"It's not legalization": Following hearings, Don Davies slams Liberal government on proposed cannabis bill

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      Think Justin Trudeau is fulfilling his promise of legalizing cannabis with Bill C-45? According to Vancouver Kingsway MP Don Davies, you might want to think again.

      Following five consecutive days of hearings by the standing committee on health in Ottawa, its vice chair and sole member representing the NDP told the Straight earlier this week that, in his eyes, the Liberal government purposely scheduled hearings for the bill so it would receive as little attention from Canadians as possible.

      "They conducted the hearings, quite curiously, the week before Parliament resumes," Davies said. 

      Normally, parliamentary committees sit twice per week for two hours at a time. Instead, Liberals suggested four back-to-back sessions per day for an entire week.

      For Davies, cramming multiple hearings into five days meant that it was "over before Canadians were even engaged".

      "From the beginning, I felt that their whole strategy was to minimize exposure and comment and criticism of this bill," he said.

      Prior to the hearings, he'd argued that the plan for a week of hearings was not sufficient, and he said he convinced Liberal members of the committee to lift their insistence on not exceeding five days of testimony.

      At the final hearings on Friday, Davies tabled a motion to extend them by two days to hear from 32 additional witnesses who represented Canadians that he felt were left out of the conversation. 

      "Most of the evidence we heard was directed in some fashion at cannabis use and young people...so I was flabbergasted when I pointed out that we hadn't heard from a single Canadian between the ages of 16 and 24," he said. "It became apparent to me that there were at least five major stakeholder groups that we hadn't heard from."

      Despite hearing from 100 different witnesses who discussed a variety of topics, Davies said, no young Canadians, ordinary cannabis users, licensed producers, dispensary operators, or edibles manufacturers addressed the committee. (While speakers like Dana Larsen, Hilary Black, and Marc and Jodie Emery might be associated with dispensaries, their testimonies were slated to address other topics.)

      His motion for an extension was supported by Conservative members of the committee but Liberals voted against it in favour of expediting the process, even though Davies had qualified the motion by suggesting that the additional hearings take place before September 30.

      "Clearly, they don't want to hear from these groups," Davies said.

      "The Prime Minister talks about the input of young people; he retained the Ministry of Youth for himself, and then he tells Liberals not to vote in favour of hearing from young Canadians? It's bad governing."

      By voting against the motion, Davies said, the Liberals effectively "slammed the door" on hearing from growers or dispensary operators.

      "That was another reason I wanted to speak to licensed producers: How can we possibly talk about this without hearing from a single person who grows cannabis?" he said.

      When asked about his concerns with the bill as it stands, the MP didn't mince words.

      "First, it retains a criminalized approach to cannabis," he said. "This is not legalization. As Jodie Emery said, it's 'prohibition 2.0.' It makes cannabis use less illegal, and while I'm not putting a value judgment on it yet, it's not legalization."

      Davies illustrated his point by adding that Canadians who possess more than 30 grams of cannabis will still face criminal charges under the new act. So will those who possess more than four plants over 100 centimetres tall. 

      "Second, it's a major bill that does not legalize edibles and concentrates, which is internally consistent with the purposes of the bill," Davies said. 

      (The Straight's interview with Davies took place before Tuesday's committee meeting, wherein ministers said that they were working to include legislation that addressed edibles.)

      "Why legalize cannabis flowers and then leave between 30 to 70 percent of the products [like topicals, creams, tinctures, and edibles] in the black market?... As I said [at the hearings], organized crime doesn't put their product in childproof packages."

      For Davies, the major omission is a sign that the government is rushing this legislation.

      The MP recognized the concerns that craft growers have about becoming licensed too—not that they're afraid they can't make the application, but that the processes associated with licensing are so costly that it favours so-called Big Weed.

      "If that happens, the bill will not meet its objective, and those growers will stay underground," he said. "That's why I favour a really open and transparent legislative scheme, and I'm not convinced that's there."

      Davies, who has lived in Vancouver since 1991, also pointed out the expertise exhibited by many already involved in the province's grey-market cannabis industry.

      "In B.C., there's an immense amount of knowledge in the legitimate-dispensary industry: they've been buying it, selling it, marketing it for years, so what kind of government wouldn't want to tap into that?"

      As parties prepare to go over the act clause by clause, Davies said he'll be drafting a number of amendments to bring to the table.

      In addition to requesting that the 100-centimetre limit on homegrown plants be removed from the bill, he also said he'd move to include edibles and concentrates in the legislation.

      Davies also broached the subject of decriminalizing cannabis until the bill is passed next July. Last week, the committee heard that between July 2016 and July 2017, 55,000 cannabis-related arrests had been made across the country, resulting in 22,000 convictions.

      "This government is content to sit back and continue this criminalized model, and we're going to have another 22,000 convictions before next July," he said. 

      He said that while federal prosectuors continue to perpetuate the black market and the harms of criminalization, he would continue to call on the government to issue pardons to those carrying criminal records for cannabis.