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Marijuana bill another example of Liberals’ broken promises

The Woodshed

The Liberals made a lot of promises during the 2015 election. Who could blame them? A third-place party needs to shoot for the moon. But as electoral reform, lower small business taxes, stock option loopholes, modest deficits and on and on demonstrate, election promises are made to be broken.

So perhaps it should not be a surprise that the Grits are on their way to breaking a few more campaign pledges — a promise to base policy on evidence and a promise to improve parliamentary committees.

The evidence of these latest campaign reversals can be found in another half-kept promise — legal marijuana.

When it comes to legalization of marijuana, it seems that the Liberals will keep their promise — sort of. They pledged to legalize marijuana because it “traps too many Canadians in the criminal justice system,” because illegal weed funds criminal organizations and because legal but regulated cannabis better keeps drugs away from our children. So, in 2015, the Liberals promised to “remove marijuana consumption and incidental possession from the Criminal Code.”

But the Liberal’s proposed cannabis bill actually doesn’t do any of those things very well. Sure, the new legislation does legalize some marijuana — some of the time, under some circumstances — but it does not “remove marijuana consumption and possession from the Criminal Code.” 

In reality, the new bill is an unnecessarily complex piece of legislation that leaves intact the criminalization of marijuana in many circumstances.

An adult who possesses more than 30 grams of marijuana in public is a criminal. A youth who possesses more than five grams of marijuana is a criminal. An 18-year-old who passes a joint to his 17-year-old friend is a criminal. An adult who grows five marijuana plants is a criminal. And anyone who possesses non-government-approved marijuana is a criminal.

The new pot bill also continues to criminalize anyone under 18 who possesses more than five grams of marijuana — an activity that will be perfectly legal for adults. Nowhere else in the Criminal Code is a youth criminalized for an act that is legal for an adult. The disproportionate and asymmetrical criminalization of youth is simply counter-productive and an irrational criminal justice policy. 

These flaws in the cannabis bill were all detailed by multiple witnesses (including me) who testified before the Justice Committee.

And after 109 witnesses there were surprisingly few amendments.

First, let’s start with the three positive amendments that passed. Liberal MP Ron McKinnon successfully moved an amendment to add a Good Samaritan exception to the bill. The committee also amended the bill to legalize edibles within 12 months. And the ridiculous criminalization of cannabis plants that exceed 100 centimetres of height was removed (but even here politics was played as the NDP’s amendment was opposed by liberals so they could pass their own substantively identical amendment).

Despite these three reasonable changes, dozens of necessary and equitable amendments — in fact, every opposition amendment — were rejected by the Liberal-dominated committee.

An amendment to the purpose of the act to recognize that criminal prohibitions in relation to cannabis may have a negative impact on social determinants of health — rejected.

Amendments to actually remove marijuana from the Criminal Code or at the very least to reduce the impacts of criminalization including: increasing the amount of marijuana that can be possessed, preventing the asymmetrical criminalization of youth, reducing criminal penalties to bring them more in line with alcohol and tobacco and narrowing distribution offences to limit the absurd criminalization of a 19-year-old who passes a joint to a 17-year-old friend — all denied.

Despite the evidence, Liberals voted as a block against every opposition amendment.

The Conservatives pouted that they did not support legalization so they, too, robotically voted against every amendment — even ones with which they agreed — even with the full knowledge that the bill will inevitably pass in a majority Parliament.

So, how does the Liberals’ conduct prove that they have broken their promise to listen to evidence and take the parliamentary committee process seriously?

One short example.

Bill C-45 leaves dozens of minor marijuana offences in the Criminal Code. Under some circumstances, however, police officers can use their discretion to issue tickets instead of criminal charges. If the ticket is paid within 30 days, then the judicial record of the ticket and the court proceedings are sealed and cannot be disclosed to anybody. 

There is good reason for this protection as a drug record, even if it’s just a ticket, can negatively impact travel, employment, housing and full participation in many pro-social activities. 

But even if the police are blind to race and socioeconomic status when they make the decision to forgo criminal charges and issue tickets (spoiler: they won’t be), the new legislation is not.

If you are poor and can’t pay the fine in 30 days, your record won’t be sealed. Forget travelling south of the boarder and get ready to fail any employment-related background check.

The simple fact is that the ticket regime discriminates against the poor and will inevitably be found to violate the Charter.

This was the evidence before the committee. This was the evidence that the Liberals ignored.

The NDP’s Don Davies moved a minor amendment to fix the ticket problem. In short, he proposed that if a person can satisfy a judge that they are poor and cannot pay the ticket, the judge would have the discretion to treat their record in the same way as someone who could afford to pay the fine or the ticket.

It was a reasonable solution that was evidence based. Even the Conservatives thought so, at least according to Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu who said she agreed with the principle of Davies’ change, adding, “If you're poor, you shouldn't be punished for not being able to pay your ticket by receiving more criminality, or less privacy, or anything else.”

But the Conservatives voted against the amendment — because politics.

And so did the Liberals.

Are the Liberals against judicial discretion? No. Are the Liberals in favour of punishing the poor more harshly? No. Are the Liberals ignoring evidence, playing politics and refusing to improve their bill? Most certainly.

This is how a half-kept promise on marijuana legalization exposed two more times the Liberals broke their word.

But who’s counting?

  • Mixed messages is far from 'settled'

    "In April of this year, the Liberal government introduced bill C-45 that moves to legalize recreational cannabis use by July 1, 2018 to help decrease illicit sales and cover the high social costs of cannabis use. With the legalization debate settled, the Canadian population’s new largest concern acknowledges the impending risk of legalization increasing underage cannabis use."
  • Liberals are orchestrating the legalization of pot at the expense of science.

    Pamela McColl
    Both Bill C45 and Bill C46 should be abandoned outright. The witnesses who were called for the Standing Committee on Health were in most cases not the best and brightest from the world of evidence based science, but then the LIberals had no intention of opening up the can on the health implications and risks associated with this drug aside from passing remarks about cognitive development and the young. Marijuana is not safe for anyone at any age. Health Canada states that men should not use marijuana products if they plan to have children. This country's health watchdog acknowledges the science that links marijuana use to sterility, testicular cancer, to dna damage that is generational, and to sperm morphology. How does a government leglize a drug with this level of risk of congenital abnormalities ? The lead expert on this issue was invited to testify on Oct. 13th and then when the Liberals realized their mistake they uninvited him. They also refused to publish his five page submission on the public website operated by the committee. They did not want the public to hear that as marijuana use is sky high in Nunavat so are the top birth defects associated with marijuana use. Also not invited - Dr. Harold Kalant - one of this country's most prominent marijuana researchers, nor Dr. Philip Seeman who was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Science for discovering the dopamine receptors in the brain - both were available and willing. Dr. Stuart Gitlow past president of the American Psychiatric Association turned down - a youth member age of 21 from Smart Approaches to Marijuana Canada turned down. Instead they paid for Jodie and Marc Emery and Dana Larsen to come to Ottawa to testify - the Emery's out of jail on bail in Ontario - Larsen in trouble in Alberta with his "overgrow Canada" campaign. But wait it gets worse. The Liberals invited the pot industry to hold court - people who promote products like "Suicide Girl" and "Poison" and "Green Crack". That these entities have not been charged with the advertising of narcotics and will take over the market the way they want to using the internet makes those in the Liberal Government say they plan to control advertising look like complete and utter fools.