Edited Hansard * Table of Contents * Number 143 (Official Version)
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Mr. Peter Goldring (Edmonton Centre-East, Canadian Alliance): Mr. Speaker, it is important to lessen the lifelong stigma of a criminal code conviction for minor possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, but I have difficulty with the method of achieving this goal and with the resulting penalties which appear to be too weak. The arguments for the insulation of our inquisitive youth from a potentially career wrecking criminal record are both laudable and reasonable, however, I remain concerned that there must be significant penal consequences for possession of larger quantities of a hazardous substance.
My first concern relates to the varying and increasing potencies of cannabis resins and marijuana plants generally. Potencies have been increased through cross-germination and plant genetics and are unrecognizable from those of the hippie sixties. The potencies may well be increased manyfold in the future. An illicit drug that is not easily quantifiable as to potency is a hazardous substance that requires control with a very firm hand.
Today, three kilograms of cannabis resin or three kilograms of marijuana have enough potency to impair the residents of a small town, let alone one person striving for a personal recreational high. A person with three kilograms, or seven pounds, of marijuana is not an individual with a personal supply but is instead a bulk grocery store of drugs to be sold to members of our community, including children.
It is important to acknowledge a general consensus that simple possession of a small quantity of marijuana, medicinally prescribed and for medicinal purposes, should be legalized. The current debate on criminalization concerns possession for purely recreational purposes. I am not unfamiliar with the subject matter, particularly as I was a young person in Toronto during the sixties. As I recall, the price at that time was generally $10 per ounce, or a dime bag. Today an ounce might cost $50. Three kilograms or seven pounds of marijuana at $50 per ounce would retail for $5,000. Three kilograms of marijuana is the equivalent of 100 $50 dime bags, enough to seriously intoxicate up to 500 people.
Under the recently debated legislation in the House of Commons, Bill C-344, which has not yet become law, possession of three kilograms of marijuana would warrant no more than a $200 fine to the dealer. Such a penalty would amount to little more than an incidental business cost, more comparable to a traffic ticket than a drug trafficking penalty. A fine for a second offence would be no more $500 and for a third offence no more than $1,000. Again, these are little more than nuisance highway traffic tickets.
Some even believe that no jail time should ever be imposed when sentencing marijuana users or dealers. Before agreeing to such weak sanctions, I believe we should approach matters with a consistent hand and speak to the experts on the front lines, our police officers, and solicit a national consensus. In my opinion, there must still be restrictions and serious punishments associated with all marijuana offences, particularly for those who traffic in this potent mind altering drug. Removing marijuana charges under the criminal code for possession or trafficking in large quantities of the drug is not conducive to law, justice and good civil order. While alcohol induced impairment is readily detected by roadside breath analysis, the more dangerous marijuana induced impairment is not.
Grant Obst, a Saskatoon police officer and president of the Canadian Police Association, recently acknowledged that police across Canada are focusing more on marijuana traffickers than on users. However, the Canadian Police Association opposes general decriminalization of marijuana regardless of enforcement issues that arise in allocating very limited police resources. The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the national Tory leader, the member for Calgary Centre, both call for looser pot laws. I say we should listen to the police who work on the front lines at street level. They say no.
Variability of potencies of marijuana is a matter of grave concern to the Canadian medical profession, which is now permitted to prescribe the drug for medicinal purposes. The Canadian Medical Protective Association, the primary liability insurer for doctors, is now warning doctors against prescribing marijuana. In the view of the association it is an unacceptable burden to require the doctors to prescribe marijuana unquantifiable as to potencies for medicinal purposes. While pharmaceuticals are subject to rigorous testing, quality control and regulation prior to being available under a doctor's prescription, there are absolutely no standards in place to address consistency in marijuana quality or potency.
In my view, our concern should be more to ensure that those who need marijuana for medicinal purposes are able to obtain a drug that is consistent in quality and potency, like any other approved pharmaceutical. We should not be devoting resources to decriminalizing marijuana generally.
Recently an Edmonton organization stepped forward to help those who need marijuana for medicinal purposes, but it appears to be more concerned with obtaining tax deductible charity status rather than with seeking help from elected officials such as myself who are willing to try to assist.
Last June I introduced a motion in the House of Commons. I am seeking agreement from my colleagues that the government should not legalize marijuana except for medicinally prescribed purposes. This motion has not yet come forward for debate.
The basic point remains. We cannot, as a responsible society, decriminalize a drug with known short term and long term narcotic effects, particularly when potencies and quality vary and the extent of social harm is therefore unpredictable.