Members of Parliament are sparring over the Liberals’ legislation on recreational pot that’s set to come into effect by next summer.Debate in the House of Commons over the last two weeks has contained thoughtful critiques of the Cannabis Act from all parties.But for a handful of opposition MPs, reefer madness appears to have taken hold, with some warning of high school trafficking rings and children chomping down on weed plants in the kitchen.
Here are some highlights from the back-and-forth over the pot bill.
The Conservatives immediately went on the offensive.The party, while in government, generally only referred to weed as “marihuana” with then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper once describing it as “worse than tobacco.”MP Marilyn Gladu was especially concerned over the proposed law’s provisions that would allow teens under 18 to possess, and share, up to five grams of cannabis without facing criminal charges.“Does the minister not agree that this would put cannabis in the hands of youth? In fact, they would probably become the drug mules at the school,” Gladu decried.Her partymate Rob Nicholson shared her concerns.“How can the government ensure that children and teenagers will not be recruited by organized crime? I can see that is what is going to happen,” said Nicholson, who served as the foreign affairs and justice minister under the previous Conservative government.
Baby drug mules
The Conservatives aren’t the only ones with concerns — Wayne Stetski, NDP MP from British Columbia, worried that not applying the criminal code to teens in these cases could endanger them.The Liberals argued that while the law would drop criminal penalties for youth, it would still apply to adults who traffic cannabis. It even proposes a higher maximum jail sentence for those who share marijuana with youngsters. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and others repeatedly said recreational cannabis will be tightly controlled, just like alcohol and tobacco.
“Well if I was a drug dealer, all of my street people would be under the age of 17.”
But none of that convinced Alberta Conservative Jim Eglinski, who raised the issue again later on.“I have heard people talk about how the legislation will protect our children from organized crime,” he said. “Well if I was a drug dealer, all of my street people would be under the age of 17, and I would make sure they never carried more than five grams on their person. It would be a pretty safe way of doing business. That is the shocking part of it. The government has not thought about that.”This whole thing prompted Conservative MP Garnett Genuis, one of the youngest members of his caucus, to decry the bill as “Orwellian.”
One thing that really bothers Nicholson is that Bill C-45 will allow adults to grow their own weed plants. In his view, it’s a terrible thing to do in front of children.”Is there any easier way for young people to get marijuana than if their parents have four plants in the kitchen? Is there any easier way for them to have access than that?” Nicholson asked.“With respect to the four plants in the household, if the minister would refer to poisoning data,” Gladu added. “She would see that kids eat plants all the time, because their parents do not put them up in the cupboard.”While health experts have raised the issue of cannabis plants as being a hazard, there’s little evidence to suggest kids would eat marijuana plants at a higher rate than other house plants.
The justice minister rebutted that it’s up to people to keep potentially harmful substances away from children, as they should with alcohol and prescription drugs in the home.By the following week, Gladu had concocted an especially alarming home growing scenario.“We have already established that this legislation would put marijuana in the hands of children, not just with the 15 joints that 12-year-olds can have,” she said. “But with the four plants per household, so little Johnny can put some in the toaster oven and smoke it up.”
“Kids eat plants all the time.”
Though Bill C-45 doesn’t allow for cannabis edibles to be sold in the new recreational market right away — the government says it will look into it later — Nicholson wants it dealt with right away, by keeping them illegal.“Let us consider the dangers for young people who may come in contact with marijuana edibles,” he said. “I have seen photographs, as I am sure other members have, of these edibles. They are indistinguishable from candy treats or baked goods that are often found on the kitchen counter, in the kitchen cupboard, or even in a cookie jar, enticing prizes for young children.”
Quebec Conservative MP Luc Berthold recalled the time he met with high school kids to chat about weed. “I sometimes asked their teachers if they would leave the class because I wanted honest answers,” he said.
What the cool kids say
“I am not talking about statistics, studies, or bogus consultations.”
“I asked them how many of them had ever tried marijuana, how many had tried a joint, and how many had tried it just once. About a third of them, 30%, 35%, or 40%, depending on the class, raised their hands in front of their teacher or even their father. It seemed cool,” he said. “It is odd, because it is not all that cool, since only a third raised their hands. When I asked them if they supported the legalization of marijuana, even those who had tried it did not all raise their hands. A smaller number support the legalization of marijuana.”It’s this small sample pool that proves, for him, why the Liberals’ proposed law is flawed.“That is what young people are telling me. I am not talking about statistics, studies, or bogus consultations to justify an election promise,” he said. “I am talking about what young people are saying about this issue.”
Steven Blaney, who previously served as Canada’s minister of public safety and, more recently, ran for his party’s leadership, warned of repeating the failures of Colorado.“In Colorado, there have been not one, not two, not three, but seven devastating effects on the negative social costs related to the legalization of marijuana,” Blaney said. “Including increased consumption by youth, consumption at an early age, and increased numbers of arrests, people in emergency care, hospitalizations, and fatal accidents.”Blaney summed up: “Science shows that, contrary to what they say, it is truly devastating.”Blaney doesn’t cite his statistics, but some of his facts are off. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported last year that teen use of pot actually dipped after legalization, putting it below the national average. Although, he’s right in saying that emergency room visits have spiked since cannabis was legalized.But arrests in the state are way down. Between 2010 and 2014 (Colorado legalized limited cannabis sale and possession in 2012 and allowed for recreational sales in 2014) arrests for all marijuana-related charges decreased by 80 percent.