Mr. Brad Trost (Saskatoon—University, CPC):
Madam Speaker, I am going to enjoy getting involved in this debate, having listened today to many of the remarks that have been provided by my colleagues. I have listened with particular intent to what the Liberal members have been saying and what their underlying argument is for this legislation. The case they have been making in the House is that the legislation would lower usage, make it possible to make it safer, and provide more protection for young people, for people who are abusing, misusing, and getting involved in the marijuana drug scene.
Having listened to that, I specifically tailored my remarks to deal with it, in particular looking at the jurisdictions throughout the world—Uruguay, Washington state, and particularly Colorado—that have legalized this. I find it interesting that they have made arguments about it becoming safer, that it would be safer with the legislation, that there would be less usage, and that we would be able to bring down the usage rates by young people. It is interesting that when I am out in the general public and people talk to who want to see the legislation go through, they never talk about increased safety. They argue for wanting to be able to use their joint recreationally without any hassle. The push from the general public, the people behind the scenes, is somewhat different from the argument that the government is making today.
I will deal with the argument that the government is making today. The argument that, “I want to have my fun and I do not care about the consequences” is not one that I am prepared to deal with today. There is a basic argument for dealing with that on its own. The argument I will deal with today is with the facts, and I will be using a couple of studies in particular.
The first study I would like to refer to was sponsored by France’s National Institute of Higher Security and Justice Studies. The institute hired a psychiatry professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Erika Forbes, to look into marijuana usage around the world. The argument that the government is making is that, if we legalize marijuana, we will in fact have less usage. We have very few jurisdictions around the world that have gone for complete legalization, but there are three: Uruguay, Washington, and Colorado. It has been noted that in each and every one of those three jurisdictions, usage rates actually went up. In Washington and Colorado, the study says, usage rates did not move up uniformly in all age brackets and all demographics; they tended to move up more among adults than among young people. In Uruguay, the study found complete across-the-board increased usage of marijuana by every age cohort that was measured, the whole spectrum.
This is what we have. With what the Liberals are experimenting with in Canada, the experiment has been done in three jurisdictions and in each of these three times—from my perspective, not surprisingly—we have ended up with higher usage rates of marijuana. That is what I am anticipating as we go forward. If we legalize, as the other jurisdictions have, Canadians should not be surprised if we have higher usage rates.
On the question of whether I believe that will vary across the country, absolutely. The way the situation is now in Canada, if we read police reports and study anything about arrest rates and charge rates, we see that the usage rates in the Canadian public and the rates at which police charge and prosecutors prosecute vary dramatically across the country. Interestingly enough, according to one study I read, the place in the country with the lowest use among major cities was Saskatoon, where the police are also most likely to charge people; there is the most aggressive enforcement. Vancouver and Halifax were at the other end of the spectrum, both for youth who report usage and also for charge rates. There are different things that may be at play, but the government needs to think about this. Where the law is more strictly enforced in Canada, marijuana is less likely to be used. That would fit with the information that we get from the Uruguay-Washington-Colorado studies. Therefore, I would urge the government to look at this, because the very practical reality is that in some places in Canada it is almost legalized now. That is how slack the charge rate is.
Another thing that was noted in particular in the study paid for by the French institute of higher security was that marijuana poisonings have gone up in all of these jurisdictions. That is not something any Canadian politician wants to see happen. That is a problem across the board.
As I was getting ready for this, I found a report produced in October of this year on the situation in Colorado since it legalized marijuana. This is very fresh data. This report was produced literally a few weeks ago. For any members who are interested, I will try to have this posted on my website or on my Facebook page by Monday or Tuesday of next week.
The study pointed out that in 2006, Colorado was 14th among young people for usage of marijuana in the whole United States of America. In 2015, it was number one. It went from someplace above average to high, to being the place where marijuana was most used. In fact, Colorado currently has 55% higher than the national average marijuana, cannabis usage among young people. It found the same thing among adults. Colorado has about 124% higher usage rate of marijuana in general than the national average across the United States.
People who may be watching this might be thinking that they will use marijuana, that this will not cause them a problem, that this is not a stress for them. They may think their kids will not use it, or they hope they will not use it. However, let look at these statistics again.
Marijuana-related traffic deaths, when a driver was tested positive for marijuana, doubled from 55 deaths 2013 to 125 deaths in 2016. Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 66% in the four year average, 2013 to 2016, since Colorado legalized it. During the same period, all traffic deaths only increased 16%.
When we take out the marijuana-related traffic deaths, the roadway is as safe or getting safer. However, marijuana is making it more dangerous to drive in the state of Colorado.
Youth usage has gone up in Colorado, and it was a high-usage state already. We are not comparing someplace where there was almost no marijuana. Colorado was in the top quarter, or third, of U.S. usage among youth, and it continued to go up after the legalization.
College age usage increased 16%. College-age students usage, second in the United States usage, was in eighth position in 2005-06.
Emergency department and hospitalization marijuana admissions was up from 6,300 in 2011 to 6,700 in 2012, and to 11,400 in 2014, and was on track to blow past that number in 2015.
In literally every measure we look at it is getting worse. Colorado’s health system is getting worse; its driving situation for safety is getting worse; usage by young people is getting worse; usage by adults, the entire population, is getting worse.
The government has also said that it something like what it did with tobacco. Passing this legislation is not that. In fact, we could do the same thing about making marijuana more socially unacceptable, pushing marijuana back in other ways, in the same way governments have on tobacco over the years. We can do that right now. We do not have to legalize to go in that direction. In fact, if the government dropped this bill and went in that direction, I think it would find widespread public support.
Marijuana exposure has gone up. There are still criminal issues and all sorts of problems going on in Colorado.
I want to point to two final things. The other week I was at a family funeral in Saskatchewan. My uncle had passed away. I was visiting with a relative, who is a member of the Edmonton city police force. I asked him how many Edmonton city police officers wanted to have legalized marijuana. He said , “Us guys on the streets, absolutely none.” That tells us what the people on the front lines are thinking.
Finally, if we are to deal with drug problems in Canada, we have to deal with them in a broad-based culture, not just in Parliament but across the country. We need to do this not just now, but in perpetuity.
Robert Kitchen (Souris—Moose Mountain):
Madam Speaker, my colleague talked about unintended consequences. I am interested to hear his comments on Canadians who go to the U.S. I bring that up because one of my constituents, a good friend of mine, went to Las Vegas. I know he does not have anything to do with drugs or marijuana. He smelled something strange in his hotel room. When he went to the airport, the sniffer dogs found traces of marijuana on him. He was pulled aside and embarrassed, while the dogs went through his bags. He was being accused of something he did not do.
Could my hon. colleague comment on other actions that may happen?
Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University):
This is a perfect question, Madam Speaker. When I talked to my family member on the Edmonton police force, he said that one of the strange things that politicians would not get was that marijuana was a drug that had a strong smell. Once it was legalized, drug dealers would have little pouches of pot on them, hoping the smell would cover up the other drugs they might be dealing. He said that the legalization of marijuana would make it harder for him, as an Edmonton city police officer, to enforce actions against other illegal drugs.
These issues are going to continue to pop up. The government has not thought this legislation through
Mark Holland (Ajax):
Madam Speaker, I want to discuss some of the comments about about Colorado. The Washington Post recently contained an article by the Drug Policy Alliance. It said a couple of things. One was that the statistics in Colorado of individuals who said that usage had increased were simply not true on a couple of bases: first, those numbers were already way up above the national average before legalization ever occurred; and second, the effect on teenagers was, in fact, unchanged, that it had not come down and it had not gone up. Traffic fatalities were the same, but arrests and police resources were way down.
I hope the member would agree with me. What we did on tobacco with respect to investing in de-normalization, explaining to young people the dangers of the drug, pulling it from the shade into the open, making those types of measures and the success we saw with tobacco, mean we could have the kind of prevalence rates we enjoy with tobacco, which are under 10%. They could be lower, they could be better. However, (a) we cannot misrepresent what happens in Colorado, and (b) there are some good examples we could follow to make things work.
Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University):
Madam Speaker, we can deal with marijuana the same way as tobacco without legalizing it.
In response to the hon. member, his statistics are wrong. He is citing statistics from only one year after legalization, when there was a very modest dip, but not the last three or four years when rates across the board went up. The other thing the hon. member did not note, and may not be aware of, is that Colorado had large-scale commercialization due to incredible liberalization of the medical marijuana industry. If we look at when Colorado was essentially similar to other states, when it had de facto commercialization to when it had whole legalization, we see almost a straight line going up in usage rates.
The hon. member is actually incorrect. I would urge him to table the article in The Washington Post in the House. I will happily table my studies in the next few days. Mine is updated from October 2017, the 127 page report. I will email it to the member next week.
Scott Reid (Lanark—Frontenac—Kingston):
My question, Madam Speaker, is about an aspect of Colorado policy, which I think is very good and is not present in Bill C-45. In Colorado, individual municipalities and counties can decide whether to allow marijuana sales. Some have allowed it; some have not. There is no availability of this kind of local option in Canada. Could my hon. colleague comment on that distinction?
Brad Trost (Saskatoon-University):
Madam Speaker, something like that would be useful, particularly as this issue was brought up to me by an aboriginal chief from northern Saskatchewan, who said they had enough problems with alcohol and the legalization of marijuana would cause more issues for them. He wishes he had the power to deal with it in his communities. This is a disaster for many remote communities that deal with severe social problems.