Discussion for changes to marijuana legislation

The Liberal Government has stated they intend to move towards legalization of marijuana. What issues need to be considered?

The Liberal Government has stated they intend to move towards legalization of marijuana.  What does this mean and what issues need to be considered?  In 2015 the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse (CCSA), along with partners from the public health, substance use treatment and the law enforcement communities, took two fact-finding trips to Washington and Colorado to talk to stakeholders about the experience of legalizing marijuana in those two states.  The CCSA is Canada’s only national agency dedicated to reducing the harms of alcohol and other drugs on society, informing policy and practice, and improving services for those affected by substance use disorders.  Two weeks ago the CCSA released a report on their findings.  In their report the CCSA identified a number of recommendations based on the Colorado/Washington experience.

Marijuana, or cannabis, is the most widely used illicit drug in the world.  Although the usage rates have been dropping over the past 15 years, Canada still has some of the highest rates of marijuana use, particularly amongst adolescents and young adults.  The CCSA report recommended that movement towards legalization identify a clear purpose to drive the overall approach.  The principle rationales that are usually raised for legalizing marijuana are that it would help to reduce the role of organized crime, it would reduce the significant negative impact of criminal charges for recreational users, and it would improve product safety and generate tax revenue.  Furthermore, by shifting the understanding of marijuana use from it being a criminal problem to it being a public health issue, it allows for more effective prevention and education activities, as well as greater regulatory control over access and marketing.

By talking to their counterparts in Washington and Colorado the CCSA delegation learned that the regulatory framework must include a number of factors. First, it must reconcile the medical marijuana markets and the retail marketing. It must also ensure the control product concentrations and product formats. This is necessary to ensure consistency in the types of marijuana products sold and the concentrations of active ingredients of the products.

Another factor is the prevention of commercialization, which can be achieved through taxation, rigorous federal regulation and monitoring, and strict control on advertising and promotion. Lastly, is the prevention of use by youth. This can be achieved by controlling access, having mandatory age limits on use and by investing in effective health promotion, prevention and education campaigns for both youth and parents.

Two concerns that were identified consistently were the need to educate youth about the potential negative consequences of marijuana use, and the risks associated with marijuana use and driving.  Over the coming months East Kootenay Addiction Services Society (EKASS) will be contributing articles to local papers to provide information on these points.  We at EKASS believe that robust public dialogue on the legalization of marijuana informed by accurate information will be important as the government moves towards making these changes.

For more information or to submit questions or comments please contact Dean Nicholson at dnicholson@ekass.com.