Bill to Amend—Third Reading—Debate Adjourned

May 31, 2018

Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson: Honourable senators, I rise today to speak in support of Senator White’s proposed amendment to prohibit homegrown marijuana for recreational — and we should note, not medical — use.

Over 25 days in February and March, I travelled in Nunavut to discuss this issue. The feedback I received has led me to believe that there are unintended consequences that may not have been considered fully by the drafters of this legislation, particularly in Aboriginal communities.

There were strong concerns widely expressed about the homegrown issue in my meetings. In Cape Dorset, during my February 10, 2018, community meeting, an employee of the Nunavut Housing Corporation there described his apprehensions with the bill. He warned: “This could lead to increased water usage. It could lead to fires. There could also be a significant increase in energy consumption.”

The Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples had completed a study on housing in Inuit Nunangat in March 2017 and found that severe overcrowding, the housing shortage, the poor quality of the existing housing stock, overworked ventilation systems and already significant overcrowding have contributed to an issue of mould. The report states that:

. . . mould in housing units adversely impacts the health of community members, who have higher rates of respiratory tract infections.

And that is not to mention TB. The addition of moisture related to growing the plants could well exacerbate the mould problem that already exists, further negatively impacting the health and well-being of the household’s residents.

However, I don’t think this is an issue that is only relegated to the North. In fact, the same committee, in its study of First Nation housing on reserves, found the exact same conditions in the houses it toured.

As I stated yesterday, the Aboriginal People’s Committee received testimony from the director and general counsel at the Department of Justice Canada who said that since this bill is a law of general application, First Nations would not be empowered to prohibit the cultivation of marijuana, as described in the bill, with a bylaw. Instead, First Nations would be reliant on the province or territory to prohibit cultivation. This would not only put them at a higher risk for health hazards related to exposure to mould, but I maintain it severely impinges upon a First Nation’s inherent right to self-government protected in the Constitution.

In my travels throughout Nunavut, I also met with the mayor and council of Cambridge Bay. During our February 13, 2018, meeting, the council voiced concerns regarding the ability to grow marijuana in your home. Mayor Pamela Gross stated: “We have small housing units or multi-unit housing and the smell can seep through the walls.”

Honourable senators, I think this is a legitimate concern. I don’t think it’s fair that elders or families with small children — who are a very high proportion of our demographic in Nunavut, who are statistically residents of government-subsidized housing — should be exposed to the constant smell of marijuana. The point about children, honourable senators, is not about the danger of them eating a leaf or a bud; the point that was made to me in my community meetings was that having marijuana plants in overcrowded housing makes it look like it’s normal and okay. And we know, especially for kids, and especially for Aboriginal kids, there are risks and dangers.

A member of my staff had the opportunity to tour the Canopy Growth facilities in Smiths Falls and described how the smell was controlled by huge ventilation systems and appropriate containment walls. These homes do not have either, so it is not a huge leap to predict that the smell from one would permeate other units.

Later in my visit to that community, during a February 14, 2018, meeting with Sergeant Jasber Dhillon of the local RCMP detachment in Cambridge Bay, I was alerted to yet another potential issue regarding homegrown marijuana. Sergeant Dhillon described a compassionate system employed by the community, and in most of our communities, to provide respite from the cold. Doors in Cambridge Bay are left unlocked so that anyone looking to escape the extreme temperatures would have a safe place to warm up in. “How are you managing it when people are allowed in and out of the cold and all doors are unlocked?” she asked.

She went on to describe the potential for an increase in “grow rips,” as she termed them, wherein people break into a home for the express purpose of stealing the plants.

Honourable senators, while some of these issues may seem to be Nunavut-specific, I contend that any jurisdiction which does not prohibit the growing of cannabis in a home for recreational purposes will face similar, if not identical, issues, especially in areas facing a housing shortage and overcrowding. There may be an increase in mould and, hence, an increase in respiratory infections.

We have the image of some small plants. The fact is there are no limits on the size of these plants in the legislation. They can grow up to the roof of a house, no problem.

Multi-unit homes could have the smell of plants from one unit seep into another, and there may be an increase in break and enters. There will be yet another incentive for people to commit the crime of breaking and entering.

Senator Pratte said it was illogical to prohibit the growth of a legal product in a plant. I’ll give my colleague Senator Tkachuk credit for saying that whisky is a legal product, but we don’t allow the distilling of whisky in our homes.

So for all these reasons, honourable senators, I will be supporting this amendment to prohibit homegrown cannabis.

Thank you.

Speech – 3R, C-45 (Cannabis), Debate Adjourned