This site will look much better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Skip to Content

Cannabis Bill - Third Reading

I’m just going to raise some of my concerns again in this chamber. I do not intend to canvass all of my concerns, nor the issues that I think have to be properly addressed, no matter which way this bill goes. What I want to address are only two or three issues.

I think it is wrong to say there are only two choices. There are many choices. Societies change every day, and we do not know what the children of the future need, what the children are experiencing today. We are not equipped fully in this chamber, or elsewhere, to really understand the various lifestyles and situations that children find themselves in.

Anyone who has worked in social services or in the family courts or had anything to do with pediatrics will tell you that every child is individual. Every child has different needs. And not all of the options are available to all children.

For many years, it is true, we have talked about decriminalization. I think the public was engaged in decriminalization, and, slowly, I saw society move from saying that it is criminal to, “Perhaps we should consider decriminalization, particularly for young people.” But the government came very quickly to say “legalization,” using a term “recreational” marijuana as being acceptable.

This raises the difficulty that many Canadians who have e-mailed me — and there have been hundreds — who confuse decriminalization and legalization. It was really incumbent on the government to put forward fully and to address education before the bill. It would have made it much simpler. We don’t know what will work to make society better. Is it legalization? Is it decriminalization? Is it staying where we are, or are there other options? Other countries are exploring other options.

So I do not say it was a failed policy and now we’re going to have a good policy. The other policy may have failed. New policies may be just as much a failure in  5 to 10 years. That’s why I think we need the education, and I think that is why the concerns have been raised.

We cannot sit here and say we have the right option. What we can say is, if this bill is passed, we have a different option, but that’s why we should have moved so cautiously. Education should have come first, and that is only now being addressed. I worry about the people in between the education. I do not believe alcohol and prohibition and then legalization is a good example. I do not go back to 1910 and 1920. Society is totally different. What we learned is that we went along the way and changed our alcohol policies.

I look at one policy in regard to Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and what that has wrought. We weren’t prepared. We weren’t looking for the medical factors. Those of us who have had to work with children understand. Now, I worry about the brain damage that young people will have according to the reports that are coming out.

I believe the government has a right to introduce a law. They were, after all, elected by majority, and I submit that they have that right. But I also submit that they have a responsibility, as government, to implement such high-risk programs not as a work in progress but as an alternative and to show us how it will be implemented so that we can embrace the law. We can be part of it.

We are, in fact, in a democracy. Governments should be transparent and accountable. They should not just be transparent and accountable after the fact. I wish that we had more time to debate what Senator Lankin brought up.

We could learn from the past. White papers and green papers used to be disseminated to the public and the public could react long before the laws were implemented or drafted. I’m afraid not only did we not get the information early enough — and I’m not talking about the Senate; I’m talking about the public at large — but the public did not get the information early enough and did not get an opportunity to address their concerns.

That continues to be of great concern. How do we proceed from here? How are we going to educate the public? How are we going to deal with the issues?

One area that Senator Downe has been preoccupied with — and so have I — is illegal activity. It is a worldwide phenomenon. We can talk about stemming illegal activity by legalizing it. However, if you study the reports in the OECD and in all of our security environments, you will know that the criminal activity is a step ahead of us. We know that in our cybersecurity and in illegal activity. Those of us who have worked in the criminal law system will tell you that we will not eliminate illegal activity. We might slow it down and it may change, but it will be with us and we have to be ever vigilant. There is no panacea for illegal activity.

Finally, I have already addressed my concerns about international law and I will continue to follow up on them. As I stated before, and I’ll state it again, we are in a very tenuous world. Like-minded countries that we used to sit with are now not as abiding by conventions they have signed or agreements or policies. Every little thread that rips apart a convention is not what we want from the value system that we have and the international order that we have tried to build.

My final point is that the Senate has a responsibility under the Constitution for Aboriginal people. I take that responsibility very seriously. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and our section in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is not negotiable. It is a right. It is a right of the Aboriginal people. I am somewhat concerned that we continue to say we will consult in the future. We will make a promise. The words that bothered me most in the letter from the minister were “rest assured.” We have “rested assured” many times. I don’t think our Aboriginal people deserve to have to wait.

The message today is: These are not rights we are giving to the Aboriginal people. These are rights the Aboriginal people have. We must do everything in this chamber to assure that they have them and not wait for another day. Thank you.