Pubdate: Fri, 22 Jun 2007
Source: Niagara This Week (CN ON)
Copyright: 2007 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Paul Forsyth
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Emery, Marc)
Bookmark: (Walters, John)
Bookmark: (Canadian Senate Committee 
on Illegal Drugs)

Pot 2.0

Part 2

Today's marijuana is increasingly potent compared to a generation 
ago, leading some to say it could be causing kids to do poorly at 
school and possibly even making them susceptible to developing mental illness.

Marijuana advocates say it's just more of the same fear-mongering 
dating way back to the 1930s.

* * *

It's a skunky, pungent scent that you can't miss.

It's the smell of marijuana combusting as someone tokes up, and you 
don't have to go far to catch a whiff. Just off of school properties. 
At concerts. Drifting out of your neighbour's garage.

Just about everywhere, it seems, people are lighting up reefers or 
firing up bongs.

Many will ask: what's the harm? Pot's been a part of popular culture 
since the hippie days of free love, popularized in everything from 
Cheech and Chong movies to the silly spectacle of politicians 
admitting to trying it while insisting they never inhaled.

But experts who study marijuana-use trends say the weed being 
produced today is not your father's pot. Increasingly, it's a highly 
potent product, raising concerns ranging from the dangers of driving 
while stoned and students missing out on the building blocks of high 
school to a growing body of evidence that marijuana use could be 
putting genetically susceptible young people at risk of developing 

At the same time, there are many -- including a Canadian Senate 
commission and even the far right conservative think tank The Fraser 
Institute -- who say the so-called war on drugs has failed miserably 
when it comes to controlling marijuana, that it highlights the 
problems inherent in the enforcement of laws that are generally 
ignored by broad sectors of the population, and that the time has 
come for the federal government to decriminalize and regulate pot.

Somewhere in the convoluted stew of domestic politics, public health, 
law enforcement, international trade, border security and conflicting 
statistics are some marijuana truths that at first blush seem 
incontrovertible. But accountants will tell you that numbers can be 
tweaked and teased to get the statistical outcome you want.

White House drug czar John Walters, director of the U.S. Office of 
National Drug Control Policy (NDCP), says that after years of 
giggling at outdated pot scare stories, North American society has 
become conditioned to think any warnings about the dangers of 
marijuana are overblown.

Way back in 1936, the movie Reefer Madness spoke of the dangers of 
marijuana, calling pot "the new drug menace which is destroying the 
youth of America," and "an unspeakable scourge ... leading to acts of 
shocking violence, ending often in incurable insanity."

The movie was a hilarious piece of tripe, for sure. But recent 
scientific studies hint the movie may have stumbled upon at least one 
truth: the possible link -- however tenuous at this point -- between 
marijuana and mental illness.

FManzar Ashtari, a researcher with Zucker Hillside Hospital in New 
York State and an associate professor of radiology at Albert Einstein 
College of Medicine, led a study a little over a year ago using a 
sophisticated brain scanning technique known as diffusion tensor 
imaging to study the effect of pot on adolescent brains.

Her study, while considered small and preliminary, suggested 
marijuana use could affect or delay development of an area of the 
brain known as the arcuate fasciculus, which is still under 
development during adolescence.

A 2002 study in the prestigious British Medical Journal found that 
while most young people use cannabis in adolescence without harm, 
teens at genetic risk of developing schizophrenia are more likely to 
develop the disorder in adulthood. Schizophrenia, widely believed to 
be caused by a murky combination of genetics and environmental 
factors, can be a chronic, life-long condition in which patients 
experience hallucinations and delusions, paralyzing depression and 
lack of motivation.

A large-scale study of Swedish armed forces conscripts in 1987 found 
that heavy cannabis use at age 18 increased the risk of later 
schizophrenia six-fold.

The NDCP's Walters said levels of delta-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- 
the active ingredient in marijuana that gives people the sensation of 
being high -- were only about one per cent in weed in the 1960s and 
1070s. Those levels had increased to more than eight per cent on 
average by last year, NDCP figures show.

The University of Mississippi Potency Monitoring Project has analyzed 
some 60,000 cannabis samples confiscated by law enforcement officials 
since 1975. In its most recent quarterly report earlier this year, 
the project said it has found THC levels as high as 32.2 per cent.

Walters said the numbers should dispel the myth of harmless 
marijuana, and serve as a "wake up call" to parents.

"We are no longer talking about the drug of the 1960s and 1970s," 
Walters said in a statement. "This is Pot 2.0."

St. Catharines resident Matt Mernagh, 33, an activist fighting for 
the decriminalization of marijuana, laments what pot advocates say 
are ongoing scare tactics used to fight any moves toward legalizing the drug.

"There's that boogey man aspect," he said. "We're dispelling that 
more and more."

Mernagh was among dozens of people who met for the annual 
pro-marijuana 420 Rally in Niagara Falls this past spring, lighting 
up joints and walking down Clifton Hill to protest the fact even a 
simple possession charge of one joint can land you a criminal record in Canada.

He sees pot as being no different than alcohol.

"You come home from a day at work and some people open a beer," he 
said. "We like to unwind with a joint."

Mernagh said marijuana helps you to mellow out, and unlike booze 
there's no hangover.

"It relieves stress," he said. "There's the feeling of peacefulness. 
Everything seems quieter."

Far different than the alarmist language coming out of the U.S., a 
Canadian Senate committee struck to study marijuana said in a 
landmark study in 2002 that contrary to what young people have been 
told for generations, marijuana is not a "gateway" drug that will 
lead pot smokers to try so-called hard drugs such as heroin. The 
committee report, led by Senator Pierre Claude Nolin, said that while 
heavy pot use can impair concentration, learning and the ability to 
perform tasks, it was less harmful than alcohol and should be 
governed by the same sort of guidelines.

The Senate committee found that the vast majority of pot users do not 
get addicted to it, and that the large amounts of public money spent 
to discourage marijuana use through the criminalization of it has 
been a monumental failure given the number of Canadians who still smoke up.

The Canadian Medical Association estimates 1.5 million Canadians 
smoke marijuana recreationally.

"Used in moderation, cannabis in itself poses very little danger to 
users and to society as a whole," the Senate committee wrote.

Canadian teens, too, are more likely to roll their eyes when alarm 
bells over marijuana are sounded. The Ontario Student Drug Use 
Survey, conducted by the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and 
Mental Health, has been mapping trends in adolescent drug use on a 
biannual basis since 1977. The survey found that after a lengthy 
period of decline during the 1980s, there has been a resurgence in 
teen drug use since the 1990s.

In addition to more teens smoking pot, the survey found there has 
been a notable reduction in the number of teens in grades seven to 12 
who believe regular marijuana use poses a great risk: from 75 per 
cent believing so in 1989, to only 57 per cent in 2005.

The scientific link between cigarette smoking and heart disease, lung 
cancer and strokes is incontrovertible. But much less is known about 
the long-term impact of inhaling marijuana smoke.

The Canadian Cancer Society concedes that not all studies have found 
a consistent relationship between long-term recreational smoking of 
marijuana and an increased risk of cancer. But the society says pot 
has as many as 50 of the same carcinogens as tobacco, meaning the 
risk of cancer may be very real.

The society also says the way marijuana is smoked may also contribute 
to cancer risks, saying that because pot users tend to inhale more 
with each puff and hold it in their lungs up to four times longer 
than tobacco smoke, smoking just three to four joints a day is 
equivalent to smoking a pack of cigarettes.

The NDCP in the U.S. goes further, saying pot smoke contains 50 to 70 
per cent more carcinogenic hydrocarbons than tobacco smoke, and that 
long-term use may increase the risk of bronchitis, cancer of the head 
and neck, and emphysema.

Hogwash says Marc Emery, publisher of Vancouver-based Cannabis 
Culture magazine, who is often referred to as the 'Prince of Pot' by the media.

Emery said in the last year, more peer-reviewed medical studies 
actually demonstrated marijuana is a useful medicine for a variety of 

A study published in the scientific journal Cancer Research in 2004 
found that in people with an extremely aggressive form of brain 
cancer, cannabis extracts can block a key chemical needed for tumours to grow.

"(It's) fear mongering," Emery said of the warnings about pot issued 
by agencies such as the NDCP.

He considers it ludicrous that governments are willing to send people 
to jail to supposedly protect them from the health effects of 
cannabis use. He wonders why they don't do the same thing for people 
who smoke cigarettes, have guns, get hooked on coffee or who consume 
trans fatty acids.

"I assure you, prohibition and the broken families, broken hearts and 
ruined lives because of prison far exceeds any health hazard from pot."

* * *

(Next Friday, part 3 of this three-part series explores whether the 
time has come to regulate cannabis, much like alcohol).
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom