Edited Hansard * Table of Contents * Number 143 (Official Version)

PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS

[Private Members' Business]

*   *   *

[English]

Contraventions Act

    The House resumed from November 7, 2001 consideration of the motion that Bill C-344, an act to amend the Contraventions Act and the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act (marijuana), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

  Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont--Petite-Patrie, BQ) Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-344 presented by my colleague for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca.

    As far as the Bloc Quebecois and myself are concerned, unlike his Alliance colleague, we have no hesitations concerning this bill, and this is a bit of a paradox. A colleague of the member presenting the bill is not sure about supporting it. I wish to state that we will be in favour of Bill C-344 , an act to amend the Contraventions Act.

    The purpose of amending the Contraventions Act is to decriminalize marijuana use. Under the current legislation, a person guilty of simple possession, that is of having in his or her possession less than 30 grams of marijuana, has a criminal record, is liable to imprisonment for six months and a $1,000 fine. This bill would impose only a fine. For a first offence, the amount of the fine would be $200; for the second, $500; for any subsequent offence, $1,000.

    This is an important debate, and we must remember to make the distinction between what we are calling the decriminalization of marijuana for medical purposes, and the decriminalization of marijuana for other uses. The House adopted a motion, Motion M-381, an initiative of the Bloc Quebecois that I moved. This motion was adopted by more than 88% of the members present in the House of Commons.

    This motion called on the federal government to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes. This motion was adopted on May 25, 1999. We in the Bloc Quebecois believed, and still believe, that this is about compassion. How can we set up legal and political restrictions on the use of marijuana by someone who is in the terminal stages of a disease? Whether they have AIDS, multiple sclerosis or cancer, people may want to purchase and use a substance that, for them, is a medication. Of the members present in the House at the time, 88% supported this motion.

    The issue raised by our colleague from the Alliance today is part of a larger debate on the decriminalization of marijuana. The debate has reached a whole new level in fact. There are all kinds of questions to be asked before voting. On the one hand, we have to remember that the World Health Organization, the WHO, in an significant and exhaustive report, concluded that marijuana was less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. The WHO is not some group of novice doctors. It is a solid organization, a credible organization, that demonstrated that the ill effects of marijuana are less harmful than either alcohol or tobacco.

    Our colleague is asking us to reflect on a different issue. Should someone in possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana be considered a criminal? Should this person—as is the case under the existing legislation—be subject to a $1,000 fine and six months in jail for having possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana?

And more important, should he have a criminal record? Should his future be ruined? For it must not be forgotten that when we have a criminal record for possession of marijuana, our whole future may be ruined. This debate is therefore a healthy one and I think that parliament should give its speedy attention to this.

    The member who introduced this bill is not the only one who thinks that marijuana should be decriminalized. Those responsible for enforcing the legislation, including chiefs of police and the RCMP, have indicated that marijuana needs to be decriminalized, and soon.

    Naturally, the associations I have just mentioned are not completely in favour of the bill introduced by the Canadian Alliance member, because they feel that the fines are a little lower than those provided for in the legislation. They think, however, that a major step towards decriminalization must be taken.

    I am also thinking of the Canadian Medical Association, which has already indicated its unqualified support for decriminalizing marijuana in its monthly journal. In addition, the latest most up to date poll shows that 22% of Canadians feel that someone with less than 30 grams of marijuana in their possession should be considered a criminal. Only 22% of Canadians feel that someone should have a criminal record and be liable to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, compared to 40% in 1985.

    There has therefore been an important shift in Canadian public opinion, which we, as parliamentarians, who represent this public opinion, should be listening to and taking into consideration.

    The senate committee on drugs, chaired by Senator Nolin, has already examined this issue. In addition, I would remind the House that, following an opposition motion, we struck a committee chaired by a Liberal member, which is now examining the issue of drugs. This committee will be in Toronto in a few weeks to take a closer look at the situation. So we are already looking at this issue.

    Different avenues are being considered, including decriminalization. We must wait for the report, but it is clear that an issue such as this must be debated and those actually affected taken into consideration.

    A recent federal report said that $150 million would be saved if we were not as tough on small users. We must go after the source, and not individual citizens who, sometimes, perhaps in an ill-considered moment, decide to have in their possession less than 30 grams of marijuana.

    On January 21, 2001, I proposed that Canada pass a bill patterned on the model developed by the Belgians, in other words, that marijuana be decriminalized, but that we be able to identify those members of the public who use it in a socially irresponsible manner. For instance, it is no more acceptable for someone to decide to drink alcohol and drive than it is for someone else to use marijuana and do the same.

    There is therefore no doubt that the member's bill must be amended, but it provides a good point of departure for debate.



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