Nathaniel Erskine-Smith

Your member of parliament for

Beaches-East York

Nathaniel Erskine-Smith

Your member of parliament for

Beaches-East York


Speech: The Cannabis Act

Read the full transcript of my thoughts on the Cannabis Act in the House here.

On May 30, 2017 I rose in the House of Commons to speak about the Cannabis Act that our Government has tabled. This bill is both necessary and good. My speech is below. As always, I want to know what you think; I am your voice in Ottawa. Always feel free to contact my office through email or at (416) 467-0860.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of the cannabis act. It closely follows the recommendations from the task force report of last December, and overall it is a public health approach that also treats Canadians like the responsible adults we are.

We talk a lot about protecting young Canadians in the House, and it is especially important during this particular debate. At the outset, allow me to spend some time to thank young Canadians, and young Liberals in particular.

In 2012, Young Liberals of Canada brought forward a resolution to legalize and regulate marijuana. That resolution noted that millions of Canadians regularly consume cannabis, that billions of dollars have been spent on ineffective enforcement that has resulted in expensive congestion in our judicial system, that progressive cannabis policies have been recommended by various commissions and parliamentary committees, and that the existing black market empowers organized crime. Young Liberals and the Liberal Party of Canada called for legalization and regulation, and that is exactly what we have delivered in the cannabis act.

We know that the status quo is unjust. Tens of thousands of Canadians are charged with cannabis possession every year. Whether or not it results in a conviction, it obviously negatively affects the lives of otherwise law-abiding Canadian adults at the border. Do these Canadians deserve criminal records? Do 43% of Canadians who say they have used cannabis in their lifetime deserve criminal records? Are they criminals? Do 15%, millions of Canadians, deserve criminal records for having used cannabis in the past year?

If I consume a substance and harm no one else in doing so, and do not harm myself in doing so, why is it a crime? There is a strong argument that it should not be, and that argument is grounded in the ideal of freedom. I know that Conservatives care about freedom. A lot of Conservatives care about freedom, because 49% of Conservative members voted for the member for Beauce.

The only explanation for the continued criminalization of cannabis is the idea that the social benefits of the criminal law will somehow reduce consumption and thereby help Canadian society and help others. The criminal law has been incredibly ineffective in doing so when 43% of Canadians self-report that they have used cannabis in their lifetime. We also know that the current approach of prohibition causes more harm than any cannabis use. The black market is empowered by prohibition, and we know that prohibition is the absence of regulations.

I am 32 years old going on 33, and no Canadian I know has ever had a difficult time finding cannabis as a youth. The black market has no age limit and no quality controls. We also know there is a better way. With tobacco use, we have seen a public health approach succeed, not prohibition but a focus on regulation, restrictions on public use, restrictions on commercial advertising, and a focus on education.

Fifty years ago, 50% of Canadians smoked tobacco. That number is now less than 15%. We do not write tickets to responsible adults for smoking a cigarette or drinking Scotch. We regulate and we educate.

Our approach to cannabis is driven by public health. There is a strict possession limit of an ounce; an age limit of 18, which provinces can set higher if they so wish; and a strict but sensible limitation on commercial advertising. In taking this approach, we recognize the potential harms associated with cannabis use, but we do not overstate them.

In January, the National Academy of Sciences released a literature review of the current state of the evidence and recommendations. Yes, we know there is an association between high cannabis use and psychosis. It is dose dependent and may be moderated by genetics. We also know there is an association between high alcohol consumption and mental health, and we are not criminalizing alcohol. Yes, we should seek to limit the harms of gambling, of alcohol, and of cannabis, but prohibition is not the answer. Our policies should not be permissive. Nor should they be fearmongering.

The leader of the Green Party recognized this as well.

We have struck that balance between Canadians as responsible adults and a public health approach. Legislation on this subject that satisfies a civil libertarian like myself and a former police chief, like my neighbour from Scarborough Southwest, is no easy feat. CAMH supports our public health approach, as does the Canadian Nurses Association.

I have a few comments from constituents of mine. One constituent, Mark Bartlett, says, “Education is the key here, education and not fearmongering, but based and grounded in facts, and education focused on responsible use. Abstinence is the absence of education. We should focus on responsible use that’s related to driving offences, related to the risk of addiction because of the frequency of use, and the potential for reduced academic achievement because of the frequency of use.”

I have a few suggestions from constituents related to this legislation.

It is a wonderful thing that we are removing criminal offences for five grams and under for young Canadians. My constituents are certainly skeptical of the value of any criminal records or criminal charges and the use of the criminal law for possession at all.

On the sale to minors, there is obviously an incongruity between the sale of alcohol to minors and the sale of cannabis to minors. A number of constituents have raised this, and it is not to be part of this legislation, but forward-looking record suspensions and amnesty.

I will end where I began. Once we pass the legislation, it is important to undo the past injustices of this incredibly outdated law and to suspend the criminal records of any Canadian affected by a possession charge and a record. This was part of the original Liberal Party of Canada policy resolution, and we should certainly see that policy through.

I have a few comments on the idea that it is driven by dollars, which I have heard from my Conservative colleagues from the other side. We have been very clear that this is not a revenue driven approach, as it largely was to varying degrees in Colorado, but it is a public health approach. We are not looking to maximize revenues; we are looking to undercut the black market. Where we do take in revenue at the federal level, we plan to spend it on treatment and education.

When it comes to the social harms of cannabis, and I cannot emphasize this enough for my Conservative colleagues on the other side, we can take as just one example the potential social harms of cannabis versus a substance like alcohol. We know from the large literature review from the National Academy of Sciences that there are obvious risks for women consuming cannabis during pregnancy. We also know, though, that fetal alcohol syndrom is incredibly costly to our society. Three thousand Canadians a year are affected by this, yet I do not hear anyone in the House proposing a criminal law or ticketing option related to alcohol. We know the answer is regulation and education, and that is exactly what the legislation proposes.