Pubdate: Fri, 23 Dec 2011
Source: Kamloops Daily News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2011 Kamloops Daily News
Cited: Stop the Violence BC:


The Health Officers of B.C. is among groups backing a call for the 
legalization of marijuana as public policy healthier than the status quo.

A new report by the Stop the Violence B.C., a coalition of health, 
academic and justice experts, was released Thursday to demonstrate the 
failure of current anti-drug policy.

It uses government-funded data to show that cannabis trends are 
thriving, despite decades of huge cash injections to law enforcement 
agencies in both Canada and the U.S.

"If the goal is to reduce the availability of marijuana, it's clearly 
been a dramatic failure," said Dr. Evan Wood, a founding member of the 
coalition and director at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS. 
"By every metric, the government's own data has shown this policy has 
clearly not achieved its stated objective."

The report, How Not To Protect Community Health and Safety, is being 
released as the federal Conservatives' omnibus crime bill - which 
toughens penalties for growing and possessing pot - heads towards 
speedy passage into law.

Those measures will continue to drive policy in the wrong direction 
when what government should be going is regulating and taxing cannabis 
under a comprehensive public health framework, the coalition contends.

A spokeswoman for the federal justice minister was unequivocal: "Our 
government has no intention to decriminalize or legalize marijuana," 
said Julie Di Mambro.

Among the groups supporting the initiative to legalize marijuana is 
the 90-member Health Officer's Council of B.C., which includes current 
and retired medical health officers and other physicians.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, a former Interior Health medical officer who 
chairs the council, said experts are not asserting the drug is safe, 
but that policy as it stands puts the public at even greater risk.

"We need to acknowledge that our current approach to some of our 
substance-use policies is perhaps not as evidence-based as it should 
be," he said.

"We need to be proceeding to a dialogue that keeps the public's health 
as one of the prime drivers in the decision-making process."

Hasselback noted that, unlike widely used substances such as alcohol 
and tobacco, officials cannot prescribe measures for safe use of 
cannabis because it's illegal. The public is wary of the dangers of 
drinking and driving, he added, but there is little knowledge or 
research around using pot and driving for the same reason.

Arrests and cannabis seizures soared when anti-drug funding jumped, 
according to available data presented in the report, but none of the 
other anticipated impacts materialized.

Since 2007, the majority of at least $260 million in funding against 
drugs from Ottawa has been allocated to policing. Between 1990 to 
2009, arrests have increased by 70 per cent.

Meanwhile, the parallel U.S. budget has increased from $1.5 billion in 
1981 to $18 billion in 2002.

Arrests jumped there by 160 per cent between 1990 and 2009, while pot 
seizures more than quadrupled.

But at the same time, prevalence of cannabis use rose.

The Canadian Alcohol and Drug Use Monitoring Survey showed 27 per cent 
of B.C. youth between 15 and 24 smoked weed at least once in the previous year.

In Ontario, the number of high school students using pot doubled from 
fewer than 10 per cent in 1991 to more than 20 per cent in 2009.

In the U.S., use climbed about eight per cent among Grade 12 students.

"It's just so clear that organized crime has absolutely overwhelmed 
these law enforcement efforts with the price of marijuana going down 
dramatically . . . (and) the potency has gone up astronomically," Wood said.
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.