Justice minister on strict pot penalties: "I'm not going to apologize"
Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould speaks in an interview on CTV's Question Period. (CTV)
OTTAWA -- Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould says the threat of a 14-year prison sentence for selling marijuana to youth is intended to keep pot out of children's hands once it's legalized.
In an interview with Evan Solomon, host of CTV's Question Period, Wilson-Raybould said the severe penalty goes back to the bill's original purpose, which the government says is to protect Canadians.
The bill provides for a criminal charge with a maximum 14-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of giving or selling cannabis to youth, or "using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence." That's the same maximum sentence as for producing pot, making or producing child pornography, or sexually assaulting someone who's under 16.
"I am not going to apologize for the strict penalties that we put in place in this legislation. I know it's going to benefit from debate and dialogue and discussion, not only in Parliament but across the country," Wilson-Raybould said of the proposed 14-year penalty.
"We are not advocating or encouraging young people to engage and smoke cannabis. We are putting in strict penalties to ensure that anybody that invites a child or uses a child for any of the prohibited actions within the code... will suffer a severe penalty."
Health Minister Jane Philpott said the government has an "absolute fundamental commitment to protecting the health and the safety of Canadians."
"We know young people in Canada are among the highest users of cannabis in the world," Philpott said.
"That's one of the reasons why we're taking a very strong approach of both public health and public education. We've taken great lessons from other aspects of public health," she said, referring to the decreased rate of tobacco use.
"Usage rates of tobacco used to be very high, up to 25 per cent not so long ago. Now the rates are 13 per cent. So by legalizing a product it does not in any way mean that we endorse or promote its use."
Colorado saw little change in youth consumption
Andrew Freedman, who was Colorado's state director of marijuana co-ordination -- its first pot czar -- says there wasn’t much discernible difference in people's consumption after the state legalized weed.
"It appears in the short term that people who were using marijuana before are using marijuana now," he said in an interview on Question Period.
"Particularly among youth, we have not seen a significant increase in usage."
Colorado legalized marijuana in January, 2014.
What has changed, he said, is that some people end up in the hospital after trying edibles for the first time -- a product that will initially be illegal to purchase in Canada, but legal to bake at home. They have also seen cases of people smoking and driving, although that data is less clear because the state stepped up enforcement at the same time marijuana was legalized. Freedman noted they have also seen people involved in fatal accidents testing positive for pot at a higher rate.
Freedman said most Coloradans bought through the regulated market once it was legal because they saw it as safer. But he said the tax revenue generated through those sales isn't a good reason to legalize and regulate marijuana use.
"Last year the marijuana revenue for the entire industry was about $1.3 billion," he said.
With a population of about 5.5 million, that generated somewhere between $140 to $200 million in tax revenue.
"If you're doing this for taxation, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. I think people's eyes got really wide that this was money that was going to go to school construction," Freedman said.
"But it's a $27 billion budget in Colorado, so $140 million, $200 million really isn't going to make a dent in large-scale, billion-dollar operations like education or transportation. Really the reason to do this is because you think there's a better public health answer to the war on drugs than an incarceration answer."