Pubdate: Tue, 10 Feb 2015
Source: Comox Valley Record (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Comox Valley Record
Author: Scott Stanfield


North Island College criminology instructor/addictions consultant 
Geri Bemister squared off with pot activist Marc Emery, among others, 
in a panel discussion about Canadian marijuana laws, Wednesday at UVic.

Emery was recently released from prison in the U.S., where he was 
incarcerated on drug charges.

The panel also included Jim O'Rourke, executive director of 
VisionQuest Recovery Society which helps people heal from addiction 
through better lifestyle choices.

A certified interventionist, Bemister is a proponent of educated 
decisions as opposed to simply legalizing pot. On one hand, she notes 
the harms of marijuana are underrated and under-reported.

At the same time, she realizes that room exists for policy or 
legislative reform in the area of medicinal substance use.

"I think there's definitely reform but not legalization, so we'll 
look at a different strategy, perhaps a ticketing strategy," Bemister 
said. "It's not an economic solution to legalize a harmful substance. 
That's not a way in which we function as a country. There's a myth 
out there that a lot of people are sitting inside our institutions 
for simple possession of marijuana, and that's simply not true."

She is not opposed to the decriminalization component.

Having worked with police and correctional officers, Bemister notes 
that police are not interested in backing up the courts with arrests 
and charges of simple possession. According to Bemister, typically, 
an officer who finds a person smoking pot will discover the person is 
also intoxicated, has pending warrants and perhaps is in possession 
of more harmful drugs.

"It's not just the marijuana for some of these individuals," said 
Bemister, who worked two years at the Nanaimo Correctional Centre 
with a caseload exceeding 200 people. "Not one of them was in jail 
for simple possession of marijuana."

She notes Holland was the first place to legalize pot. In that 
country, the number one drug of choice for people entering 
residential drug treatment is marijuana.

"Those are big lessons that we need to learn, and those are facts 
that are not changeable. I think we need to talk about them as a society."

She notes, too, areas of the brain that are impacted by marijuana: 
short-term memory, automatic responses, motor skills, motivation. 
According to Statistics Canada, the largest demographic of pot 
smokers is between 17 and 24 years.

"That's pretty scary," Bemister said. "The hard sciences, they tell 
us the brain is still developing until the age of 26. So I don't know 
why, if the majority of users are youth and we have that kind of harm 
to the developing brain, would government even think about sanctioning that."

Bemister was part of the Blue Ribbon Panel on Crime Prevention, which 
kicked off a province-wide tour at NIC last January and released 
recommendations late in 2014. The panel spoke with more than 800 
people about what's working and not working in B.C. communities. One 
issue was prolific offenders - mostly petty criminals - some of whom 
have up to 60 convictions.

"They're not getting the help they need through the correctional 
system," Bemister said.

Recently in Ottawa, she participated in the National Summit on 
Addiction Recovery, where a commitment was signed to recognize 
addiction as a health condition worthy of services to support 
recovery. Money will be invested into anti-drug strategy programs.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom