Last October, Canada became the first country after Uruguay to legalize recreational marijuana. To discuss some of the current policy considerations post-marijuana legalization, it is helpful to look back over this last year.
It was almost one year ago that the Senate began an intensive study of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, with five Senate committees studying the bill. Senators have the responsibility to hear the concerns of Canadians to ensure the best legislation is adopted.
That is why after hearing from about 150 experts and professionals as witnesses, including medical professionals, law enforcement, and Aboriginal groups, Conservative senators put forward amendments to the bill that garnered considerable support among Liberal and independent senators.
Nine Conservative amendments passed the Senate, but the government only accepted three of the less substantive amendments.
I put forward one of those amendments (that the government ultimately rejected) that would have ensured that organized crime groups do not use offshore tax havens to control the recreational marijuana market in Canada. Any company that is licensed to grow marijuana would have been required to publicly disclose all of its shareholders or members who are not based in Canada.
It still puzzles me that this amendment was rejected, since one of the stated objectives of the legislation is to reduce illicit activity. This confirms that the government is not really serious about cracking down on organized crime.
Deputy Chief Mike Serr, the co-chair of the Drug Advisory Committee at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, made a very concerning and worrisome statement in his witness testimony. He said: "We know that there are over 300 organized crime groups involved in cannabis distribution and production. It's a $7-billion-a-year industry. This is a huge issue. Organized crime will not just walk away from this issue."
If reducing organized crime from the cannabis market was an objective, a responsible government would implement screening mechanisms for recognized producers and suppliers that would prevent organized crime from infiltrating the legal distribution network.
I sincerely hope that the government is right in predicting that the cannabis market will migrate to the legal market. However, I have serious doubts about whether the government can provide such an effective service for the same price that criminals charge.
The investigative program Enquête recently found two individuals allegedly connected to illegal drug trafficking who appear to have successfully infiltrated Canada's legal supply chain. In response, the minister of border security belatedly proposed to expand background checks of board members of marijuana companies that are applying for licences.
But the question is: why didn't the government accept the sound policy advice originally made by senators on Bill C-45? The reality is that despite months of testimony from witnesses, the government gave short shrift to these recommendations simply based on political expediency.
The continued lack of public awareness campaigns on the effects of cannabis is another one of my concerns. According to the government, there has been a lot of public education to date, but why have I not seen it?
These are only some of the dilemmas that have arisen as a result of this poorly planned legislation. I have not even touched on issues like the inadequacy of roadside testing devices operating in cold climates. Some police forces have even stated that they will not be using the approved drug-testing device, and there are still not enough drug-recognition experts trained.
Our police forces must be ready to deal with possible drug-impaired driving offences. Canadians expect their government to adopt carefully thought-out, well-prepared, and well-structured measures. Obviously, this government rolled the dice when it legalized marijuana.
For the sake of Canadians, one can only hope that this year the government at least begins to catch up and close the serious problems it has created.
Lives depend on it.
Claude Carignan was the Conservative Party critic in the Senate for Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act. He represents the Mille Isles region of Quebec.
This article appeared in the Jan. 16, 2019 edition of The Hill Times.