Mamadosewin (meeting place, walking together)

Committee of the Whole – Cabinet ministers on Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill

Committee of the Whole – Cabinet ministers on Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill

Committee of the Whole – Cabinet ministers on Bill C-45, Cannabis Bill

Senator Munson: 

I was thinking of adding a bit of levity to our debate this afternoon. I was wondering what Hunter S. Thompson would be thinking, fear and loathing in the Senate. Some people may not get that, but that’s the way it is.

On a serious note, Pierre Claude Nolin, some 16 years ago, called for the legalization of marijuana. At that time, he talked about scientific evidence overwhelmingly indicating that cannabis is substantially less harmful than alcohol and should be treated not as a criminal issue but as a social and public health issue. That was 16 years ago, and now we’re having this debate. I think the Senate was ahead of the curve and was history in the making.

This is long overdue from my personal perspective, but I’m concerned about those who, since that time, have had criminal convictions for small amounts of marijuana. Over the last 15 years, they walk each and every day with the stain of a criminal record, and yet the government will not issue pardons before this legislation becomes law. Why not?

Mr. Goodale: Senator Munson, as we’ve said before in the house to date, changing this law and changing the entire regime with respect to cannabis is a very large undertaking. It is transformative.

The senators and the studies that you have referred to a long time ago in the Senate indicate that some people were thinking in this direction in a very early way, and others have not changed their view up until and including today and no doubt well into the future. But we have made the public policy decision that the law should change, for the very good reasons that we’ve described here. Undertaking to do so is a very big enterprise.

I think the questioning today has indicated how complex and intricate this work is. We have goals and objectives for getting it done in the appropriate way later this year. But until the law changes, the existing law remains in place. That’s a very important principle in Canadian jurisprudence and you don’t rush to a conclusion until you get the job done. When you get the job done, the change has to unfold in an orderly fashion.

Senator Munson: But, minister, does it make sense for prosecutors to be laying charges today and getting convictions for simple possession?

Mr. Goodale: I could have a debate with prosecutors or police forces, but it’s the last thing a politician should do. Let the police authorities and those who are in the offices of the directors of public prosecutions and provincial attorneys general make the appropriate decisions about the enforcement of the law.

We will bring in, at the federal level, a new regime that we sincerely believe will be better, but we would not argue during this transition period that members of a government or an opposition or any other political organization should presume to tell prosecutors and police officers how to do their jobs.

Senator Munson: In closing, you said sometime this year, later this year.

Mr. Goodale: We’ve made it very clear that our goal is this summer.

Senator Munson: This summer. That’s eight to twelve weeks after July 1?

Mr. Goodale: Our goal is this summer, in an orderly fashion, with all of the pieces sequenced in the right order so that they are effective.

Senator Munson: Thank you.