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


PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS

[Private Members' Business]

*   *   *

[English]

Contraventions Act

    

Mr. Svend Robinson (Burnaby--Douglas, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of the bill currently before the House which was proposed by my colleague from Esquimalt--Juan de Fuca.

    We are debating Bill C-344 as a private member's bill. Although I am the member of parliament for Burnaby--Douglas I speak in this debate as a private member as do all members. I do not purport to speak on behalf of my caucus colleagues. There are a range of views in my caucus on the issue. However it is fair to say that on the issue of decriminalization and the medical use of marijuana the New Democratic Party strongly supports the changes being proposed.

    Bill C-344 is an important step but does not go far enough. We should recognize that the issue of drug use should be dealt with as a health issue and not a criminal issue.

    Our present approach to the issue of marijuana is steeped in hypocrisy. I cannot tell the House how many times I have spoken with young people who say the most destructive drugs in our society are alcohol and tobacco. Yet those drugs are entirely legal. This does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that we should encourage the use of marijuana. It means we should recognize that the so-called war on drugs has been an abject failure in every sense of the word. Many have come to that conclusion.

    A number of decades ago the Le Dain commission recommended decriminalization of marijuana yet there has been effectively no change whatsoever. Last year a committee of the European parliament adopted a report on drug use that came to the blunt conclusion that “legal sanctions against drug possession and use appear to have no effect whatsoever”. The report recommended European nations press ahead in the direction many have already taken: that treating drug use is a matter for health professionals and not police officers. This means making the use and possession of small amounts of drugs de facto legal while concentrating resources on health and social programs to reduce the harms of drug abuse.

    If we legalized the possession of drugs for personal use one might ask whether it would not encourage their use. Would it not encourage more young people to use drugs and thus have a negative impact on their health? The answer is no.

    At a conference last year in Stockholm the World Health Organization released a major international survey of drug use by teenagers. The results were revealing. The survey found that 41% of American teens had used marijuana or hashish compared with 16% of European teens. It found that 16% of American teens had used amphetamines and 10% had used LSD compared with 6% of European teens who had used illegal drugs aside from marijuana. This is the latest evidence which indicates that the United States, which has the highest spending and most punitive drug laws in the world, also has the highest rates of teenage drug use.

    The war on drugs is not working. There are a half million people in American jails as a result of the unfair and destructive war on drugs. I hope we in Canada can join with a number of other jurisdictions in recognizing that this is a health issue.

    Unfortunately there is tremendous pressure from the American government. The International Narcotics Control Board is a 13 member United Nations body set up to monitor compliance with international treaties banning drugs. It is effectively run and dominated by the United States. It recently attacked Canada by saying we were not cracking down hard enough on marijuana use.

    What was the response of the Liberal Minister of Justice? She said it was clear we could do more and that we must do more. She said the government was seized with the issue and that we would put more resources toward it.

    This approach is madness. It is not working. It is breeding contempt for an unfair, unjust and hypocritical law. While I support the bill of the hon. member as a step in the right direction, we should be going further. We should recognize that the answer is not just decriminalization but ending criminal sanctions and ensuring we put resources into education, awareness and prevention.

 We must recognize that the war on drugs takes a terrible human toll. Drug users are in many cases forced to obtain their supplies from the black market. What does this mean? It means more crime. Prices become so high that addicts who finance their habit by committing crimes must commit more crimes to purchase them than if the drugs were legally available.

    Drug users, particularly hard drug users, are pulled into a world of filthy needles, poisoned drugs, and pushers bent on selling them more addictive and dangerous fixes. They have no access to basic information such as the strength of the drug in question, the recommended maximum dosage for first time users, or the effect of mixing with other drugs such as alcohol.

    I received correspondence from Alan Randel of Victoria, British Columbia who wrote to me about how his youngest son Peter died in February 1993 after ingesting heroin with friends. Only Peter died. Of course, too many have died.

    My colleague from Vancouver East has been eloquent on the issue. She has spoken out about the terrible toll the futile and destructive war on drugs has taken in her constituency. One need only go to Main and Hastings to see the impact of it.

    The young brother of a close friend of mine, Tim Pelzer, died of an overdose of drugs. Todd Pelzer should not have died. He got caught up in the vicious and destructive cycle of that element. It took his life. It is taking too many lives. It is taking the lives of street people in Vancouver East. It is taking the lives of people across Canada. It must stop. The destructive and futile war must stop. That is why I support Bill C-344 as a step in the right direction. However it does not go far enough.

    Canadians asked themselves what on earth was going on when Ross Rebagliati, the world champion snowboarder, was initially barred from the United States. Why was he barred? He admitted to having smoked a few joints in the past. That is not acceptable.

    We have an opportunity to change the laws. A committee of the House is examining the current drug legislation. I urge its members to be bold and recommend major changes to the laws. The Senate has a committee chaired by Senator Nolin which is making similar recommendations.

    Much more can and should be done in this area. Yes, of course there are health concerns. However a number of studies have indicated marijuana may not be as serious as tobacco or alcohol. Smoking marijuana does not seem to cause lung cancer, emphysema or birth anomalies in fetuses, according to John P. Morgan of the City University of New York Medical School. Yes, there are symptoms of lung damage but not the life threatening conditions seen among tobacco smokers.

    Mr. Morgan appeared as a witness before the Senate committee. He pointed out that while cannabis contains as many harmful compounds and irritants as tobacco, even heavy marijuana smokers do not smoke nearly as much as tobacco smokers. As he points out, the critical issue is the amount of smoke inhaled.

    We must recognize that much more must be done in terms of ending the drug war. I just returned from Colombia where $500 worth of cocaine can bring as much as $100,000 on the streets of an American city. Colombian politicians tell us that if they are to be able to deal with the epidemic of the drug trade and the corruption it brings, we must take action here.

    While Bill C-344 is an important step it does not go as far as it should in recognizing human, medical, criminal and health realities. I hope the bill will be referred to committee. I hope the committee will have an opportunity to bring the laws of Canada into conformity with justice and humanity.




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