changing any of the rules? Health Canada says they’re in charge. There’s a directorate that looks after it. They said nothing will change. That’s what they say. They’re not at this time changing regulations or methodology.
Senator Raine: Thank you. It opens the question. To date, the lines have become very blurred inside Canada as to how you get a prescription for medical marijuana. Nobody is enforcing it and it’s a mess. Thank you. I guess it will be —
Senator Andreychuk: A work in progress.
Senator Cools: The government is obviously only in the first stages, the primary, almost primeval stages where all these major decisions and actions are awaiting government action, and we are just in a state of waiting to find out. I don’t think we can do very much about that fact.
The Chair: Thank you very much. It’s appropriate that the last question was asked by Senator Nancy Greene Raine. This will be her last meeting of this committee.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
The Chair: I just want to recognize, as I’m sure I do on behalf of all of you, her contribution to this committee. It really came to the forefront when we did our study on obesity. As one of our issues, we tackled advertising of food and beverages to children. She followed that up with Bill S-228, which is now winding its way through the system. It’s getting some changes and amendments here and there, but the substance of that bill that she put forward is intact and I hope will remain intact and be enforced some time soon.
Nancy, for that and for all of your contributions to this committee, thank you very much.
Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!
The Chair: With that, I will thank our colleague guests today for their presentations and their report. We have read the report. We have it in front of us. Thank you for your contribution to this endeavour.
With that, I will adjourn the public portion but colleagues, you need to stay because we need to determine out how this will go from here on until the end, including the amendments and observations. Aside from staff, if all could leave the room, I would appreciate it.
(The committee continued in camera.)