Hon. Terry M. Mercer (Deputy Leader of the Senate Liberals):
Honourable senators, change takes time. It also takes a little getting used to once it has actually been accomplished. If you look back over past generations, you see such things as women winning the right to vote and, most recently, the right for same-sex couples to marry. Today we cannot fathom how these rights would even be in question. But social change does not come easy and it takes time, sometimes several generations. In the end, change happens, even if we don’t want it to, for better or for worse.
The debate over drugs seems never-ending, and I guess it should be. All debate should be never-ending. New ideas, new science and new generations of citizens will come forward with what they believe is a better way for society to live.
When we speak about this current piece of legislation, Bill C-45, we hear both sides of the argument for and against: We need more time to study it; we should have done it years ago; it will affect people in ways we don’t know; do we try this and see how it goes? These are natural questions, of course, but at some point, a decision has to be made.
I would remind honourable senators that debate over legalization of marijuana has been going on for decades. An early Senate report on cannabis, the 1955 report of the Senate Special Committee on the Traffic of Narcotic Drugs advocated for the continued prohibition of illicit drugs.
Then in 1972, we had Cannabis: a report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Non-Medical Use of Drugs, aka the Le Dain commission report, which included the repeal of the prohibition against the simple possession of cannabis and cultivation for personal use. That was 1972, colleagues.
In 1994, Bill C-7, An Act respecting the control of certain drugs, their precursors and other substances and to amend certain other Acts and repeal the Narcotic Control Act in consequence thereof, was introduced in the other place. The bill died and was reintroduced as Bill C-8 in 1996 and was examined by the Senate.
According to the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, several members of the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs publicly stated their support for decriminalization of marijuana, but dropped the idea of recommending that there be no criminal charge for having a few “joints” of marijuana because they felt that it would never pass the House of Commons. They went on to indicate, as Senator Carstairs said, that the panel members were indeed serious about decriminalization but foresaw that a recommendation would be futile at this point. She said in an interview:
The majority of the Senators — and I was with them — felt all the evidence indicated decriminalization for simple possession is the way we should be going.
The report on Bill C-8 did recommend:
That the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs strongly urges that a Joint Senate and House of Commons Committee be struck to review all of Canada’s existing drug laws, and policies and programs.
On June 2, 1999, the late Honourable Pierre Claude Nolin moved:
That a Special Committee of the Senate be appointed to reassess Canada’s anti-drug legislation and policies, to carry out a broad consultation of the Canadian public to determine the specific needs of various regions of the country, where social problems associated with the trafficking and use of illegal drugs are more in evidence, to develop proposals to disseminate information about Canada’s anti-drug policy and, finally, to make recommendations for adoption of an anti-drug strategy developed by and for Canadians under which all levels of government will be encouraged to work closely together to reduce the harm associated with the use of illegal drugs.
The committee did a great amount of work and released its report in September 2002, which I’m sure you’ve all read; at least I hope you have. It does touch on many issues most senators have raised in debate on Bill C-45 before us today. The report states:
In effect, the main social costs of cannabis are a result of public policy choices, primarily its continued criminalization, while the consequences of its use represent a small fraction of the social costs attributable to the use of illegal drugs.
Our former colleague goes on to say in this report:
In our view, it is clear that if the aim of public policy is to diminish consumption and supply of drugs, specifically cannabis, all signs indicate complete failure.
That was the existing situation.
In our opinion, the data we have collected on cannabis and its derivatives provide sufficient grounds for our general conclusion that the regulation of the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis, inasmuch as it is part of an integrated and adaptable public policy, is best able to respond to the principles of autonomy, governance that fosters human responsibility and limitation of penal law to situations where there is demonstrable harm to others. A regulatory system for cannabis should permit, specifically:
more effective targeting of illegal traffic and a reduction in the role played by organized crime;
prevention programs better adapted to the real world and better able to prevent and detect at-risk behaviour;
enhanced monitoring of products, quality and properties;
better user information and education; and.
respect for individual and collective freedoms, and legislation more in tune with the behaviour of Canadians.
Our friend Pierre Claude Nolin.
The committee’s report continues:
In our opinion, Canadian society is ready for a responsible policy of cannabis regulation that complies with these basic principles.
So honourable colleagues, in my examples here, from 1955 to 2002, look at the changes in opinions, and notice how long it took for said opinions to change.
Now think about what we are doing here. It is 2018, 16 years after the Nolin report recommended pretty much what Bill C-45 is doing. Are we ready for this? I think we were then, and I think we are now.
We can always question whether it is time for such legislation, its validity and its safety. What we should not question is the fact that it is time to try something different in the war on drugs. Only then will we see if it has worked, which I am confident it will.
While I may not be happy with some of the amendments that we have agreed to here in the Senate, for better or for worse, I am happy to support this legislation, and I encourage all of you to do so as well.
Hon. Dennis Dawson: Would you take a question in the form of a statement?
I’m very happy. I don’t want to take everybody’s time with another speech repeating what has been said. But do you think Senator Nolin would have voted for this legislation?
Senator Mercer: I think he would have wanted to sponsor this legislation.
Senator Carignan: Did you actually read the Nolin report that said that the brain was fully developed by the age of 16?
Senator Mercer: Each report says something different, and we have evolved as we have gone along. Yes, you have read the report. You know what it says.