Mr. Réal Ménard (Hochelaga--Maisonneuve, BQ): Mr. Speaker, I would first mention that I strongly support the bill before us, which will be votable after the third hour of debate.
I wish to remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health, as a preliminary remark, that the government has been examining these issues for over 20 years. In the early 1970s, there was, among others, the Le Dain Commission comprising three highly esteemed criminologists, including Andrée Bertrand, a criminologist at the University of Montreal. I do not think the government can claim insufficient information as a pretext for rejecting the bill
The government may not agree with the essence of the bill and wish to continue to have the use of marijuana dealt with by the criminal justice system, but, please, let it not claim lack of information, because that argument does not hold.
I would like to put the bill in the context of its legal ramifications. This bill does not legalize the possession of marijuana. It decriminalizes it. That means that a person in possession of a small quantity of marijuana cannot be incarcerated and therefore will not have a criminal record.
This is interesting, because we must be very clear about this approach, which is to make the possession of marijuana a civil offence. It is not legalized. There would be a civil offence subject to a fine. The first would be $200, and, if I recall correctly, the second would be $500, and in all cases beyond the second offence, the fine would be $1,000.
This bill is very relevant to Canadian and Quebec society of today. I sit on the special committee that will review the whole matter of Canada's antidrug strategy.
In the committee we were given a document, which my colleague might find worth reading as well, prepared by Diane Riley, a doctor‹not in the medical sense of the term, but in the sense of having a university doctorate.
She has identified all of the studies that have been done on drugs. Her document is in both official languages and was prepared at the request of Senator Nolin of the other House.
I would like to share a number of the conclusions. The document reminds us that 600,000 Canadians have a criminal record simply because they were arrested for possession of marijuana. This figure of 600,000 Canadians and Quebecers alone is cause for reflection.
Must people be sentenced for possession of a harmless substance? The report refers to an article that appeared three years ago in the British medical journal The Lancet, a very serious report which proved that the consumption of marijuana, in the short term certainly, but also in the long term, has no impact on people's health. It has sedative virtues, relaxing effects, but no effect on people's ability to function.
When my colleague, the hon. member for Rosemount‹Petite-Patrie, brought forward a motion which was debated here in the House on the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic purposes, certain members, particularly the hon. member for Saint John, to be specific, raised the whole argument, the kind of lecture grandmothers are wont to make, with great affection and most certainly great good intentions, about how marijuana destroys people's brain cells and can lead to dysfunction.
Let us just think about how many of Canada's decision-makers have used marijuana, and would therefore be dysfunctional according to the argument of the hon. member for Saint John. That argument does not hold water.
We have proof. The Lancet article, and the review of the medical literature carried out by the researcher I mentioned, do not allow us to add medical considerations to the argument.
On the contrary, using marijuana may have great therapeutic value for people infected with HIV.
The hon. member who is sponsoring this bill is asking us, as parliamentarians, to remove from the criminal code the simple possession of marijuana. Our colleague will have to tell us whether this also includes hashish. Usually, when medical definitions refer to cannabis, it means both marijuana and hashish. We will have to see about the scope of the bill.
Another argument that will have to be considered, and regarding which we have some data, is the fact that, in countries where it is not a crime for a person to have marijuana in his possession‹this includes a number of European countries such as the Netherlands, Italy and Spain‹it is not true that this has led to an increase in use.
Those who are listening to us will definitely not be surprised to hear that, according to the figures provided in the study conducted by the other place in 1998, marijuana is used more in prohibitionist countries such as the United States than in countries like the Netherlands, where it has been legalized.
In the Netherlands, legalization has even resulted in government controlled coffee shops providing marijuana in a legal fashion. In the weeks and months that followed legalization, there was no increase in marijuana use, because people who use this drug do so for personal motives, for therapeutic reasons and to achieve personal serenity. There is absolutely no reason to believe that we will witness a phenomenon of massive and unrestrained use.
There is a third reason we should support this bill presented by the Canadian Alliance member. I am referring of course to the significant resources used by police forces. It is interesting to see that, at the federal level in Canada, and this does not even include the various police forces such as the Montreal urban community police department or the Quebec provincial police, only the RCMP, 1,000 officers are involved on a permanent basis in the fight against drug trafficking.
Our special committee on illegal drugs also heard officials from the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency. They tabled a document that my colleague could also look at. We got an idea of the size of drug seizures in recent years.
Take the example of marijuana. In 2000‹these are the latest statistics‹Canadian customs authorities made 44 seizures of marijuana worth a total of $17.7 million. Why should this figure interest us? This does not mean that once our colleague's bill is adopted, we will become a country with open borders to marijuana, without any restrictions. That is not the idea. However, we have to understand that this prohibitive reasoning, the reasoning that outlaws the possession of marijuana, leads to, and promotes the trafficking of marijuana.
We could free up police resources considerably. If one thinks that 1,000 officers are assigned to drug control, it is easy to think how we, as a society, could make a much more rational use of these resources, particularly in a context where true organized crime has developed considerably, and has considerable information technologies at its disposal.
So, this bill is perfectly reasonable and we do not feel the need to wait for committee work to be over. The Senate committee will carry on for several more months. We heard from a senator in our committee. A preliminary report will be presented in August. After that, the Senate will undertake a two year study. Our committee will also study the issue for several months.
I think that, since the conclusions of the Le Dain report, the House has all of the information it needs to support this bill, which designates a civil offence and meets the wishes of a large majority of Canadians and Quebecers.