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Statement on Youth Symposium at St. Michael's Hospital

Honourable senators, on October 31, I was privileged to attend an important symposium at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, one focused on young people and cannabis.

The symposium brought together international experts on cannabis harms and harm reduction and followed a similar gathering of experts in Calgary earlier this year. We heard presentations on policy and regulatory approaches to harm reduction in several U.S. states, Uruguay and Canada.

One of the highlights of the day was a discussion with two youth panels, including harm reduction workers and those familiar with the consumption and impacts of cannabis.

We heard about a study at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health summarizing the research evidence on the health, psychological and social effects of adolescent cannabis use. We also heard about CAMH’s research on youth perspectives on cannabis and its discussions with young Canadians about how we can better educate and communicate with them.

Not surprisingly, the answer to this question from the young people was, “Talk to young people about our experience and what makes sense for us. Give us the information we need, rather than the information that you think we need.”

A key take-away for me at the end of the day was that after decades of relatively harsh criminal sanctions, recreational cannabis is widely used and easily available to young people in Canada despite its known harms.

One third of Canadian adults have used cannabis. And 22.4 per cent of young people aged 15 to 19 and over 26 per cent of young adults aged 20 to 24 use cannabis. These high rates of consumption and similarly large rates of criminalization are proportionately higher for indigenous young people and other young racialized Canadians.

Honourable senators, Canada’s recreational cannabis market is 100 per cent illicit, and it’s worth an estimated $7 billion a year. Criminalizing cannabis hasn’t worked.

There is a strong feeling among the experts at the St. Michael’s symposium that in the last several months, a hugely important discussion and opportunity has opened up, one that is honest about the ubiquity and harms of cannabis, and also about the much more realistic and relevant approaches available to address it.

I’m hopeful, of course, that we will continue that conversation in the weeks and months ahead. Canadians, and particularly young Canadians, deserve to hear and benefit from that conversation. And to the extent that we talk about these issues in this place, we should provide Canadians with an opportunity to know when we are debating these issues and how we are doing that.

Honourable senators, I think you’ll agree that the many serious issues associated with the criminalization and health-related harms of cannabis demand a better than business-as-usual approach in this chamber.




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